MADRID – It is becoming increasingly clear that globalization progresses not steadily, but through ups and downs. Currently, it appears to be in a downswing, hindered by a growing number of irresponsible political leaders who describe it as the root of all evil. With the rhetoric of intolerance masquerading as nostalgia, populists such as US President Donald Trump advocate building walls and closing borders to reclaim “sovereignty” and “security.”
Of course, it was always naive to suppose that the nation-state could easily be divested of its central role in human affairs. But it is equally naive to believe that phenomena such as Brexit or Trump’s election augur the return of a world in which the nation-state reigns supreme. At this stage, the world is so interconnected that any talk of reversing globalization is chimerical.
In the realm of security, we need to confront the dark side of this interconnectivity. The legal and institutional mechanisms currently in place are inadequate to counter today’s threats, and this was true even before Brexit and Trump made things worse.
As Christine Chinkin and Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics and Political Science argue in their book International Law and New Wars, the classic distinction between international and non-international armed conflict has lost currency. In this day and age, internal and external security must be understood as a continuum.
Chinkin and Kaldor show that “new wars” such as the conflict in Syria tend to involve a wide array of players – public and private, domestic and international – and transcend national borders. This latter point is illustrated by the former territorial grip of the Islamic State in Iraq, as well as its attacks in many other countries. Moreover, new wars usually have a strong ethnic, religious, or tribal component, and last for a long period of time, to the detriment of civilian populations.
The recent surge of conflicts with an intrastate dimension implies that the old Westphalian model of sovereignty – whereby states monopolize the legitimate use of force within their borders – has become obsolete. If we are to build a truly international society, we must think of sovereignty in terms of not just authority, but also responsibility.
Accordingly, the international community must be willing to intervene in countries where the government poses a danger to its own population. That is the logic behind the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2005.
Unfortunately, when use of force has been justified on humanitarian grounds, interventions have focused narrowly on tactical military considerations. On paper, R2P also entails a responsibility to prevent and a responsibility to reconstruct, both of which are usually relegated to the background. Even worse, when the UN Security Council has authorized interventions with “all necessary” means on the basis of R2P – in Libya and the Ivory Coast, both in 2011 – the concept has been accused of whitewashing regime change.
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