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May 09, 2008

The International Order's Shifting Goalposts
Posted by David Shorr

Another good discussion on the TPMCafe Book Club -- this week on Fareed Zakaria's The Post American World. Again we arrive at the question of whether the liberal international order is a culturally bound creature of America and its Western accomplices. Michael Lind really got things going with an interpretation of non-democratic powers' standing with regard to the order from the immediate post-War period to the present:

The Postwar version of liberal internationalism is the one envisioned by American internationalists during and immediately after World War II, as well as by traditional liberal internationalists like the first Bush after the Cold War. International security will rest with a loose concert or concerts of nonaggressive, but not necessarily democratic, great powers. And the basic international norm, to which there are exceptions for genocide and anarchy, will be nonintervention in sovereign states.

That's the old liberal internationalism (which, though realistic, is not Realpolitik). The new liberal internationalism is a product of the 1990s. In essence, it is an attempt to universalize the norms of NATO and the EU as the basis for world order, as an alternative to dusting off the never-implemented Postwar system after half a century.

Anne-Marie Slaughter's rejoinder on Cold War history focuses on multilateral efforts to solidify transatlanticism -- which highlights liberal norms beyond non-aggression, but doesn't really help with the question of universality. The real problem with Lind's analysis is that it slices out large chunks of the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the two principal human rights covenants. The Cold War power realities to which Lind refers ensured that these norms would remain largely aspirational rather than politically binding, but they were nonetheless there all the while. So contrary to Lind's argument, the supposed expansion of the rule-set after the Cold War's end was not a departure, but rather a fulfillment. For a really good presentation of this idea, see Kofi Annan's 2005 In Larger Freedom report, which launched his ill-fated effort to rally world leaders for a more effective UN.

So much for history. Going forward, we have two main questions. One, is whether the United States and its Western allies still have an important contribution to make to the global order, or whether they should get out of the way and let Asian and other rising powers lead the world into the 21st Century -- an issue raised particularly by Kishore Mahbubani's book, The New Asian Hemisphere. I'm inclined to agree with John Ikenberry, who argues the opposite over on Washington Note, saying that the legacy liberal order is "easy to join and hard to overturn." Second, can the United States and other established democracies help support the spread of democracy without provoking a new Cold War or running around changing regimes? The aforementioned Anne-Marie Slaughter post on TPM Book Club explains why this should be both possible and incumbent.


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The only problem with Ikenberry and Slaughter's "Concert of Democracies," concept is that it will probably include only the United States and a few Eastern European nations, and it would look a organization that was only meant to follow America's dictates to the majority of the World. The UN is a better organization for the United States to promote human rights since complaints could be listened to by various nations unlike the proposed COD which only includes a few countries. The United States also has to obey certain international norms such as ending the use of torture and getting rid of the concept of premptive war if it wants to promote the UN charter.

I completely agree with you. The one thing I'd ask is that we not think of Slaughter and Ikenberry only or mainly as advocates of the Concert of Democracies. John McCain is campaigning on the platform you describe so he's fair game. Anne-Marie and John are offering a lot of worthwhile ideas. In fact, even on the Concert idea, I was interested to see that Anne-Marie says there can't be a concert without India, South Africa, and Brazil; I'm not sure whether that was in the original Princeton Project report, but I think it's right.

It's not so much "making a contribution" or "getting out of the way" it's acting collegially to make the world a better place. In other words, behave the same globally as we try to do locally in our own communities, recognizing that there are differences and then use our best efforts to reconcile those differences and move ahead.

There are major differences between western (US) and eastern (China) thought and behavior. These differences ought to be recognized. They may be (and appear