Against the New Internationalism
Burke, Anthony, Ethics & International Affairs
Bad consequences can discredit good intentions.--Jurgen Habermas (1)
When I think of the challenges facing international society in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, two images come to mind. The first, a work of postcard art, depicts a screenprint of the Statue of Liberty, with a twist. In the place of her striking face and radiating crown appears a decidedly masculine image: that of a helmeted marine, grim and tight-jawed, a cigarette poking insolently from his lips. The caption reads, in bold white capitals on black, "PEACE," and beneath it another phrase, asterisked: "conditions apply." (2) The second is a newspaper photograph of a young woman in New York taken during the global demonstrations against the war in February 2003. She has been called out of the march by the photographer and stands, at once defiant and bewildered, against a row of mounted police. Rugged up against the winter cold, she holds a placard upon which she has written a question: "Perpetual war for perpetual peace?"
Upon seeing these images I was immediately reminded of Suvendrini Perera's description of the war on terror as one "of category confusions and bizarre doublings":
a war where soldier, terrorist and refugee can be made indistinguishable, where victims fleeing Taliban oppression can be constructed as potential "sleepers" for its terror, where international conventions fail to protect asylumseekers from being criminalised as "illegal"; a war where cluster bombs and food parcels share similar packaging; where loyal, long-term residents are denuded overnight of rights by the quaintly named "USA-PATRIOT Act" and secret trials, forced interrogations and summary executions are re-imaged as no longer the instruments of tyranny but the prerogatives of Enduring Freedom. (3)
That was written in 2002, when the war on terror was only taking shape. Now bitter irony is the soup of the day, and Western leaders and opinion-makers ask us to find in it not nihilism but nourishment. Words and things no longer correspond. Liberty is a hermaphrodite, male and female, warrior and peacemaker, the only possible way of representing the army that frees, the democracy that slaughters, the liberator that tortures. Postcards ring truer than the speeches of politicians; and, as if to affirm the young placard waver, George W. Bush tells us that "the advance of freedom leads to peace." (4) Peace and war are no longer antonyms, utterly irreconcilable, but new lovers naively imagining a brighter future. What then can we salvage of liberal internationalism? Jurgen Habermas calls the war "an unimaginable break" with existing norms, and in its wake we may well wonder if they are not beyond repair. (5) The danger lies deeper even than Perera suggests, in the gap between the cosmopolitan norms of civil rights and international law, and the exceptionalist prerogatives of national sovereignty. It lies in the potential transformation of cosmopolitanism itself, in the construction of new "internationalist" norms built not on the developing dialogue, normative consensus, and collective decision-making of the international community, but on the physical power, and ethical vision, of the United States and its allies.
This project, promoted in writings by British prime minister Tony Blair and such influential intellectuals as William Shawcross, Michael Ignatieff, Lee Feinstein, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, constitutes a sweeping effort to combine preventive war and unilateral humanitarian enforcement into a new normative framework for international intervention. While some of these writers have argued for the United Nations' structures and principles to undergo radical change, and others for it to be sidelined, all have framed their arguments in terms of a potent universalist claim about international justice and right. (6) While they do not reject the United Nations or the UN Charter outright as normative and legal frameworks for decisions about war and peace, these "new internationalists" do seek to displace its centrality and erect a new consensus in its place. If they succeed, the implications for international society and global security will be very disturbing indeed.
In the face of this new activist project of norm building, I wonder whether, and how, it might be possible to revive and rethink a credible liberal ethic of international peace and security. In relation to contemporary concerns about terrorism, nation building, and WMD proliferation, this article thus sets out and critiques the claims of the new internationalism. As an alternative it draws upon Immanuel Kant's normative commitment to perpetual peace--visible also in the UN Charter and the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)--but questions commitments in his thought that have enabled highly coercive and self-regarding forms of realpolitik and sovereignty to find their way into the very heart of internationalist power. In my view, the new internationalism of Shawcross, Ignatieff, Feinstein, Slaughter, Elshtain, and others only amplifies this problem, and if it gains undue influence the impact both on international security and on efforts to develop positive and credible ethical frameworks for the use of force will be grave. Against their conclusions that it is the norms and structures of the United Nations that need to be radically transformed, I argue that what must change is the violent and exclusivist idea of sovereignty that lingers, like a latent illness, in the very depths of modern cosmopolitanism.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF COSMOPOLITAN COMMUNITY?
British prime minister Tony Blair outlined the shape of the new paradigm in the closing stages of the Kosovo war, when he delivered a speech in Chicago with the portentous title "Doctrine of the International Community." While it made sensible arguments about the need to recognize and respond to the implications of growing global interdependence for security, and set out arguments for humanitarian intervention, a more ambitious agenda was also visible:
We may be tempted to think back to the clarity and simplicity of the Cold War. But now we have to establish a new framework. No longer is our existence as states under threat. Now our actions are guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end values and interests merge. If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer. (7)
While Blair sought to set conditions on humanitarian intervention, the speech is notoriously vague about how far the doctrine stretched--with heavy hints that it went beyond actions against massive and continuing violations of human rights to "dealing with dictators" and spreading the "values of liberty" and "open society." These were not immediate or ad hoc goals, but to be the basis of an entirely "new framework" for promoting "the cause of internationalism." (8) The seeds of his later support for the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime via a military invasion (his government already supported CIA covert action to remove Hussein) can already be seen here. (9) Likewise the speech's premonition of the Bush administration's 2003 "forward strategy of freedom" are striking.
Blair revived the "doctrine of the international community" in March 2004, this time in relation to Iraq. This time the revolutionary normative ambitions visible there were fully developed--a new vision of liberal universalism melded with the preemptive war doctrine of the U.S. neoconservatives. He justified invading Iraq even in the face of weak intelligence with an argument that "the risk of this new global terrorism and its interaction with states or organizations or individuals proliferating WMD is one I am simply not prepared to run ... this is not the time to err on the side of caution; not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance; not a time for the cynicism of the worldly wise who favor playing it long." (10) This urgent, fear-soaked rhetoric was matched with a sweeping argument that "nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind":
We cannot advance these values except within a framework that recognises their universality. If it is a global threat, it needs a global response, based on global rules.... Britain's role is to find a way through this: to construct a consensus behind a broad agenda of justice and security and means of enforcing it. (11)
Far from being on the back foot over the failure to find WMD in Iraq or the controversy over the legality of Britain's participation in the war, Blair was already redirecting British foreign policy toward the task of revolutionizing global institutions and rules--in ways that would make regime change and preemption into the basis for a new normative framework:
It means reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents 21st century reality; and giving the UN the capability to act effectively as well as debate. It means getting the UN to understand that faced with the threats we have, we should do all we can to spread the values of freedom, …
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Publication information: Article title: Against the New Internationalism. Contributors: Burke, Anthony - Author. Journal title: Ethics & International Affairs. Volume: 19. Issue: 2 Publication date: October 2005. Page number: 73+. © 2009 Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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