The liberal international order

The Holy Roman Empire, it’s often said, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The same might be said about the so-called ‘liberal international order’ – it’s neither liberal, nor international, nor an order. That might be a little unfair, but it’s not unreasonable to ask whether the system governing international relations is really quite what the proponents of the ‘liberal international order’ imagine it to be (democratic values, free trade, international institutions, international law, and the like). Whatever the answer, a lot of people are saying that the existing system is in crisis due to a resurgent Russia, a rising China, and far-right populism in Europe. Of course, if the liberal international order doesn’t exist, it can hardly be in crisis, but discussions of the matter are nonetheless revealing as they tell us quite a lot about how the advocates of this system truly view it.

This thought came to mind after attending a talk today by John Herbst and Daniel Fried. Herbst was at one point American ambassador to Ukraine; Fried was Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. Both men now work for the Atlantic Council, and their presentations were pretty much what you’d expect from that organization: ‘Kremlin aggression’, ‘Kremlin aggression’, and ‘Kremlin aggression’, with occasional references instead to ‘Russian aggression’, and the odd nod to concepts such as the ‘Putin regime’, ‘corrupt kleptocracy’, ‘hybrid war’, and ‘the Gerasimov doctrine’. It’s striking how men with such enormous diplomatic experience can have such an unsophisticated view of international affairs, in which their chosen enemies are entirely to blame for the problems of the world and are apparently motivated solely by malice rather than any type of legitimate interests which we might have to take into consideration.

But that’s by the by. Along the way, both Herbst and Fried had a lot to say about the ‘liberal international order’, which they felt was under threat for all the reasons mentioned above. And then Herbst said something quite interesting. Talking about Ukraine, he remarked that he was confident that reform would continue even if current frontrunner Yulia Timoshenko wins next year’s Ukrainian presidential election. Timoshenko is running a campaign based in part on rejection of much of the proposed reform program. But, Herbst pointed out, Ukraine is in desperate need of money. So we needn’t worry, he said, for the West can use the IMF ‘to bash her on the head’ (or words to that effect) to force Timoshenko and the Ukrainian parliament to enact the reforms that the West deems necessary.

And there’s the ‘liberal international order’ for you. Unwittingly, Herbst let the cat out of the bag and told us something important about how members of the Western establishment view the purpose of international institutions – not as institutions designed to facilitate foreign governments’ efforts to pursue the policies they wish to pursue, but as tools of the West to force them to do what the West wants them to do. In other words, the liberal international order, isn’t really international, but an extension of Western power. As you will notice, there’s also very little about this which is ‘liberal’. Forcing foreign governments to do things they were elected not to do doesn’t have a whole lot in common with democracy. (Though it’s hardly exceptional – think of the Greeks, for instance.) And it’s hard to see how it’s compatible with freedom either – after all, you’re not really free if you have to do what foreign governments tell you to do. Whatever its theoretical principles, when put into practice in this way, the liberal international order is simply a codeword for what those on the left like to call ‘imperialism’.

And that’s a shame. At heart, I’m a typical Western liberal democrat. I believe in the theoretical principles of liberal international order – free trade, international institutions, respect for international law, and all that. To some extent, I think they are indeed part of the practice of the international system, and it would be great if they could be practiced in an even more perfect way. But they’re not going to be if the states with the most power don’t respect them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that reform in Ukraine is a bad idea. But you can’t preach freedom, democracy, and all the rest of it, if what you  practice is something very different. When ‘liberal international order’ is just code for ‘bash her on the head’ till she does what we want, the liberal international order is in trouble. But the root of the trouble doesn’t lie without; it lies within.

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14 thoughts on “The liberal international order”

  1. “This thought came to mind after attending a talk today by John Herbst and Daniel Fried.”

    They still consider you low-level risk and allow you in the presence of these two famous neoliberal literally mullahs? Al hamdu lillāh!

    “Talking about Ukraine, he remarked that he was confident that reform would continue even if current frontrunner Yulia Timoshenko wins next year’s Ukrainian presidential election.”

    She won’t though.

    “Forcing foreign governments to do things they were elected not to do doesn’t have a whole lot in common with democracy.”

    Democracy is only for democrats! Those who fail to submit to the handshakable order of liberalism are therefore its Enemies. What’s so difficult to understand here? What, you want filthy populism here? Only qualified handshakable minority is fit to rule. To entrust the democracy into the hands of the so-called “people” (rabble, every last of them!) is a folly.

    “Whatever its theoretical principles, when put into practice in this way, the liberal international order is simply a codeword for what those on the left like to call ‘imperialism’.”

    🙂

    C’mon, now professor! I know that today, on 7th of November, you were celebrating not Divālī , but some other holiday! 😉

    “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that reform in Ukraine is a bad idea”

    “Reforms” meaning what? Robbing the populace blind? Btw, these clowns from the EU who periodically visit the Ukraine gonna say to you, that the Ukraine already introduced a lot of reforms. E.g. – now Ukraine have unrestricted lumber export to the EU. Getting rid of the stifling ecological regulation was one of the reforms. True, soon there won’t be any fabled forests in the Western Ukraine, where heroes of OUN-UPA heroically hid from the Moskals – but that’s a small price to pay for the Independence! Or this month’s increase of the price for the gas in the utility bills. Prime Minister Groysman was beaming with pride, when he said, that the IMF insisted on 60% hike, but it will be only 23.5%! Oh, and how can one forget the re-introduction of the conscription (“mobilization”). Because Ukraine is fighting for its Independence, of course.

    I think, these two neo-liberal mullahs, Herbst and Friedman, fucked up royally. Instead of going “bash Yulia with a credit stick”, they’d better play “Putin gonna attack you!” angle. Or, quite possible, they don’t care to lie anymore – they are so sure of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This isn’t new–it dates back to at least George Bush senior’s “New World Order,” in which confronted by the choice to slash military spending to truly peacetime levels and let the rest of the world seek its own way after the fall of communism, the U.S. instead determined that no power or combination of powers would ever be allowed to rise up and challenge it in the future. In the 1990s, America’s hands were partially tied by the desire for a “peace dividend,” but 9/11 politically allowed the U.S. to do whatever it needed to do to “protect the nation for terrorism.”

    The only hope now is the when the U.S. empire finally collapses in the mode of the USSR, that it doesn’t touch off a nuclear war or otherwise drag the rest of humanity down with it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “The only hope now is the when the U.S. empire finally collapses in the mode of the USSR, that it doesn’t touch off a nuclear war or otherwise drag the rest of humanity down with it.”

      Yes. The short-lived and stupidly violent (violently stupid?) US Empire
      is unlikely to go quietly, alas.

      Like

  3. ” it’s neither liberal, nor international”

    Yeah, I know the story: liberal international order has never really been tried. And I’m sure you know the standard response: stop evading and defend, if you can, the actually-existing liberal international order…

    Anyhow, a couple of years ago I was watching a Ukrainian TV show on youtube. At the time, Ukraine (it’s political class) was anxiously waiting for another IMF tranche. In the show, there was a question on the screen: “Do you think Ukraine needs $1.5 billion loan from the IMF? For Da dial this number, for Ni that number”. Imagine my surprise when I saw thousands of calls with 97% voting “No”. So much for ‘democracy’…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Poroshenko despite single digit poll numbers -7%, is not behaving like he is going anywhere.

    He is carrying out all the destructive measures required like a good little puppet.

    Tymoshenko may end up in prison again accused of corruption / treason or whatever he can concoct. Or her life may come under threat.

    The EU and USA will do nothing as Ukraine slides further and further down.

    I wonder what the breaking point for the people will be. Life is not going to get any better for the majority.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Battle of the freedoms – Economic vs. Social.

    Neoliberalism, the 45-yr. global economic policy, is an ideology founded by libertarian economist and Austrian aristocrat, Friedrich von Hayek and promoted by libertarians Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, the Koch brothers and others.

    Since the 2008 financial crash, it has been thoroughly discredited as a viable economic policy. During this zombie decade of rudderless leadership, only MMT (modern monetary theory) has entered the economic arena with sound fiscal policy advocacy.

    “Government exists to spend. The purpose of government is to serve the general welfare of the citizens, not just the military-industrial complex and the financial class. Didn’t we have a stimulus, oh, eight years ago? It was tiny and has not been entirely spent. As Yellen implied, we need more spending of the non-military kind (what Barney Frank memorably called “weaponized Keynesianism” doesn’t stimulate).”

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/leesheppard/2016/04/02/we-need-fiscal-policy/?fbclid=IwAR02l1AlZGMpapbTOdURjgRknx6Kai-24Z6fXBCXyBolgdgodvjSmYmXAdw#1c4e7dea8b40

    In the US, both political parties today are dominated by this failed libertarian radical right, fueled mostly by the Koch donor network. Their idea of liberty actually depends on economic inequality. It’s their “human right”. Economic freedom over liberty for all. Isn’t that undemocratic?

    “Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch and its executive director for 12 years, doesn’t hide his contempt for the idea of economic equality as one of the key human rights. Neier is so opposed to the idea of economic equality that he even equates the very idea of economic equality and justice with oppression—economic rights to him are a violation of human rights, rather than essential human rights, thereby completely inverting traditional left thinking.

    Here’s what Neier wrote in his memoir, Taking Liberties: “The concept of economic and social rights is profoundly undemocratic… Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights.”

    Neier here is aping free-market libertarian mandarins like Friedrich von Hayek, or Hayek’s libertarian forefathers like William Graham Sumner, the robber baron mandarin and notorious laissez-faire Social Darwinist.

    As with Neier, William Graham Sumner argued that liberty has an inverse relationship to economic equality; according to Sumner, the more economic equality, the less liberty; whereas the greater the inequality in a society, the more liberty its individuals enjoy.

    It’s the fundamental equation underlying all libertarian ideology and politics—a robber baron’s ideology at heart.”

    https://thedailybanter.com/2012/06/the-quiet-extermination-of-labor-rights-from-human-rights/

    The libertarians’ futile dream of a nationless world dominated by privately owned charter cities has been attempted in Honduras to no avail. In this dystopic world of Technocracy and Property Owners, the restoration of the nation-state has never been more obvious.

    “In a libertarian society, there is no commons or public space. There are property lines, not borders. When it comes to real property and physical movement across such real property, there are owners, guests, licensees, business invitees and trespassers – not legal and illegal immigrants.” ~ Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute

    Like

    1. “The more inequality in a society, the more hate, the more dysfunction, the more mental illness, the more physical illness.” It should come as no surprise, then, that we see more addiction and more mass shootings since “the inequality is rising all the time.” Violence against racial, ethnic, or religious groups “is a manifestation of a society that foments division amongst people and sets people against each other.”

      http://www2.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/hate-addiction-pittsburgh-shooting-childhood-trauma-gabor-mate-20181102.html?fbclid=IwAR0HUxIsCYCRjzgP9esxNknoczq6

      Like

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