Rarely has the world been in need of reviewing its understanding of international relations and international security as it is now. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been left as the sole superpower in the world. With September 11, this superpower has gone on the offensive announcing its non-adherence to UN authority and international law and declaring its right to intervene where it sees fit and launch 'pre-emptive wars' according to its own whim. The perpetrators of September 11 themselves, have shown that nation-states are no longer the main actors on the international stage, and that an organized group of committed individuals can wield as much power and influence as states. At the same time, globalization has made a mockery of the old notion of national boundaries and national control of information and economics; information, money, and goods now wash freely across the globe, and inundate or desertify countries overnight.
Indeed, as never before, it is imperative that we reexamine the old debates between realists and idealists; between unilateralists and multilateralists; between radicals and conservatives; between those who think ideals, such as justice, participation, and collective decision-making, should be the organizing principle of world politics, and those who think that it is only power that is meaningful in this domain; between those who believe that the United Nations is the best hope for mankind, and those who think that the UN is a Babel of bickering bureaucrats from 200 different countries that can never get much of anything done; between those who believe that the international economy can be brought under some form of labor, environmental, and social controls, and those who think that the international market place is, and should be, outside of such controls.
These are extremely important and timely debates; and they are also debates which have roots in the classics of international relations theory. In this important work, Dr. Camille Habib undertakes a meticulous and balanced review of these classics and reinterprets them for a contemporary audience. Starting from the early musings of Thucydides about the Greek civil war in the Peloponnesian peninsula, and working through to the anarchic vision of Thomas Hobbes, the idealism of Immanuel Kant, the views on war of Clausewitz, and the wisdom of Grotius, Habib sets a profound backdrop for the writings of the 20th century. He reviews the considerations of E.H. Carr about the First and Second World Wars, the theoretical approaches of Kenneth Walth and Morton Kaplan, and the realism of Hans Morgenthau. He balances Hedley Bull's, analysis of the anarchical international society with the multi-sectoral approach of Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. He contrasts the theoretical micro-analysis of Thomas Schelling with the broad sweep and insight of Raymond Aron.
Indeed, in this broad and timely book, Dr. Habib has provided us with an invaluable key to thinking about our contemporary global predicament. Are we to resign ourselves to the view that the world is characterized by anarchy on a global scale in which the only currency is power, and in which the strong will overcome the weak, and the rich wiil devastate the poor? Or is there real ll.gpe for a global order in which the rights of nationstates, peoples, cultures, and individuals can be justly safeguarded? Is suth a hope realistic? How can we achieve it?
Is the nation-state still a viable unit of social and political community in our new world, or has it been surpassed by the supra-national flow of information, money, goods, and ideology? If the nation-state fails, are regional agglomerations, like the European Union, for example, the units of the future? If nationalism as an ideology is failing, is religious politics and cultural fundamentalism the only alternative? If international law is continuously challenged by the world's superpower, is it still possible for other states to successfully protect it and promote it? If the UN is not allowed to play its full role on the world stage, what are the practical steps that member states can take, in terms of internal reform and international initiatives, to push the UN back onto center stage.
No one can provide answers to all these questions; however, in this book Dr. Habib provides us with the intellectual tools to think about these questions in profound and intelligent ways, and for each of us to pursue the questions that concern us most and arrive at answers that are informed by historical reflection, intellectual rigor, and multiple perspectives.
Humanity stands at a cross roads. We have the technology to destroy all life on the planet; we have sent men to the moon and probes deep beyond our solar system; we have devised ways to store trillions of bits of information onto a silicon chip, and we have decoded our own DNA; however, we still have not learned how to live together in peace.
The world today stands divided, disorganized, and chaotic. Political and religious leaders pander to the baser instincts of their followers; multinational corporations roam the world in search of cheap labor and loose environmental standards; international crime is at an all time high in pursuit of profits in drugs, weapons, and other contraband. Nation-states are finding themselves losing control of their destinies in the face of global economic pressures, obsolescence of their military technology, and the flood of global media.
Individuals, in the face of all this, are also deeply lost. The nationalist ideologies which legitimized the status quo have failed to deliver on their promises of security, prosperity, and social justice. The global humanism represented by the promise of the UN is in tatters in the face of its rejection by the US and its inability to act in such crises as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Rwandan Massacres, and others. Secularism is in retreat in the face of resurgent religious fundamentalism; and socialism has collapsed in the face of triumphant capitalism. The individual is faced with the difficult choice of opting either for fashionable millennialism offered by religious extremism, or crass materialism, consumerism, and hedonism.
Aristotle identified long ago that the human being is a social animal.. He cannot truly live alone. By necessity and by nature, the individual must be part of a larger society. Political philosophy is the study of the principles and rules of such association. In today's world, where a trader in London can affect a peasant in Malaysia, or a leader in Kandahar can bring down a trading tower in New York, or a disease in China can arrive in Sao Paolo in 21 hours, or a leader in Washington can occupy several countries at once, our political society-in other words, the group of people with whom we interact and with whom we are interdependent-encompasses the entire world.
Until we can make serious progress in understanding this world, comprehending the rules by which it works, and developing principles within which to organize our coexistence, we will live in mortal peril. And if today's world continues, unthinkingly, along the path it is now on, it is probable that the human species, after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, will extinguish itself.
Dr. Habib's present work is an effort to slow our rush down that dangerous path; an appeal to stop and think about where we are going; a plea to listen to the great minds that have reflected on the global predicament before us, and to draw sober lessons. I, for one, thank him for his effort, and I know that this book will engage all readers who have the imperiled future of the international order uppermost in their mind.
Contending Theories of International Relations: From Idealism to Globalization
Author: Camille Habib
Publisher: Modern Institute of the Book, Tripoli, Lebanon, 2004.
Reviewer: Paul Salem