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International Order

International Order In The Twentieth Century

In 1898, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia called for a meeting of the leaders of nations in order to develop a process for peacefully resolving international disputes. For the first time, the nations considered suitable for inclusion within the international legal order included non-European states such as the United States and Japan. Representatives of twenty-six nations met the next year at The Hague and signed an agreement promising to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts and established the International Court of Arbitration as a vehicle for achieving this. They also entered into an agreement regarding the laws of war. In 1907 there was a second meeting to discuss other issues. One of the fears motivating this interest in peaceful resolution of interstate conflicts was the growth of alliance networks that eventually divided Europe into two major blocs, one headed by Germany, the other led by France and England. Because of these alliance networks, what might have been a conflict between two states could escalate into a large-scale war as the countries involved called upon their allies to support them, something that did occur in August 1914. The weakness of the Hague meetings was that recourse to the court established there relied on the willingness of the parties to take that route rather than war. The court lacked any power to force states to come before it or, for that matter, to enforce any decisions it might reach.

During the twentieth century, the theory and the practice of international order attempted to reconcile several conflicting issues. The first of these dealt with the tension between a desire to incorporate all the nations of the earth into a single coherent system for the settlement of international disputes and a recognition of the fact that a few nations dominated international affairs militarily and politically. A second conflict arose from the desire to enforce adherence to internationally recognized standards of state behavior even in internal matters while recognizing the sovereign status of every state. Finally, there was the difficulty of determining generally acceptable standards of state behavior in a world composed of states with quite different cultural traditions.

The most famous twentieth-century approach to world order came out of the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, whose 14 Points outlined what he believed to be the causes of the war and what he saw as the steps necessary to prevent such a war from occurring again, proposed as the key to world peace a League of Nations that would be open to all states throughout the world and would be capable of enforcing peace. Although egalitarian at the level of the General Assembly in which each member state had one vote, at the highest level there was a council composed of representatives of the five great powers—France, England, Italy, Japan, and the United States—supplemented by representatives of four other powers elected by the General Assembly. Wilson's plans for an international order were frustrated by the national interests of the various countries involved, by the refusal of the U.S. Senate to vote in support of membership in the League, and by the refusal to admit Germany and Russia. This meant that three of the most powerful countries in the world were outside of the orderly world network that the League of Nations was supposed to create.

During the 1920s, there were various attempts to create a peaceful international order by executing treaties that would bind nations to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts. Germany, for example, signed a series of treaties that bound it to accept the borders established at the end of World War I and to accept arbitration in those cases where there were conflicts with neighboring countries. The Kellogg-Briand Pact (1927) bound signatories to use arbitration to settle disputes, and, in 1930, the major naval powers signed a treaty in London to regulate the size of navies and regulating submarine warfare. These treaties and others entered into during the 1920s suggested to some observers that a legally based international order was coming into being. No means were created, however, for enforcing adherence to these treaties.

In addition to resolving conflicts among European nations, the post–World War I era saw the development of efforts to regulate relations among the nations of the rest of the world and to assist in the development of these nations. Former German colonies in Africa were assigned to various European powers. Other areas, lost to the collapsing Ottoman Empire, Syria and Iraq, for example, became independent states but under the supervision of France and England, respectively. These arrangements were made under the direction or mandate of the League of Nations and were expected to end once these countries had become fully developed modern states and therefore capable of participation in the network of states that controlled international order.

The experience of the 1930s, however, demonstrated that international order, especially where it concerned the interests of the major nations, could not be secured without the use of force. The failure of the French to secure support for the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 marked the last attempt to use force to ensure German adherence to the terms of the Versailles Treaty. When Adolf Hitler repudiated the treaty's limitations on the size of the German armed forces in 1935, the League of Nations took no steps to enforce adherence to the treaty. Likewise, there was no forceful reaction the following year when the Germans reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland in violation of the treaty.

The efforts at establishing international order that were made after World War II were designed to avoid the problems associated with the post–World War I settlement. The United Nations (UN), formally created in October 1945, was established to maintain the unity of the countries that won the war. Like the League of Nations, the United Nations consisted of two houses, the General Assembly where each nation had one vote and the Security Council that consisted of five permanent members and six elected by the General Assembly. Membership in the UN grew rapidly from the initial 51 members to more than 160 in 2003. Some saw the UN as paving the way for a world government that would maintain world order, but there were a number of forces that worked against such an outcome, above all, the division of the world into two large political blocs identified with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. These two large military and political blocs in turn not only confronted one another directly, they also competed for support from the so-called Third World nations of Asia and Africa. To a great extent, world order in the post–World War II era was created by the tension between the two great power blocs.

In the face of increasing demands for independence and self-government, a number of new states emerged. Decolonization, as this process was termed, was expected to lead to the creation of new sovereign states that would easily fit into the state-based international order that was being constructed under the aegis of the United Nations. The UN was actively involved in efforts to resolve border disputes generated by the collapse of the colonial empires, Some of these interventions succeeded in avoiding war by partitioning the disputed territory between the two claimants and then using troops from neutral countries as a permanent buffer between the conflicting groups.

The demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the division of the world into two large blocs and generated a great deal of discussion of what some termed a New World Order. In political terms, this meant the victory of Western liberal, capitalistic democracy; in practice, it meant uncontested American world leadership. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992) articulated the view that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the "end point of mankind's ideological evolution" had been reached, as liberal democracy survived the greatest challenge it had ever faced. One implication of this argument was that as all the nations of the world adopted the liberal democratic and capitalistic way of life, a stable, orderly world of political order composed of nation-states along European lines would emerge. In reality, of course, this has not happened. In contrast to the vision of a peaceful international order that Fukuyama presented, Samuel Huntington has argued that the twenty-first century will see conflict not between nation-states but between cultural blocs with different conceptions of international order.

The beginning of the twenty-first century reveals several kinds of development relevant to the formation of a peaceful world order. The first of these is the unchallenged role of the United States in world affairs. President George W. Bush asserted American responsibility for maintaining a terrorist-free international order and a willingness to act alone if necessary. Detractors increasingly labeled the United States an empire with all of the negative meanings attached to that term. At one level, the expansion of the European Union is a response to American power, unifying European states into a bloc capable of playing a significant role in the international order.

There is also renewed emphasis on humankind as forming a world community subject to universally applicable and enforceable standards of humanitarian behavior. In some cases, UN judgments are enforced by troops of member nations operating under the UN flag. In other cases, however, elements of this development operate separately from the United Nations. The establishment of an International Criminal Court at The Hague in 1998 is one sign of an effort to enforce universal standards outside of the UN framework. This court deals not with states but with individual officials, military and civilian, whose actions violated international standards and follows in the steps of the war crimes trials held at Nuremberg and Tokyo at the end of World War II.

The current trend is toward some form of international order that enforces adherence to standards of behavior through a legal and institutional structure that includes all humankind, a somewhat hierarchical structure that reflects the realities of political power. The power and leadership role of the United States is recognized, but these are restrained by the existence of the United Nations and the international legal order. Furthermore, the sovereignty of states, a fundamental element of international law since the seventeenth century, has been undermined as the United Nations has issued documents on human rights. These documents charge the UN with defending the rights of citizens when their rulers oppress them, even authorizing humanitarian intervention under UN auspices to protect the citizens from their own government. It remains to be seen, however, whether these various elements of international order will coalesce into a formal, permanent structure providing both order and freedom for all humanity.



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James Muldoon

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismInternational Order - The Greek And Roman World, The Medieval Christian Conception Of International Order, The New World In The European International Order