The Conceptual Foundations of International Politics: Commentary and Critique of the Columbia University lecture series at Lecture Seven: Edward Luck

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Do International Institutions Matter?”

Dag Hammarskjöld: “The UN was not created in order to bring us heaven but in order to save us from hell.”

Edward Luck argues that the 30 years war and the resulting Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 laid the foundation for the modern system of states, a system based on the principles of sovereignty and non intervention(in accordance with Just War Theory):

He continues as follows:

“This state of affairs worked for a while. At the beginning of the nineteenth century a series of International Organisations were created by the Council of Europe. Thirty broad based International Organisations dealing with various functional issues were created. Dozens of International Organisations for preventing disease were created. As a result of the Hague Conference there was a trade interdependence that was more extensive than that we have today. The theory was that countries would be tied together by these International Organisations in order to prevent them going to war with each other”

Two World wars and a Cold War during the twentieth century, Luck argues, put an end to this state of . After the first world war there were increased attempts to increase the number of International Organisations amongst them the League of Nations but this did not prevent the second world war following very quickly. Many of these Organisations were functioning inefficiently and in need of coordination. Thus, according to Luck was the UN born, in an environment of expectation and confusion. With the advent of the Cold War and into the 1990’s we witnessed many resolutions related to peace keeping missions were passed:

“during the war with Iraq the Secretary General claimed that the UN was being made irrelevant and redundant. The production of Resolutions and Presidential statements have steadily increased from 1988 with 20 resolutions and 8 statements to 2006 when there were 87 resolutions and 59 statements. The number of meetings and consultations increased dramatically. The UN is working 7 days per week 365 days per year. Is this a good thing? There are 19 ongoing peace operations and 40 peace mediations. If we include Nato and other International Organisations, there are 200,000 peace keepers currently deployed on peace keeping missions.”

Luck then asks the question whether the Security Council of the UN has failed: whether the principle of non intervention is a failed doctrine. The Realists, Luck claims, are ready to draw the conclusion that International Organisations have now proved that they do not work and therefore do not matter in spite of the enormous amount of activity they generate.. Luck then counter-argues the Realist with the following statistics:

“The number of wars between states are down strikingly since the end of the cold war. The number of wars within states are also strikingly down. The number of war casualties are down. The number of refugees are significantly down. The number of internally displaced peoples are down. Economic trends suggest that growth rtes are going up in the developing countries. Infant mortality is down and life expectancy is up. The number of people in poverty is down considerably.”

Luck asks whether the UN is equipped to deal with the large range of issues that demand its attention and he also points out that not all states comply with UN resolutions. He notes with skepticism the complex bureaucratic structure of the UN and the presence of 28 sub committees but does not in this context refer to the results of the work of these committees. Indeed he poses the question whether whether these sub committees are an intended distraction from the issue of the lack of influence of the Security Council.

Luck then notes that a number of the articles of the UN Charter challenge a states sovereignty :

“I have always assumed that states were initially framed for the protection of people. This function obviously alters over time. The UN is clearly violating sovereignty yet there are few complaints about this. Why? Some commentators refer to the sovereignty gap–the gap between what the citizens of a state require and what the state is able to provide for its citizens under its own steam. If this is true then other states and international organisations are needed. Environmental issues require inter.state-cooperation as does disease, trafficking, finance, commerce and security. So it is not a question merely of whether sovereignty is going to be overriden but where and by how much. From this perspective International Organisations are not the enemy of sovereignty but its guarantor. The Secretary General claims that strong independent states are important since weak and failing states are the source of many problems.”

Luck discusses the issue of the conditions for just UN interventions and draws the conclusion:

“the direction is very clear.The hands of the powerful are being tied. The powerful are being woven into a network of laws and institutions.”

This final image of being trapped in a spiders web makes it clear that there is little trust for this Kantian institution of the UN.

Kant in his work “Universal History” proposes in his 9 propositions a philosophical psychology and picture of human nature which provides us with a picture of political man that may perhaps explain to some degree this hostility. Kant’s intention is also to explain the more vicious kind of hostility that lies behind acts of war, He claims firstly that much good is achieved by the antagonism which arises when men encounter each other in the world of tasks to be done: this, he claims is a world in which there are disagreements. The consequences of such antagonism are often good he argues. He goes so far as to say that even the consequences of war which are not to be wished for might produce in their wake a redrawing of the boundaries of states which are for the benefit of all concerned. He claims secondly that man is a being who needs a master but does not wish to have one, preferring to resolve all issues pertaining to his affairs himself. In his moral writings, Kant takes up this characteristic again when he points out that man may even agree in general with the law but in special circumstances wishes to exempt himself from the reach of that law. There are in other words tendencies toward antagonism and egoism. Throughout history we have seen these tendencies play out on the world stage. The UN is the master men need but do not want. Men support it with their money and signatures to documents but they wish to exempt themselves from the reach of its sanctions. This is clearly demonstrated by Luck’s lecture.

Aristotle speaks in his work on Politics of man as the social animal possessing the capacities of trust and love. The city-state, Aristotle argues is held together by bonds of trust and friendship. Man is presented here also as a political animal with the capacity of Logos(speech and reason), a capacity which provides us with a freedom not possessed by animals. A capacity which also suggests the role of knowledge in political activities as well as the earlier referred to role of political friendship. Such political friendship is not a romantic idea but rather refers to the kind of relation we find between siblings who we know can be antagonistic toward one another yet be the best of friends. Sibling-love is the kind of love that citizens should have for one another, argues, Aristotle, a love which competes for the attention , recognition and esteem of the city-state/surrogate parent.

This Aristotelian image of our relation to authority is a far cry from the above modern image of a spider weaving a trap for an innocent fly. There is, in Luck’s image a clear substitution of an unfriendly antagonism for the friendly sibling antagonism of Aristotle. Perhaps this difference of mood is one of the markers which distinguish our modern times from the Golden Age of Greek civilization.

Charting the course of this change of mood is no easy task. The spider lives in a state of nature where there is a war of all against all. The philosopher who describes this state best is Hobbes. Man emerges from state of nature with two passions which need to be tamed if civilisation is to be established: pride and fear of death. These two passions rule our attempts to live communally together in civilisations in the best of times and the worst of times. Laws are the means the sovereign of the state uses to tame these passions. The picture is of a restless spirit which rests only in death. Hobbes was together with Descartes a hostile critic of Aristotle . He was a political realist who scoffed at the idealism of life in a state that prized knowledge and recommended the examined life. For Hobbes life was a business and if man possessed reason it was for the purposes of calculating his advantages and the economic value of life. Man should live a commodious life. These ideas are the source of the image of the spider which is sometimes also used as an image of the modern academic. Hobbes’s philosophy was also aimed at dismantling Aristotle’s influence in the university system. he recommended that his works should replace those of Aristotle. Descartes philosophical meditations were also aimed at the dismantling of our trust in all authorities in general but Aristotle’s influence in particular and together these two philosophers sought to transform Universities into “modern” institutions where Aristotle’s ideas were no longer taught. Scholars were forced to become “specialists” plotting and spinning their ideas in their study-dens, critically trusting nothing and no one in a landscape in which the sciences proliferated and the humanities , the truly universal branch of knowledge became imprisoned in a web of specialities.