Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dr. Demarche at The American Future posed a fundamental question the other day. as a rule, I like questions of this nature because they are helpful in terms of quickly putting matters into perspective. the good doctor's question was:

"...is there such a thing as "the" international community? If so who are its members? In what arenas does this community act? What is America's role in this community, and that of the U.N.?"

In my view the various nation-states of the world form a "community" with a level of communal fellowship several orders of magnitude less than what prevails in a given New York city subway at about 1 a.m.

The phrase " international community" is a popular one but it remains an oxymoron. States do not have anthropomorphic qualities though we are fond of imagining that they do because artful phrases reduce complex dynamics to simple, easily understood, imagery. Even if states did have such intrinsic behavioral qualities the " international community" resembles nothing so much as hapless mob, milling about, some fighting amongst themselves, while the ten largest, strongest and best armed men half-heartedly attempt to keep the chaos at a tolerable level.

Any " community" that the media speaks of really refers to a transnational elite of diplomats, high government officials, journalists, academics, central bankers, bureaucrats of international organizations and a strata of highly connected and influential private citizens. A relatively tiny group that nonetheless numbers in the tens of thousands, many individuals " know" each other at least in the sense that residents in a small town know one another. Westerners, particularly Europeans and Americans, dominate the decision-making process of this " community" when the rare occasions occur that effective action is actually going to be taken.

Despite the great diversity of nationalities in this " community" you find that the members hold similar opinions and values on many subjects, particularly relating to political economy and their own self-importance. Few of the have much in common with the average citizen of the countries they purport to represent or any sense of moral urgency in a crisis - unless that crisis threatens to destabilize the status quo in which they themselves are personally invested in terms of their career. Several million dying of starvation, genocide, AIDS, warfare or natural disasters is of less concern than protocol and precedence.

They are seldom the working diplomats, war correspondents or aid workers who go to dangerous places with a real risk of getting their heads shot off by wild-eyed young men. There is an enormous difference between talking to locals in Herat and to an ABC news crew in Manhattan, Brussells or Washington, DC. They have acquired, to paraphrase John Keegan, " the air of the seminar" about them.

But an international community ? No.


Callimachus at Done With Mirrors takes another view

More posts on " international community" from:

The Glittering Eye
Marc Schulman
Mark, once again a wonderful post. Two thoughts:

Several million dying of starvation, genocide, AIDS, warfare or natural disasters is of less concern than protocol and precedence.

When I was TAing in international relations, I repositioned the Global North / Global South chapter in a Core / Gap section. Students enjoyed this part the best, and the discussion for this section was the best of any. During it I made a very similar point:

"After the Rwandan Genocide, where guys too poor to buy guns used machetes to kill a hundred thousand a week for ten weeks, President Clintoln felt bad. So he did exactly what any American President will do after a tragedy deep in the Gap, the Global South: He took a plane to the airport, got out (but didn't leave the airport -- he had important things to do that day), said he felt back, and gave the President of Rwanda a plaque. Maybe it even had a frowny face on it. Then he left. Because he had to deal with something important.

And this isn't partisan. During his State of the Union, President Bush felt very bad about AIDS in Africa. He gave it about as much time as steroids in baseball. But of course this is an unfair comparison. We'll solve steroids in baseball long before we get around to Africa. After all, it's important."

The phrase " international community" is a popular one but it remains an oxymoron. States do not have anthropomorphic qualities though we are fond of imagining that they do because artful phrases reduce complex dynamics to simple, easily understood, imagery.

States do have anthropomorphic qualities. States are human processes subject to anthropomorphic analogy. Sometime's it's more useful to think of a State as a woman, other times as a network, but an analog that people sense to be right is always more than an oxymoron.

I also responded
Hi Mark,

Perhaps there is not a formal community between governments. But with globalization, perhaps a type of community is developing or has developed in some ways between multinational corporations and governments (much like the example I mentioned the other day at lunch, with Toyota and China). With some multinationals having revenue streams greater than those of many nations, it is just about the same concept. They are dependent on each other and have relationships that look to benefit each other. I'd be interested in your thoughts since this is outside my area of expertise.
Hey Dan,

Thank you ! I'm sorry though, the anthropomorphic analogy still distorts more about state behavior than it reveals in my view. Which is not to say that it is valueless just grossly oversimplified.

Hev Von,

Hmmmm that sounds like material for a post. A big one. For my part, I'd request from you more on the ideas of Luis Amaral :O)

For the moment I'll point out that " multinationals" is a misnomer.

Much of the complaints about them is simple market behavior playing out across a global rather than national field, rather than any kind of new development. Toyota and GM and Microsoft may be multinational in structure but not in their institutional cultures

And Happy New year to both of you gentlemen !
The institutional culture is one thing, but I would have to think that the 'wheelin and dealin' aspect of business between, say, an American company and a foreign government has its own personality and culture. The local dealings of a corporation's foreign office that has to deal with that particular government and/or culture is likely different than being back in the corporation's home country. I have no idea if this is the case since I have no business experience, but that would seem logical.

Check out Luis Amaral's research page:

He has an outline of what his research is like (it is well done)as well as a number of papers you can check out (these are technical, however).
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