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Holger Rossow

Towards an International Community - "Empire of Democracy" or "Pax Americana"?

The problem of the possible shapes of the future international order is clearly embedded in the manifold processes which are commonly subsumed under the term globalisation. Globalisation which takes place at a time when there is no serious challenge to the political, economic, military and technological leadership of the United States. All endeavours of the European Union to formulate and act on a concrete, practical and generally agreed upon strategy for an independent European foreign policy after the end of the Cold War have come to nothing so far. If there had ever been any hopes of strongly influencing a new world order or of becoming a global player itself, then these were dashed to pieces in the context of the war in Iraq.

Today's globalised world is characterised by globalised states that continue to be one of the main sources of political agency both domestically and in the international arena. They coexist with other states, with inter-governmental organizations and a wide variety of non-governmental and transnational actors. Therefore, some form or other of a redesigned international order will be needed which will be supplemented by transnational relations of actors below and above state level. Three basic trajectories for the development of a future state of international affairs shall be identified in this paper. The use of the word state and not order implies that one of the options is based on the assumption that the future will rather be characterised by world disorder than order[i]. Clark points out that at least one historian, Hobsbawm, has denied with reference to the 1990s even the minimalist presence of an international system: "Thus for the first time in two centuries, the world of the 1990s entirely lacked any international system or structure."[ii]. But Clark also points out that Hobsbawm rather refers to the absence of a traditional Great Power international system than a system per se.[iii] The second option could be described as "Pax Americana", implying a global peace dictated by American power. The third option would be an "Empire of Democracy"[iv], i.e. that part of the world that upholds and subscribes to the values of democracy, the rule of law, market economy and the need for global integration and co-operation. Although this is not the concern of this paper, future developments are likely to show that disorder entailing chaos and war will be impossible to eradicate completely in many places in the world in the foreseeable future. The USA will continue to be the dominant economic, political and military power, and the idea of an "Empire of Democracy" has still to prove its global feasibility and attractiveness. Much of the more recent and present evidence seems to point towards a future which will be characterised by a puzzling mixture of all three options in which the USA will occupy a hegemonic position ‑ not necessarily commonly accepted but not seriously challenged in any material way. The central hypothesis of this paper is that the distinction between the three options - (1) world disorder, (2) "Pax Americana" and (3) "Empire of Democracy" ‑ does not imply that they are mutually exclusive on the levels of concept, space or time.

The Kosovo crisis can be used as a testing ground for this hypothesis. First, because it was clearly a case of large-scale disorder after the end of the Cold War potentially threatening the international/European order. Secondly, because the USA became, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, massively militarily involved on the European continent. Finally, because the conflict was, especially in Britain, discussed in terms of the "Empire of Democracy".

The massacre at Srebrenica was the worst single act of violence in Europe since the Second World War. The ensuing war in Kosovo to protect Kosovars from Serbs was the first case that NATO countries had gone into action in the ex-communist world. For both Europeans and Americans the war in Kosovo differed from other locations of ethnic strife and mass killings because it echoed Europe in the period preceding the Second World War and the war itself: "forced migration, the separation of families and the slaughter of men, the way nationalism can trump all other arguments and emotions, and the horror of the large-scale bombing of towns and villages."[v] This reading of the war was strongly employed by those who defended the action against Serbia and Milosevic: "We have learned twice before in this century that appeasement does not work. If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later."[vi]

In the context of the war in Kosovo, it became obvious that the USA do not generally have to impose their influence ("Pax Americana") on helpless states and their politicians around the world who simply lack the power or courage to reject it. Tony Blair and New Labour were arguably more willing than others to follow the leadership of the United States, but this was rather a matter of degree than principle. When Blair addressed the Economic Club in Chicago on 23 April 1999, he confirmed both the dominant position of the USA and the vital need for it to continue its global role. Addressing his hosts, he pointed out that "America's allies are always both relieved and gratified by its continuing readiness to shoulder burdens and responsibilities that come with its sole superpower status. We understand that this is something that we have no right to take for granted, and must match with our own efforts"[vii] In a document published in 2001, the Commission of the EU stated in unequivocal words, although somewhat belatedly, that "Kosovo revealed the shortcomings of Europe's existing national and collective military capabilities and underlined the need for a European strategic defence policy."[viii] Already in 2000, the Economist was convinced that events in the Balkans have made plain that Europe cannot keep the peace without the United States and sees a kind of "division of labour" in the making: "In the continent's potential killing fields, moreover, there is a natural division of labour whereby America’s might serves as a strategic deterrent, while artfully applied economic assistance from EU governments keeps local antagonisms from boiling over."[ix]

The World Economic Forum in the USA in 1999 raised the question whether the war in Kosovo had the potential to spread and disrupt the post­war peace settlement and how ethnic conflict would be handled in the future: "[I]s the world creating a new standard of action thereby changing the international legal order and creating new expectations for the future in other ethnic conflicts?"[x] The potential contours of a future "Empire of Democracy" were sharply focussed during the war in Kosovo which also shaped the discourse about the respective roles of the USA, Britain and Europe in the global arena and an allegedly emerging world order. The significance of the war in Kosovo as a `defining moment´ for the move towards a new world order cannot be overestimated. The war not only provided new examples for international institutions like the United Nations being ignored but also for a revolutionary re-definition of the concept of sovereignty. The re-definition of the concept of sovereignty turned out ‑ with hindsight ‑  to be more important for the future development of the international order than the ignoring of the United Nations in particular circumstances.

The sovereignty of states had been, at least in theory, guaranteed since the foundation of the League of Nations. Though it could be argued that the United States, the Soviet Union and many other countries have militarily intervened in sovereign states, the war in Kosovo was different from all these precedents because for the first time "a coalition of respectable countries has openly said that it is prepared to use force to stop the accepted ruler of a sovereign state doing bad things to his own people"[xi]

This re-defined concept of sovereignty was reflected in the new NATO doctrine that was radically different from that of the Cold War. Beedham argued in 1999 that

[t]he purpose is no longer for America to help the European democracies defend their borders against Russia. It is for Europe and America to march side by side to the wars they will very likely have to fight outside their borders in the century ahead. NATO, formerly an American arm round Europe’s shoulder, is becoming an organisation capable of projecting global force.[xii]

In a statement on the NATO summit in 1999 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the organisation, Blair told the House of Commons that

[w]hile NATO’s fundamental role will remain the defence and security of the allies, there was an equally strong consensus on the need for a more capable and flexible Alliance, able to contribute to security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area and to promote the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law for which it has stood since its foundation.[xiii]

The war in Kosovo could be interpreted as the beginning of a new bi-polar world. One pole the "Empire of Democracy" with the United States as its unrivalled leader and the second formed by those countries that do not qualify for "citizenship". This "Empire of Democracy" was only to be open to new entrants who subscribe to what is defined as its core values: liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open and democratic society.

The most pressing foreign policy problem for this "Empire of Democracy" was to define circumstances in which it should get involved in other countries' affairs. Although the principle of non-interference was re-affirmed as being central to international affairs, it was argued that it can or, indeed, must be qualified in important aspects. According to Blair, whose views on this particular problem were shared by other European leaders, intervention would be justified under the following circumstances: "Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as `threats to international peace and security´."[xiv] With regard to events in Kosovo Blair insisted more specifically that "[w]e cannot allow that to happen, not on Europe's doorstep without acting".[xv] The practical future consequences of this stance were, of course, still unknown at the time.

Concluding and with the benefit of hindsight, it can be argued that a hybrid international order emerged during and as a result of the Kosovo crisis. It has been characterised by a flexible fusion of the notions of "Empire of Democracy" and "Pax Americana". On the one hand, the USA constitutes a very important part of this "Empire" and, on the other hand, if it does not suit their own plans and priorities, they might act outside its limitations, although probably invoking its values in order to justify its actions.

Regardless of which option will win out in the future - "Pax Americana" or "Empire of Democracy" - we will likely continue to experience disorder, especially in those regions where neither the USA nor the other members of the "Empire of Democracy" perceive a need to become involved. Arguably, in certain cases increased disorder may result from interference.

The hybrid nature of the international order raises, at least, four questions: (1) who is going to define the rules and norms of the "Empire of Democracy" beyond the seemingly uncontroversial principles of peace and democracy, liberty and the rule of law, (2) who is determining the rules of entry, (3) what will happen if one country cannot meet the high standards, and (4) what role will there be for NATO, the UN, an enlarged European Union or other international governmental and non-governmental institutions and actors which might not fully subscribe to the rules, norms and principles under (1)?



[i]       Cf. Hoffmann, Stanley (1998) World Disorders. Troubled Peace in the Post Cold War Era, Boulder/Col.-New York, 1998 and Tibi, Bassam (2001) Die neue Weltunordnung, 2nd, updated edition, München: Econ Taschenbuch.
[ii]      Hobsbawm, Eric (1994) Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London: Michael Joseph, S. 559, qtd. in: Clark, Ian (2001) "Globalization and the Post-Cold War Order", Baylis, John und Steve Smith (eds.) The Globalization of World Politics, Oxford: OUP, S. 642.
[iii]      Clark, Ian (2001) "Globalization and the Post-Cold War Order", Baylis, John und Steve Smith (eds.) The Globalization of World Politics, Oxford: OUP, S. 642.
[iv]      The term is borrowed from Beedham, Economist (2000) Brian, Beedham, "The Empire of Democracy", The Economist/Internet Edition [http://www.theworldin.com/ 1999/arts/lea/lea3.htm - 19.01.2000].
[v]      Economist (1999) Emmott, Bill, "Survey 20th Century. On the Yellow Brick Road", The Economist/Internet Edition, 11.09.1999 [www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/ 19990911/su3796.html - 22.02.2000].
[vi]      Blair, Tony (2000) "Doctrine of the International Community"” [23.04.1999], Tony Blair's Political Speeches, [www.number-10.gov.uk - 17.02.2000].
[vii]     Blair, Tony (2000) "Doctrine of the International Community"” [23.04.1999], Tony Blair's Political Speeches, [www.number-10.gov.uk - 17.02.2000].
[viii]    European Commission (2001) The European Union and the World, 'Europe on the move' series, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
[ix]      Economist (2000) "The Next Balkan War", The Economist/Internet Edition [www.economist.com/editorial/ freeforall/current/ ld2160.html - 4.04.2000].
[x]      Report (1999) "Report on the 1999 USA Meeting, Operating in a New Global Market Place", Washington DC, 14.­15.04.1999, "Committed to Improving the State of the World", p. 6 [www.weforum.org/pdf/USA_report.pdf - 25.03.2000].
[xi]      Economist (2000) Brian, Beedham, "The Empire of Democracy", The Economist/Internet Edition [http://www.theworldin.com/ 1999/arts/lea/lea3.htm - 19.01.2000].
[xii]     Economist (1999) Brian, Beedham, "All Eyes on Turkey", The Economist/Internet Edition [http://www.theworldin.com/1998/in002.html - 12.09.1999].
[xiii]    Blair, Tony (2000) "Statement on NATO Summit in Washington", 26.04.1999 [www.number-10.gov.uk/ - 15.01.2000].
[xiv]    Blair, Tony (2000) "Doctrine of the International Community"” [23.04.1999], Tony Blair's Political Speeches, [www.number-10.gov.uk - 17.02.2000].
[xv]     Blair, Tony (1999) "Interview with NBC Today", 04.05.1999 [http://www.number-10.gov.uk/ - 15.02.2000].