In Redefining Sovereignty, Orrin C. Judd brings together a splendid collection of essays on the tension between national sovereignty and the new transnational entities. Full disclosure: there’s an approving quote from me on the front of the book, but other than that I have no stake in its success or failure; don’t know Mr. Judd, nor most of his stellar contributors, from Václav Havel and Jesse Helms to Francis Fukuyama and Kofi Annan. The token Canadian is a good choice: David Warren, represented by a fine essay yoking Bush’s approach to Islamism with Lincoln’s to the Civil War — liberating the Middle East is not the point of the exercise, any more than liberating the slaves was. But in both cases it was necessary to fulfill the strategic objectives of saving the Union a century and a half ago, and of saving the nation-state system today. As another contributor, Lee Harris, puts it, “The liberal world system has collapsed internally.” He means that there are no longer, in Kant’s phrase, “maxims of prudence.” That’s to say, we don’t know the limits of behaviour. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map, we cannot reliably assure ourselves (though many foolish experts do) that this is just a bit of rhetorical red meat, a little playing to the gallery for the Saturday-night jihad crowd.
The transnational gabfests aren’t much use in this new world. The Kyoto treaty is, in that sense, the quintessential expression of the higher multilateralism: the point of Kyoto is not to do anything about “climate change,” but to give the impression of doing something about it, at great expense. If climate change is a pressing issue and if the global economy is responsible — two pretty big “ifs” — then Kyoto expends enormous (diplomatic) energy and (fiscal) resources doing nothing about it: even if those who signed on to it actually complied with it instead of just pretending to, all that would happen is that by 2050 the treaty would have reduced global warming by 0.07 degrees — an amount that’s statistically undetectable within annual climate variation.
That’s fine for “climate change,” which, insofar as there is an imminent threat, is a good half-millennium away. As Kofi Annan, the bespoke embodiment of transnationalism’s polite fictions, says, “There is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations.” Which is swell if your priority is “legitimacy.” That and a dime’ll get you a cup of coffee — unless the tsunami hits and sweeps the lunch counter out to sea. Yet these days, even with natural disasters, the international order divides — like Bagehot’s view of the British constitution — into its “dignified” and “efficient” halves. The efficient humanitarians — the Pentagon and the Royal Australian Navy — have boots on the ground in Indonesia and Sri Lanka within hours, rescuing people, feeding them, housing them. The dignified humanitarians — the UN’s 24/7 permanent humanitarian bureaucracy — are back in New York holding press conferences to announce they’ll be sending a top-level situation-assessment team to the general vicinity to conduct a situation assessment of the situation just as soon as the USAF emergency team has flown in and restored room service to the five-star hotel.
Kofi Annan referred to the UN’s “unique legitimacy,” and he’s right about the “unique” part. The transnational system, in insisting that the foreign minister of Syria is no different from the foreign minister of Denmark, confers a wholly unmerited legitimacy on the planet’s gangster states. In Redefining Sovereignty, Roger Scruton wonders of Saddam “how it is that a petty tyrant could have defied the world for so long.” But, if “the world” is represented by the UN’s “unique legitimacy,” you don’t have to defy it, you just have to strike a deal — in this case, the Oil-for-Food program, that Hydra-headed racket under which, among other fascinating codicils and appendices, a million greenbacks from Saddam got funnelled via his Korean chum Tongsun Park into a Canadian petroleum company run by the son of the quintessential transnational Canadian Maurice Strong — Mister Kyoto himself.
Based on current trends, by mid-century, America, India and China will each be producing roughly 25 per cent of world GDP, with Europe down to 10 per cent. As the columnist John O’Sullivan points out, the three global powerhouses are all strongly attached to traditional notions of national sovereignty, so Europeans and others who’ve bet on transnationalism have the next 10 years to cement its existing institutions and expand its reach.
Hard to cement the world when you can’t even mucilage your own rotten countries together.