Brave Not-So-New World: A Case for Realism and Multilateralism

Robert Cooper.

Robert Cooper. The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003. 180 pp. $18.95.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been no shortage of attempts to explain the "new world order." Two of the earliest such works-nowadays classics of the genre-staked out opposing scenarios for global politics in the coming century: Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man sketched out a hopeful vision of the definitive triumph of liberal democracy, while Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order predicted clashes between civilizations-rather than nations and ideologies-as the driving force in a volatile world. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, numerous other works-some evidently written with almost embarrassing haste-have tried to explain the "changed world" through the optic of one overarching theoretical construct or another, whether it be the difference between "hard" and "soft" power, the technologies that have changed the nature of warfare or the impact of America's might relative to Europe's weakness. Perhaps the most influential of these epistemological quests was Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order which described recent transatlantic tensions as the by-product of differing perceptions of power and law in a world somewhere between Fukuyama's paradise and Huntington's clash and provoked debate in academic and policy circles worldwide.

However, with a handful of exceptions, including Vittorio Emanuele Parsi whose fascinating The Inevitable Alliance: Europe and the United States Beyond Iraq has regrettably received little notice outside Italy and Spain, the books and ideas driving the recent international discussions of geopolitical and diplomatic strategy-if one excludes hysterical philippics against the world's sole hyperpuissance-have been American in origin. Now Robert Cooper, a British diplomat who formerly served as special adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and is now the Director-General of External and Politico-Military Affairs for the Council of the European Union, has made a signal contribution with The Breaking of the Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century. Unlike the other works of its kind, this small book, consisting of two long essays and a brief epilogue, does not offer a single theoretical framework. Rather, by carefully crafting a rich tapestry of historical parallels and conceptual distinctions, Cooper offers a sweeping reinterpretation of the world that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet empire.

In the book's first-and, arguably, strongest-essay, "The Condition of the World," Cooper argues that the Westphalian and Cold War nation-state systems have been replaced by not one, but three kinds of worlds: the "pre-state, post-imperial chaos" of places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Liberia, where either because of a crisis of legitimacy or simply the widespread availability of conventional arms, the state no longer meets Max Weber's criterion of having the legitimate monopoly on the use of force; "modern world" where the classical state system remains intact and states both retain the monopoly of force and are prepared to use it against each other (in this category are relatively peaceful states like Brazil, as well as occasionally tendentious neighbors like India and China); and the "post-modern element," such as the European Union, where the "modern" state system is being replaced by an emerging transnational order based on transparency, law and mutual security.

Noting that, at least in Europe, the traditional balance of power had ceased to balance and that the sovereignty of the Europe's independent states led to self-destructive nationalist extremes that, twice in the last century, plunged the continent into war, Cooper comes out clearly in favor of the "post-modern" solution adopted by Europe with its mutual surveillance/interference in affairs traditionally regarded as domestic, open borders, free trade and avoidance of recourse to war. In contrast, the United States, which according to Cooper made possible the post-modern world, "has stood outside the system and above it as its guardian," and has yet to decide whether it will embrace the new interdependent order or pursue "modern" power politics. However, the EU diplomat cautions against facile characterizations of America by post-modern Europeans:

In one respect, however, the United States diverges from the norm of the modern state. There is an imperial tinge to American policy in its desire to promote democracy. This is a cause that attracts both Left and Right, Wilsonians and neoconservatives. And yet if this is imperial it is also anti-imperial: on the one hand, it tells countries how they should be run; on the other, it tells them they should do the running themselves. It is a typically postmodern approach but it may also have solid modern motivations…Like parallel lines, in America the modern and the postmodern may eventually meet.