A New International System

Globalization heralds a situation where actions and policies of one single nation-state may threaten the very survival of other nation-states and/or the international community.

Globalization heralds a situation where actions and policies of one single nation-state may threaten the very survival of other nation-states and/or the international community. Unless actions are put in motion to force a change of policies upon the nation-state in question, the international system unravels as self-interest is paying off. In self-defense, the international community may even take the hitherto unprecedented step to intervene inside the borders of a nation-state against its will, thus violating sovereignty. To rally the overwhelming part of the international community, decisions to intervene must follow a pattern of transparency and accountability, just like in a domestic political system. Otherwise, the world ends up with interventions, yes, but carried out by the strongest power(s) - or coalitions of powers - nursing the root of suspicion that the objective is not the safeguard of the international community but to feather one's own nest. A more or less agreed upon set of values specifying what kind of misbehaviour warrants interventionism, in particular the use of armed forces, becomes the third, last and indispensable step in this new model.


Economic intervention. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has steadfastly, without hesitation or the slightest doubt, intervened in national economic policies with the consent of its board. The protagonists expounded it as (self) defense of the international economy against disrupting forces. The critics have labelled that posture hypocrisy.

There is growing discontent that interventions are controlled by the creditors, shifting the burden of adjustment squarely on to the debtors. Already in 1945, John Maynard Keynes foresaw this risk. He tried - in vain - to forge the IMF in a balanced way, opening the door for stimulating policies in creditor countries as well as restrictive policies in debtor countries. The debtor countries have certainly felt the heavy hand of the IMF, but not much daring has been shown to force international responsibility on creditor countries.

The need for economic interventionism may be more acute than ever in the beginning of 2004. The US economy, with about 25% of global gross national product, is haunted by historically unprecedented debt burdens auguring a day of reckoning not far away. The much-welcomed recovery stands on a crumpling mountain of debt. Behind the veil, a seminal shift in purchasing power between the established economic powers -  mainly the US - and the fast approaching new economic superpowers - mainly China and India - is taking place with very few pondering the impact on the world economic system.

Military intervention. Contrary to the preceding decades the 1990s stands forth as an era of international interventionism. Security policies were not swept under the carpet as an objective. Military instruments were openly brought into play. But neither objectives nor instruments were regularly inscribed in an orderly international decision-making process. Ad Hoc approaches were the order of the day.

The first Gulf War, Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and Somalia illustrates what before 1990 and the end of the Cold War, would have been deemed totally unthinkable.

An interesting example took place in the beginning of 2000, when the European Union intervened in negotiations inside Austria to form a new government referring to the obligations in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome. The EU felt that the Austrian Freedom Party being invited to join the government called these principles into question.

The international community has gradually endorsed steps encompassing one or more of the five following measures:



Economic measures


Security policies including military actions

A close examination of the Iraq crisis shows that there was consensus among all major international actors that it was justified to take measures against Iraq, that the international community had the right to contest the Iraqi regime and that a whole string of measures could and should apply including, if necessary, military action.

The disagreement can be boiled down to one, albeit crucial, factor: whether it was justified to use force earlier or later.

The Iraq crisis demonstrates how far and how fast the international community has moved toward legitimizing intervention and not the other way around.


Institutionalization appears as the logical successor to the demise of sovereignty. When nation-states abandon the right to exercise sovereignty, they stand naked unless or until another system emerges. And that other system could and should be the virtues of the rule of law propelled onto the international level.

Many nation-states, in particular those having recently achieved their independence, may be reluctant to follow this course of action. They confuse formal sovereignty with the power to shape the destiny of their nation-state.

In a global world, a nation-state has no, or at most limited, room for manoeuvre to introduce and implement legislation running counter to the path chosen by adjacent countries and the international community. It may do so and some have tried with the inevitable result that international investors shy them and steer trade and investment flows away towards other recipients.

To safeguard the domestic policies preferred by a nation-state, national legislation must fit into international rules and/or an international environment like a glove. In case of contradiction, two options obtrude themselves upon policymakers: either to change the international framework by negotiation or to abandon the proposed national legislation.