Archives for posts with tag: great powers

So have said many a twitter wag since the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union was announced on the morning of June 24th – but for the record I give credit to @JamieDalton82. Fast forward to today (has it only been twenty odd days?) and @GavHutchinson surmised

So we live in interesting times, that much is clear. So interesting in fact that according to Matthew Goodwin:

But as interesting as Stock Market volatility, Article 50, a possible second Scottish independence referendum, mooted attempts to annul the June 23rd referendum, the leadership contests for the Conservative, Labour and UKIP and the publication of the Chilcot Report (!?) have been, it’s fair to say people have been somewhat astonished by the new Prime Minister’s appointment this evening of the Member for Uxbridge & South Ruislip as Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs.


New Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson welcomed to the Foreign Office by @SMcDonaldFCO (official photo) – Not pictured @DiploMog

At this point I am tempted to say that there has been a firestorm on twitter, or that it is having a field day, but when is it not? Clearly though in amongst the myriad references to Foreign Secretary Johnson’s legion gaffes and activities, some comic, others as dark as they are revealing, the prevailing view was that such an appointment was ridiculous and as such must have been forced on Theresa May.

Now full credit here to the more learned people that I follow on twitter as from them a contrary view soon emerged which I summarise below. *Remember it wasn’t me that spotted this* but rather I’m channeling @Peston and @FraserNelson – click their handles for their own analysis.

So Theresa May is keenest to immediately balance out the Brexit/Remain camps since she a Remainer (albeit quiet) is now leading Brexit Britain and there’s a clamour to ensure “Brexit means Brexit” and maybe even trigger Article 50 ASAP.

To wit of the Great Offices of state she’s got in place; Philip Hammond (Chancellor), Amber Rudd (Home) and herself (PM) i.e. three remainers. So she needs to keep Brexiters happy which she has done by giving top jobs to Liam Fox (International Post EU trade deals), David Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the EU) and Boris Johnson (FCO is the last of the four Great Offices).

Away from this balancing act there is the “house of cards” politics of it all. Except here the view is not that Johnson has somehow dictated the terms of a deal with May. Recall that the evening of her appointment, Theresa May is at the height of her powers – just look what happened to George Osborne.

Instead there, consider May’s position. Appointing Johnson as Foreign Secretary will keep him out the country and overseas i.e. away from the grass roots (where he is famously/allegedly feted) as well as any plots. Then there’s the fact he’ll be jet lagged when he’s actually here. Although I suppose Whatsapp could be a way around this…

Some (Peston) have noted the similarities to Barack Obama making Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State in 2009 – this was a convenient/respectful way to deal with a vanquished rival. For all Johnson’s political capital seemingly collapsed with Michael Gove’s betrayal, as others have noted, his supposed idol, Winston Churchill also bounced back after a prolonged spell in the political wilderness albeit thanks to a particularly ugly gathering storm.

Lastly and most importantly there is the  role of Foreign Secretary  itself. The actual Brexit negotiations will be led by the new Government Dept. headed by David Davis (who was Europe Minister for three years under John Major) whilst the key EU summits (remember the UK is still a member) will be at a Prime Ministerial level where May herself represents the UK.

More broadly in terms of UK foreign policy it’s Downing Street and the PM who lead in a crisis. Otherwise, and although it’s not my own area of expertise (see my friends and colleagues Victoria Honeyman, Stuart McAnulla, James Strong, Tim Oliver for more) it’s a fair observation that strong Prime Ministers run their own foreign policy rather than leaving it to their Secretary of State.

So this leaves the Foreign Secretary as a sort of showman to talk up Brexit Britain and show Brexit was a positive choice where we turn away from the EU institutions rather than the continent and instead towards the wider world. The point here being (made most eloquently by Nelson) that this ideally needs someone who supported Brexit to sell it to the world. Even if the rumours abound as to whether Johnson actually truly supported Brexit.

So yes, being Foreign Secretary is an important job, but perhaps it’s more prominent than it is powerful in its own right. And of course with every gaffe Mr Johnson makes he becomes less of a threat to her leadership, and if he really screws up, well she could always sack him?

Now all of this (which recall I got from elsewhere) comes with a huge caveat. A caveat  in fact perhaps worthy of Vote Leave or British Intelligence circa 2002-3. Namely that this is a blog about international society and all that I’ve written above pertains to how Johnson’s appointment fits with UK domestic politics and the machinery of the British government.

Simply put, yes some of us in Britain may express a weary sigh if not wry smile at Johnson’s Have I Got News For You persona. But how will the rest of international society react to Britain’s new chief diplomat? I’m thinking here (purely off the top of my head) of his remarks about US President Obama’s “part Kenyan heritage” and the poem he authored abour Turkish President Erdogan. For the avoidance of doubt, the UK’s relationship with these two countries is what we academics refer too as of strategic significance.

Again, this is perhaps more an issue of foreign policy analysis (not my expertise) or indeed one for colleagues who assess how personal relationships between leaders – the presence or absence of trust – affect their dealings.

Alternatively the rejoinder could be made that even phenomenally popular state leaders cannot translate international goodwill into their favoured outcomes (see President Obama at the failed 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to pick but one example). At the very least therefore another blog post beckons if not quite a PostDoc (without the EU funding of course).

But what I will say in closing for now is that the UK’s image on the world stage, its place in international society is being very closely watched, and the perceptions of our international peers (not least the rest of the P5) are of great import.

As I wrote on the morning of Brexit, in my view, Britain’s post war history has been the story of collectively assuming rather than critically interrogating, the fact we’re still the Great Power we were before the war.

Like Dean Acheson said back in ’62 we lost an empire but were yet to find a role. We’ve leveraged some crucial but essentially limited capabilities to maintain an enlarged role for these islands in international society.

Our influence is not just a product of material might (such as we have it) but also the regard (rightly or wrongly) we are held in. We’ve talked the talk but otherwise it’s been the emperor’s new clothes.

As such, to my mind, we’ve not had a conversation about what our role should be in the world as it is now, and not as it once was. Something tells me we’re about to confront the reality we’ve been dodging all this time, and is reasonable to ask what sort of role Foreign Secretary Johnson, can, will or should play in this most complex, overdue and important of conversations.

Hedley Bull’s “The Anarchical Society” is a landmark text and one of my favourites. I recall buying it when I was a sabbatical officer with the intention of making up for only skimming it as an undergrad. I remember taking it to Japan to read on holiday, and again to Carlisle some years later having never quite gotten into it. Needless to say I did and I’m now doing post graduate research in the same field.

“A society of states (or international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions” Bull, H. The Anarchical Society : A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Macmillan:1977) pg.13

Bull’s thesis is that a society of sovereign states exists in our world today and that this “international society” is anarchical in form given the absence of a central orderer. However as the subtitle to the work indicates, there is most definitely a form of “order” in world politics to which international society contributes. Like many of the best authors Bull sets out not just the topics he will cover, but those that are related but not his focus, most notably justice (xiii). At various points he outlines the notion that order is a pre requisite for justice (86), however he acknowledges that unjust orders exist, and that in his belief justice should not be sacrificed in the cause of order as a “commanding value” (98) – “If international order does have value, this can only be because it is instrumental to the goal of order in human society as a whole” (22). Yet he recognises that the prospect for substantive change here is limited given “to pursue the idea of world justice in the context of the system and society of states is to enter into conflict with the devices through which order is at present maintained” (88).

The sweep of Bull’s writing encompasses philosophy, history and then contemporary Cold War international relations. Philosophically, he critiques the common reading of a Hobbesian state of nature, and the simplistic contrast between domestic hierarchy within states and international anarchy (46). What of Lockean cooperation in the absence of a leviathan he asks (48) or primitive stateless societies (62)? Bull argues that conforming to notions of acceptable behaviour is more important than the mere existence of rules and speculates on the reasons states conform. As one would expect from a founder of The English School he makes use of detailed historical comparisons, tracing the evolution of International Society from Christendom to modern Europe before engaging the 1970s Cold War context (113).

The Anarchical Society follows a clear structure over three sections and 320 pages, with Bull outlining the aims and conclusions of each of the 14 chapters. Part One discusses the nature of order in world politics, with Bull focusing on its purpose as the realisation of shared primary goals (53). Here the case is made for international, (second order) society in an abstract sense, as Bull outlines how such a “precarious achievement” is maintained in an anarchical setting in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Part Two addresses order in the contemporary international system. In this, the section I most enjoyed, The English School is applied to the traditional notions of; the balance of power; international law; diplomacy; war; and the Great Powers. Although eventually concluding that the study of world politics is purely an intellectual pursuit (319), in Part Three Bull treats the reader to a consideration of alternative paths to world order. At first glance one may consider this a treatise or personal manifesto on Bull’s part, a political agenda not in keeping with his otherwise academic detachment. However he remains true to his aims by coolly assessing each in turn, offering criticisms of the unworkable and unlikely where they are due and refraining from any utopian impulses. Indeed as an advocate of The English School, he is naturally inclined to the reform of the states’ system rather than its decline or obsolescence.

Does Bull fulfil the task he sets himself? Does he prove the existence and utility of the anarchical society? His reasoning deconstructs the oft levelled comparison between international relations and domestic political arrangements. As the title of the work indicates, Bull agrees that anarchy is a defining feature of international relations, but he rejects hierarchy as the only path to order. Moreover he clearly articulates the contrast between the mechanical series of interactions that characterise an international system, from the mutually held value laden perceptions and interactions that are the hallmark of his international society. Indeed he addresses sceptics head on asserting “my contention is that the element of a society has always been present, and remains present, in the modern international system, although only as one of the elements in it, whose survival is sometimes precarious” (41). This is an important caveat within The English School. Theirs’ is a tripartite outlook of an international system, international society and world society simultaneously coexisting. Thus The English School accepts the role that Great Powers play in determining the values and processes of international society and settling questions of stability and change. Bull sees international society jostling alongside war, transnational loyalty and division as elements of international relations (51) (73). Where critics see war (especially by Great Powers) as contrary to international law and thus proving realism’s assertion that the national interest and self-help always predominates, Bull points to the significance of states at least alleging they have just cause for war, keen as they are to appear reasonable members of international society (45). He underlines this point in his consideration of the efficacy of international law as “a social reality to the extent that there is a very substantial degree of conformity to its rules; but it does not follow from this that international law is a powerful agent or motive force in world politics” (139).

In his preface, Bull declares that The Anarchical Society is an opportunity to systematically bring together his thinking on international society and international order, where elsewhere he has only done so in “a piecemeal fashion”(ix). To do so he meditates on Hobbes, Grotius and Kant, whose worldviews are associated with the tripartite perspective which is the hallmark of The English School. Variously, Bull cites other notables in relation to their respective fields; Kelsen & Hart on international law; Gilpin & Hunt on the role of transnational corporations; Ali Mazrui  and Rajni Kothari on the Developing World’s justice agenda; and Richard Falk on the prospect of a New Medievalism. Ultimately this is Bull’s own work and the argument and analysis, both historical and political is his own. The Anarchical Society is written for an audience of academics and policy makers. For the latter are special lessons on the responsibilities of Great Powers; the risks posed by nuclear weaponry and the potential of institutions.  For the academic or student are definitions of concepts such as order; society; system; justice; war; balance of power and Great Power. Bull methodically contrasts related concepts with one another or details their components such as with the criteria for “socially effective rules” (56). Then there are his multiple levels of analysis, ranging from the international to both regional and global, and which through discussion of New Medievalism, countenance the role of non-state actors. Several times Bull directly addresses himself to his readers on some of the book’s most contentious topics and overarching questions. He highlights his refusal to justify order at the expense of justice, recognising this is the de facto position of The West (94). He criticises advocates of the nuclear peace, whilst directing readers to his writings elsewhere on the subject (126). He baldly rejects utopian cosmopolitan schemes as dreamt up by privileged Western elites and as such as patronising and ineffectual as they are impossible (85) (286) (304). In concluding, he chastens readers to accept that we remain in the dark about most things in spite of detailed research and it is foolish to pretend otherwise (320).

Written 40 years ago there are several interesting and insightful facts and observations one can gleam from a read of The Anarchical Society. It is readily apparent that talk of the rise of non-state actors and the phenomenon of globalization are not recent developments, with Bull tracing the globalization of European international society and the role of non-state terrorist actors. He speaks frankly of the post 1945 international society maintaining an order at the expense of equitable and proportionate notions of justice, telling the story of Walter Lippmann’s proposed post war regional Great Power management system as one mooted alternative (222). The greatest strength of the work is Bull’s careful treatment of concepts with which most international relations scholars are familiar and interested. He explores the paradox of how war is both a cause of disorder and thus a threat to international order/society and yet also an accepted instrument of state policy used to enforce international law or as a driver of change (91) (188). He separates discussion of the viability of international law from a focus on centralised coercion, arguing instead that self-help measures can ensure its application. Indeed he firmly identifies himself as a believer in law as “a social process”, rejecting “the idea of law as a ‘body of rules’ because they hold that this process of authoritative and effective decision-making does not consist simply of the application of a previously existing body of rules, but is shaped by social, moral and political considerations as well.” (128). Of particular relevance to my research would be Bull’s thoughts on how  an unjust order could be sustained (93); his analysis of how Great Powers legitimise themselves (229); and the strength of the cosmopolitan culture upon which international society rests (316).

What then is missing, what issues or questions are avoided by The Anarchical Society? Stanley Hoffmann, Adam Watson, Alan James, Kalevi Holsti, Kai Alderson, Andrew Hurrell, Yale Ferguson, Richard Little, John Williams, Edward Keene, Nicholas Wheeler, Tim Dunne and Barry Buzan are just some of those who have pieced over Bull’s legacy and reconsidered The Anarchical Society, now on its Third Edition. The have critiqued his separation of system and society, his moral vision, hesitant pluralism, methodological inexactitude and dismissal of economic integration or sub global developments. For my money, perhaps it is not the place, or it is best that he simply alludes to it, but a deeper (perhaps Gramscian) treatment of the values and institutions that define international society would be welcome. Although this work is picked up elsewhere in The English School. From a contemporary perspective the absence of religion/Islam as a theme is telling of its 1977 provenance. In terms of the existence of bias, as has been mentioned Bull’s voice is evident throughout The Anarchical Society, and he does address the reader deliberately whenever he picks sides in a debate, be it on nuclear weapons; cosmopolitanism; structural functionalism or natural law. As he sums up in a witty anecdote about being lost in Scotland, the present international society perhaps isn’t the best place to start from in search of world order, but it is here that we are, so it is here we must begin (295).