Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft Online
International Politics and Society 2/2002




Containing Entropy, Rebuilding the State: Challenges to International Order in the Age of Globalisation

Hanns W.Maull*

Worldwide even the most powerful states are losing control of events. To retain it, they need to advance towards a rules-based international order. This requires well-functioning states throughout the world and makes state-building a top priority task. Of the two main protagonists of world order construction the US has to overcome its unilateralist inclinations, whereas the EU has to develop its policy and strategy capabilities - and stand up to America if needed.


The attacks of Sept.11 have widely – and rightly -  been interpreted as attacks on the present international order. The targets clearly were selected in part because of  their symbolic importance: the World Trade Center as the epitomy of America´s economic supremacy, the Pentagon  as the brain of America´s global military reach. Yet this was not only an attack on America: the terrorist acts also aimed at the United States as the flag bearer of the Western world and its core values and as the dominant power of the present international order. However warped the ideas and objectives for an alternative order al Qaeda was pursuing, its acts were meant to mount a challenge to the very principles and norms underlying the present international order, as well as America´s pivotal position in it.

Although the terrorist attacks were broadly condemned and abhorred, there also was a widespread reaction of “schadenfreude”, a sense that “America had asked for this”, particularly in the Islamic world.[1] This lack of legitimacy reflects the realities of  misery and violence in many parts of the South: the number of casualties claimed by the terrorist attacks would hardly register in the abject statistics of violence in places like Sudan, Afghanistan (before Oct.7), or Central and West Africa.  In short, al Quaeda´s attacks not only were motivated by a different view of international order (however twisted it may seem to us), but this view found considerable resonance worldwide, at least ex negativo – i.e., in its rejection of  the prevailing Western views of international order.

In its response to “terrorism with a global reach”, the United States launched a war against al Qaeda and its backers, the Taliban regime, in Afghanistan. But Washington also assembled  a broad coalition of governments and initiated a wide range of co-operative international initiatives. The attacks therefore have not only shaken international order and bared its limited legitimacy, but they also have stimulated new efforts to consolidate, enhance and reform this present international order. Thus, the terrorist attacks have thrown wide open the future shape of international order: they could lead to a serious degradation, a return to pervasive low-level violence even within rich countries[2], with the situation in Israel and Palestine as a glimpse of our own future, or it could trigger new efforts at enhancing international order around the core values of non-violent resolution of conflict, social justice and political inclusion.[3] 

Sources of disorder

Who and what threatens international order? What are the sources of violence in international society? Briefly, the answer includes both highly motivated actors – individuals and groups willing to use force to promote their own political agenda – and enabling circumstances – which create widespread support for the use of force and thus provide openings for violence. Since any serious threat to international order will need to mobilise force on a huge scale, it will involve both highly skilled and determined actors and pervasive enabling circumstances. From the perspective of international order, the threat thus is both “enemies” and “entropy”.


An “enemy” of international order would be any actor who a) wants to promote different and incompatible notions of international order, and b) is willing and capable of seriously threatening our own conceptions and their realisation.  The challenge of “enemies” at its core is ideological – it puts into question central norms and principles of the prevailing view of international order. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, there has been no other plausible enemy in this traditional sense any more except for Islamic fundamentalism, though some argue that China eventually could become such an enemy.

We were used to seek “enemies” only in other states. This is a notion rooted in the historical reality of state power: states traditionally are by far the most important repositories of power, because they are better able to mobilise, motivate and co-ordinate individuals to exert themselves, even to sacrifice their lives, than any other entity (with the possible exception of religion). States also can form alliances with other states and non-state actors (including religious movements) to enhance their power. But as the attacks of September 11 have shown, non-state actors may now be able to project destructive power on a scale comparable to that which traditionally has been confined to states. Enemies no longer need be states, although non-state actors may  need some attributes of statehood (such as territory where they may train, prepare and take sancturary, or diplomatic passports). But only states are likely to be able to mobilise power sufficient to build (rather than destroy) order. In the long run, traditional great power conflicts over international order could therefore revive, with China as the most plausible challenger of the West. Yet this is still far off, and on balance seems rather unlikely, as successful mobilisiation of power on a large scale ultimately will depend on integration into the networks of a globalising world economy and society.


The real problem of today´s world, therefore, may well be “entropy”, rather than “enemies” – structural weaknesses in the system of governance in international relations both at the level of the state and of the international system. One consequence are turbulences, such as the volatility of international financial markets and private capital flows. Nobody intended to destroy the economy and the state of the largest Muslim society in the world, Indonesia, but the Asia crisis of 1997, which still reverberates, came pretty close to doing so. (This is not to deny the responsibility of the ancien regime, but this regime and its greed were indulged not only by its own people, but also by the “international community”). Nobody wanted to have a synchronised cycle of boom and bust in major economies, and nobody wanted a decade-long depression in Japan, which continues to endanger the health of the world economy. Yet all those things happened: proof of the profound vulnerabilities created by processes of globalisation. 

Those processes are, in any case, highly ambivalent and destabilising. They promote growth but also inequality, they offer solutions to problems of poverty and destruction but also accentuate differences between those within and those outside the networks of globalisation, they are highly demanding in terms of individual adjustment and therefore  produce frustration as well as achievement, and they corrode traditional social structures and therefore create a void which can be filled easily by ideologies and violence. Globalisation thus may not be the cause of “terrorism with global reach” in a strict sense, but it provides a conducive environment.

Secondly, with rapidly rising levels of education and accelerating social mobility and communications, the number of individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge for sophistciated terrorist attacks has grown, and the size of a group needed to realise acts such as the attacks of New York and Washington has declined. As a consequence of technological innovation, small groups or even individuals now have at their disposal unparalleled means of massive destruction. World power has thus shifted, relatively speaking, away from the state towards societal actors and even individuals. In the process, power has dissipated, and the differential between constructive and destructive uses of power has grown: while it has become easier to wield destructive force, it has become more difficult to exercise control over events.

Third, globalisation also creates conditions favourable to “enemies” in their efforts to undermine this international order. “Networked” economies and societies provide the channels to prepare and implement large-scale attacks across huge distances, or even without regard to distance at all. They are also very vulnerable to disruptions, and reliance on advanced technologies to contain such vulnerabilities often creates new vulnerabilities (a classical case being nuclear energy, a means to reduce dependence on oil imports but also a source of new vulnerabilities related to nuclear accidents and waste management problems). 

A fourth important (but often neglected) problem of globalisation is its lack of normative appeal. Globalisation emphasises scientific and economic rationality and tolerance, which easily can be confused with neglect of the spiritual. This makes it difficult to articulate globalisation as an attractive vision, a persuasive ideology for those looking beyond the material promise of science and technology.

Fifth and last, globalisation also affects the most important vehicle for dealing with pressures of globalisation, the state. Although it is a myth that the survival of the modern nation-state itself is threatened by globalisation, challenges to its autonomy and actual operations are pervasive.[4] The state can no longer autonomously fulfil what it is expected to deliver by its citizens; it needs the help of others. Moreover, globalisation confronts states with new demands at a time when many have not even come close to consolidating modern nation-state institutions. [5] 

The result of all this has been state deficiency and state failure; this, in turn, has become one of the main sources of disorder in world politics. As a consequence, the supply of international governance (defined here as politics which promote international order) has fallen behind demand, and continues to do so. It is easy to see why this has been the case: after the end of the Cold War and its massive mobilisation efforts against the external enemy, Western societies have seen little reason to support comparable efforts against the new challenges, and their governments often have, for similar reasons, not done enough to promote international co-operation and integration between them. The result has been political entropy,  in the form of violent conflict stemming from aggression and/or frustration through deprivation.

Conclusion: Critical role of the state

Entropy therefore, on balance, seems the more serious threat to international order. It is entropy which enables al Qaeda (and others which may be following in its tracks) to mount such a horrendous challenge to international order, and it is, in the last analysis, a reduction and reversal of trends towards entropy which may allow to contain and control the threats posed by transnational violence. Not by chance, the challenge aims at the state – or, more specifically, the political regimes in the Islamic world which al Qaeda would like to overthrow, the United States and Western states which are seen as the pillars supporting existing state arrangements in the Islamic world and thus need to be defeated; and the state as a secular modern concept which is seen as incompatible with Islam. The response to those challenges will therefore have to come from the state – the state, in general, but specifically governments around the world which need to act to contain the threats.

This will not be easy. At the core of  the supply/demand gap in international governance caused by globalisation, and hence of the precariousness and fragility of international order, lies an overburdened state. Effective international governance requires functioning states as a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition; in reality, however, states often seem overburdened and overstretched even in the successful “first world” and deeply deficient, if not completely defunct, in much of the world beyond. Only functioning states can provide the building  blocks for a vibrant international order; yet there are preciously few strong states around.

Defining “International Order”

Yet what exactly is this “international order”, and what has come under attack on Sept. 11? We first need to recognise that, while “international order” is not a Western concept, its present shape and prevailing notions about international order are Western in a rather deep sense: at present, international order and the debate about it is the product of what the historian William H.McNeill has called “The Rise of the West”[6] – the ascendance of  the European world through the dynamics orf modernisation, of which globalisation represents but the most recent and most advanced stage.

Western notions of international order, however, are ambivalent. The present international order, as expressed, e.g., in the Charter of the United Nations, is built around several core norms: the norms of non-violent conflict resolution, of states rights (soevereignty) and of human rights. The latter two clearly are in tension with each other, and the UN Charter is profoundly ambivalent as to whose international order it establishes – is it an order of and for states, or of and for indivudals? This tension is further accentuated by the fact that states are both indispensable sources of protection and massive violation of human rights. How then, should “international order” be conceived in the struggle against terrorism with global reach? Does “international order” concern only states, or ultimately all human beings? And is international order a static or a dynamic concept? Does it discourage or promote change?

International Order  - for Whom?

Traditionally, concepts of international order have settled on states as their constituency, and have accepted war as an evil to be exorcised or at least tamed. Consequently, one wide-spread notion of “international order” equates order with international stability, that is, stable, predictable and controlled relations between states, in which turbulence, chaos and violence are largely (though not necessarily completely) absent.[7] This notion of order focuses on interstate relations, and more specifically on relations between the major powers.

By and large, international order over the last half century has been successfully secured in the sense of this definition. A major conflagration between the powers was avoided, and generally the incidence of interstate war has been declining.[8] States indeed have been the principal beneficiaries of this order, as suggested by the fact that their number has increased very substantially since 1945.

Yet even before Sept 11, it was already clear that this rather narrow definition of international order was no longer very useful, for several reasons:

  • First, this perspective neglects the realities of transnational and international interdependence. The state no longer resembles the billiard ball with which traditional models of international relations had played. Societies and states have become dependent on, and vulnerable to developments elsewhere. With the oil shocks of the 1970s, economic security joined traditional national security as a key concern of security policy makers; with the Chernobyl incident, environmental destruction and cross-border pollution were added. Now, international terrorism has been highlighted as a new security concern emanating from non-state actors, rather than from other states. In short, the sources of threats to security have broadened to include both states and non-state actors, and as the former have been successfully reigned in, sources of threats have tended to come from to the latter.
  • Second, the concept of security in international relations has undergone subtle but important changes. Individual and social security concerns have come to assume greater salience in national security policies, while the traditional emphasis on territorial integrity and political autonomy has receded at least in the OECD world. During the East-West conflict,  societies had been taken hostage by national security strategies of Mutual Assured Destruction. With the disappearance of this threat concerns within society about threats to individual security have assumed greater importance, and the democratic process has translated those concerns into “comprehensive” security policies. Thus, the “new” security agenda of proliferation, organised crime, drugs, environmental destruction and, of course, international terrorism began to crystallise and make its ways into official security policy documents and policies.
  • With the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, the concept of security has undergone a further mutation. Hitherto, it was assumed that international terrorism would pursue specific demands and hence be amenable to negotiation, and that it would respect certain thresholds: supposedly, it was interested in maximum media exposure but not in maximum casualties and wanton destruction for its own sake. With the rise of religiously motivated terrorism, this logic has looked increasingly shaky,[9]  and after September 11 clearly no longer applies: terrorism may now include attacks framed in very broad, vague and non-negotiable terms and aimed at maximum destruction and loss of lives. Moreover, the sources of  the terrorist threat may well lie within our own societies, both in the form of organisational nodes of transnational terrorist networks such as al Qaeda and through terrorists from our own societies (as seems to be the case with the anthrax attacks in the United States). While it is arguable whether globalisation really should be considered as one - or even the - cause for the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, it is clear beyond any doubt that the attacks represent globalisation in action: al Qaeda has perfectly understood and exploited the opportunities for networked terrorist operations in the age of globalisation.

In sum, a notion of international order which abstracts from conditions within states and interdependencies between societies no longer is meaningful. What is needed is a concept which covers both intra- and interstate relations, both state and society. This has increasingly been recognised by the international community itself, as indicated by the shift in international law and international practice towards “humanitarian intervention”.[10]

International Order -  defence of the status quo or alliance for progress?

A second definition of “international order”  tends to equate it with the prevailing international status quo. This definition is both broader and more narrow than the previous one. It is broader because it includes domestic political arrangements within states, at least to the extent they are important for sustaining existing arrangements of international governance. But it is more narrow because it is more resistant to change than the first definition, which does allow for changes in international governance, as long as the system´s essential structure remains intact.

Yet this definition, too, has obvious flaws. Although the West in general, and the United States in particular, have been dominant in and beneficiaries of the present international order, they are only in part upholders of the status quo. In at least two important respects, America, in particular,  is an anti-status quo power.[11] First, American foreign policy is profoundly value-oriented: the promotion of democracy and human rights, for example, has had – with all necessary discounts due to political pragmatism and business acumen – significant and important implications for US foreign policy, which sometimes have worked against the political status quo. The demise of the Soviet empire, the Iranian revolution or the political changes in the Philippines from President Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino and in Indonesia (the resignation of President Suharto) illustrate this point.

Secondly, America constantly challenges the status quo through its espousal of capitalist market economics. As a form of economic organisation, capitalism is highly dynamic, highly creative  and highly destructive. America has long been the lead power in global capitalism and its most powerful proponent. America, and the West in general, therefore will not only try to uphold but also undermine the status quo, and they will do so in part in search of a better world.

International Order equals rules-based international relations

The Western concept of international order therefore needs to be open to change, and it needs to integrate domestic affairs, democratic politics, the vulnerabilities of interdependence and the realities of globalisation. The definition which satisfies that perspective is one which equates order with rules-based international relations – specifically, the rules which inform our own political and economic systems. Within those systems and between them, the problem of violence has by and large been successfully contained: the West enjoys the “democratic peace” of Immanuel Kant in political relations within states, but also between them. The norms of  democracy and capitalist market economics may therefore also be taken as a prescription for how to contain violence within and between other, non-Western societies – how to “civilise” conflict management, in the sense of Norbert Elias, through self-restraint and the establishment of effective monopolies of force. Elias´ model, which originally aimed at explaining the progress of “civilised” politics within states, can also be transposed onto other political contexts above the nation-state, regionally (e.g., in the European Union) and, through processes of gradual “enlargement”, even globally. The model is neatly summarized in six major objectives which Dieter Senghaas calls the “civilisational hexagon”. Those six objectives are interdependent; taken together, they describe a complex programme for enhancing international order. The six objectives are:

  • Constrain and eventually monopolise the use of force

  • Develop a non-violent culture of conflict management

  • Develop the rule of law

  • Build institutions

  • Provide for participation in decision-making by those affected by the decisions

  • Provide for social equity and a sense of fairness

To summarize: the Western concept of international order prescribes a process of controlled, peaceful and evolutionary change towards a more civilised world in the sense of the civilisational hexagon. “Change” makes clear that this concept transcends the status quo, both domestically and internationally; “evolutionary” recognises that the realisation of this utopian project can only be done step by step; “peaceful” emphasises constraints on the use of force in this process; and “controlled” suggests that, as change ought to go in certain directions, it needs to be politically controlled – we are therefore taking about a process in which politics is in charge.

In this concept of world order, states are pivotal: they constitute the foundations on which international order rests through ensuring rules-based behaviour and non-violent conflict management within their domain and between them. Together, they shape the evolving rules and institutions of international order by providing for the negotiation, legitimation and implementation of international agreements; and they provide the critical building blocks of international order through their support for such arrangements by supplying the political, financial and human resources and the political will needed to make those arrangements and their institutions effective.

But if the state is pivotal to international order, it also continues to be its nemesis. For the state to be able to play its crucial role constructively, it will need to conform to standards of a just order set by the civilisational hexagon. From this pespective, the task of ordering international relations concerns not just inter-state and transnational relations, but also intra-state relations; it thus implies the perspective of convergence and eventual fusion of principles of domestic and international order. As globalisation implies a rapid (if uneven) thickening of economic, social, political and cultural interdependencies between states and societies, such convergence should be seen as its natural political corollary. Turned around, this argumant also points to an alternative conclusion, namely the possible degradation of domestic order through corrosive influences of  international anarchy. If efforts to overcome the tendencies towards entropy in international relations fail, the likely result will be the intrusion of transnational violence into the ordered realms of Western democracies. The ultimate consequence of  deficient global governance thus probably would be the erosion of order and the advance of violence within states.

Enhancing International Order: Strategies, Instruments and Agents

Securing and enhancing international order in the sense outlined above can only be done through patient building of structures; it is architecture, not repair work, and its focus will have to be on the state (including its co-operation with other states). The task certainly is huge, but there are at least two good reasons for assuming that it can be done. First, the Western notion of international order enjoys broad-based support throughout the world: demands for democracy and human rights have strong resonance everywhere, and they have led to revolutionary political changes in many parts of the world during the 1970s and 1980s.[12] Second, the Western model so far has been the only one which could deliver success in terms of growth, rising standards of living and quality of human development.[13]


How could international order best be promoted? Appropriate strategies will have to consider the threat of “enemies” as well as of “entropy”, and they will have to recognise the indivisibility of political order while accepting that, in practice, there will have to be priorities set and choices made. Although the focus needs to be on strategies to close the gaps and roll back the deficiencies of the present international order, in practice this will often have to be done reactively, through crisis management. 

It will probably be easier to deal with “enemies”. To the extent that they share or at least accept parts of the Western agenda, they should be drawn into negotiations, and thus hopefully eventually turned into partners. Regional and international co-operation and integration may be particularly helpful in this regard. If “enemies” are fundamentally opposed to international order in the sense defined here, however, then they will need to be contained and coerced. This will also have to involve international co-operation, most obviously through international co-operation in intelligence gathering, police work and law enforcement, but beyond that also  in the form of collective defence or collective security arrangements. Strong, legitimate states will be essential to make this co-operation effective.

“Entropy” will be much more difficult to contain. As we have argued, entropy in international reflects a global demand/supply gap in governance. It is thus rooted on the one hand in the proliferation of social conflict as a natural consequence of the growing complexity and interdependence of societies and a willingness by some participants to resort to violence (the demand side of the global governance equation), and the institutional deficiencies in arrangements of global governance to address both the causes and the manifestations of violent protest (the supply side). To deal with entropy or, in other words, to remove conditions which facilitate the widespread use of violence to secure advantages and express grievances, is a herculean political undertaking requiring clear priorities. Some of those priorities today  are

  • the promotion of a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through outside involvement,

  • efforts to find a political solution to the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan,

  • moves towards sustained improvements in the situation of the poor and the marginalised in many parts of the South. What is needed are credible commitments to achieve results in alleviating the situation of the poor, which could persuade those people that the international order offers them opportunities and realistic hopes for a better future.

To do so, the West will have to

  • work at the many instances where it does not practice what it preaches. The accusation  of “double standards” probably is the most condemning threat to international suppport for the Western concept of world order, and the West must try to reduce this lack of credibility. A blatant recent example was the insistence of the West on full respect for commercial intellectual property rights in drugs (including drugs for treatment of AIDs in Africa) at a time when the US government was pulling all stops to pressurise pharmaceutical corporations into lowering the prices for their anthrax- treatment antibiotics;

  • engage the the “rest” in dialogue about the principles and norms of international order. Ultimately, Western concepts of international order can only be sustained if they are persuasive to non-Westerners, that is if they become universal. For that, the power of ideas, rather than the power of military force, will be decisive in the end.

Even this list of priorities adds up to a formidable agenda. And policy conceptualisation is only one part of the strategic equation. The other part is policy implementation. Here, the spotlight once more  focuses on the state. In fact, both fighting enemies of international order and containing entropy  will need to be done by the state – or, more precisely, by governments in close co-operation with each other. Yet even in the (post-modern) “First World” states are rarely well-prepared and well-equipped for those huge tasks of implementation; their focus tends to be on domestic problems, rather than on issues of world order. In the (modern) “Second” and in the (pre-modern) “Third World”,[14] state institutions are often profoundly  underdeveloped or flawed and need to be empowered, often with the help of other states and international institutions. Among strategies for international order, state building will therefore have to loom large.

In sum, this is a time for world order politics. The policies to promote international order will be demanding, not least in terms of the polities needed to sustain them. The reconstitution of the state in line with the demands of an age of globalisation will therefore need to become a key policy objective. In the (First and the Second World, the state will have to be adapted to the new demands of globalisation and entropy; in the Third World, the state will often have to be fundamentally (re-) built; and worldwide, state functions will have do be reconfigured at the supranational level through international cooperation and integration. The domestic dimensions of international order will require strong, versatile and democratic states; its international dimension will demand a new quality of interstate and transnational co-operation and co-ordination, often involving de-facto transfers of national sovereignty.  States will have to be able to do both – maintain domestic order and legitimacy, and carry their weight in international co-operation.


In their international fight against enemies and entropy, what instruments do states have at their disposal? Traditionally, the most powerful instrument of the state has been military force. Clearly, military power will have an important role to play. But it needs to be wielded with caution and restraint, in full awareness of its tendencies to develop a momentum and a logic of its own. For military power basically is destructive; in order to turn it into an element of order, it will have to be wedded to political arrangements to enforce authoritative, non-violent  management of conflict. Tellingly, many of the international interventions of the 1990s – such as in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and now Afghanistan – have been followed by efforts at state-building through the international community, in which the military has taken a prominent role.

Under present and foreseeable future circumstances, the use of military force will, in its logic, often resemble police enforcement action in domestic affairs. The emphasis will be on enforcement of international norms, rather than on redressing power imbalances, and it will have to be based on a broadly shared sense of legitimacy - as can be seen by the importance attached to mandates by the UN Security Council throughout the 1990s in all major interventions (the exception of the Kosovo war so far confirms, rather than negates, that rule).

To contribute effectively to international order, military force will thus have to be embedded in a comprehensive strategy to restructure “security systems”. This will involve the welding together of institutions and force under old and new political arrangements, both within states and between. For such an approach to be effective, force will have to be supplemented by material incentives and disincentives. “Smart sanctions” and the capacity to identify and reward those local forces willing to support non-violent, institutionalised forms of conflict management will therefore also assume an important role as policy tools in the service of world order politics.

Where the deficiencies in our inventory of policy instruments are most glaring is in the realm of state building. There, we are not even sure of our conceptual groundings, let alone of the resources to do the job effectively. Much of the task in practice has been assumed by the military in international post-cobflict peace-building missions, and the international community has been learning by doing.

But state-building by the international community is but one example for the need for broad-based political co-operation. Much of this co-operation will be ad hoc, and often this will be sufficient. In many areas, however, there will be a need to institutionalise co-operation, and to empower international organisations. This new era in international relations may perhaps not require a wave of institution-building, but it certainly does need more efforts to make existing international institutions and arrangements more efficient, more effective, and more authoritative. This can only be done by member states, which all too often prefer  to hand difficult tasks to international institutions, deny them the means and efforts they need to succeed, and then blame them for the ensuing policy debacles.


Who could be the promoters, the principal agents for a more civilised international order? . There are really only two who candidates for this role, the United States and the European Union. Ideally, the should work in tandem as the core of  an international community for world order. There will be others ready to join this community, such as Canada and Australia. Yet most of the burden will have to be carried by those two. Japan, the third industrial power,  not only has been severely weakened by its prolonged economic and political crisis, but its energies will probably largely be absorbed by the rise of China in East Asia. More fundamentally, it is not clear whether Japan really shares Western values sufficiently to participate effectively in this community. Russia and China are in the throes of a difficult transition towards post-modern economies and state structures. This transition can be expected to last quite some time, and to be politically turbulent. Russia’s and China’s participation in international order, desirable and important as it may be, will therefore for some time be selective and uncertain. Still, their constructive involvement needs to be carefully nurtured. If and when Russia and China manage to consolidate pluralist political systems and to contribute to regional and global order, the task of overcoming the challenge of entropy would be enormously facilitated; if and as long as either of them fails, however, that task could become all the more difficult. It will therefore be critically important for the rest of the world to support and channel China´s and Russia’s efforts, and to avoid anything which could turn them into enemies of the West. 

To have America and Europe co-operate in reconstruction the international order should be easy in principle. The conception of international order outlined above is broadly shared by both, and the two also by and large hold compatible views on strategies and instruments. There is one major stumbling block, however - differences in their foreign policy role concepts.

For the United States, that role concept contains strong doses of unilateralism and an inclination to seek solutions through military force. It is not clear, in other words,  whether America is willing not only to organise international order, but also truly to become a part of it. For the European Union, a strong commitment to multilateralism and  international institutions in principle is marred by lack of cohesion and an inclination by member states in practice to put other, national considerations first. Moreover, the EU still has not developed the capacity to systematically apply its – considerable – economic and political power.

Those differences in the respective role concepts of America and Europe have implications for their respective views about appropriate strategies and tactics, and in particular about the right mix of  military and non-military means, and of  preventive policies and crisis management. There thus exists considerable scope for disagreement between America and Europe. A new European-American alliance for world order will thus not only require, on both sides of the Atlantic, the ability to agree on a common vision, a clear shift of political priorities away from domestic preoccupations, and the political will to mobilise the required resources, but also – and perhaps most importantly – changes in role concepts on both sides of the Atlantic which would enable he two to co-operate effectively. With America, the key issue will be the way in which the United States will define its future role in the world. Will America chose to be both architect and resident of a new international order? Will it accept to leave the remnants of splendid isolation behind, and be constrained by the new order? With the European Union, the key issue will be capability. The role concept of the European Union is largely consonant with a civilised international order, except for a much-needed dose of realism, and the EU also offers an attractive model of a civilised regional order. But the EU’s cohesion and capabilities are deficient.


Let me draw four conclusions from this brief discussion of the future of international order. First, the present confrontation with international terrorism, as well as the larger task of creating a viable international order, are  ultimately importantly ideological in nature. Under today’s conditions, political order ultimately depends on voluntary support, hence on its appeal and persuasive power. Western notions of international order are value-laden – they turn around the principles of economic openness, respect for human rights and international law, and they extrapolate the vision of democratic governance within the state onto interstate relations and thus implicitly promote a view of politics as a continuum. “Enemies” will base their challenge on fundamentally different concepts of political order; their views will have to be changed or defeated. “Entropy” will require the mobilisation of societies for the purposes of order, both nationally and internationally.  Since the state of the state has become precarious as the power of individuals has increased, it will need to persuade people to make voluntary sacrifices. One way to secure such sacrifices traditionally has be nationalism, the prime ideational mover of the modern era.  Nationalism still is a very potent force in many parts of the world, but historically it is probably already in retreat. On reason may be that nationalism is becoming dysfunctional: it tends to complicate international co-operation, which will be critical in efforts to enhance international order. [15] What is needed, therefore, are new ideas, visions and justifications for statehood and the state.

Second, enhancing international order will require the reconstructing and reconfiguring of statehood in international relations. In the world of industrialised democracies, this means overhauling the state to make it stronger (which does not mean less firmly democratically controlled and inspired!), less overburdened, less entangled with society, more of a pilot than an engineer – in short, more in tune with the requirements of globalisation. Beyond that first world, the challenge will be to fully realise a modern nation state in the first place: to that end, state defects will need to be overcome, failed states or quasi-states will need to be (re-) built. This will often be possible only with external support, ranging from IMF conditional loans to full-scale protectorates by the international community. State building in areas where statehood has failed, has been perverted or has never really existed will remain, probably increasingly, an important task for the international efforts at reconstructing statehood.

A third conclusion is that international co-operation and integration will need dramatic and qualitative advances, in fact an “international reconfiguration of statehood”. What states traditionally have done as sovereigns in their own realm will henceforth increasingly have to be done at the regional and/or at the international level to ensure results; state functions (and this is what I mean by statehood) will therefore have to be disentangled from the traditional nation state, and reconfigured through a mixture of inter-state co-operation, supranational integration and public-private partnerships (“public policy networks”). This complex reconstruction of statehood at the regional, functional and global level will, in my view, emphatically NOT imply a move towards a world government or even a European super-state, nor need it in any way threaten the nation state´s formal position as the highest public authority in international relations. What is at issue here is the operational autonomy of the state, and this it has been losing for some time. In the future, state control over events can be retained only through co-operation with others states in a broad range of formats, ranging from ad-hoc co-operation via co-operation in and through international institutions and international regimes to institutions with a degree of supranational autonomy.

The fourth conclusion concerns the relationship between America and Europe, which will make or break international order. If basic compatibility of their respective role concepts is secured, differences over strategy, over the appropriateness of instruments, etc. could  still arise, but they would be manageable, even constructive in helping to refine and advance Western approaches towards building a more civilised international order. If that compatibility were not to exist, if America pursued multilateralism “à la carte”, keeping its options open and its own policies above the constraints imposed on others, and if its approaches tended towards military solutions for political problems, while the European Union continued to lack cohesion and the capacity to contribute strategically to international order, then the fate of international order will stagnate or even slide back, and the transatlantic community will be headed for trouble.

From a European perspective, alternative approaches to an America unwilling to change its approach to international order would include a “division of labour” approach, the “UK model”, the “French model” or the “go it alone” approach.

  • The “division of labour” approach may work for a while, but it is unlikely to be sustainable. Without an underlying compatibility of role concepts, a division of labour approach between America and Europe – be the division regional (with Europe ensuring order in Europe and its vicinity, and America taking care of the Middle East and Asia) or functional (with America in charge of military intervention and Europe taking care of post-conflict  peace building) will probably not work (problems in today’s world cannot be neatly compartmentalised), and could easily cause resentment  on both sides of the Atlantic (because of a perceived lack of solidarity and issues of burden-sharing).

  • The “UK approach” would consist of Europe following the US lead irrespectively of any qualms about American objectives and strategies. It is difficult to see, however, how the European Union could accept such an abdication of influence. Nor would this be desirable for America itself, as it would deprive US policies of a useful external “reality check”.

  • The “French approach” would have the EU trying to pursue different approaches but giving in if  America refused to budge. This approach, if  freed from irritations rooted in the specific ways in which France has tried to be difficult within the Alliance, and supported by the weight of an enhanced European Union, could well help to influence US policy debates, and thus play a constructive role. Its precondition would, of course, be a cohesive and capable EU.

  • Lastly, there will be the choice of “going it alone”. The EU will, for the foreseeable future, be the only international actor capable of standing up to the US – not least because of its close ties and shared values with America. A constructive co-operation towards enhancing international order may at times require Europe to do just that: stand up to America, to make America stop think and adapt its own course of action. To be constructive, this option will have to be used selectively and sparingly, and within a context of overall co-operation. It will also require, as the previous option, a European Union fully capable of designing strategies and deploying policy tools for enhancing international order. 

If ands when a constructive European-American partnership materialises, an international order in the sense of the Western vision would still be a difficult to achieve, but nevertheless a realistic policy objective. That partnership would still no doubt be asymmetrical in many ways, and it would still need to proceed by division of labour, building on each side’s particular strengths and weaknesses. Its management would still no doubt be  difficult at times, and fraught with disagreements. But it would be united by a common sense of power and purpose, and hence able to attract support beyond its own realm.

[1] Cf. Naím, Moisés: Why the World Loves to Hate America, in: Financial Times, Dec. 7, 2001 

[2] This is the view of  Martin van Creveld, expressed well before September 11. Cf. his The Transformation of War, Houndsmill: Macmillan 1991

[3] This view will be developed further below. For an authoritative expression of belief in such an order, see Kofi Annan´s speech on the occasion of presentation of  the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations in November 2001: (accessed Dec.27, 2001)

[4] See, e.g., Held, David/McGrew, Anthony/Goldblatt, David/Perraton, Jonathan: Global Transformations, Politics, Economics and Culture, Stanford, Cal.: Stanford UP 1999, Ch.1

[5] Cf. Barber, Benjamin R.: Jihad and McWorld, New York: Times Books 1995

[6] McNeill, William H.: The Rise of the West, A History of the Human Community, Chicago: Chicago UP 1985

[7] The classical expression of this view is by Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society, A Study of Order in World Politics, Houndmills/New York: Macmillan/Columbia UP 1977, his view, in turn, builds on the “Grotian” view of world politics developed by Martin Wight.

[8] Cf. Heidelberger Institut für Internationale Konfliktforschung, Konfliktbarometer 2001, Heidelberg: HIIK 2001

[9] Cf. Hoffmann, Bruce: Terrorismus, Der unerklärte Krieg, Neue Gefahren politischer Gewalt, Frankfurt/M.: Fischer 2001, pp.265ff (English title: Inside Terrrorism, London: Gollancz 1998)

[10] Cfl. Wheeler, Nicolas J.: Humanitarian Intervention and World Politics, in: John Baylis/Steve Smith (eds), The Globalization of World Politics, An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford: OUP 1997, pp.391-408

Humanitarian intervention. Cf. also the speech by Kofi Annan, quoted above.

[11] Maull, Hanns W.: Amerikanische Außenpolitik an der Schwelle des 21.Jahrhunderts, in: PIN, Politik im Netz, available through; Heisbourg, Francois: American Hegemony? Perceptions of the US Abroad, in: Survival, 41:4, (Winter 1999/2000), S.5-19

[12] This is Samuel Huntinton´s “third wave” of democratisation; as the author predicted, it has been followed by a reseverve wave, but also by consolidation of democratic transformations in many instances. Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave, Democratization  in the Late Twentieth Century, Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press 1991

[13] Cf. UNDP, Human Development Report, various years. The UNDP human development index persistently shows the dominance of  industrialised democracies. 

[14] This distinction draws on the well-known work of Cooper, Robert: Europe: the Post-Modern State and World Order, in: New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 14 No. 3 (1997)

[15] An example for this decline may be found in the evolution of Palestinian nationalism: Palestinians, which in many ways represented a secular and strongly (if involuntarily) modernised society, have more and more turned away from the old national ideology of secular nationalism towards Islamic fundamentalism in their struggle against Israel. While Israel ironically has actively supported this shift through its early encouragement of Islamic movements as a means to weaken the PLO, at the core of this shift lies the dismal performance of Palestinian nationalist leaders, which has largely discredited Palestinian secular nationalism.

Hanns Maull

* 1947; Professor der Politikwissenschaft, Universität Trier;

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition malte.michel | 2/2002