Guest Editor's Introduction

By Fossum, John Erik | International Journal, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

Guest Editor's Introduction


Fossum, John Erik, International Journal


This issue takes as its point of departure the Dutch notion of gidsland which, roughly speaking, refers to a "mentor state." More specifically, gidsland means "a nation that progressively guides other countries locked in pitiful nationalist struggles for power, dominance, and religious zeal to proper international behaviour consisting of respect for the international legal order, rights of men, and free trade as the best way of ensuring prosperity for all. The Netherlands as a gidsland saw itself as a role model for other states by teaching them how to behave properly on the international scene, how to become 'good' states."1 The notion of gidsland has traits in common with such foreign policy doctrines as human security, as well as with a wide range of foreign policy orientations such as the notions of Canada as a model state, Europe as a normative power, Sweden as a moral superpower, and so forth.

These foreign policy doctrines and orientations are all attempts to move beyond "political realism." They do not necessarily share the same set of micro-foundations and they differ in intellectual rigour and in policy prescriptions, but they are nevertheless all premised on conceptions of politics that differ from those of political realism. International politics, they posit, is less anarchic, more structured, and more susceptible to rules and norms than realists generally acknowledge.

Realists, for their part, are quick to dismiss such foreign policy notions. Robert Kagan, for instance, argues that the amount of power one has determines how one relates to power and its use, which is to say that strong powers act like strong powers and that they act differently from weak powers: the strong prefer freedom of action whereas the weak prefer rules. The extension of this logic is that gidsland may be seen as a foreign policy orientation or even compensatory device to which weak states resort in their efforts to foster international rules.

Critics of realism would argue that such policy doctrines and orientations as human security, gidsland, and so forth reflect conscious efforts on the part of states to pursue programs of reform and change. Some would go further and argue that they are reflective of larger systemic change processes, wherein states are no longer sovereign but instead have become highly permeable, or responsive to external norm- and rule-sets and attentive to criticisms from outsiders and from global public opinion in general. This change is seen to emanate from globalization and the development of international/regional institutions (the United Nations) and international/cosmopolitan law (the European convention on human rights). As I use it here, permeable is not the same as interdependent. Permeable may mean influenced by power but that is only part of the story. The term permeable understands how an actor-in this case, the state-is subject to and acts on norms and values. Permeable, therefore, includes a normative dimension.

It is a reasonable assumption that democracies, generally speaking, are more permeable than undemocratic states and entities. Contemporary democracies are not only highly sensitive to normative developments beyond their borders, but have also permitted and encouraged their own incorporation into a comprehensive multilateral system of organizations and legal rules, many of which carry an explicit cosmopolitan imprint in the sense that they consider the individual as the unit of moral concern. They have also explicitly incorporated these norm- and rule-sets into their own politicolegal systems and relate to these with different degrees and magnitudes of compliance. But it should be added that-within a system of states-state policies, policy doctrines, and foreign policy orientations can hardly be mere reflections of external systems; states develop their own doctrines and orientations to the outside world. Gidsland implies a kind of external projection of a state's own claimed values and principles. …

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