Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Authority in the Contemporary World

In an interesting article in The Economist’s annual review The World in 2007 (pp. 12 – 15), Peter David writes of what he calls “The Authority Deficit.” Essentially, the United States, while clearly remaining the most powerful nation-state, is no longer in any position to dominate the world, and even collectively, the most powerful nation-states, e.g. the five permanent members of the U.N. security council or the nation-states of the G7, have less power to influence the rest of the world than before, and increasingly the authority and legitimacy of such nation-states to dominate the international scene is in question. David argues that while there may be positive aspects of a greater global dispersal of power and authority, there are also negative aspects, most notably greater insecurity and instability in geopolitics. He further argues that this situation calls for major rethinking of the structure of international institutions, such as the U.N. Security Council, to better reflect global reality, and shore up the legitimacy of such institutions.

I’d like here and in my next few blog posts to explore the issues raised by David’s article a bit further. Nation-states like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, Italy, Japan, and Spain (I mention these specifically because of their influential positions as members of the G7 and/or as permanent members of the Security Council) remain quite powerful. The United States remains the single most powerful nation-state, but it is not so powerful as it once was, nor are the group above as powerful collectively as they once were. There are two sorts of ways in which the power of such nation-states has become proportionally lessened on the global stage: (1) many other nation-states have in recent decades become more influential than before; and (2) while the state has by no means faded away as some have predicted, global influence is more and more in the hands of non-state entities.

(1) Rising Influence of Other Nation-States

Wallerstein, Vietnam and Cuba, Venezuela

In his work in world systems theory and analysis, Immanuel Wallerstein noted at least as early as the early 1970s that the United States’ degree of power was waning from a high point after World War II. The most striking example of this at the time was the United States’ clear inability to assert its will in Vietnam. Cuba was another case in point. Cuba under Castro was a thorn in the side of the Washington establishment throughout much of the Cold War, and not just for the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis incidents, but for their active participation in supporting revolutionary struggles in a variety of locations in Latin America and Africa (most successfully in Nicaragua and Angola; failing most spectacularly with Che Guevara’s misadventures in Congo and Bolivia). Of course, Cuba would not have been materially capable of supporting revolutionary struggles without their economic ties to the Soviet Union, nor would Cuba have been able to get away with much of this without Moscow backing them up, but at the same time, Cuba’s actions were also sometimes even in defiance of Moscow’s wishes, and even today, Cuba along with Vietnam remains a potent symbol of the fact that the United States government cannot always assert its will effectively. Today a similar role is being played out in South America, where regionally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is able to compete with George W. Bush for influence in the area.

India and Brazil (and Germany and Japan)

Today, India and Brazil are increasingly mentioned as rising global powers. (They are already well established regional economic and military powers.) In particular, these seem to be the two countries most often mentioned (along with Japan and Germany) whenever people talk about a need to reconfigure the U.N.’s Security Council to expand the number of countries represented through permanent membership. This is particularly the case for India – it seems increasingly odd to many around the world that a nation-state with a population near one billion people and by far the world’s largest democracy not be permanently represented in that important forum.

Throughout the Cold War, a Security Council comprised of the U.S., the U.K., France, China, and the Soviet Union seemed like an entity that represented the range of important interests in the world. After the Cold War, that’s no longer the case. At this point, the Security Council no longer seems particularly representative of the world’s interests at all. While the U.S. and China still make sense for a variety of reasons, if the U.K., France, and Russia remain permanent members, it no longer makes sense to exclude India or Brazil which have become (nearly) as important in terms of economics, politics, military influence, or population as any of those three. For that matter, to many it seems like World War II is now far enough in the past for it to no longer make sense to exclude Japan and Germany. As David writes, the continued exclusion of clearly influential countries creates a legitimacy or authority gap in that this international forum’s structure no longer matches global reality.

Iran, North Korea, and Sudan

The “authority gap” of international institutions shows up in its most disturbing form in the increasingly willingness and ability of regimes in Iran, North Korea, or Sudan to simply defy them. I only stress these three because of their relation to critical international security and human rights issues – nuclear proliferation and genocide. Others could be mentioned as well (Zimbabwe, Myanmar). International institutions and other countries can influence them, but the ability of smaller countries to defy the wishes of larger or more influential ones seems to have increased, at least to some extent.

In my following posts, I will address the rising influence of non-state agents and other topics raised by Peter David’s article.

No comments: