9.5.1 Options for Maintaining International Security

The UN ( was founded explicitly to reduce countries’ dependence on Self-Protection, but in its current mode of operation it isn’t able to guarantee peace (7.4.4).  There have been some ideas for replacing it, or bypassing it, but they are unrealistic.

The American Defense Planning Guidance of 1991-92 declared that America should use its power to “Prevent the Reemergence of a New Rival”, either on former Soviet territory or elsewhere, to maintain a ‘unipolar world’.  And Robert Kagan vividly described his vision of America’s role as the world’s sheriff, in his essay The power divide:

“The US does act as a sheriff, perhaps self-appointed but widely welcomed nevertheless, trying to enforce some peace and justice in what Americans see as a lawless world where outlaws need to be deterred, often through the muzzle of a gun.”

Such a world might be stable – but the world won’t accept America as a monarch, as China’s defence spending clearly indicates (in March 2018 a BBC report was entitled China NPC: Government sets trillion yuan military budget).  And the invasion of Iraq (8.7.6) made America seem much less trustworthy as a sheriff, from the rest of the world’s perspective.

A multipolar world cannot be stable either.  Section 5 of the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Carl Schmitt summarised his belief that a balance of power between strong nation-states, whereby every country has the right to make war, would be sustainable – but the First World War demonstrated very effectively how rapidly a reliance on mutual fear can collapse.  In the 21st century the major powers will be sufficiently deterred by each other’s strength to avoid direct confrontations with each other, but it will not stop them from having armed conflict over other territories such as Taiwan.  Confrontations (7.4.5) would continue, in the absence of rules that they agree to comply with.

A ‘Premier league for democracy’, as proposed by Philip Bobbitt in Prospect Magazine, might be more decisive than the UN but would have many of the same problems and would deepen existing divisions between the West and the rest of the world.

It would be better to fix the UN’s problems than to ignore it or replace it, so that it can provide trustworthy governance and gain more legitimacy.

Today’s global challenges, taken together, are no less dangerous than those the world faced in the 1930’s.  The Second World War caused politicians to think clearly about what would be needed to avoid another such war, but the institutions they founded have never fully matured – and are in danger of becoming irrelevant, as they are ignored by major powers.  The world’s current challenges are undoubtedly different from those faced then, but those institutions are a good starting point for avoiding another disaster.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/951a.htm