Five minutes into a typically thunderous speech, with which it has to be said I pretty much agree, Galloway hits upon a key question – who gets to decide what the international community is, who it includes and who it doesn’t?

For me, this question goes to the very heart of the study of politics. The discipline is about more than merely the practice of government, party competition or inter state relations. Lasswell got closer when he suggested it is about who gets what, when and how. Morgenthau was correct to focus on power as the currency of politics, but let us not forget those who are powerless or acted upon rather than doing the acting. And it is here for me that the nub of politics resides, who gets to decide what is normal? Who gets to decide which states are in the international community, what they may or may not do, who the rogues are and how they’re to be punished?

You don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to suspect the term “International community” is a malleable rhetorical device applied to legitimise whatever action The West is taking. But even Bush Jr had to make do with a “coalition of the willing” because language can stretch only so far. Meanwhile a cursory search reveals the term is beloved by non-Western states too. However that could simply be because no one wants to be against “international community” in the same way that no politician comes out against “hard working families”.

Meanwhile in IR land. which although not necessarily an ivory tower, is somewhat more relaxed and rarefied than the real world, I would argue that The English School does draw a distinction between the international society of states and an international community. Where the former includes all 193 UN members, the latter reflects a closer knit association, which is, to tweak Nardin’s distinction, both practical and to some extent purposive, reflecting as it does an attachment to more substantive norms (more on these in a future post).

At the risk of oversimplification (the bane of academia) it could be said that international society is a largely pluralist entity where states agree to accept one another’s pursuit of the good life within their own borders and recognise that difference over values if not interests stands in the way of anything other than coexistence. Thus the animating purpose of society is to regulate interstate conduct by maintaining procedural rules of interaction such as non intervention, a balance of power, diplomatic exchange and respect for treaties.

Solidarism, as the name suggests sees both the possibility and reality of solidarity among states based not just on common interests but also values held in common. These in turn, be they free markets, free trade, minimum standards of human rights, opposition to slavery, condemnation of racial discrimination or expectations of good governance inform cooperation and coordination among states to realise joint projects by the community. This could take the form of the regional integration, pollution controls, banning certain weapons of war or agreeing to limit (but but not eliminate) the use of force.

If a pluralist international society is one in which states see only “far away countries of which we know little”, the supposed hallmark of a solidarist international community is the collective enforcement of international law. A place where law can be based not just on consent, but consensus and so yes, Syria can be held to account in line with a Chemical Weapons Convention that it has not signed but which 189 other states have.

Back then to the Honourable Member for Bradford West. In the early days of the UN, when membership sat at around 50 states, the likes of China, India and Russia delighted in pointing out that though outnumbered in the society of states, they made up most of the world community. But of course whilst Russia and China represent 2.5 billion people, do their governments really represent them?

If the international community represents a normative project, then I argue that project is one that is animated by the self styled community of democracies and by this criteria, Russia and China fall short of the mark. A mark I hasten to add before Chomsky rebukes me, that many Western states don’t exactly excel at – does “Not in my name” circa 2003 ring any bells?

Ian Clark writing in 2005 sums up the best response to Galloway’s question, “International Society speaks with several voices, and we should listen more attentively to the voice that speaks with a democratic accent”. In other words, it’s quaint but daft to imagine all states are of equal legitimacy, which in any case we know is false in terms of materiel, influence and power.

Indeed the whole point of the UNSC veto and the concept of Great Powers rests on this widely held assumption that some states are required to do the heavy lifting, and that in return for this role and the rights that flow with it to be recognised by international society they must discharge certain responsibilities, such as acting to maintain “international peace and security”. But even accepting this material fact alongside the value judgement that all states are equal, but some states are more equal than others, even by defining the more exclusive community within the society, Galloway’s critique still stands.

As I survey Syria (mercifully from afar) I am struck by the sense that something must be done and that we (the international community) have a responsibility to protect. I am struck by the simplistic (there it goes again) notion that there have been good interventions and bad ones, and that the international legitimacy denied to the Iraq War by the lack of second resolution, could still yet be present in Syria despite the lack of a second resolution.

Now the debate as to the efficacy of intervention belongs in another post, my concern here is that the putative international community cannot exist without an international society and that society is jeopardised by the exclusion and disregard for Russia and China which will thwart not just our ambitions but that which we presently take for granted.