Monday, June 12, 2006

The Problem with the International System

A continuing theme of this blog is that while the world is changing, there is nothing surprising or unhistorical about it. One of these changes that is manifesting itself, should we choose to pay attention, is the end of the universal nation-state. It is a dogma of international relations that everyone must be in a nation. To be a member of the U.N., I.A.E.A., W.T.O., or N.A.T.O. you must be a nation. What happens inside a nation is considered no one else's business; see the left’s absurd defense of Saddam’s right to kill hundred’s of thousands of his own people versus Bush’s “crime” of killing a few tens of thousands of another nation’s people. To the extent that the loosening of the international system is recognized, it is considered some brave new world the likes of which history has never before seen. Both of these beliefs are wrong.

We are used to dealing in a world that consists of European, American, and a few Asian nations. These nations could be expected to mostly follow the rules of international discourse, respect treaties (except in times of belligerency), and enforce these rules on their citizens. Today’s international structure is a legacy of this world. However, it was founded before the European empires came to an end. The vast majority of countries today are former European colonies. They are accorded the same international recognition that their former colonial masters have, despite the fact that many are nations in name only and many others refuse to follow the rules of nation-to-nation intercourse. Why are countries like Haiti considered real nations when they cannot provide food or water to their people and the “President” can only move around under heavy U.S. guard? Why do we rely on Indonesia to guard the vital Straits of Malacca from pirates when they cannot prevent piracy in their own waters? Why do we keep making deals with the Islamic Republic of Iran when they have shown on many occasions that they consider themselves above the international system, able to whatever they want wherever they want? The crux of the problem is we are respecting the sovereignty of those who do not deserve it. Changing this would require a complete re-working of the international system into three categories of nations, real nations, bad nations, and non-nations. We simply cannot begin to tackle the problems of terrorism, crime, and piracy until we stop respecting the sovereignty of some “nations”. I understand this would be difficult and would cause many problems, but we are only beginning to see the much greater problems that continuing the old system entails.

As for the second belief, it is also nonsense to think that history has never seen this before. I know that the left with its minimal knowledge may believe that history forever moves forward to their ultimate victory and utopian world, but that is not how it works. History is replete with examples of the civilization/collapse cycle. It is obvious that many regions of the world are already in a state of collapse. Sub-Saharan Africa dropping from 25% Europe’s income level to 5% in a single generation is the best known example of this situation. What is less well seen is that many other regions are on their way to collapse. These regions include the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia, and possibly further down the road, Western Europe and China. The evidence of this decay is everywhere, from terrorism to drug cartels to piracy. While in new form, these are nothing new. In times past they would have been raiders, slavers, smugglers, pirates, and other assorted barbarians. They are operating the same way today as they did in the past by using either collapsed nations or nations that do not follow the rules as their base. Like a plague they are currently spreading from their dead hosts to weak hosts. I do not believe in the end there is anyway to stop it; we can only hope to limit its impact. The reason is that these things happen for a reason, civilizational fatigue. This is very evident in Western Europe and in blue-state America. President Bush attempted to push back by taking two prominent failed states, Afghanistan and Iraq, and trying to make civilized nations out of them. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the West simply does not have the belief in itself to see them through to the end, much less continue the process in other failed states. Unless we stop pretending that all nations are equal members of the international arena and that this is something new we have never dealt with before, we cannot begin to stop these problems before they become so great they will overwhelm even Europe.

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