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

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

Robert Cooper.

If Cooper's appeal to America to accept multilateralism as the price for legitimacy is rather ambiguously couched, his call to Europeans to acknowledge the realities of global politics, rather than taking shelter in idealism about the equality of post-imperial nation-states-some of which have proven to be destabilizing failures-is downright provocative:

When dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern limits, Europeans need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era-force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary for those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. In the jungle, one must use the rules of the jungle.


And, while acknowledging that "humanitarian interventions are particularly dangerous for those who intervene," Cooper nonetheless argues that, in the name of safeguarding the peaceful coexistence of its post-modern idyll, post-modern states have a right to intervene in the affairs of "pre-modern" failed states and even "modern" states when they pose a significant enough risk to the intervening nation's interests, calculated-not without controversy-to also include scope for the post-modern ethos. Not that military force is the only means of intervention: Cooper also envisions "a limited form of voluntary empire…provided by programs of assistance of the IMF and the World Bank" whereby in return for financial support, faltering countries accept some form of international trusteeship. Cooper's proposals are, of course, fraught with peril, but they do merit consideration. 

A stable world order in the twenty-first century will require of those who practice statecraft not only the discernment to recognize the new verities in the international system-including Europe's transformative paradigm shift in self-conception and the shift in the balance of power whereby WMDs and terrorists have rendered traditional security arrangements obsolete-but also the wisdom to acknowledge that human nature remains essentially unchanged and that at the heart of individual and national quests is the search for security and order. The condition sine qua non for peace in the present age is the acknowledgment of both the very real chaos that threatens the hard-won international order enjoyed by the post-modern world and the equally pressing necessity to re-envision interests and identity in the context of that threat. The Breaking of Nations is a welcome invitation to reexamine international relations, especially between the U.S. and its European allies, in that light.  


Dr. J. Peter Pham, a former diplomat, is most recently the author of Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004).