9-11 and the Re-focusing of International Society

international societyBy Ian Howarth

The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 (9-11) represented a shift in the nature of international society from one based largely on economic interests to one based on notions of international security. As such 9-11 represented the most significant shake up in international relations since the end of the Cold War, acting as a massive catalyst for change in how international society is perceived by the developed world.

What do we mean by international society?  One simple definition of the concept given by Hedley Bull is that ‘a society of states exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another and share in the working of common institutions’ (Evans, & Newnham, 1998: 276).  Furthermore, international society is founded according to English school theorists such as Bull and Manning on ‘four key pillars international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans, & Newnham: 276), these four key pillars determine all the relationships between nations, and form modern international society, with the United Nations (UN), NATO and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representing common values and goals, and the security council representing the balance of power and implementing international law.

I do not believe international society was ever irrelevant, but that the events of 9-11 dramatically changed the nature of international society in the world, from the economic institutionally based form of international society of the 1990’s based largely around the common goals of the developed world in furthering globalisation, to a form of international society that is based on the need for global action against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Therefore in order to demonstrate this change in the nature and focus of the international community, I am going to explore the nature of international society before and after 9-11, and use the above definition to determine whether the ‘war against terror’ represents unilateralist actions by the world’s only superpower.  Or is it a combined effort by a majority of the world’s nations to combat a serious issue that threatens the security of all nations, and therefore the express will of international society.

The 1990’s were a decade of contrasts; they began full of hope and ended in many respects on 9-11 with terror and destruction in New York, Washington and a cornfield in Pensylvannia.  The hope that the decade began with was premised on the end of the cold war.  The collapse of the USSR was proceeded with the emancipation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, and followed by the end of apartheid in South Africa, the liberation of Kuwait and George Bush (the elders) declaration of a ‘New World Order’ (Calvocoressi 2001: 67) with the three policemen the United Kingdom, France and primarily the United States ensuring freedom, prosperity and an end to tyranny and fear, all under the umbrella of the UN, IMF and other major international institutions, it seemed to represent a new era of more conciliatory international politics, based more on transnational interests compared to the old confrontational style of the cold war or the gunboat diplomacy of the age of empires.

To a certain extent this is what happened, but only for us fortunate few that lived in the developed world.  While the list of troubles facing the ‘west’ were shortened everyday with remarkable speed and twists in the course of history, the developing world where 80% of the human race lived failed to benefit from these geopolitical shifts in any significant way.  The proxy wars continued in Angola, and Algeria, only without their sponsors they were pretty much forgotten by the west.  Famine was still a continuing threat throughout sub-Saharan Africa, western corporate exploitation rose to new levels in South East Asia, and Islamic extremism let loose from its cold war bonds spread rapidly and brought down governments in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Within a short three years of George Bush’s declaration of the ‘New World Order’, there was a new order but it wasn’t what many had hoped for, the new order was not one based on international law, and human rights, but on economic imperatives and globalisation.  The new nature of international society was economics, profit and free trade.  Therefore when war broke out in the Balkans and there was genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, where were the policemen? The truth is that the west was more interested in economic interventions that could reap rewards, than costly military adventures in the Balkans.

Politicians and diplomats were more concerned with globalisation than genocide; the cry of the time was, emerging economies, Asian tigers, free markets, free movement of our people, and unlimited access to their resources, and was followed by, the digital revolution, dot-com millionaires, mobile phones, soaring stock markets, and budget airlines, the developed world had never had it so good.

In short two international societies emerged after the Cold War, a western developed international society based on the ideals of commerce and free trade, and an international society of the undeveloped world seeking aid and access to the global market, with World Trade Organization membership becoming the golden ticket, the way to move from one world to the other.  International society we began to believe was globalisation, the creation of a world market is for the benefit of all humanity.  The truth is that throughout the 1990’s we in the developed world where the money’s made and the decisions taken ignored 80% of our fellow man who continued to live in poverty, we pretended not to see the ‘1.3 billion human beings that live on less than a dollar a day’ (Australian Agency for International Development 13/11/2002), we ignored the fact that most of these Asian tigers were ruled by maniac dictators, and we ignored the fact that Saddam Hussein continued his rule and persecution in Iraq, and that India and Pakistan had gone nuclear without a blink from us, we comforted ourselves with talk of peace in northern Ireland and Israel, and of the debt limitation talks being held with western client country’s such as Morocco, and Indonesia.

My argument has been that the 1990’s despite their talk of a Global Village were a period where many of the real issues within international society were ignored, at the expense of a rich man’s club of wealthy nations and their wealthy citizens, it was a smoke screen, an illusion that we all believed and for a while it worked.  It was occasionally threatened by reality, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania carried out by Al’ Queda for example, but after we’d blown up a deserted camp in Afghanistan and a Medicine factory in the Sudan we all felt better and carried on regardless.  However what 9-11 did was smash the screen and gate crash the party, we suddenly became aware of the rest of the world and the sorry state it was in.  We all watched our televisions stunned as the greatest nation on earth was sent into turmoil by four hijacked commercial airliners, and every one of us felt a cold shiver run down our spines, because we knew then what it all meant, the world was about to change, the good times were over.

Immediately after 9-11 George W. Bush declared a War against Terrorism, an international effort to eradicate Al’ Queda and international terrorism in general, that soon spread to focusing on the ‘axis of evil’ and WMD, in short the focus of the developed world shifted from the primarily economic drives of the 1990’s and moved to issues of international security.  Therefore, I reiterate my argument international society was relevant before 9-11 and still is, it has simply re-focused its attention and changed its priorities after a decade of neglecting the world outside it’s privileged borders.

At the time of this change the then British prime minister Tony Blair stated his belief in the importance of international society during a speech given at the Lord mayors banquet in London, he stated that “The interdependence of the modern world has never been clearer; the need for a common response never greater; the values of freedom, justice and tolerance of our diversity never more relevant; and the need to apply them fairly across the world never more urgent.” (Blair, Tony 2002).  This was a clear statement of the relevance of international society, from one of the early leaders of that new world order.

Initially this new approach saw the formation of what George W. Bush called a ‘coalition of the willing’ outside international organisations such as the UN or the IMF. However,  this coalition soon created its own legitimacy through its sheer size, and representation within international organizations, incorporating the war against terror into the agendas of organisations such as the UN (peacekeepers in Afghanistan) and the IMF, World Bank and the European Union.  Through such initiatives as tracking down bank accounts and freezing the financial assets of terrorists and their sponsors, and increasing pressure on other sources of income for terrorist organisations, such as human, and drug trafficking. In fact the irony here is that the process of globalisation that had so occupied the actions of the developed world for the past decade, proved useful in that as Thomas Biersteker states ‘the ease with which transnational actors can move funds across borders in the wake of financial market globalisation also has contradictory aspects, for the same technology that enables rapid movements of funds also enables enhanced surveillance and the possibility of tracking those funds…. global terrorism is a networked threat that invites a networked response, and the technology….is available’ (Booth & Dunne 2002: 76)

The actions of the United States since 9-11 were within the definitions of international society, for example in its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan it organised a multi-national coalition of nations from the developed and developing world, including Islamic states, all with a common goal the destruction of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban.  It also took part in the formation of a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan with an international conference in Bonn and then the formation of an international stabilisation force for Kabul under the auspices of the UN and later NATO.  Since Afghanistan the USA and its allies within this new international society have used the instruments of this society to continue their war on terror and the battle against the ‘axis of evil’.

9-11 was a terrible event, 3056 (BBC News 2003) innocent people were killed by a band of religious fanatics, but on a daily basis more than that die from hunger, and curable disease, there is an Aids pandemic in Africa that threatens to bring anarchy to the continent, as it’s young are wiped out and its healthy population dwindles.  These are the underlying causes of 9-11, poverty, lack of hope, lack of a voice; only hopeless desperate people blow themselves up or fly into buildings.

The War on Terror, and the subsequent attack on the ‘axis of evil’ has in many ways created a new false illusion of security by ignoring the major underlying causes of 9-11.  Despite the progress in the war on terror, and the attempts to confront WMD and particularly nuclear proliferation, issues that were neglected throughout the 1990’s.  There is a lot that the international community is not doing, it is not confronting and dealing with the continuing and increasing bloodshed in Palestine, nor with global poverty, or with bad governance in the developing world.  In short we have begun to tackle some of the world’s major problems, but mostly we are attacking the symptoms and not dealing with the causes.  Corrupt oppressive regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Cambodia continue to gain western support despite their unquestionable involvements with international terrorism and the oppression of their own people.  The recent coup and collapse of the experiment in Islamic democracy in Egypt and the failure of the USA and other powers to truly condemn the military takeover is further evidence of the wests lack of dedication to the eradication of the root causes of international security concerns. Instead the west favours dealing in expediency and easy answers through the further oppression of an entire people.

International Society like our domestic societies contain the have and the have not’s, and in order to tackle the issues of international security in this new world order what the developed world really needs to do is spend a little money, for example at the start of the war on terror the ‘combined budgets of the Pentagon in 2001 was $1.6 trillion’ (Moore 2001: 170), that was an enormous amount money, yet every penny of it went on bombs, aircraft carriers and the biggest military machine the world had ever seen..  A fraction of that money could bring clean water and decent health care to the whole of the developing world, in fact it could have made the Marshall Plan look like a drop in the ocean if we had wanted it too. Imagine just for a moment what the whole of the developed world could do if it put its mind and wallet into it, a worldwide action plan to eradicate starvation, or bring decent education and health facilities to the majority of the world’s people.

The relevance of International Society has never been clearer; the problems that effect one nation and people soon spill over in an endless cycle of unforeseen consequences that can impact every one of us.  The failure of a government to provide for its citizens should be of the upmost concern to every other government.  The helplessness and despair that failed corrupt and/or autocratic regimes fosters only leads to violent unpredictable reactions.  This is the root of terrorism, and tackling this above all else is the sole true solution to creating a stable and secure international society for all humanity.


Australian Agency for International Development accessed through the World Bank Group’s PovertyNet – Webguide – Bilateral Development Agencies: http://poverty.worldbank.org/webguide/category/3

BBC News Website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/september11

Blair, Tony; Speech to the Lord Mayors Banquet, 11th November 2002 http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page6534.asp

Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2002) ‘Worlds in Collision Terror and the Future of Global Order’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, England, p76

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945 – 2000’ Longman, Harlow, England p67

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p276-277

Moore, Michael (2001) ‘Stupid White Men’ Penguin Books, London p168, 170

Stern, Geoffrey (2000)‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, Pinter, London


The United Nations; 65 Years of Success or Failure?

un fightBy Ian Howarth

The preamble of the founding Charter of the United Nations (1945) sets out its principles, and its norms, and as such is probably the fairest way by which to judge the organisations success or failure.


  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


(UN Charter, San Francisco, 26th June 1945)

The basic structure of the United Nations (UN) consists of three key components, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Secretary General’s Office.  The General Assembly is the body where all member states have a seat and a vote on resolutions placed by the various member states before the Assembly. Here resolutions are passed by a simple majority.  In the case of the admittance of new members or matters of great importance such as peace and security a two thirds majority is required.’ However, the decisions of the General Assembly are not legally binding on the member states and their enforcement relies on the moral weight of the UN and world opinion.

The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, five permanent members, China, United States, United Kingdom, France and the Russian Federation which represent the great power relationships as they stood at the UN’s foundation, and ten member states elected by the General Assembly for two year terms.  Currently the ten elected seats are held by, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and Togo.  The Security Council is the power wielding institution of the UN, the five permanent members each hold the ability to veto any motion placed before the council, (the ten elected members do not have a veto). Resolutions adopted by the Council are legally binding on all the member states, and the Council has the powers to enforce its resolutions through economic sanctions or even military action.  The Security Council is the body within international relations that grants legitimacy or otherwise to the actions of its member states.

The successes and failures of the UN can be measured against the achievements or otherwise of its founding principles and norms, the fundamental one being that “armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. In short the UN was established by the victors of the Second World War to prevent another world war, which became a more urgent endeavour in the fresh glow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is apparent that the UN has failed to bring about world peace and end all war.  However, it would be wrong to conclude that due to this the organization is a failure.  There are gradients of success and failure and when one looks at the broad scope of the post-war period up to the present there are clear initiatives taken by the UN that have averted armed conflict and brought the aggressors to the bargaining table.  There are also periods over the last 57 years when the UN has failed miserably in its responsibilities under its founding charter, and in the next few paragraphs I shall highlight and explore these failures and successes and attempt to form a judgment on the performance of this regime.

The failures of the UN are unfortunately more numerous than its achievements, incidents in which the UN failed to intervene include Vietnam (1954-1973), Afghanistan (1979-1989), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), East Timor (1978) Rwanda (1995), the Invasion of Iraq (2003) and the current on-going bloody civil war in Syria to name but a few.  The first incident that I am going to highlight is the Budapest uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring (1968), during which Hungary and Czechoslovakia both nations that had been under Soviet domination since 1945 briefly regained their independence, before the Soviet tanks rolled in and quashed the uprisings.  The failure here of the United Nations highlighted the true measure of its powers within the cold war bipolar system.  The USSR and the USA had both agreed spheres of influence, and Hungary and Czechoslovakia lay well within the Soviet sphere, consequently the UN was handicapped to intervene on the principle of self-determination set out in its charter due to the veto powers of the Security Council.  This incident just went to further highlight the power that the superpowers held over the UN and their manipulation of the UN in their continuing cold war.

The above example also highlights the way in which the decision making processes of the UN can and often do prevent the UN from being a more pro-active force in international relations.  The powers held by the permanent members of the Security Council mean that the interests of these members can never be placed under the scrutiny of the General Assembly or the Secretary General.

Another failure of great significance is Rwanda in 1995; this is significant due to the fact that the Cold War was over.  The failure in this case was entirely down to a lack of leadership and an inability by the UN to galvanize the necessary support from the western member states in order to send in an intervention force, consequently the world looked on as hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu neighbours in a demonstration of ethnic cleansing not seen since Stalin’s purges.  This humanitarian disaster was symptomatic of the failures of the UN throughout the 1990’s.  Srebrenica in the same year as the Rwanda genocide saw ‘7000 Bosnian Muslim’s’ (Calvocoressi; 2001) massacred in the worst genocide in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  In both instances the UN failed to intervene in time, and in the case of Srebrenica the Dutch UN peacekeepers watched on as thousands were taken from the UN enclave and murdered.

These incidents only went to highlight the inability of the UN to operate without the support of its member states and primarily the Security Council.  The weak mandate in Bosnia led to the appalling events of Srebrenica and no mandate at all led to genocide in Rwanda.

In short the failures of the UN since its inception can be placed into two categories; those that were related to the cold war power plays of the Superpowers e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola etc. This meant the Security Council was never going to intervene with both the United States and the Soviet Union holding a veto.  And those that were down to poor leadership and a lack of political will, such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and East Timor (1978).

However despite the indications above to the contrary the UN has recorded a number of successes, which include Korea (1950-1952) East Timor (1999-2002), Persian Gulf (1991) Cyprus (1972- Present), Congo (1960-1964) Sierra Leone (1998) Kosovo (1999) and Libya (2011).

The first significant and arguably successful intervention under UN auspices after its foundation was the Korean War.  The UN largely under American pressure landed a massive coalition force on the Korean peninsula in order to preserve South Korean independence in the face of North Korean aggression.  However, despite the failure as the United States considers it to defeat the North Koreans the UN did succeed in re-establishing the pre-war status quo on the peninsula a situation which remains to this day.  However the success in Korea was the first indication of the nature of the relationship between Washington and the UN in New York.  The United States was intent on using the UN to further its fight against communism and exacerbate attempts by the UN to intervene in proxy wars across the world e.g. Angola, El Salvador.

Despite the UN’s failure to intervene when Indonesia invaded East Timor shortly after its independence from the Dutch in 1978 the UN intervention to preserve East Timorese self-determination in the wake of a wave of violence following the referendum on independence in September 2000 was an overwhelming success.  Although the majority of UN forces arrived a month late on the ground it clearly prevented a more serious incident and directly led to the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 2002.  Sierra Leone also represents an achievement by the UN although a lot less resounding than East Timor, the UN force in Sierra Leone initially faced a lot of pressure due to a weak mandate and an insufficient number of troops.  However, after the UN supported British intervention in 2000/2001 to re-enforce the UN mission and the adoption of a more robust mandate a final resolution to that nation’s decade long conflict between the government and rebel forces was secured.  A UN intervention in Angola has also brought about a settlement after 30 years of war.

The Persian Gulf War was also a significant UN achievement.  The coalition force that was assembled during operation Desert Shield in late 1990 and early 1991 was done so under a Security Council resolution.  The defeat of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kuwait was a resounding success, which brought about great hopes for future UN intervention’s which were later dashed by the incidents in Bosnia and elsewhere. The implementation of sanctions against Iraq by the UN was also initially a success, with an estimated 85% of Iraq’s biological weapons stockpiles being destroyed, and the entire nuclear weapon development programme being shut down.  However, later events that led up to the US/UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked one of the UNs lowest points in its sixty years of history.  The divisions that opened up in the Security Council before and during that period were far greater than at any time since the Cold War, and utterly paralysed the UN as an actor in the ensuing conflict.

Other areas of the world that UN intervention has brought about positive results include Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Congo in the early 1960’s almost bankrupted the UN and led to heavy casualties amongst the UN Force but it did succeed in ending the civil war and re-uniting the Congo.  It was the first UN led intervention within a member state, something the charter forbade.  The lessons of this intervention also partly explain the reluctance within the UN to intervene in conflicts within member states such as Bosnia, and Rwanda, as well as the on-going war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite the UNs failure to end war and its significant and numerous failures, the organisation has brought about change for the good, and remains the primary force for conflict resolution and international cooperation.  The existence of rival institutions such as NATO which also aims to promote global security has weakened the ability of the UN.  However, significantly there has so far been no third world war.  It is arguable that the institutional framework of the UN provided the superpowers with a vital non-violent means to confront and discuss issues in a formal environment within which each felt equally legitimate and non-threatened.  It is important to note that up until Gorbachev’s détente of the late 1980’s there was no regular contact between the Soviet Union and the USA, and therefore without the contact that the UN provided, misunderstandings could have grown into something much more serious.

The UN was established primarily to prevent a third world war and provide conflicting parties a means by which to meet and negotiate.  Within the terms of that ambition this regime has so far succeeded.  Furthermore, its norms and principles have been accepted by all the member states and although not yet implemented by all, the fundamental ideal of human rights, and meaningful discussion rather than war has gained ground and greater acceptance throughout the world. +


Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945-2000’ p346-347 Longman: Harlow England p235, 237

Krasner, Stephen (1983) ‘International Regimes’ p2, Cornell University Press, Ithaca: New York.

Stern, Geoffrey (2000) ‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, p237, Pinter: London


Cosmopolitanism in a World Without Borders

By Ian Howarth

The UN Charter is the central document of international law, its basic principles are that states should be ‘good citizens of international society; recognise that states have equal rights…and legitimate interests which deserve respect even if they may conflict with the interests of your own state; act in good faith; observe international law; punish aggressors; observe the laws of war; [and] be magnanimous in victory…’  (Booth & Smith 1995: 116)  The lack of moral prescriptions on the legitimate actions of states within their own borders means that gross violations of human rights conducted within states do not violate international law.  Political cosmopolitanism argues that these violations should be deemed illegal by international law, with international structures responsible for their enforcement.un_gen_assembly

The view taken in this essay is best described as cosmopolitan utilitarian realism.  This is based on the principles of moral cosmopolitanism with a utilitarian attitude to the costs of action or inaction in the current international system.  There is no argument for a world government, or United Nations Army both of which are unrealistic and undesirable.  The argument is based on moral principles enshrined within a reformed United Nations, that are enforced through the Security Council by nations who themselves embody these principles.  The view is realist due to its recognition of the state system, and the primacy of the state as the sole actor capable of enforcing, and upholding cosmopolitan values.


Cosmopolitanism is not a single coherent doctrine addressing the injustices of the current systems of global governance; it can be divided into two branches the first moral cosmopolitanism and the second political cosmopolitanism.  Despite the substantive differences between each approach, they share three central principles.  That all human beings have a common moral identity, that there are universal standards of normative judgment derived from this common morality, and that a cosmopolitan political order needs to be established to enforce and protect these principles.

Moral cosmopolitanism is concerned with the first two principles, common human morality, and universal normative judgments made on the basis of this morality.  Moral cosmopolitans largely accept the current state system and attempt to import moral cosmopolitan certainties in to this existing order.  The acceptance of the overall structure of the state system is not in question here; the argument facing moral prescriptive war is by what standards states should be held accountable.  Currently the standards are based on bi-lateral relations and strategic interests that maintain state borders as representing a separation between international and domestic politics.

A World without Borders:

Political cosmopolitanism places the rights of the individual above the rights of the state, whereas international law places rights in the hands of states.  In order to bring about a cosmopolitan political order it is therefore necessary for this current dispensation to be reversed or at least significantly re-distributed.  However, practically states are not about to relinquish their monopoly on legitimacy in international relations; besides the state is the only and best guarantor of human rights and democracy.  This is not always the case.  In many parts of the world states abuse or neglect their role as guarantors of individual rights, or have disintegrated so no central sovereignty is in control of the state apparatus.

The validity of borders in the modern world is questioned by Robert Kaplan in his book ‘The Coming Anarchy’ where he points to state structures in West Africa.  Arguing that ‘Disease, over-population, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations [are causing] the increasing erosion of nation states and international borders.’  (Kaplan 2000: 7)  The reality of the political structure of West Africa as in many other parts of the world, like South East Asia, and the Caucasus’s, is far removed from the confident defined depictions of states found on maps.  The neo-realist approach taken by Kaplan argues for the American domination of international institutions to bring order to the international system.  He sees the world’s problems being remedied by strong government and free market economics, with the failures of the later lying in the lack of stable strong governments.  Kaplan does not question the nature of government, believing that its purpose is to secure its territory and provide a stable environment for economic activity.

The need for the reform of institutions like the UN is not disputed here, but the nature of the reform is.  The argument here is for placing moral cosmopolitan norms at the centre of international law, with particular emphasis on human rights, and does not accept the pretence that globalisation alone can bring about an end to international terrorism, disease and poverty.  Cosmopolitanism argues that solutions to these problems are as much political as economic, and that the preservation of individual rights should come before economic considerations.

Kaplan’s argues for American economic hegemony.  However, the current structure of the international political economy is unjust, creating many of the problems that Kaplan highlights.  Poverty and corruption in West Africa is as much the result of unfair trading practices, through the exploitation of the developing world by the developed west.  Johan Galtung argues in ‘A Structural Theory of Imperialism’ (1971), that developed, and developing world elites (centres) share common interests in their economic relationships, while the relative poor (periphery) of each society share few common interests.  This prevents the common distillation of global opposition from this majority against the injustices of elite relations.  ‘It is a sophisticated type of dominance relation which cuts across nations, basing itself on a bridgehead which the centre in the Centre nation establishes in the centre of the periphery nation, for the joint benefit of both.’  (Galtung, 1971: 81)  This neo-Marxist argument highlights the effects of first world economic practices on political stability in the developing world.  They undermine the bedrock on which stable political institutions can be built, which, as Kaplan admits, is the creation of a middle class, a process inhibited by these practices.

The issue of economics and political stability are bound together in a ruthless cycle.  World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on intellectual property and agriculture, disproportionately favour the developed west.  Regional policies like the European Unions (EU) common agricultural policy (CAP) provide vast subsidies for farmers to grow more food than is needed, which floods international markets and drives prices down.  If one thing could be done economically to readdress the problems facing the developing world, that contribute to the ‘anarchy’ that Kaplan points to, it is the removal of these unfair trade subsidies, and the establishment of genuine free trade in agricultural goods.  It is only in these areas of economic activity that the largely pre-industrial economies of the developing world can achieve significant growth, to the benefit of western taxpayers, and the wealth of the developing world.

Kaplan’s postmodernist view that the international system, with its reliance on operating entirely through state vs. state relations, is not capable of adapting to the ‘coming anarchy’ is convincing.  Kaplan’s portrayal of a disintegrating third world causing mass population movements across borders, and fuelling the development of Victorian like urban zones on the coastal edges of war torn and disease infested interiors, highlights the scope and urgency of the problems facing the developing world.  His judgment that they will only breed greater resentment towards the developed world, creating new opportunities for radical doctrines, and terrorist groups, is also credible in the light of the war on terror.  It is the economic prescription he provides as a solution, which fails to understand the role of western economic policies in creating instability in the developing world that is less so.

The solution to Kaplan’s anarchy were ‘a minority of the population will be, as Francis Fukuyama would put it, sufficiently sheltered so as to enter a “post-historical” realm, living in cities and suburbs in which the environment has been mastered and ethnic animosities have been quelled by bourgeois prosperity, [while] an increasingly large number of people will be stuck in history, living in shanty towns where attempts to rise above poverty, cultural dysfunction, and ethnic strife will be doomed by lack of water to drink, soil to till and space to survive in.’ (Kaplan 2000: 22) Is the establishment of a new system of state relations that goes beyond the realms of state interests and economics, and recognises our common intrinsic humanity.

This recognition of our common humanity would require Kantian principles on human rights to be established in the actions of statesmen, and the recognition of the cosmopolitan argument that statesmen are in the best position to effect change in international relations.  Kantianism argues that statesmen should ‘…always remember that people in other countries are human beings just like yourself; observe common morality; respect human rights; assist those who are in need of material aid which you can supply at no sacrifice to yourself; in waging war spare non-combatants…. these normative considerations are characteristic of a world society in which responsibility is defined by ones membership in the human race, and thus by common morality’ (Booth & Smith 1995: 117) Kantian arguments on statesmen as members of the international community focus on changing behaviour within current systems to meet the demands of human rights, and highlights the influencing role states can play in promoting this agenda.

Kaplan’s view of the coming anarchy is widely dismissed by cosmopolitans due to its neo-realist economic prescriptions, however valid the underlying symptoms of instability he points to are.  The collapse of states in Africa is at a developed stage, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Somalia and Angola are figments of western imaginations; where state structures exist they are largely weak and ineffective.  In reality, these states are divided by civil conflict and/or ruled by warlords.  In the coming decades the effects of HIV/Aids on the productivity of these states will only reinforce, and accelerate the process.  The true political map of Africa, as in parts of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines) and South America (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) is increasingly fragmented, with territory under the control of powers not recognised by the international community, but in every meaningful way to the people who live there as potent as any state.

The coming anarchy is no longer theory; it is a reality that can be seen in international terrorism (New York, Bali, Madrid, London, Iraq, Boston), failed states (Sierra Leone, DR. Congo, Afghanistan), nuclear, biological and chemical weapons proliferation (Iran, North Korea) and the growing consequences of our civilisation on the environment (Global Warming).  The failure of cosmopolitan theory to recognise these realities limits the effectiveness of its prescriptions.  Cosmopolitan approaches to the international system like all other liberal arguments must adapt to present threats, this means acting pragmatically and recognising that many of the solutions to these problems lie in coercion (economic/diplomatic), and the use of force against dangerous regimes, and ideologies.

Liberal Internationalism:

Liberal Internationalism argues for the establishment of strong international institutions that can ‘…transform…international relations from a ‘jungle’ of chaotic power politics to a zoo of peaceful intercourse.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 119)  Liberal internationalism aims to create global regimes that regulate the behaviour of states within specific areas.  The regimes would operate at three levels in the international system; intergovernmental, transnational and supranational, all three types can exist at either international or regional levels of state interaction.  The system relies on the cooperation of states, with the system itself promoting cooperation by ‘…[alleviating] the lack of trust between states and the states’ fear of each other which are considered to be the traditional problems associated with international anarchy.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 122)

Liberal internationalism is a classical political cosmopolitan approach, with a Wilsonian vision of international relations.  The aim of liberal internationalist theory is a ‘world of self-determining peoples whose relations with each other are regulated, on a consensual basis, through international institutions.’  (Hutchings 1999: 157)  This institutionalised system was envisaged in the foundation of the League of Nations and the United Nations.  The consensual nature of liberal institutionalism presents a bar on the valid use of force in the international system on moral grounds.  It is unlikely that institutions built on consensus would have the ability to take action against transgressors of moral cosmopolitan values in a system that credited all states with equal legitimacy.

Contemporary liberal internationalism is represented in the works of theorists such as Francis Fukuyama who in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ argues ‘that liberal democracy and free market capitalism satisfy between them the human desires which form the motor of historical development…’  (Cited in Hutchings 1999: 158)  Fukuyama’s view of the future sees the world divided in a way similar to Robert Kaplan, with a post historical western minority insulated in a technological bubble removed from the majority whose existence continues to deteriorate.  However, Fukuyama unlike Kaplan believes that this post historical world will see the triumph of liberal democracy over other political structures for the reasons stressed above, and that the problems of the developing world will be solved through this evolution from anarchy to democracy.  However, the argument of gradual progress through cooperation or isolation does not offer a solution to genocide, or rogue states acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons (NBCW).  The entrusting of human rights into international institutions that treat states equally by liberal internationalism fails to create a system in which the enforcement of cosmopolitan norms can be achieved.

Cosmopolitan Democracy:

Cosmopolitan Democracy and liberal internationalism argue that the ‘fundamental principle of democracy is a principle of autonomy…a principle of individual self-determination under constitutional law which protects the encroachment on those fundamental human rights which are a condition of individual self-determination in the first place.’  (Hutchings 1999: 158,160)  However, cosmopolitan democracy doesn’t seek state consensus, arguing that this principle of autonomy can be achieved through the global development of democracy.

Daniele Archibugi argues that ‘Cosmopolitan democracy is based on the assumption that important objectives – control of the use of force, respect for human rights, self-determination – will be obtained only through the extension and development of democracy…[and]…. attempts to apply the principles of democracy internationally.’  (Archibugi 2003: 7)  Cosmopolitan democracies approach to bringing universal recognition of human rights is based on the establishment of global democracy.  This does not necessarily mean the creation of a world government, Archibugi argues that to democratise the world needs ‘…institutions, which enable the voice of individuals to be heard in global affairs, irrespective of their resonance at home.’  (Archibugi 2003: 8)

Cosmopolitan Democratic arguments for cosmopolitan norms within the international system unlike those for international liberalism fail to provide practical structures through which to meet their objectives.  In contrast international liberalism operates inside the state system, proposing a structure which arguably exists in part today through the web of international and regional regimes that operate in the international system.  Cosmopolitan democrats like Daniele Archibugi, seek to establish a system of global democracy through nothing more than a powerful argument.  This view is unrealistic, however laudable the attempts of cosmopolitan democrats to create organisations that encourage the free exchange of ideas and views across borders, interaction between intellectuals will never lead to global democracy.

Governments might no longer be in a position to control information and prevent interaction between people across the globe, but communication alone will not bring about a democratic revolution.  The aversion to what cosmopolitan democrats regard as liberal fundamentalism, as argued by Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilisations), in the enforcement of a position in a coercive or robust manner is self-defeating.  Beginning a big conversation is fine, but to expect that the nattering of intellectuals will lead to utopia is ridiculous.

Mary Kaldor’s cosmopolitan democratic approach in ‘New and Old Wars’ to the failure of humanitarian interventions argues that, ’[a]…political response…a strategy of capturing ‘hearts and minds’ needs to be counterposed to the strategy of sowing ‘fear and hate’.  A politics of inclusion needs to be counterposed against a politics of exclusion; respect for international principles and legal norms needs to be counterposed against the criminality of the warlords.  In short, what is needed is a new form of cosmopolitan political mobilization, which embraces both…. the international community and local populations, and which is capable of countering the submission of various forms of particularism.’  (Kaldor 2001: 114)  This argument for an inclusive strategy of political mobilisation that focuses on the individual, and does not resort to the coercion of states or groups into compliance with cosmopolitan norms is an argument for inaction.

Cosmopolitan political mobilization requires a politically literate and responsive population; conditions that do not exist in the developing world outside universities or political elites.  The political mobilisation that occurs in the wider population is based on ignorance and indoctrination, demonstrable in the spread of extreme Islamic nationalism.  The average citizen of an autocracy is illiterate, hungry and scared; the proposition that they would have the time yet alone the inclination and understanding to absorb cosmopolitan critique of their situation is unlikely.  The positive work done through organisations such as the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and other academic and humanitarian organisations in attempting to create a global cosmopolitan discourse is undoubted; to educate and promulgate the concept of universal human rights, and promote democracy can only help to further the goals of cosmopolitanism.  However, it does not deal with the need for an immediate solution to human rights abuses, terrorism and state disintegration.

Other cosmopolitan democrats like David Held have provided a more realistic argument for achieving political cosmopolitan goals in the international system.  Held convincingly argues that the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ‘…mark(s) …[a]…significant step away from the classic regime of state sovereignty – sovereignty, that is, as effective power – toward the firm entrenchment of the ‘liberal regime of international sovereignty’…sovereignty shaped and delimited by new broader frameworks of governance and law.’  (Held, 2003: 187)  He goes on to argue that ‘…the containment of armed aggression can only be achieved through both the control of warfare and the prevention of the abuse of human rights.’  (Held 2003: 187)  Held’s cosmopolitan democratic arguments for a regime of ‘liberal international sovereignty’ go far in reaching the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

Held argues that this regime would ‘entrench powers and constraints, and rights and duties in international law which – albeit ultimately formulated by states – go beyond the traditional conception of the proper scope and boundaries of states, and can come into conflict, and sometimes contradiction, with national laws.  Within this framework, states may forfeit claims to sovereignty, and individuals to sovereign protection, if they violate the standards and vales embedded in the international liberal order… violations…[would] no longer be a matter of morality alone…but breaches of…legal code…that may call forth the means to prosecute and rectify it.’  (Held, 2003: 189)  This liberal regime represents a robust implementation of cosmopolitan norms at an international level, overturning sovereignty when violations occur and enforcing its legal codes.  However, Held, like Archibugi, is attempting to democratise the international system, and the earlier criticism of this approach with regard to destabilising countries with no middle classes, or traditions to support this process apply.

Held provides a structure that would place human rights and self-determination at the heart of the international system, but in a state based structure; failed states without true political cohesion and suffering from internal conflict would not fit any better into this liberal international order than they do today, this requires a doctrine allowing intervention and nation building.  Held also ignores the wider problems of NBCW proliferation, terrorism, and political radicalisation (Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism, and neo-fascism) these involve issues that are not directly human rights based, requiring intervention by the developed west for international peace and security and based on political and strategic determinations.

Although Held’s construct is convincing and wholly acceptable in the round, its failure to meet issues of international peace and stability based on the actions of states or terrorist groups, would leave the world more just, but not more stable.  Furthermore, his determination to make democracy as integral a part of his prescription as human rights means that it lacks pragmatic realism; in the sense that to enforce a liberal democracy on the international system would require such overwhelming coercion that it would effectively be the declaration of a world war by liberal democracy.

This goal of democratisation is laudable, but unrealistic, the aim of cosmopolitanism should be the international acceptance of a relationship of respect between citizens and states, based on the recognition of human rights.  The acceptance of human rights first and foremost would have the effect of promoting liberal democracy without destabilising the international system through a perpetual conflict against un-democratic regimes, a significant proportion of which are largely benign, e.g. Pakistan, Cuba, & Iran.  It is the requirement for global democracy, with Archibugi’s refusal to accept the need for coercion on one hand, and Held’s coercion in defence self-determination on the other, that makes cosmopolitan democracy an idealistic approach, and incapable of establishing legitimate prescriptions for war in the pursuit of human rights and international stability.  The argument below for military action in the defence of human rights, the control of NBCW proliferation, and against terrorism is premised on a proportionate response, and not a declaration of war against autocracy; its prime concern being the achievement of a humane strategic stability in the international system.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism; An Argument for Action:

Utilitarianism in the context of military force in international relations is a reference to the ‘greater good argument’, this is to say that ‘since all individuals seek pleasure and the avoidance of pain, a universal franchise [is] the only way of promoting ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ (Heywood 1997: 71).  Jeremy Bentham conceived the universal franchise to be suffrage.  However, this applied universally as discussed within cosmopolitan democracy is impractical.  The universal franchise that is argued for here is human rights, a universal recognition of basic rights of humanity enforced through a credible deterrent.  The greatest good, for the greatest number of people could be most effectively achieved through the following mechanism.  Cosmopolitan utilitarianism is a pragmatic application of moral utilitarianism within the political ambitions of cosmopolitanism that recognises the current structure of the international system.

Utilitarianism is applied to this argument because the ‘greater good argument’ lies at the heart of the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the greater good of providing recognition of human rights for the widest number of people through the maximization of the resources available to international society.  This requires the limitation of military action to the support of human rights or the preservation of peace to the most extreme cases; an absence of democracy would not be a sufficient premise for intervention.  The utility of this approach is in its acceptance of consequentiality.  The final consequences of action or inaction in a specific circumstance would be the central question when taking military action that will undoubtedly result in the death of innocents.

Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, this choice is based on the risk to individuals from gross human rights violations, or the threat to international peace and security from unstable or unscrupulous states attempting to acquire NBCW.  ‘If a trade-off is to be made, it should favour whatever is more important to the living of a satisfactory human life, and since the protection of vital interests is plausibly taken to be a necessary condition for such a life, such protection takes priority.’  (Jones 1999: 41)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the vital interests are basic principles of human rights and the maintenance of peace and stability in the international system.  The legitimacy of state sovereignty would be judged against cosmopolitan criteria with the aim of introducing credible justice in to the international system.  These criteria would not require states to be free from all human rights abuses, but would prohibit genocide, the forced moving of populations, and the use of military or para-military forces against civilian populations, the sponsorship of international terrorism, and the proliferation of NBCW’s.

The criteria would not be enforced through a consensual institutionalised system of equal states, but through the advancement of liberal democratic norms in the international system.  It would require the core democratic states (e.g. France, Britain, USA, Germany, India) to cooperate in enforcing these criteria upon the rest of the international community through a reformed United Nations and Security Council given this moral purpose.  This system would not de-legitimise autocratic regimes, on the contrary, states that are stable internally and externally, at peace with the international system and not committing gross violations of the criteria stated above would be accepted within the system as members of the Rim of states.  Outside the Core due to their lack of democracy but associated with the Core through the global economy, as full members of the international community as long as they continue to operate within the norms of the system.

States outside this sphere of international stability (the Core and the Rim) will be classed as part of the Periphery which can be characterised as unstable or failed states such as Somalia and Liberia or states which are responsible for gross violations of human rights (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), or that threaten peace and stability through the sponsorship of terrorism (Libya), or the development of NBCW (North Korea).  States that are classed as peripheral will be in clear breach of the utilitarian cosmopolitan criteria stated above.  The international community will class states that violate these criteria as illegitimate authorities, their claims to the protections of sovereignty will be void, and they will face legitimate intervention by the Core to bring them back into compliance with the norms of the system.

This argument could be associated with Mark Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace Theory’, which ‘combines and conflates ‘liberal’ (as in contemporary liberal economic and political tenets) with ‘peace’ (the present policy predilection towards conflict resolution and societal reconstruction).  It reflects the existing consensus that conflict in the South is best approached through a number of connected, ameliorative, harmonising, and, especially, transformational measures.  While this can include the provision of immediate relief and rehabilitation assistance, liberal peace embodies a new or political humanitarianism that lays emphasis on such things as conflict resolution and prevention, reconstructing social networks, strengthening civil and representative institutions, promoting the rule of law, and security sector reform in the context of a functioning market economy’ (Duffield, 2002: 11)

The pursuit of international peace and stability that both Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace’ and Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism seeks is a shared objective.  However, the means of reaching this goal are very different.  Duffield’s neo-Liberal argument is more concerned with securing stability on the borders between liberal developed society, and the developing world, with the aim of stabilising unstable regions of the developing world to protect the Liberal world from violence emanating from these regions, while also allowing for their participation in the global economy, providing growth opportunities for western economies.  Duffield rejects the utilitarian cosmopolitan argument for extending human rights universally as a step towards the creation of greater freedoms and stability in the developing world.  Duffield seeks stability in the global south for the benefit of the developed west, and not the extension of the Liberal zone of stability through the effective use of military force, and economic structural change.  Duffield effectively argues for the construction of walls around liberal societies, with channels of economic activity extending beyond the walls to the developing world, channels maintained by liberal peacekeeping missions ensuring the stability required for economic activity.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism is not a neo-Liberal argument concerned only with the protection of western interests, although it rejects the extension of democracy, on pragmatic grounds, as a goal, it stills argues for the cosmopolitan principles of universal human rights, and the creation of civil societies to support these rights.  It differs from traditional cosmopolitan approaches (cosmopolitan democrats, liberal internationalism) in that it prescribes the use of military force against violators of these principles, and in the defence of the liberal democratic world from tyrannical regimes threatening international peace through developing NBCW.  This approach argues that before stable and lasting civil societies can be constructed military force may need to be used against the dominant tendencies toward extremism, violence and corruption that currently prevail in these societies and cause instability, the repression of human rights, and continued poverty.

This could be mistaken for moral imperialism.  However, the distinction between imperialism and cosmopolitanism is clear; the latter is an economic imperative that seeks domination over other states, with their assimilation and subordination to the colonial power.  Cosmopolitan prescriptions do not tolerate this, excepting diverse cultures as essential in the development of vibrant and just societies.  Moves towards moral imperialism would be unlikely to gain popular support amongst the core democracies as it would represent a retrograde step, inevitably leading to international instability and great power rivalry, both contrary to the aims of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

An example of this kind of action can be found in the UN mission to Somalia in which due to the lack of a host government from which to gain prior approval the UN Security Council under resolution 794 ‘….  [Explicitly authorized] the establishment of a force on humanitarian grounds…’  (Brown 2002: 147)  The Unified Task Force (UNITAF) spearheaded by the United States effectively invaded Somalia and established a humanitarian government over the territory.  The initial premise, and the action taken by UNITAF, is entirely within the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism in relation to failed states.  However, the short-term commitment of UNITAF, and the failure to continue its robust intervention through to a concerted disarmament of the militia groups, led to the failure of the intervention.  Despite this, it does provide evidence that interventions of this kind are practical, but that they require the binding of the Core nations to a legal structure.  The lack of this in the international system meant that the UN withdrawal was able to go ahead despite the obvious failure of its mission and the chaos that would follow in its wake.

This approach to implementing moral cosmopolitan norms into the international system represents a utilitarian view on how to achieve the greatest impact within the current system, and bring about the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people.  It both respects notions of sovereignty and removes them as the prime concern of international relations.  The implementation of this conditional sovereignty would lead to the self-regulation of autocratic regimes who would balance their policies so as not to violate the conditions of their legitimacy, therefore lessening the negative impacts of their rule to limited human rights violations and political restrictions.  Although this is unsavoury, benign autocracies such as Pakistan, and China, provide stability to regions that forced into democracy without an educated population base to support it, would probably descend into chaos and civil conflict.  The pragmatism of the greater good argument means that this is a necessary evil of peace in the international system.

Arguments against Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism:

Ethical relativism as presented by Michael Waltzer argues that liberal democracies cannot use universal judgments about the nature of humanity to judge other societies who do not subscribe to these judgements.  Walzer argues that universal judgments cannot be made using the criteria of one culture against another, that only within cultures can norms be established.  For example, Walzer argues ‘…that a commitment to universal human rights constitutes a central feature of the shared understanding of a contemporary Western society like the United States, then it follows that, from a Walzerian particularist perspective, we have reason to accept that commitment to universal human rights [within western society].’  (Jones 1999: 183)  We can accept this within western society, but are prohibited from holding human rights as a bar to other cultures, unless they arrive at the same consensus on the universality of human rights independently.

This position makes the practices of different cultures morally equivalent; this is to say that the autocratic practices of Saudi Arabia are morally equivalent with those of the plural democracies of the European Union, due to the fact that each position was attained through community consensus.  This is a dangerous means of justifying norms as acceptable, as it could sanction almost anything as long as it attained consensus within its political sphere.  As Charles Jones argues ‘It is no moral refutation of a moral claim to say that there is no consensus in its favour in every culture in the world, nor is a moral claim plausibly defended by citing only its widespread appeal…Moral views are properly judged not by determining how many people (or cultures) subscribe to them, but the plausibility of the reasons adduced in their favour’ (Jones 1999: 184) The reasons adduced in the favour of the universality of human rights are that humans are a common species and that one person’s determination that torture, or genocide is immoral, is a plausible view to associate with humanity as a whole.

Neo-Hegelian arguments attempt to preserve the ethical value of the state while maintaining the moral importance of the individual.  This view appears to be close to utilitarian cosmopolitanism, however neo-Hegelians and cosmopolitans disagree ‘…on the question of the necessity of separate sovereign states for the living of individual worthwhile lives.’  (Jones 1999: 207)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, sovereignty is only respected as long as the sovereign state protects human rights, and respects non-proliferation of NBCW; failing this sovereignty ceases to be recognised and is open to intervention to restore international law.  The neo-Hegelian respect for the abstract notion of state sovereignty in conditions that would violate cosmopolitan norms, and wouldn’t sanction military action to rectify the situation, means that although neo-Hegelian theory raises the hope of mediating the differences between communitarians and cosmopolitans in encompassing the demands of the community with those of the individual, it fails by placing the requirements of the community of states over the rights of the individual.


This essay has examined political cosmopolitan approaches to the implementation of moral cosmopolitan norms, and shown that practically they fail to offer a basis from which action can be taken in the defence of these norms.  The requirement for democracy held by democratic cosmopolitans and the equality of states within liberal internationalism, present idealistic and unrealistic conditions respectively.  Liberal internationalism holds the sovereignty of states as the basis of its argument, at a time, when in parts of the world the integrity of states is being undermined.  Cosmopolitan democrats wish to export democracy to an illiterate and unresponsive world, which could lead to greater instability and war.

Democracy cannot be transplanted anywhere, it requires certain conditions to flourish.  Critical of these is the existence of two circumstances that do not prevail in the developing regions of the world, ‘both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate…[while]…under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people…Russia may be failing because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not…’  (Kaplan 2000: 64)  The argument that Kaplan is presenting here is not that authoritarianism is good and democracy bad, but that ‘…democracy emerges successfully only as the capstone to other social and economic achievements.’  (Kaplan 2000: 66)

Utilitarian cosmopolitanism is a rational, pragmatic approach to the central issues in the international system today, which counteracts neo-conservative and realist agendas that dismiss universal concepts of human rights, and continue to argue that states and their interests are the only basis for action within the international system.  These realist perspectives resist the establishment of international norms on the basis that it limits a state’s ability to protect itself in an anarchic international environment.  Utilitarian cosmopolitanism refutes this argument, presenting a system that seeks international and personal security but within the context of international norms; arguing that this is necessary due to the destabilising effect of human rights violations, and the threat of NBCW in the hands of extremist regimes and terrorist groups, on the international system.


Archibugi, Daniele (2003) Cosmopolitical Democracy, Ed. Daniele Archibugi, Debating Cosmopolitics, Verso, London, pp.7, pp.8,

Booth, Ken, Smith, Steve (1995) International Relations Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge pp.117

Brown, Chris (2002) Sovereignty, Rights and Justice; International Political Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.147

Duffield, Mark (2002) Global Governance and the New Wars, Zed Books, London, pp.11

Galtung, Johan (1971) A Structural Theory of Imperialism, Journal of Peace Research, Vol.13, No.2, University of Tsforlageg pp.81

Held, David (2003) Violence, Law and Justice in a Global Age, Ed. Daniele Archibugi, Debating Cosmopolitics, Verso, London, pp.187, pp.189, pp.194, pp.195

Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp.71

Hutchings, Kimberley (1999) International Political Theory, Sage Publications, London, pp.157, pp.158, pp.160

Jackson, Robert & Sorensen, Georg (1999) Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.119, pp.122

Jones, Charles (1999) Global Justice; Defending Cosmopolitanism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.41, pp.183, pp.184, pp.207

Kaldor, Mary (2001) New & Old Wars; Organized Violence in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.114

Kaplan, Robert D. (2000) The Coming Anarchy; Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War, Vintage Books, New York, pp.7, pp.22

NGO’s – Can they do more harm than good?

By Ian Howarth

If we are to understand whether or not Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) can ‘do no harm’ we need to examine the structural system in which they operate.  This involves looking at the growth in the role of NGO’s in major humanitarian crises, and the structural changes that have driven this growth, giving an increasingly significant role to NGO’s.  We also need to look at the growing trend amongst donor states towards contracting out humanitarian aid programmes to NGO’s, and the division in responsibilities that this practice has created between NGO’s and Governmental Bodies.  The operational position of NGO’s in conflict zones will also be examined; demonstrating that although they play a positive role in providing humanitarian relief; there involvement can lead to the exacerbation of conflict by institutionalising the status quo.Aid

The role of NGO’s since the end of the cold war has expanded significantly; the removal of the ideological and political restrictions that dominated the cold war not only led to an expansion in the tasks of NGO’s, but also in their numbers.  The expansion of NGO involvement into areas that had traditionally been considered the preserve of nation states can be traced back to the Biafran war in Nigeria during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The impact of television images showing drought, starvation and war, on an increasingly affluent western society led to civilian driven programmes providing aid to the afflicted of Nigeria/Biafra.  The massive spread in NGO’s during the 1990’s was connected to globalisation.  Social and economic interdependence, combined with global communication has given us access to, and an awareness of remote and previously unreported regions of the world.  This means that an earthquake in India or flooding in Mozambique can be broadcast into living rooms across the world within hours, or even live from the scene.

The effects of the media on public perceptions of humanitarian crises, and on governments in the developed west have been substantial.  The 1984 Live Aid appeal followed ‘….  Western television coverage..[which]…brought sickening scenes of malnutrition and death from starvation to the homes of tens of millions of well-fed people.’  (Gilbert 1999: 619)  The public response to these images was a call for a stop to the unnecessary deaths they were witnessing in the comfort of their living rooms every evening on the nightly news.  This response led to a massive media driven aid campaign, which was hugely successful despite the aid arriving too late; with an estimated ‘three-quarters of a million people’ (Gilbert 1999: 619) dying from starvation.  However, the aid that did arrive benefited ‘…at least ten million more…’  (Gilbert 1999: 619)

Live Aid instructed a generation that through their own actions they could potentially ‘feed the world’ independent of their governments through donating money to NGO’s or volunteering time and effort.  They could impact on the lives of others who were not as fortunate as themselves, and change the world for the better.  This led to a ‘…growth in informal non-governmental transnational networks.  These include NGO’s – both those which undertake functions formally undertaken by governments, e.g. humanitarian assistance, and those which campaign on global issues, e.g. human rights, ecology, peace, etc.  These NGO’s are most active at local and transnational levels, partly because these are the sites of the problems with which they are concerned…’  (Kaldor 2001: 73)  Thousands of people have become involved in these campaigns either indirectly through donating money, and signing petitions or directly by cutting fishing nets, or protesting.

Ethiopia was undoubtedly a success for humanitarian NGO’s, the campaign mounted through television, popular music and politics brought about massive international assistance from governments across the world, and led to real results on the ground; with the British government sending RAF Hercules transport planes to deliver food to remote regions through airdrops.  Live Aid can be seen as the beginning of the modern NGO movement, although organisations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid had been around for many years prior to this crisis, assisting in disaster zones across the globe, their role, and profile was far diminished from what we see today.  The role of NGO’s in conflict zones significantly changed from that of auxiliaries to state based programmes, to representing a response in them-selves.  Today the arrival of NGO’s with their global aid campaigns and government subsidies in a disaster zone can alone bring about sufficient support to negate the need for a wider international military or state based humanitarian response.

The position of NGO’s as neutral, independent entities operating outside the foreign policies of nations has given them a unique status in international politics.  This has meant that when operating in conflict zones they can act as neutral intermediaries, providing humanitarian assistance, while remaining outside the politics of the situation.  Equally in natural disasters they can enter an afflicted region quickly at the request of a government; avoiding the complicated issues surrounding state sovereignty that arise from sending multinational state sponsored relief missions.  The reluctance of states to surrender control over a situation no matter how dire could prevent calls for assistance, and block the arrival of aid to people in desperate need.  NGO’s in their capacity as non-state actors work in a way that prevents this.

The combination of globalisation and the emergence of new post-cold war crises have meant that the list of NGO’s operating around the world today is ever growing.  The largest and more established organisations like OXFAM, Christian Aid, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, increasingly work like multinational corporations; with hundreds of aid programmes, development initiatives and exchange programmes operating across the globe.

The rise of NGO’s during the 1990’s occurred in parallel with a wider change in the approach of states to the allocation of their aid budgets for humanitarian assistance.  This saw the United Nations (UN) expand its role within humanitarian issues, with the same changes in circumstances as NGO’s leading to the creation of new commissions and agencies such as UNICEF and UNHCR.  These developments increased the influence and role of the UN in the provision of humanitarian assistance.  ‘The last decade of the twentieth century saw an unprecedented increase in the number and scale of military interventions by the United Nations forces: this has been called new interventionism.  Between 1988 and 1993 alone, 20 new peacekeeping missions were established.  At the same time, the size and budget of the annual UN peacekeeping budget shot up from US$230 million in 1988, to between US$800 million and US$1.6 billion throughout the 1990’s.’  (Baylis, Wirtz, Cohen & Gray 2002: 287)

The expansion of new interventionism in international relations boosted the growth of NGO’s, providing substantial new sources of income, and increasing their size and power.  ‘A major reason for the proliferation of NGOs has been the recent inclination of both international and bilateral aid agencies to contract out much of their fieldwork…’(BBC News 2004) This along with the ‘…big increase in humanitarian assistance; nowadays it amounts to over 10 per cent of official development assistance…[and]… the establishment of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs in 1991 and of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) in 1992 reflects the growing importance of humanitarian assistance.’  (Kaldor 2001: 132)

NGO’s often work closely with government development and humanitarian assistance agencies, providing the infrastructure through which aid and financing is funnelled.  This has meant that NGO’s are increasingly becoming the enabling agencies of government aid programmes, often gaining funding from several sources, even governments for each programme.  This has meant that NGO’s have in many ways become the only show in town when it comes to humanitarian assistance, the UN does not provide doctors, or run international media campaigns, it does provide administrators, finance and political legitimacy.

The UN organises the political and administrative structure of missions with local authorities, establishing their legitimacy, and providing an umbrella under which the NGO’s can work.  This operational structure creates a division of responsibility; political negotiations, economic development and conflict resolution are dealt with by the UN, while food, medicine, basic infrastructure and other practical humanitarian requirements are provided by NGO’s.  NGO’s in providing the infrastructure for relief missions can increasingly act without UN supervision, having their own administrative capabilities through which to operate.  This also means that the enabling capacity of the NGO’s can be used to influence UN policies.  If NGO’s refuse to operate under the conditions established by the UN or the host state then there is no mission; this has made NGO’s powerful players in the planning and implementation of humanitarian missions.

These financially competent transnational organisations independent of any single government, who work to provide emergency relief to desperate people; are viewed by many as a third way to dealing with the humanitarian implications of state disintegration, natural disasters and civil wars.  However, the political atmosphere that the symbiotic relationship between state financing and NGO field work produces has had a negative effect on the approach to humanitarian crises taken by the international community.

The fact that NGO’s work on a consensual basis within disaster zones under UN political auspices or at the bequest of a host state means that they are dependent on the acquiescence of third parties.  This situation is partly due to the politics of NGO’s ‘Cosmopolitan politicisation can be located both within the new transnational NGOs or social movements and within international institutions, as well as amongst individuals, around a commitment to human values (universal social and political rights, ecological responsibility, peace and democracy etc.) and to the idea that self-organised groups, operating across borders, can solve problems, and lobby political institutions.’  (Kaldor 2001: 76)  The belief in their ability to solve problems independent of states or without the use of coercion or force leads to the pursuit of consensus and agreement as an end in itself rather than dealing with the wider issues of the conduct of war or corruption within host governments for example in the siphoning of funds from aid budgets.  This is a particular problem for NGO’s in conflict zones, situations that bring about NGO dependency on the political agreement, and support of combatants in order to operate on the battlefield.  This reliance brought about by a need to work within the prevailing circumstances; represents a systemic failure in the way NGO’s and the UN approach the dilemma of providing aid to civilians caught up in war.

This problem was seen at its starkest in Bosnia during the early 1990’s.  The civil and ethnic conflict that erupted in Bosnia following its independence from the Yugoslav Federation represented a massive humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe.  The response of NGO’s to the crisis was punctual entering the conflict zone long before the creation of a UN mission and the arrival of peacekeepers; establishing food convoys, refugee camps, and setting up medical facilities while the war raged around them.  The initial response of the NGO’s was timely and became increasingly important as the war continued and the siege of Sarajevo commenced.  The lifeline of medical and food supplies provided by NGO truck convoys and airlifts into the city, and to the safe areas like Bihac and Srebrenica were vital; without them, the cost in lives of the war would have been considerably higher, with starvation and the cold adding to the death toll.

However, the structures that supported these efforts were questionable, the truck convoys had to pass through Serb or Croat controlled territory in order to reach the safe areas and the airlifts had to fly over Serbian anti-aircraft batteries to enter Sarajevo.  The cost of keeping these lifelines open was in the NGO’s and the UN having to deal with the combatants.  This occasionally involved turning a blind eye, or in supplying medical or food aid to combatants.  The need to maintain these agreements and the position of neutrality within conflicts have led the UN, often with NGO support, to stand back and not intervene to prevent human rights abuses and genocide.

The tenuous position held by the UN and NGOs in Bosnia, were taken advantage of by the combatants; in his testimony to the UN War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, Momir Nikolic stated that, Serb commanders issued a directive for dealing with UN safe areas “…the life of the enemy has to be made unbearable and his temporary stay in the enclave made impossible so that they leave en masse as soon as possible, realizing they cannot survive there…the policy was carried out said Nikolic…Civilians were fired at, aid was blocked, and fuel, food and other supplies for the UN were halted…” (Simons 2003: 2)

The result of this policy was seen in Srebrenica where a UN safe area had been established for Bosnia Muslim refugees in April 1993.  Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic demanded the surrender of the ‘safe area’ in July 1995.  NATO attempted air strikes on the Serb forces; however, the Dutch peacekeepers were taken hostage and NATO stopped the strikes  ‘…following negotiations between the UN and the Bosnian Serbs, the Dutch were at last permitted to leave Srebrenica, leaving behind weapons, food and medical supplies.  In the five days after Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, more than 7,000 Muslim men are thought to have been killed.’  (BBC News 2003)  This failure by the UN was a result of the policy of neutrality towards the combatants, and the failure to take action against clear acts of aggression.  It is an attitude promoted by NGO’s, and although the UN takes the main measure of the blame for Srebrenica, the Red Cross and other NGO’s resident in the safe area, withdrew along with the UN.

The balancing act demanded by NGO neutrality, and the weakness of this approach when dealing with dishonest and unscrupulous regimes, or groups is apparent.  The international communities reliance on NGO responses to conflicts such as Bosnia, Rwanda and initially Kosovo has meant that thousands of people have died.  The consensus driven approach to humanitarian intervention is not the third way it is presented to be, it is in fact a means of passing the buck.  NGO’s for all their promise do not posses the appropriate tools to deal with a situation that demands military intervention, as they lack the capabilities of states.

In Bosnia the arguments against taking military action against Bosnian Serb forces, despite clear evidence of organised genocide being committed by these forces, revolved around the issue of the neutrality of the UN mission.  The UN couldn’t take sides, if it did it argued the peacekeepers and NGO’s would become targets.  This argument meant that it was five years before NATO under American pressure finally bombed the Bosnian Serbs besieging Sarajevo into submission and to a peace settlement at Dayton Ohio.

The existence of NGO’s on the ground in Bosnia in the long run became a liability. Their vulnerability on the battlefield presented an argument for not taking action against forces committing genocide, and flagrantly abusing UN safe zones.  The reliance on consensus and agreement with combatants, and their role as the enabling agencies of the UN relief programme; led the UN and its forces, designed so as not to provoke hostility towards themselves, and protect the NGO’s, to become an obstacle towards ending the conflict quickly.  It is arguable that the Bosnian war could have been brought to as swift a conclusion as the later Kosovo campaign if the international community had opted for an immediate military solution to Serb aggression against the Bosnian state, rather than the humanitarian led response that left itself exposed and unable to act.

It is clear then that NGO’s can do harm, the way in which they operate and the system of responses they promote from the international community to crises; particularly to conflict, are in themselves harmful to the people they aim to protect.  Humanitarian assistance in these circumstances should take a secondary role to the issue of preventing and ending human rights abuses and bringing about political stability.  The examples of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990’s represent circumstances where aid, and the operating practices of NGO’s defined the nature of the UN missions sent, and the tone of the international response.  Both of these cases led to genocide, and inaction, with the later only finally brought to an end through military intervention.

NGO’s offer a huge reserve of expertise, and resources, they have and will continue to save the lives of millions of people.  However, they should be the rearguard of international responses to humanitarian crises, particularly in war zones.  Where a robust response is possible from the international community, they should work around it, and accept that neutrality isn’t always a noble, or suitable position to take.  NGO’s should help rebuild shattered countries after the fighting has stopped, deliver food, and heal the sick.  However, the rules of engagement of international missions should not be determined on the basis of making it easier for NGO’s to operate. Their involvement in a crisis zone, and the politics they encourage should not be allowed to present an argument for inaction in the face of genocide.


Baylis, John, Wirtz, James, Cohen, Eliot, Gray, Colin S. (2002) Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.289

BBC News Online (20th February 2003) Srebrenica Timeline http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/675945.stm

BBC News Online (25th February 2004) Ghana to Blacklist NGO’s http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3517827.stm

Gilbert, Martin (1999) A History of the Twentieth Century; Volume Three: 1952 – 1999 HarperCollins, London, pp.619

Kaldor, Mary (2001) New & Old Wars; Organized Violence in a Global Era Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.73, pp.76, pp.132

Simons, Marlise (13th October 2003) Behind the Srebrenica Massacre The International Herald Tribune, pp.2

Political Cosmopolitanism and the Challenges it Faces

By Ian HowarthHuman Rights Abuse

The building blocks of the cosmopolitan international order can be found in what English school theorists such as Headley Bull and Charles Manning call the ‘four key pillars of international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans & Newnham 1998: 276). These four key pillars determine relations between nations, and form modern international society, and as such are the basis upon which the cosmopolitan international order stands.  The United Nations (UN), the European Union and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) represent common values and goals.  While the Security Council enforces the balance of power, and the implementation of international law in concert with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which upholds and prosecutes that law.

Cosmopolitanism is often mistaken as little more than a framework for moral judgements rather than as a perspective political framework for world order.  ‘Political cosmopolitanism…refers in general to any position which prescribes types of political practice and institution that operate over, above or across the boundaries of the nation-state and which are at least potentially global in their reach.’ (Hutchings 1999: 153-154)

This definition is clearly very general, and although political cosmopolitanism prescribes its framework above, the moral cosmopolitanism that most people are familiar with fleshes it out.  It is impossible to separate its moral or ethical foundations, from the political ‘frameworks’ it aims to promote as these frameworks are based on certain principles and ethical assertions that western societies have come to represent, defend and seek to export.

It is crucial to highlight political cosmopolitanisms emphasis on ‘frameworks’ in this discussion, as political cosmopolitanism does not necessarily seek to create world government.  In fact ‘most contemporary political cosmopolitans are wary of the idea of a world state formulated according to the familiar principle of state sovereignty.’ (Hutchings 1999: 154)  This is due to the potential for global tyranny within such a system.  ‘In general, contemporary work on political cosmopolitanism is premised on the importance of democratising the covert and undemocratic cosmopolitan decision-making which is already going on in the world.’ (Hutchings 1999: 154)

What political cosmopolitanism seeks to establish is a trans-national system of institutions that promote and protect what moral cosmopolitans see as fundamental human rights, such as democratic governance, freedom of speech, expression, and religion, freedom from unprovoked aggression.  It aims to do this through institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) the World Health Organisation (WHO) and to some extent the United Nations (UN).

The ICC is probably the single best example of a cosmopolitan political structure as it has a global reach that rises above national sovereignty.  It seeks to enforce international standards of behaviour in war, and bring the perpetrators of genocide and tyranny to justice.  In short it aims to uphold the moral certainty’s of western and cosmopolitan thought.

The International Order that cosmopolitans strive for is therefore simply defined as a secular network of global institutions that strive to establish norms of behaviour throughout the international system, based on western concepts of human rights, and representative governance.  It aims to achieve this goal through a number of means the primary and most visible one being the globalisation of international trade.  This has brought the world closer together and made nation states more dependent not only on their own economic and political stability but also on the political and economic stability of their major trading partners, and international financial markets.  This growth in international trade and the emergence of an identifiable global economy has also led to the need for structural controls, and the creation of rules and obligations that apply to the whole of the international economy in order to ensure fair and free trade on a level playing field.   This has been partly achieved through organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Despite the fact that all three of these organisations are criticised by many cosmopolitan commentators as existing and operating in a moral vacuum the spread of their power and values has had a positive effect on the cosmopolitan agenda.  All three organisations work transnationally and uphold western economic ideals, which promote certain types of government, property right and individualism.  This individualism leads to an awareness of one’s self within a system creating demand and pressure for change.  These developments are seen widely by many sociologists and historians as the keystones that led to European political enlightenment and eventual democratic reform.  This therefore is what the international cosmopolitan order is, and the institutions mentioned above are the vehicles for its spread and its success.   However, this bold idea held aloft by many western intellectuals, and implemented rather cynically by bureaucrats and politicians is not without challenge.

The primary non-western ideology that gains the most media attention and creates the greatest debate is Islamic fundamentalism, and theocracy in general, but this is not the only non-cosmopolitan view of the world.   The Non-Aligned Movement that was first given voice in the ‘1955 Bandung Conference’ (Evans & Newnham 1998: 45), also has a very different view of the world.  The key principles of this movement can be summarised as a belief in the primacy of national sovereignty and consequently of non-intervention of foreign powers or international organisations in their internal affairs.  This later point when taking into account the type of government prevalent within the members of this international grouping is problematic for moral cosmopolitanism.  These governments can be generally defined as autocratic and repressive yet with diverse and rapidly growing capitalist economies.

The remaining communist nations of China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba also have very different opinions on the nature of the world order they wish to see prevail.  These powers are strongly opposed to international institutions that promote or aim to project what they see as uniquely western values.  Believing that the ultimate vision for the international order is a cooperative and self-sufficient society established along socialist principles.

The Non-Aligned Movement along with China argue against cosmopolitan values stating that they have equally legitimate Asian or African Values, which are promoted by state business elites within these nations; ‘turning the ‘liberal idea’ on its head, and arguing that individualism and pluralism actually negated economic success.  Asian values in Malaysia and Singapore meant liberal legislation to control the aspirations and behaviour of youth.’ (Baylis & Smith 2001: 460)  Asian Values are an explanation and justification for their systems of government and their attitudes towards western ideas of governance and human rights, couched in terms of economic benefits as a placation against the excessive aspirations of their young populations.

However many see this simply as a justification for tyranny and repression, that seeks to justify and give legitimacy to human rights violations within Asian states on the back of cultural preservation.  This is the common position of many who argue against the adoption of international norms and values with regard to human rights and the ideal of representative government.  They argue the imposition of western values on Asian or African societies is cultural imperialism, or Americanisation.  I personally believe that these arguments are disingenuous and immoral, as no one enjoys being oppressed, poor and scared, which are the brutal facts that the people who live with the realities of ‘Asian Values’ or ‘African Values’ must face in their day-to-day lives.

There is however an important distinction to be made here as regards to the nature of these non-cosmopolitan perspectives, with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Asian Values debate on one side and religious extremism on the other.  While all three represent different non-cosmopolitan perspectives on the nature of international order, the latter two are conducted within the traditional structure of international relations and diplomacy.   They do not actively seek to undermine and ultimately destroy the cosmopolitan agenda, but to maintain themselves as independent, existing outside the cosmopolitan agenda.  Their policies seek to weaken the institutions created as part of the cosmopolitan international order so as to maintain opt-out clauses to meet their specific requirements.

In short the Asian Values debate and the Non Aligned Movement recognise and operate within the international institutions established by the Bretton Woods and United Nations system, and almost all were part of the ‘Geneva consensus on free trade’ (Dunkley 2000: 17), and are members of the WTO.  With all the Non Aligned Movement states recognising the legitimate authority of the United Nations, and using these institutions to promote their interests internationally.

Religious extremism, with a particular emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism, does not operate on the bases of debate within international bodies such as the UN.  The various strands of their argument do not recognise cosmopolitan institutions and more particularly the post war balance of power.  The very aim of this perspective being to destabilise and destroy this balance and it’s supporting structures.   Whereas the previous perspectives aim to persuade and argue using the structures of international society as aides, Islamic fundamentalists preach the destruction of these institutions with the publicised aim of undermining cosmopolitan societies and doing so through terrorism and the fear and distrust it spreads.

It is a common mistake amongst the media and popular debate to portray the terrorist threat as not representing a genuine threat to the current international order.  Furthermore, the individuals behind these terrorist groups are seen as largely simplistic in their approach and possessing no overall global strategic plan for confronting cosmopolitan society.  Whereas it is true to say that the disparate bands of Islamic fundamentalism are not in intimate contact with one another through some James Bond style evil network, they are in common agreement as to their aims and methods.  They are also equally not blind to the clear vulnerabilities of our open pluralistic societies, where freedoms of speech and movement are considered sacrosanct.

September 11th (9/11) was more than just an isolated tragedy; it had a very well thought out objective.  Through the targeting of New York’s financial centre it was a strike against the capitalist bedrock of our western cosmopolitan societies.  Not only did it shake the confidence of the United States, but it also hit the confidence of all the Western Powers, and all those who believe in a cosmopolitan global order.  9/11 placed a global economy gradually climbing out of an economic downturn into a prolonged worldwide recession that hit the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people from Silicon Valley to Mumbai.

The primary goal of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda is to establish Taliban style governments across the Middle East, and eventually the rest of the Islamic world.  With the subsequent threat to oil supply’s this would present this represents a distinct threat to international security, and the security of key nations within the international order, such as Pakistan and Turkey.

The cause of Islamic extremists is one that is utterly opposed to that of cosmopolitans; the two agendas are bipolar opposites that can only clash, as has been argued by realist academics such as Samuel Huntingdon and Benjamin Barber.  Huntingdon’s The Clash of Civilisations is in my opinion very much what we are seeing unravelling in the world today, a plural cosmopolitan international order cannot be achieved as long as fundamentalist ideology’s such as that of Al’Queda, Hezbollah, the Taliban and Wahhabism Islam still hold sway in the popular politics of a significant proportion of the populations of Muslim countries.

Osama Bin Laden was hailed as a hero from the West Bank to Jakarta by fundamentalist groups who stir up support amongst the young disaffected and oppressed populations of Islamic countries.  These are the very people that could potentially gain the most from the establishment of an international cosmopolitan political order with its moral and ethical implications for the tyranny’s that oppress them.

Benjamin Barbers Jihad vs. McWorld seeks to highlight the ‘deep crisis of modernization [that] exists in many Muslim countries.  Poor living conditions and few opportunities for improvement have created a young frustrated urban population.’ (Baylis & Smith 2001: 464)  A young population that can see the fruits of western capitalism flaunted in the media and enjoyed by their political elites, yet denied to them by crushing corruption and stagnant economies.  This lack of political and economic reform has led to a democratic deficit in the Arab world that drives these young populations into nationalism fundamentalism, and a hatred for the perceived evils of a corrupt international western regime that is weighted against them.

The answer therefore to the question of whether non-western views undermine the building of a cosmopolitan international order is dependent on the nature of the non-western perspective in question.   As I have previously argued the cultural protectionist arguments of the non-aligned movement and the religious fundamentalists is a smoke screen for unrestrained oppression and violence towards civilian populations.  However in the case of the Non-Aligned Movement it does not threaten the construction of an international cosmopolitan order.  On the contrary taking into account their economic integration with the rest of the international system in the long run it will strengthen calls for democratic and plural societies within these countries.

However with regard to the Middle East and the Islamic world, the democratic deficit a term coined by a recent United Nations Report on the state of political institutions and representation in the Middle East conducted by Arab academics, is resulting in the spread of a misplaced doctrine of hate towards Western Society and cosmopolitanism.   This must be confronted through the active promotion of political and economic reforms within these states, only then can a peaceful cosmopolitan international order be established.

If anything can stop the development of a cosmopolitan international order it is in my opinion the uncontained spread of religious fundamentalism which is spreading instability and violence not only within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world but also within Muslim communities throughout the western world. American and European Muslim communities are having a wedge driven between themselves and the wider cosmopolitan societies they live in.   This is creating a source of tension within previously tolerant societies. The recent brutal terrorist killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, a serving British soldier on the streets of his home town and the reactions of right wing political elements in the UK demonstrate this point vividly.  Events such as this are aimed at causing a breakdown in tolerance and mutual respect between different communities within multi-cultural societies.  They constitute a major threat to a way of life that we have come to consider civilised and in my opinion stand as the greatest force against the spread of cosmopolitan values in the world today.


Baylis, John & Smith, Steve (2001) ‘The Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international relations’ 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford p460, p461-467

Booth, Ken and Smith, Steve (1995) ‘International Relations Theory Today’ Polity Press, Cambridge p110-118

Dunkley, Graham (2000) ‘The Free Trade Adventure: The WTO, the Uruguay Round and Globalism – A Critique’ Zed Books, London p17

Evans, Graham and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p45 & p276

Hutchings, Kimberly, (1999) ‘International Political Theory’ Sage Publications, London p153-154

Ledeen, Michael (2003) ‘The end of the beginning’, The Spectator, 12th April 2003, p14-15

Weaver, Marry Anne (2003) ‘Qatar’s Move Toward Democracy’, National Geographic, March 2003, p89- 105

Do ‘Just Wars’ Exist?

just war

By Ian Howarth

Significant sections of academia within the field of international relations dispute the existence of ‘just war’, and state that all war is unjust, because you cannot legalise and legitimise war.  In particular they point to the fact that all so called ‘just wars’ are classified as such by the victors, for example the NATO Kosovo air war of 1999 was a ‘just war’, in the words of then British prime minister Tony Blair who stated that it was ‘…a just war in a just cause for the values of civilization itself’ (Gilbert, 1999: 895).

Furthermore, in war both sides will declare their cause just and as such the two versions will compete.  In Kosovo, for example the publicly stated reasons that lay behind the actions of NATO were legitimate and largely humanitarian in nature.  However, in contrast Slobodan Milosevic also argued that his campaign in Kosovo against the Albanian secessionists was also a ‘just cause’, that he was motivated by the primary concept of national sovereignty and the right of every nation to preserve that sovereignty from internal as well as external threats.   In the eyes of Belgrade the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) represented a threat to the national integrity of Serbia and as such the KLA ‘terrorists’ had to be defeated in order to restore Serbia’s national integrity.  It is a cliché but it has become a standard retort that governments do not negotiate with terrorists.

The point here is not that Milosevic was justified to act in the way he did, he clearly was not, it is however that the very notion or classification of a war as ‘just’ is highly subjective and is almost without exception, a politically motivated move in order to justify state sponsored violence.  Have you ever heard a politician declare an unjust war?  Whenever a country goes to war it does so under a publicly stated reason that seeks to justify it’s course of action.  Whether it bears up to the scrutiny of history or truth, this is the underlying reason, the answer to any questioning soldier’s ‘what are we doing here?’

Apart from the questionable basis upon which a war is declared ‘just’, also lies the concept of ‘Just Wars’ historical heritage, which is overwhelmingly Christian.  The concept of war as a just cause became necessary after the ‘Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholic Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in AD 38’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288) it became necessary due the very militant nature of the Roman Empire and the fact that the teachings of Christ forbade murder, or killing on almost all grounds.  As such cannon law began to move towards a doctrine of ‘just war’. St Augustine (AD 354 – 430) was the first to write of ‘just war’ and stated that war in the defence of Christianity was just in it’s motives.  However, it was St Thomas Aquinas (1225 –1274) who theologically codified just war, providing three conditions which must be met in order for a war to be deemed just ‘(a) it must be waged by a proper sovereign authority (b) their must be a just cause (c) the intentions must be pure, so that they intend to promote good and not private aggrandizement’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  Condition number two ‘that the cause must be just’ was such an ambiguous condition that it essentially gave carte blanche to every king, baron and bully in Europe to go to war as often, and with as much vigour as it liked for whatever represented in their view a ‘just cause’.

It was Grotius in his 1625 work ‘De Jure Belli ac Pacis’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288) that took this theological justification of war and moved towards a more secular and modern definition of what a just war is.  He stated that a ‘just war’ can only be fought under one of the following conditions ‘(a) self-defence (b) to enforce rights; (c) to seek reparations for injury and: (d) to punish a wrong-doer’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  However like the conditions set out by Aquinas, points (b) and (d) of the Grotian doctrine are also open to interpretation, for example, Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini saw the ‘wrong-doer’ as the United States, and a jihad was declared, while President Reagan declared the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’.  Therefore particularly to realists ‘just war’ doctrine is considered dangerous and open to exploitation, as it sets conditions upon war while at the same time leaving enough ambiguity to justify almost any sort of state violence short of genocide, and indiscriminate slaughter.

The effect of Grotian doctrine was to split ‘just war’ into two distinct categories ‘jus ad bellum’ (lit the law towards war) and ‘jus in bello’ (lit. the law in war) (Brown, 2002: 103).  It is from these two categories that the modern legal structure of war is defined, which has had the effect of emphasising ‘jus in bello’ over ‘jus ad bellum’ within international law.  This can be seen in the examples of the Hauge (1901) and Geneva (1926,1946) Conventions which consider exclusively the conduct of states during  war, and not the conditions upon which a war can be declared.   Similarly the International Organisation of the Red Cross/Crescent only intercedes to assist combatants during war, and does not assist civilian populations.  This can be further seen in the mass deportation of the Jews of Eastern Europe during World War II to the concentration camps.  This process was known by the Red Cross, but it was not the business of the organisation to interfere with ‘internal domestic matters’.

The only major legal framework for the declaration of war, and therefore the declaration of a ‘just war’ can be found in Article 2 of the United Nation’s Charter which states that ‘prohibition on the use of force is qualified by two exemptions (1) the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence in the face of an armed attack, preserved by Article 51; and (2) action taken for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security authorized by the UN Security Council under Article 42’ (Baylis, Wirtz, Cohen & Gray, 2002: 56).  However  this does not really make things any more clearer than before.  It was under exemption one that Israel attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967 in order to defend itself from planned aggression.   In short Israel claimed the right to pre-emptive defence, which is surely a contradiction in terms, a contradiction which conversely is being promulgated today by the United States in its ever widening ‘War on Terrorism’.

If any war can be deemed ‘Just’ under international law, then the 1990/1991 Gulf War is probably the best and most unambiguous example of such a conflict.  The basic background to the conflict is as follows; on the 2nd August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, quickly overrun the Kuwaiti defence forces and annexed the territory, the United Nations (UN) Security Council on the same day responded by calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and on the following day sanctions were imposed against Iraq by the USA and the USSR banning the sale of arms to Iraq.   This was followed two days later by UN measures which extended the sanctions to the sale of Iraqi oil.   These UN sanctions came into effect on the 13th of August 1990 when British and American Warships began a naval blockade of Iraq.

On the 31st August ‘Japan offered $1,000 million’ (Gilbert, 1999: 706) towards the cost of a multinational force that might be sent to the Gulf to liberate Kuwait; following this, and much international shuttle diplomacy by the US President George Bush, in November 1990 the ‘Security Council passed Resolution 678, which authorised military action against Iraq if it had failed to withdraw from Kuwait by the 15th January 1991’ (Gilbert, 1999: 713).  An international coalition force was constructed and sent to the Gulf under the command of US General Norman Schwarzkopf; the forces began amassing in late November in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey.

At midnight on the 16th January 1991 with the coming into force of resolution 687, Operation Desert Storm commenced.  The conflict was swift and decisive starting with an overwhelming air campaign, which essentially crippled Iraqi air defences, and gave the coalition complete air supremacy within three days.   The ground attack commenced on the 24th February 1991, and by the 26th of February Iraq began to withdraw from Kuwait.  On the 28th February coalition forces entered Kuwait City and declared Kuwait liberated, later the same day ‘Tariq Aziz Iraqi Vice-President agreed to rescind Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait’ (Gilbert, 1999: 718).

The campaign had been swift, decisive and resulted in comparatively few allied casualties.  However, Iraq was in turmoil and many thousands were dead, both civilian and military targets had been hit.  In one particularly horrendous incident the motorway leading to the Iraqi city of Basra, became known to US soldiers as the ‘Highway of doom’ and to USAF pilots as ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’ (Allen, Berry & Polmar, 1991: 220). As thousands of retreating Iraqi troops blocked the highway US warplanes and helicopters picked them of one by one leaving the highway jammed all the way back to the Iraqi border with the burnt out wreckage of a retreating army and littered with the corpses of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

The key justifications that were employed in order to declare the Gulf War a ‘just war’ complied entirely with both the Grotian doctrine of ‘Just War’ and international law through Article 51 of the UN Charter, which provides every state the right to act in self-defence against an armed aggressor, either alone or collectively.  The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq clearly represented an aggressive armed attack, and the UN coalition force that was assembled to liberate or restore Kuwait’s national integrity clearly corresponds to the ‘collective’ defence of Kuwait.   In short the Gulf War under international law and Grotian doctrine can be declared a ‘just war’. It was a war of defence, a war triggered by unprovoked aggression by Iraq against a peaceful neighbour.

However if we widen the net of the definition of a ‘just war’ in this case to include St Aquinas’s definition then we encounter a problem, he states that for a war to be just ‘the intentions must be pure, so that they intend to promote good and not private aggrandizement’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  The motivations behind the Gulf War are much in dispute; the black and white answer is as stated above the defence of Kuwait.  However, why would the great powers, the USA, UK, France, and at the time the Soviet Union care about some small Arab kingdom?  The answer is oil.  With the Kuwaiti oil fields added to Iraq’s, she would become the principle supplier of the West’s oil at that time, with reserves greater than Saudi Arabia, a position of immense power of leverage over western policy in the region.   Furthermore, Iraq may go on to threaten Saudi Arabia.  What would the USA be able to do if for example Syria or Jordan had invaded Israel with Iraqi support, threatening to cut supplies of oil to the west if the USA intervened in Israel’s defence?   In short were the true motivations for the grand UN Coalition no nobler than the economic interests of the world superpowers, and the defence of American hegemony in the region?  If so then this wars claims to just war status can at least partially be questioned, because it used deceit to justify its motives and covered its true intent through the guise of a war of liberation.

Still further examining the conditions under which the war was fought the ‘jus in bello’ of the Gulf War, and returning to the earlier example of ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’.   The Gulf War may have been initiated as a ‘just war’, but Grotius does state that a ‘just war can become unjust if the intentions were wrong (see above) and if unjust acts are committed’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  What justifications can the United States or the Coalition forces in general, present that gives just cause to the ‘murder’ of thousands of retreating Iraqi’s.  This in short raises the same dilemma that emerged as a result of the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War (1982) was the ship sailing towards or away from the combat zone, or does it not matter which way it was going, as war is war?

The answer to the above is like all the other aspects of the ‘Just War’ debate, unclear, and is therefore much like the very nature of ‘Just War’ itself.  Arguably the Allied actions on the road to Basra de-legitimised the Gulf War, removing the right for it to be declared ‘Just’.  However, equally it could be argued that these were enemy forces within a combat zone, in a war commenced by the retreating forces and as such fair game.  It is worth noting that the carnage of ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’ did end at the Iraqi border and therefore did not violate resolution 687 that only allowed the liberation of Kuwait, in short the liberation of Kuwait didn’t turn into the invasion of Iraq.

It is clear that the concept of just war stems from a western Judeo-Christian view of the world, and in examining  the origins of this concept and its modern incarnations alongside a conflict that is arguably a ‘just war’ we are able to starkly see the dangerous and ambiguous nature of the concept.  Do ‘just wars’ exist?  Well on balance I tend to favour the argument that they do.  However, they are rare and the vast majority of conflict that has and is occurring in the world most definitely does not meet the standards of a ‘just war’. In recent times we have seen many conflicts, notably Afghanistan and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  Do either of these conflicts meet the standards of just war either explicitly or in their spirit?   The answer to that question would constitute a whole other essay, but it does go to highlight once again how hard it is to distinguish between wars that could be regarded as just (World War II, 1990/91 Gulf War) and those that are not.  In making the distinction between the two it may well be little more than a perspective of history and which side of it you find yourself on.


Allen, Thomas. B, Berry, Clifton. F, and Polmar, Norman (1991) CNN War in the Gulf, Maxwell Macmillan International, London, p220-221

Baylis, John, and Wirtz, James (2002) Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p56

Booth, Ken, and Dunne, Tim, (eds.) (2002) Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke Hampshire, p10-13

Brown, Chris (2002) Sovereignty, Rights and Justice, International Political Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge, p102-105

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, Penguin Books, London, p288-289