Although the world witnessed two shifts in the international order after World War I and II, it is clear that for years a gradual but key shift has changed the foundations of the old order.
After the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the sole world power there were many theories about the "new world order" and future of international relations. There were also questions about the efficacy of international laws that assume equal sovereignty among states in regulating relations in the era of globalism.
The first sign of this new era was that states are no longer able to control their markets single-handedly, as well as unprecedented growth in the influence of non-governmental organisations.
From the outside, globalisation expresses itself in economic liberalisation but on the inside it is about the growing role of NGOs on the political arena. A blatant example in contemporary international studies is the question whether the UN Charter has changed from being a multilateral agreement into a constitution ruling international relations. If this were true, in terms of the national definition of a constitution, what are the guarantees for balance and separation of powers in this “constitution”?
I believe power has always existed and law came into existence one way or another. But in international relations, when power clashes with the law, the victor is the one who holds the law of power not the power of the law. For example, when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on 23 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire issued a warning to Serbia containing impossible conditions that were unacceptable to Serbia. The outcome, as we know, was the start of World War I.
However, most do not know that Serbia responded to the warning with a legal proposal of taking the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Naturally, the Empire dismissed the idea because it possessed the power, and power makes laws. (This can also be compared to successive warnings and unusual conditions sent by the US to Iraq before invading).
World War I gave birth to a school of idealism that believed in creating an “institution for international relations” based on a binding legal framework, and that this would be better than the previous international order based on a “balance of power” in international relations. Accordingly, the League of Nations was created.
At the end of World War II, idealism in international relations and law was crushed although the world upheld the concept of “the institution of international relations” and its marriage to the balance of power, which was reinforced by the Cold War. Thus, the decline of idealism gave rise to realism which always linked idealism with international law. The illusion of idealism and the international institutions it created ignored the reality of international politics, which in the end resulted in a destructive world war. This theory was championed by prominent American thinkers Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan.
In the era of globalisation, the world has entered a third phase. Neo-realists believe that relations between states are ruled by the supreme interests of each state, and so there is no use or impact of international law except on issues that are of little consequence to supreme interests. Henry Kissinger is among the most prominent figures who embrace this perspective.
Accordingly, we find that the UN Security Council has become a tool for international legislation and execution at the same time, in the absence of a clear international judicial authority with a specific judicial mandate. There is no explanation in Western liberal thinking of how it can accept the notion of combining legislative and executive powers in a global dictatorship.
It is clear that international law has retreated when discussing global political variables, which requires an immediate overhaul of the international law system to be more compatible with these variables and create clear and specific regulations. For example, it is urgent to amend the UN Charter regarding the formation and missions of international organisations, most notably the Security Council. This would not only be achieved through increasing the number of permanent seats on the Security Council, but also eliminating permanent seats and the right of veto altogether, because both contradict the essence of democracy in international relations or “globalisation." The same applies to the International Court of Justice in order for it to play a greater role in world peace and security.
The meaning of globalisation as seen in the policies of successive US administrations since the end of the Cold War is the prevalence of American values as part of political and economic domination of the world. It is unilateralism and monopoly over the truth, and denial of international pluralism. This is blatantly obvious in the actions and statements of these administrations.
Accordingly, regional sovereignty of all countries does not stand in the way of the US when it advocates free economy, democracy and human rights. However, hypocritically, the US is extremely protective of its own absolute regional dominance, expanding its domain and violating the regional sovereignty of other countries.
All these precursors could mean the end of statehood in its classical definition, especially with growing interest in NGOs that have spread like a cancer in Third World countries, irrespective of loyalties and in the absence of any legal framework regulating the activities of these organisations. For example, we do not know who these organisations answer to. If governments answer to parliaments, then these organisations usually have a broad and ambiguous responsibility as part of what is known as civil society. Members of these organisations are not elected by the people but have become a formidable force of pressure on governments through their international contacts with similar organisations.
Despite this dim and pessimistic outlook we must explore all possibilities to decide on our options and prepare necessary plans of action. The problem will not only be the collapse of the economic and financial borders of countries, but more importantly the certain undermining of national culture, identity and even religion that will accompany this development.
Our region can keep astride with globalisation as long as it is part of the creation process, and is ready to block negative side-effects and benefit from the positives. This can only be achieved through enlightened and healthy construction of Arab societies, irrespective of the formula of what is called the new world order.
The writer is former assistant to Egypt's foreign minister.