I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.


A New World Order?

Pádraig Murphy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th of last year was at once shocking and epoch-making. Shocking in that here we had a permanent member of the Security Council infringing the basic provisions of the UN Charter and also the core provisions of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, which set out the agreed parameters, including, importantly, that borders in Europe could only be changed by peaceful means and with agreement. Helsinki would eventually end the Cold War.

It was not, of course, the first time a permanent member of the Security Council had engaged in armed invasion of another UN member state without Security Council sanction – this indeed is a part of the complex of reasons behind the Russian action. In March 1999 NATO bombed Serbia without a resolution from the Security Council. The invasion of Iraq by the US and the UK in 2003, and the subsequent destruction of the Qaddafi regime in Libya in 2011by the UK and France, with the US ‘leading from behind’, also without Security Council sanction, have not been forgotten in a large part of the rest of the world, in particular, not in Moscow and Beijing.

The invasion came after the global financial crisis of 2008-2014 (if the consequences in Europe are included), the Russian invasion and incorporation of Crimea, a global pandemic, and a new consciousness of the environmental threat faced by the world as a whole. Each of these demonstrated unparalleled strains in the global order, leading to inadequate responses. In the economic sphere, there is a practical consensus that the global liberal order has effectively been shown to be in need of radical overhaul, if not, indeed, of replacement. But that is not all. The UN system, in particular the Security Council, has not measured up to its own declared statutory ambitions. The OSCE has been shown to be similarly lacking. Important contributing factors in this perception include Brexit in 2016, the presidency of Donald Trump, and the spectacular rise of China, which was once touted as a responsible stakeholder but clearly could no longer be so regarded.

And so, from Michel Duclos, a former French ambassador now special adviser to the Institut Montaigne, (in The Economist, December 7th, 2022) to Pierre Servent, author of Le Monde de demain, (in Der Spiegel, December 9th, 2022) a succession of opinion-makers consider that we have reached the end of an era. The former says that ‘the war marks the end of the illusion that there is a truly global liberal order’; in the view of the latter, ‘we will in a few years consider that this war and 24 February 2022 were an enormous break, the beginning of a new world’. The crucial question is how a new order can not only be conceived, but also realised in practice. Here, the extent to which the world has changed – see the challenges mentioned in the previous paragraph – make the prospect a daunting one.

To begin with Russia, in important respects, as mentioned by Duclos and Servent, the crystalliser of the crisis, there has been a consistent drift under Vladimir Putin away from a Western orientation. In the words of Robert Service, ‘the Kremlin has turned anti-Western discourse into the main ingredient of its ideology’. One of the main protagonists of the new orientation is Sergei Karaganov, a former adviser to Putin and currently dean of the faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Moscow Higher School of Economics. Karaganov is a suave operator who explains in fluent English that the Petrine era, meaning the opening to the West of Peter the Great, has come to an end after three hundred years. He shares some of the analysis of what has detonated the crisis mentioned earlier, adding, in a presentation to the Valdai Forum last year ‘the explosive growth of inequality within the West itself, and the erosion of the middle class’ as being among the factors. This might also find some agreement in the West.

Crucially his analysis also centres on his allegation that since the beginning of the twenty-first century the West started to unleash a Cold War, and, although this still could have been avoided in talks with Russia and China up to 2008-2013, that window was not availed of. ‘From 2014, the West activated an active policy of containment of China and Russia, including organising a coup in Kiev, in order to prepare shock troops for an attempt to restore its hegemony by destroying Russia.’ In the light of this, according to Karaganov, Russia decided to strike first. The Ukraine war in his presentation has several objectives. Firstly, to prevent the establishment on the borders of Russia of an offensive bridgehead of the West, and thus to prepare Russia for a long period of existence in a world of conflicts and rapid change, which calls for a mobilised society. Secondly (and remarkably) ‘the purging of pro-Western and comprador-like elements from the [Russian] elite’. But, he says, ‘perhaps the main content of this “war or operation” from the point of view of world, and not just Russian history, [is that] this is the final liberation of the world from the five-hundred-year-old Western yoke, oppressing countries and civilisations, imposing on them unequal conditions of cooperation. At first, just plundering them by means of colonisation, then neo-colonialism, and then the globalised imperialism of the last thirty years.’ And so, in this presentation, the general world objective of the ‘set to’ in Ukraine is ‘the return of the non-West but we propose to give it another name – the world majority, which earlier was oppressed and plundered, culturally demeaned, a world of freedom, dignity and independence. And, of course, a just share in the riches of the world.’

Karaganov goes on to specify the institutional consequences: ‘the old system of institutions and regimes is either already destroyed (freedom of trade, respect for private property), institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank or IMF, the OSCE and, I fear, the EU, or they are living out their last years. New institutions, to which belong the future, are beginning to grow. These are the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN+, the Organisation of African Unity, the Regional Multilateral Economic Partnership. The Asian Development Bank already gives out credits many times greater than the World Bank … not all new institutions will survive, but we hope that a series of old ones will, in the first place the UN system, which urgently needs reform, in the first place in regard to representation in the Secretariat of countries of the world majority, and not the West.’ As to Russia’s place in the ‘non-West’, Karaganov is on record as saying that Russia wants to recover the status of a great power: unfortunately, he says, they cannot renounce this: three hundred years left its inheritance in its genes. ‘We wish to be the centre of a great Eurasia, a place where peace and cooperation reign.’ And he adds that a mistake of Russian foreign policy was that in the recent past they had no intelligible policy in regard to their nearest neighbours, the post-Soviet countries.

The appeal to what was known as the Third World is apparent, if somewhat blatant. And there is no doubt that there is tinder there that can be lit. We in the West may delude ourselves that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has twice been condemned with votes of 140 plus in the UN General Assembly. What is too easily left out of account is that governments representing over 40 per cent of the world’s population either abstained or voted against these resolutions. These included India, South Africa and Brazil. The Indian foreign minister, in response to someone pointing out that his country risked losing support in its confrontation with China, said that his country could manage its relations with China without Western help. ‘Somewhere Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems. That if it is you, it is yours, if it is me, it is ours. I see reflections of that,’ the minister said in Bratislava. ‘There is a linkage today which is being made. A linkage between China and India and what is happening in Ukraine. China and India happened way before anything happened in Ukraine. The Chinese do not need a precedent somewhere else on how to engage us or not engage us or be difficult with us or not be difficult with us.’

More generally, the flaws in the international order mentioned earlier are even more apparent to the said Third World. More than that, they have very recently seen that, when it came to measures against the pandemic, they were left at the end of the queue. The consideration given them in the development of measures to counter global warming is all too often mean-spirited, in view of the main historical reasons for the phenomenon. Neither can the distribution of seats in the main international economic or political organisations be seen as satisfactory in regard to considerations of justice in the twenty-first century. As well as all this, the rest of the world has not forgotten the picture of Michel Camdessus, director general of the IMF, standing with folded arms apparently supervising General Suharto, president of Indonesia, as he signed an agreement on a bailout consistent with the Washington Consensus in 1998. Other images or events that will not be forgotten include Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the persistent defiance of international law by Israel on the West Bank, with apparent impunity, and the denunciation by the Trump administration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, aimed at ending the confrontation with that country in regard to its development of nuclear energy, the replacement being explicitly described as ‘maximum pressure’.

As to China, it is on the record that, on February 4th last year, three weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Xi Jinping and Putin had declared that friendship between their two countries ‘had no limits’. It is unclear whether the Chinese side was made aware of the plans for invasion. While Russia’s hostile attitude to Ukraine was no secret at the time, the precise extent of China’s support for its action beyond the rhetorical is not clear. What is clear is that, to the extent that the Russian position is predicated on an ambition to recover great power status in the Eurasian region, it fails to take into account the significant changes that have taken place since the nineteenth century, and even since the end of the last one. The Chinese economy is now six times the size of the Russian one and much more sophisticated and internationally competitive. China sees itself as overcoming a century of humiliation in which Russia played a major role.

While it is true that the two countries have in 2003 formally agreed the final element in the delineation of the very long border that separates them, Russian specialists continue to have concerns about Chinese mental reservations about the territorial distribution as between the two. This is based on continuing Chinese emphasis on unequal treaties, sometimes finding its reflexion in Chinese textbooks and in references to statements to this effect by Mao and Deng. In some of these textbooks it is stated that, in consequence of these ‘unequal treaties’, Russia in the nineteenth century occupied 1.5 million square kilometres of Chinese territory. Historically, some colour is given to this by the report of a Russian statesman of the 1860s, Prince Aleksandr Gorchakov, to his Concert of Europe counterparts that the Tsarist empire’s ‘greatest difficulty [in Central Asia] consists in knowing how to stop’. One Russian commentator even goes as far as saying that China considers that the Republic of Tuva, 170,000 square kilometres, was wrongly assigned to the Soviet Union in 1944. Furthermore, there is a persistent xenophobia directed against the Chinese in the Russian Far East, based on a perceived greater sense of enterprise among Chinese border traders, as well as a distinct difference in standard of living on either side of that border. At a higher level, there is a concern at a possible re-emergence of Chinese nationalism, with a consequent demand for resources by a much more competitive economy. There is also concern at any possibility of a re-emergence of the classical Chinese theory of foreign relations, that of China as the Empire of the Middle, in charge of Tian xia, everything under the sun, with neighbours obliged to conform to Chinese policy. These concerns are all the more pressing in that it is conceded by the same authors that partnership with China is essential for the development of Russian Siberia and the Far East, and that in fact the course of development has brought it about that, firstly, Russia has become ever more dependent on the Chinese market, and, secondly, that Russia has become a purely raw-material supplier to China, as has already happened with Europe. Apart from all this, to the extent that Russia in fact follows up with Karaganov’s recipe for domination of Eurasia, Moscow will find itself at potential loggerheads with a China competing for raw materials in, and building a strategic road – the Belt and Road Initiative ‑ through, Central Asia, aimed at overcoming the potential closure of the bottleneck of the Straits of Malacca. There will be the additional complications and possible conflicts about the situation and ownership of pipelines.

To look once again at the world as a whole, there can be little doubt that the existing order has shown its inadequacy. As it exists today, it results from the order established essentially by the victors of the Second World War. The architecture then established has at its peak the UN system, with the Security Council at its core. The membership of this crucial organ is not representative of today’s world: the UK and France would certainly not be permanent members of a would-be representative organ where, for instance, India was excluded from such a status by the statute. This has of course been recognised for some time, but several attempts to remedy it have failed. The new world order hailed by President George HW Bush in 1991 failed to materialise, predicated as it was on a continuation of the US in the role of sole superpower, and then, as now, a military one.

The world architecture that we see today is in practice based on this outdated model. The US military budget accounts for 40 per cent of world military expenditure and is larger than those of the next nine highest military spenders combined. It maintains some 800 military bases abroad. The US wields a veto in the IMF and in the World Bank, as do, de facto, the British Commonwealth and the EU combined. Above all, the role of the US dollar as reserve currency provides the US with, in the words of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, an exorbitant privilege. The US can, as a result, run much larger external and fiscal deficits, enabling a combination of lower taxes and higher spending, including military expenditure. As a result, the US is already heavily indebted to China, Japan and the oil-producing countries. Here, the classical dilemma presents itself: that of the balance between an enormous debtor and an enormous creditor. Can the creditor – the US – accumulate deficits continually without a run on the dollar or suffering debt-service costs which entail a painful domestic credit crunch? What is certain is that the situation cannot continue indefinitely. Another consequence of the ‘exorbitant privilege’ is that the US is making increasing use of sanctions which derive their effectiveness from this privilege. Paul Tucker is of the view that Washington needs to be less ‘trigger-happy’ on sanctions and extraterritorial regulatory claims. This view makes sense inasmuch as Washington’s current practice makes for a very strong interest on the part, for instance, of Beijing and Moscow to find an alternative to a system based on the dollar. But this is far from being a simple matter. The dollar’s predecessor as international reserve currency was sterling. It might be said that the basic trade and economic facts of the UK which gave rise to this were essentially a phenomenon of the nineteenth century and had ceased to apply by the beginning of the First World War. Yet sterling continued to play the role until thirty years later, when the Bretton Woods system replaced it. ‘Network effects’, or path dependency make such a change enormously complicated. Like the world order as a whole, it may take a major military catastrophe to change this state of affairs. Nevertheless, Tucker is of the view that some of the oil-producing countries are tempted to invoice in Renminbi for supplies to China, and that, in a wider perspective, the West cannot afford another financial crisis like that of 2008, which he characterises as ‘one of the most abject failures of the modern international liberal order’. One of the dangers in this respect he sees is the failure of the US to regulate the shadow banking sector.

Apart from the financial sector, some forty-nine international treaties lie unsigned or unratified before the US Senate. They include the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Kyoto Protocol and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In the case of the last-mentioned, the Trump administration revoked the visa of the Prosecutor of the court, and authorised sanctions against the court in connection with its investigation of possible war crimes committed by US forces during their operations in Afghanistan. Also under Trump, the US withdrew from the World Health Organisation and continued to block operations of the WTO by failing to nominate a member to its Appellate Body. The recent record has not been edifying in a country that since 1945 has been the leader of the global order that has prevailed hitherto. Here, if one takes for instance the non-ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the election of Donald Trump can only be regarded as a particularly aggravated version of an already existing trend.

What has brought this question to the top of the agenda is of course the rise of China. Not only has China grown at an almost unprecedented rate over the last thirty years, with 1.4 billion inhabitants it is one of the two most populous nations on earth. It has declared ambitions which, while unspecified in detail, point to an objective of playing a determining role in world affairs. One of the declared aims of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which China set up jointly with Russia, for instance, is to promote ‘a new international political and economic order’. The emphasis is on overcoming past degradation. Tucker rightly says that the century of humiliation must be taken seriously. Britain devastated China during the opium wars. It imposed a chain of enclaves, including Shanghai, in which Chinese law did not apply on the Chinese empire. Along with France, it sacked the summer palace in 1860. Russia was part of the spoliation of the country which went on throughout the later nineteenth century, culminating in the suppression of the Boxer rebellion, in which Germany joined the other imperial exploiters. When sending off the German contingent in 1900, Kaiser Wilhelm exhorted it: ‘Just as the Huns a thousand years ago, under the leadership of Attila, gained a reputation by virtue of which they still live in history, so may the German name become known in such a manner in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look askance at a German’. Extraterritorial jurisdiction actually expanded in China, and there were some one hundred treaty ports in the early twentieth century, the phenomenon not ending completely until 1943. Japanese, and Russian, actions in Manchuria continued the spoliation during the past century, culminating in the rape of Nanjing in 1937.There was therefore a very definite ‘century of humiliation’, which, as has been seen, gives rise to some nervousness among neighbours. Another element which provokes some nervousness – mostly undeclared – is the historical tribute system under which neighbouring states had to perform periodic rituals in acknowledgment of the paramount nature of the Chinese polity and trade was conducted in a would-be beneficent and controlled manner. China, one of the most ancient of civilisations, does have a distinct perception of itself, which differs from the model which tacitly underlay the world order established after World War II. While this may not be explicitly so stated, Chinese rulers today, just like their historic predecessors, operate under the Mandate of Heaven, meaning that they are not legitimised by a formal democratic process, but rather ask to be judged on results. Moreover, and significantly, the China of Xi Jinping rejects the Western conception of human rights as peculiarly Western in its origin (as indeed it is) and considers procedures aimed at promoting such rights as violating state sovereignty. In 2013, the year after Xi’s election as general secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party, “Document 9” of that committee, addressed to the party’s cadres, was leaked. Cadres were exhorted to ‘conscientiously strengthen management of the ideological battlefield’ on the basis of ‘Seven Nos’. These were No to promoting constitutional democracy; No to promoting universal values (see above); No to civil society; No to neoliberalism (market fundamentalism); No to Western ideas of journalism – freedom of the press; No to historical nihilism against the history of the Party and New China; and No to any questioning of the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

China’s is already the first economy in the world in terms of GDP at purchasing power parity. It is of course much further down the list in terms of per capita GDP. But it is also by some calculations the world’s largest provider of development assistance, with a vaunted policy of providing such aid without extraneous conditions. It has a major stake in the world trade regime, being the largest trading partner of a significant number of countries. It is a growing military power in its region, and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. Its military footprint is growing: it already has more navy ships than the US and its military technological development proceeds inexorably. It maintains a military base at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and has participated in joint manoeuvres with Russia in the Baltic and in the Mediterranean. Given the stated ambitions of Xi Jinping in terms of ‘the Chinese Dream’, the foreseeable evolution of world affairs will see a competition between China and the US, the hope being that Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’, in which Athens is presented as inevitably coming into conflict with the then rising power, Sparta, can be avoided. The West more generally will inevitably be drawn into this: as mentioned, the competition will also be one of values.

Historically, new world orders have arisen at the end of catastrophic armed conflict. The so-called Westphalian system of states resulted from the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War. The Concert of Europe came from the Congress of Vienna, which drew a line under the Napoleonic wars. The Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I instituted the League of Nations system, the breakdown of which resulted in World War II, and the resultant international order, with its evident flaws, was essentially a creation of the victors of that conflict and is the one we are still living with. The present situation is not, of course, analogous. Thucydides trap aside, the hope must be that there is no war. As Dani Rodrik and Stephen Walt point out, ‘the existence of nuclear weapons gives rivals ample incentive to tread carefully when crises erupt’. Indeed, the reported public posture of Xi in regard to Putin’s veiled threat of nuclear revenge some months ago indicates that China is aware of what is at stake here.

A new order short of catastrophic war is therefore what has to be aimed at. Here, the question of values will figure centrally, given that, for the first time in modern history the parties concerned will be starting from radically different civilisational bases. Tucker goes into some detail to describe the origins of the Western value system as applicable to international relations, instancing ‘a debate … about whether, alongside what today is termed positive [human] law, governments and their peoples should properly be thought of as being subject to a universally binding “natural law”’. He cites a persistent concern in the West with the implications of relying only on positive law and traces a current of thought through Grotius, Vattel and Kant, deriving from ancient Rome, that only a universal moral code enshrined in law can substitute for the universal authority previously found in the combination of Pope and Emperor. This found its vindication in the present situation, ‘in some ways, the post-World War II dispensation has represented a partial return to earlier ideas of cosmopolitan natural rights but now stripped, sometimes, of the metaphysics’. Moral imperatives are now, he points out, encoded in positive international law, and states (or at least some of them) no longer consider themselves free to apply the law with unauthorised force. This consideration applies pre-eminently to the postwar encodement of human rights provisions. And it is above all in this area that, as has been seen, the East and West twain refuse to meet – their legitimacy bases are apparently irreconcilable. Here Tucker, in true British pragmatic fashion, cites David Hume, in A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739-40:

[A convention induces the members of society] to regulate their conduct by certain rules … since the actions of each of us have reference to those of the other and are perform’d on the supposition, that something is to be perform’d on the other part … [Each basic rule for a community is] deriv’d from human conventions, it arises gradually, and acquires force by a slow progression, and by our repeated experience of the inconvenience of transgressing it.

In essence, Tucker is drawing an analogy with municipal and national arrangements, where yes, there is positive law, but communities cannot flourish if they rely solely on that – good faith is presumed in the citizens who form these communities.

Rodrik and Walt, of the Harvard Kennedy School, take an even more pragmatic view. A world order in their presentation requires a ‘basic operating system’. Orders in general will reflect the underlying balance of power, and ‘a semi-stable equilibrium’ will have to be found. There will be abiding US/China polarity, so the state of relations between these two countries will be crucial. As substantial differences will remain, there can be no single model. A future order could be based on the following goals, which are shared by most countries in the world: first, preserving conditions for sustained human existence. Here, climate change, action to deal with future pandemics and adequate access to water are cited as examples. Second, minimising the risk of major war. This will require concessions both by China and the US. Third, managing the movement of goods, capital, information and people. Interestingly, the authors consider that ‘a future global order must also regulate movements of people. While controlled migration can be beneficial, it can cause serious disruption if uncontrolled. Criminal trafficking, the spread of disease and the fomenting of xenophobia to the benefit of ‘repressive nationalist movements’ are mentioned.

The authors are cognisant of the parting of minds on the question of human rights. The tension which results, they say, is inescapable and will need to be addressed. ‘In particular, states committed to particular political values must find ways to distance themselves from or even oppose actions that violate those principles, but without provoking unwanted levels of conflict, signalling the desire or intent to impose its preferred set of values on other legitimate states, or making human rights conditions as they define them worse.’

A Chinese view on this is of some interest, given that the root of the problem is generally accepted to be the civilisational incompatibility between China and the West. Zhao Tingyang is professor of philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. In his book Everything under Heaven he sketches what a present-day tian xia (Everything under Heaven), the classic Chinese conception of the world, might look like. The following picture emerges:

The way of heaven exists a priori and is transcendental. This means that any transgression is a self-destructive action and amounts to denial of the self.
Nature marks the limit of freedom, so that the way of heaven is the absolute limit of human existence. If a free creation includes a risk not controllable by the free capacities of man, this action is ‘against heaven’.
All living things have the right to flourish in their fashion.
A world ‘without an outside’ is a precondition for the coexistence of humanity. It must be a world without hegemony and anti-imperialist. Tian xia belongs to all humanity.
The way of mankind demands the exclusion of war as a basic requirement, and the possibility of mutual damage must be reduced to a minimum.
The possibility of mutual benefit must be maximised. The Confucian maxim ‘if you wish to be secure, help others to secure themselves; if you wish to achieve something, help others to achieve’ applies.
In ‘compatible universalism’, universal values are to be applied to every relation, not to every individual.
All values defined through symmetrical relations are universal.
All other values are particularist.

Zhao specifies that what he calls ‘the new Tian xia differs from the antique tian xia, and that present-day China is a sovereign state, not a tian xia. The tian xia he proposes is for the world, not for a particular state. It is open, a general invitation to all peoples and states. The most important thing is that the intention of the tian xia system is the creation of reciprocal relations of favourable treatment, a world in which common and shared benefit overrides exclusive benefit. It calculates therefore that the attractiveness of entry outweighs those of rejection.

Zhao’s prescriptions sound, no doubt, exotic – they come, after all, from a culture and system of values that are confessedly different. As well as this, he puts them forward after a plaidoyer which is even more rejecting of the classical Western pattern than is that of Sergei Karaganov. He sees the world as made essentially by the West over the past five hundred years as suicidally exploitative, and is especially scathing about the finance system we in the West have imposed on the world. For all that, one of the lessons that we have to draw from the juncture at which we have arrived is that we need to think again – the environmental crisis is the prime example of this. It is also the case that, when his utterances are put through the necessary cultural strainer, they bear a strong resemblance to the views of Paul Tucker: they represent a catalogue of possibilities that could be the basis of living together.

Tucker considers four scenarios for the necessary adaptation: lingering status quo; superpower struggle; a new cold war; a reshaped world order. These can be no more than aids to thought and there is without doubt a continuing spectrum rather than separate categories. Sensibly, too, no scenario of war can, or should be, considered. A reshaped world order, although the eventual destination fervently hoped for by all referred to in this review, looks the least likely in the foreseeable future. A world order, as has been seen, historically is not radically re-engineered short of a major and catastrophic war. The political compromises that would be required for such a radical move are not typically available in any scenario short of this. It is, of course, true that, as Rodrik and Walt mention, we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation, with nuclear weapons and their threatened Armageddon hopefully bringing it about that war of that kind cannot easily be contemplated. For all that, we have heard Vladimir Putin adverting to such possibility for tactical gain. Short of such a monstrous scenario, which we can hope will never arise, we have seen how path dependencies or network effects muffle the incentive to make radical changes. This is especially the case with the reserve currency. But it is also true more generally. States and their systems are cultural/historical constructs which cannot be changed easily or quickly. Hume’s ‘bent towards natural sociability’ has indeed slowly changed the world: a phenomenon such as the EU was inconceivable in his time. Imperfect as it is, it came three hundred years after Hume, and was very decisively the result of the lessons learned from catastrophic European and world wars. Twenty years ago, the UK and Irish governments came to the conclusion after decades of violence that political structures should be put in place to promote inter-communal reconciliation and thus end the violence. Only some weeks ago, the release of state papers for 1998-99 showed an official trying to persuade the opposing parties in Northern Ireland to join in this. He urged them to participate in the new cross-party executive and there to build upon ‘the culture of community input into the social and economic planning process’. Twenty years later, the executive set up as a result has failed for the second time due to inability precisely to join in making that ‘community input’.

Any observer of international affairs would have to conclude that superpower struggle, between China and the US/the West, perhaps leading to a new cold war is already under way. Chinese objectives in relation to Taiwan, and its declared ‘no limits’ friendship with Russia, along with missteps on the Western side – Donald Trump, Huawei – make it difficult to pretend we are in fact dallying in the status quo.

It will take a degree of wisdom on the part of significant world leaders to maintain that status quo. Yes, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US declared (again) on January 3rd last year that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’, and the Russian foreign ministry repeated this on November 2nd last. The fact that Vladimir Putin rattled his nuclear option in the meantime did not argue for the necessary wisdom in all circumstances (nor did the decision to invade Ukraine on February 24th last). It will fall, as nearly always, to the rest of the membership of the UN to maintain the repeated commitment of the nuclear weapon states; the credibility of the UN system itself is at stake. Here, perhaps we in Ireland have some reason to take heart. The nuclear non-proliferation process was launched at the UN in 1957 by Frank Aiken, but could not be realised until 1968. It is now the very core of any conceivable arms control and disarmament regime.

We shall have to take some encouragement from examples like this. The shape of the necessary new world order is not the affair of the superpowers only, nor that of the permanent members of the Security Council. Liberal globalisation may be dead; globalisation itself is decidedly not. The world and its peoples are interconnected as they have never been before. And therefore the problems that we are presented with – managing the environment, global pandemics, the threat to biodiversity, access to water, are also unprecedentedly challenging. The response has to be at the measure of this challenge; humanity as a whole is called upon. Sixty per cent of humanity will not be enough.

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne wrote these words in 1624. They are applicable today, almost four hundred years later, if ‘the world’ is substituted for ‘Europe’.

Paul Tucker is throughout his book concerned with the continuing credibility and viability of a formal international system. Early in the book, he makes the obvious point that such a system involves the making of reliable promises in formal negotiations, in realisation of the principle known as pacta sunt servanda. Such a principle, he notes, plays a central role in the maintenance of any viable system of international relations, and he cites the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which includes an obligation to comply with treaties to which a state has consented, and deems inadmissible the citation of domestic law provisions as justification for failure to honour a treaty. In sum, pacta sunt servanda is a fundamental element of any credible internationally agreed system and is mentioned as such some sixteen times by my count throughout the book. The potential cost of disregarding it is spelled out by Tucker, using the example with which we are too familiar, the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Works referred to above:
Paul Tucker, Global Discord, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2022
AV Lukin, Возвышающийся Китай и будущее России (An Overpowering China and the Future of Russia), Moscow, Международные отношения, 2015
Yu M Galenovich, Китайские Претензии (Chinese Claims), Moscow, Русская Панорама, 2015
Zhao Tingyang, Alles unter dem Himmel (All under the Sun), Berlin, Suhrkamp, 2020
Sergei Karaganov, Мы наблюдаем появление нового мира в момент его создания (We observe the appearance of a new world at the moment of its creation) in Российская газета, 26.10.2022
Dani Rodrik and Stephen Walt, How to Construct a New Global Order, Harvard Kennedy School, Faculty Research Working Paper, May 2021
Arte, Poker um eine neue Weltordnung (Poker on a New World Order), broadcast 20.7.2022
Robert Service, Kremlin Winter: Russia and the Second Coming of Vladimir Putin, London, Picador, 2019

Pádraig Murphy is a retired official of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs.



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