The Problem of International Order and
How to Think about It
WHAT DO WE mean when we talk about order in international politics? The term might refer to the idea that international political life is not totally chaotic and that there is instead a certain logic to how things work in this area. From that point of view, to grapple with the problem of order is to study how politics works in a world of sovereign states— that is, in what is by convention called an “anarchic” world, a world characterized by the absence of overarching authority. In the international relations literature, the term order is in fact sometimes used in this sense. Kenneth Waltz, for example, in his important Theory of International Politics, is interested in the question of how there can be “order without an orderer”—of how an anarchic world can have a certain structure, of how a world of sovereign states can be viewed as a system that works in a relatively orderly way1
An orderly way, but not necessarily a peaceful way: there might be a certain logic to how things work, and certain regularities might be observed, but the world being analyzed might at its heart be highly prone to war. What if systemic forces—pressures generated by the basic structure of the system—push states into conflict with each other? The assumption that the system, if allowed to work in accordance with its own internal logic, might produce unending violence in fact leads many people to approach the issue of international order from a very different perspective. Order, as they see it, has to do with the way those pressures can be brought under control. It does not connote mere “pat-
This article was originally published in a special issue of The Monist on the Foundations of International Order, for which the guest editor was Bruce Kuklick, and which came out in April 2006. Copyright © The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry, Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. Reprinted by permission.
1 Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), esp. pp. 88–93. For the phrase quoted here, see p. 89; see also p. 77. Note also the title of chapter 6 in this book: “Anarchic Orders and Balances of Power.” And indeed the basic notion of the “balance of power” plays a key role in this kind of approach to the question. Note, for example, Robert Osgood and Robert Tucker, Force, Order, and Justice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967), p. 96: “The prerequisite of order among autonomous states is that force be restrained by countervailing force within a balance (or equilibrium) of power.”