It is a matter of time, before an international order in an anarchistic system becomes unstable and privileged states – like the United States in the current order – are challenged. International orders – including the United Nations – have a limited lifespan, because of their ‘built-in’ inability to change.
The United Nations can be considered the organisational ‘set-up’ of our current international order.
In a series of articles, I discuss the United Nations: Its purposes, the establishment of the United Nations and the process of social integration and expansion that preceded it, the urgent need for fundamental reform of the United Nations, and how this reform could be accomplished.
I will also explain that superficial reforms of the United Nations – which do not address the fundamental unbalance in the System – will cause a systemic crisis, as happened two times during the 20th Century.
Such a systemic crisis will cause a situation the United Nations is – according to its own purposes – supposed to prevent.
In the second article, I discuss how – and why – international orders are established, and what purposes they fulfil from a system’s perspective.
It is important to understand the basic characteristics of the international System and its organisational ‘set-ups’, to understand its dynamics.
The System is anarchistic in nature. In anarchistic systems, states are responsible for their own security. Contrary to (functioning) states, the System lacks a legitimate government; states are sovereign. Presidents Trump address to the General Assembly of the UN today is illustrative for this outlook.
Growth and development of the system – and international orders that are implemented (‘imposed’) – are driven by population growth and rivalries between states that compete for power, influence and scarce resources.
Humans and states must fulfil several basic requirements to survive. By ‘grouping’ into states, humans and states can exploit economies of scale and scope: Cooperation and integration have (much) more to offer than conflict and fragmentation.
The security dilemma drives the relationships – and tension levels – between states in anarchistic systems. The security dilemma implies that state’s A security (achieved by military capabilities and alliances) is state’s B insecurity, and vice versa.
The security dilemma works as a self-reinforcing mechanism, that at certain phase of development of an international order starts to dominate the system’s dynamics, and – history shows – at a certain point causes the international order’s collapse.
Once the international order reaches a ‘tipping point’ the self-reinforcing security dilemma dominates the dynamics of the System and causes an accumulation of issues and tensions, that at a certain point are released by means of a systemic war. A systemic war typically results in the implementation of an upgraded international order. During the period 1495 – present, the System has produced four systemic wars. We must urgently find a peaceful mechanism to fundamentally reform the UN. The US its ideas and aggressive stance push the UN further to the brink.
International orders are implemented to provide a certain balance and stability between states in anarchistic system’s. A certain balance ensures ‘predictable’ and stable relationships necessary for the fulfilment of basic requirements, and for growth and development of states and their societies.
Typically, an international order consists of a set of rules, and more or less formalised institutions. International orders can be considered ‘rules-based’ systems.
However, it is only a matter of time before an international order becomes obsolete, as a consequence of (population) growth and (increasing) rivalries. The problem is – a problem we now also (must) confront – that anarchistic systems lack mechanisms to peacefully – by means of consultation and (eventually) consensus – design and implement ‘upgraded’ international orders, to restore a certain balance.
The unbalance that unavoidably arises in our anarchistic system, is consequently – at least until now – solved by means of systemic war: A system-wide war in which all Great Powers of the system are involved, and that is used to release accumulated tensions and issues and to design and implement upgraded orders. What cannot be accomplished peacefully, will be accomplished by means of systemic war.
The most powerful and influential states that emerge from a systemic war – that ‘win’ the war – are in a position to determine the rules of the System. These states typically use this position to their own advantage, by including certain privileges in the new rule set that is implemented. This is what the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, also did ‘by means of’ the Second World War (1939-1945), and the subsequent implementation of the United Nations international order. International orders are designed to maintain the status quo, and to serve the interests of privileged states.
These privileges of certain states also are a cause of future problems, because Great Powers ‘come and go’, and international orders can consequently only provide temporary order and stability.
President’s Trump speech today, confirms the above dynamic: The United Nations has become increasingly dysfunctional, and consequently the US president stresses the need for self-reliance of states. Trump’s speech undermines the purposes of the United Nations.
His speech also contains the ‘justification’ – at least from an ‘America first‘ perspective – for the future use of American destructive power against several states (North Korea and Iran), to ensure the United States can maintain its privileges in an increasingly unbalanced system.
In part III of this series, I explain the powerful-become-more-powerful effect, and how powerful states use international orders to become even more powerful.