Position paper for the Bologna meeting (2-3 July 2004) By Lorenza Sebesta



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The means to guarantee security
It becomes altogether clear that different conceptions of security imply different means to guarantee it.

Nuclear weapons have brought realists to ponder in depth over the linkages between armaments and security. Indeed they appear to be, in a certain way, the less Clausewitzian arms one could imagine. As scientists such as Oppenheimer, Rabi and Fermi pointed out during the famous debate on the opportunity to build the H-bomb in late 1949-early 1950 (a decision that officially opened the nuclear race), they are, in fact, too powerful to be conceived as a simple quantitative progress in the scale of armaments. They can be better defined as a qualitative jump into the category of “arms of genocide”31.

Kissinger understood and re-elaborated this concept in his seminal work Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy where he declared it impossible to combine maximum horror (the one produced by atomic weapons) with maximum certainty (the one required by the strategy of deterrence pursued by the US at that time).32 It is indeed difficult to think that, by using these kind of armaments, any state may pursue a political aim –they are simply too destructive for this. This is why they can reveal themselves, from the point of view of security, intended in the realist mood, quite counter-productive.

To the realists’ view, and the centrality it attributes to armaments as the best way to pursue security, liberals oppose, as we have seen, the juridification of the international realm. Juridification means not only legal rules, but a social context whereby these rules are considered legitimate and respecting them is seen as complying with a (moral) duty. Norms, rules, institutions and culture are equally crucial to create a sense of loyalty necessary to make this system work. Compliance, in liberals' eyes, is not necessarily linked to the existence of a single, overwhelming, coercive power –which most of them do not only consider useless, but dangerous. Here liberals diverge: on the one hand, there are those, like Kelsen, “who argue that international law, through operating in the absence of a world government, nevertheless does rest on sanctions, force or coercion”. For Kelsen, however, as interpreted by Bull, coercion “rests on decentralised sanctions rather than centralised ones”33. On the other hand there are “those who accept that international law does not rest on coercion, but question the assumption that law has to be defined in terms of coercion”34.

Grotian opinion could appear here as a way out of this dilemma. His effort to identify universal rules to define just wars (as opposed to “unjust wars”) – jus ad bellum - and his willingness to delegate to states the power to intervene, in case of “just war” - however within the boundaries of jusin bello - do seem to offer an elegant compromise between universalism (what ought to be) and states (what is). The limit of this vision is to be found in the fact that in order to be able to establish if a war is “just” or “unjust” (in its causes if not in its effects), states must share a solidaristic vision of security. In the XVII century, this vision could be seen as revolutionary (from a European perspective), in that it tried to stop the cruelties linked to the religious wars. It did not apply, though, to the “outside world”. In particular, as seen from a Mediterranean perspective, it was Euro-centric and partial, because based on Christian values – when writing, the author was referring to the “Christian universe”.

Juridification, though, is not enough to make the world a safer place to live in. In order to be conducive to a pacification of the international realm, norms and rules have to make reference to a sort of “sense of justice”. This is indeed a topic full of intricacies –what is justice at a global level (a level in which “common good” cannot be identify because communities are multiple and their aspirations various) and which rights it encompasses.

For some, the Universal declaration of human rights can be considered a basic, albeit partial, ordering criterion. For realists, the declaration remains devoid of sense, if not within the moral context. For liberals, the means proposed by realists in order to respond to old menaces are not only devoided of sense, but heavily charged with (in)moral considerations – considerations justifying the strongest. Moreover, what is more disturbing, in liberal’s view, is that the means proposed by realists to cope with insecurity are counter-productive. They make sense only as a political device to maintain the power, but they cannot cope with new challenges.

Beyond the equal rights to access life, liberty and property, we have assisted, during history and in certain areas of the world, to the growth of the so-called rights of second generation (the social rights such as those granting education, employment, retirement) and to the emergence of the so-called rights of third generation (such as the right to development, to peace, to a safe environment, to communication, to solidarity35).

The “extension” of these rights beyond the circle of the happy few “white men” is considered to be equally crucial. “Extension” has a synchronic and a diachronic meaning, in the sense that it is to encompass all the human beings living on the planet earth in a certain time (men and women, first of all), and the future generations as well.

This kind of “sense of justice” is deeply entangled with economic development, social stability and technical feasibility. This is why, for liberals, alliances sound anachronistic, while regional groupings appear more and more necessary to guarantee the pacification of the international arena. In particular, regional organization are seen as the most efficient means to grant development and to create de facto solidarities which weaken the menaces of wars (see, for example, the European Union).
On the opposite, security, for realists, can be better reached along historically-tested mechanisms (alliances) distributing power within the international arena along with some geopolitical specifications of states, such as the balance of power or the hegemonic empire. The history of international relations has been construed by most historians around these kind of mythologies (the impressing synthesis by Kennedy is full of these stereotypes). Politologists have added to these description a prescriptive twist introducing the concept of recurrent dynamics, whereby, for example, an hegemonic power is doomed to become overstretched and, therefore, inevitably, decline or an unbalanced balance will be, soon or later, redressed. The underlying idea is that security is linked to the respect of some sort of patterns in the relationships between states, such as hegemony of the balance of power. The functional contents of these patterns change with time –for example, it can be said that the balance of power was a mixture of military numbers, colonial possessions, raw materials and miles of railroad constructed from, say, 1876 and 1914, while in the subsequent era technological advances of other kind acquired prominence -organisation of labour, megamachines producing energy, from hydraulic turbines to nuclear reactors- and the domination of financial markets weighted more heavily as crucial assets for state’s power. But there are structural “eternal” rules linked to each constellation of power –if there are many big or medium-sized powers, a balance of power will be good, if there is just one preponderant power, a stable hegemony will be the “fittest” way to rule the entire planet.

Therefore, alliances appear to be the best ways to pursue strategic equilibriums. Generally speaking, alliances realists refer to contain an intervention clause and mechanisms of mutual help during peace time. They are normally territorially defined and they imply the defence of territories of members involved (see, for example, the original charter of the Atlantic Alliance).

Finally, juridification of the international system and the viability of social and economic constellations based on an equal distribution of wealth and justice for all men and women is to be coupled, for most liberal thinkers, with the de-absolutization of sovereignty in the internal sphere. Division of powers (in the case of centralized states) or spatial articulation of power (in the case of federal states) are seen as fundamental elements for enforcing a system of “check and balance”, so fundamental to prevent authoritarian drifts. On the other hand, the existence of a rule of law and of formal democracy are considered essential guarantees for the direct and indirect participation of citizens to political deliberations. Both the articulation of powers and the participation of citizens to deliberation are seen as crucial mechanisms for granting a peaceful behaviour of states –at least, if not under attack.

Generally referred to as the theory of democratic peace36, this theory portrays the extension of substantive democracy to every single governments in the world as the most important factor towards the pacification of the international realm. Only few among liberal thinkers, indeed, dare to declare that democracy has not to be the “universal” mode for governing communities around the globe (see Rawls and Etzioni, for example).

To this peculiar mean to grant security, realists do not oppose any suggestion. Even if, as we have stressed, some realists think of citizen as being a function of statuality’s need, this does not necessarily imply that state have to be absolute. In principle, the internal dimension of the state, as we have elsewhere stressed, is irrelevant as far as the states’ capacity to grant security to its citizens. In general terms, however, no one nowadays would say that democracy is a “bad thing”. For realists it simply does not matter, if not as a rhetoric device, as a “tool” to be selectively employed to justify this or that intervention..



1 Mohammed Arkoun, Joseph Maïla, De Manhattan à Bagdad. Au-delà du Bien et du Mal, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 2003, p. 152

2 Ibidem, p. 149. The author continues “La notion même d’axiologie des valeurs n’est familière qu’à ceux qui s’intéressent encore aux développements de l’interrogation éthique dans la perspective de la genèse subversive des valeurs. Or cette interrogation d’essence philosophique me paraît indispensable pour servir d’assise conceptuelle au nouveau droit international qu’attendent les peuples, pour mettre fin ou au moin atténuer la dislocation en cours de toutes les formes et de tous les niveaux de légitimité au niveau mondial” (pp. 149-159).

3 John Rawls, Il diritto dei popoli, Torino, Edizioni di Comunità, 2001 (ed. orig., The Law of Peoples with “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”, 1999)

4 Ibidem, p. 6.

5 Ekkehart Krippendorff, L’arte di non essere governati. Politica etica da Socrate a Mozart, Roma, Fazi Editore, 2003 (ed. orig. 1999)

6 Charles Tilly (ed.), The Formation of National States in Western Europe, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975.

7 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition, London, Verso, 1991 (I ed. 1983), p. 4.

8 Ernest Renan, Qu’est-ce que qu’une nation?, in Oeuvres Complètes, Paris, Calman-Lévy, 1947-61, vol. I, p. 892; see the insightful comments on this sentence by Anderson, op. cit., pp. 199-201.

9 Jean Grenier, Inspirations méditéranéennes, Paris, Gallimard, 1998.

10 Zaki Laïdi, Introduction. La lente émergence d’espaces de sens dans le monde, in Zaki Laïdi (sous la direction de), Géopolitique du sens, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1998, pp. 9-43.

11 This draft only deals with the first three categories.

12 Chaïm Perelman, Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, Trattato dell’argomentazione. La nuova retorica, Torino, Einaudi, 1989 (ed . origig, Traité de l’argumentation. La nouvelle rhétorique, PUF, 1958) pp. 38-43.

13 Robert Axelrod, The evolution of cooperation, London, Penguin Books, 1990.

14 Martin Wight, Western Values in International Relations, in Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight (eds), Diplomatic Investigations. Essays in the theory of international politics, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1966, pp. 89-131; p. 103.

15 Norberto Bobbio, Introduzione, L’età dei diritti, Torino, Einaudi, 1997 (I ed. 1992), p. XV.

16 “If modern states were to come to share their authority over their citizens, and their ability to command their loyalties” Bull said in 1977 “on the one hand with regional and world authorities, and on the other hand with sub-national authorities, to such an extent that the concept of sovereignity ceased to be applicable, then a neo-medioeval form of universal political order might be said to have emerged”; H.Bull. op. cit., pp. 245-246.

17 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrénie. Mille Plateaux, Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1980.

18 Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics, Houndmills, Palgrave, 2002 (I ed. 1977), pp. 3; Gregory Bateson, in his metalogue “Why things get desordered” (1948) [in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972] offers a rather similar definition.

19 And it continues: “but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII”.

20 Norberto Bobbio, Diritti dell’uomo e società, in Norberto Bobbio, L’età dei diritti, Torino, Einaudi, 1997 (I ed. 1990), pp. 66-85, spec. p.. 74.

21 H.Bull, op. cit., p. 45

22 It would be grossier to say that Hobbes’s masterpiece is an apology of the Stuart’s absolutism. As he himself made clear in the dedicatoria at the beginning of his text - “(…)I speak not of men, but (in the Abstract) of the Seat of Power”- the “Seat of Power”, in 1651, was undoubtedly embodied in Stuart’s absolutism.

23 Norberto Bobbio, Introduzione, L’età dei diritti, Torino, Einaudi, 1997 (I ed. 1992), pp. XI-XII. Questa visione, per Bobbio, è legata all’emergere del modello giusnaturalistico, contrapposto “al suo eterno avversario sempre rinascente e mai definitivamente sconfitto, il modello aristotelico”; Ibidem, p. XII .

24 Gianfranco Poggi, La nature changeante de l’Etat L’Etat et quelques aspects de son histoire, in Vincent Wright et Sabino Cassese (sous la dir. de), La recomposition de l’Etat en Europe, Paris, Editions La Découverte, 1996, pp. 19-35 : p.21.

25 Gianfranco Poggi, La nature chanegante de l’Etat.l’Etat et quelques aspects de son histoire, in Vincent Wright et Sabino Casses, La recomposition de l’Etat en Europe, Paris, Editions La Découverte, 1996, p. 22.

26 Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, AD 990-1990, Cambridge, Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 225.

27 Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968 (ed. orig. 1962), p. 150.

28 Stefano Guzzini, “The Different Worlds of Realism in International Relations”, in Millenium, vol. 30, n.1, 2001, pp. 11-121:119.

29 Alfred Hirschman, The Rethoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991. In this sense, the so-called neo-conservative doctrine behind Bush’s latest intervention in Iraq marks a remarkable departure from the classic realistic pattern and open avenues for a general reassessment of what has been considered up to now as a sort of untouchable “general wisdom” .

30 Look at what happened in the ex-Yugoslavia. The end of the war brought a truce in combats, but not a durable peace.


31 Cited in Herbert York, The Advisers: Oppenheimer, Teller and the superbomb, San Francisco, Freeman and Co., 1976, p. 156.

32 Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1957, p.172. The text, albeit under personal responsibility of Kissinger, originated from a series of discussions sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations, involving, among others, Arnold Wolfers, Robert Bowie and Paul Nitze.

33 H.Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics, cit., p. 125.

34 H.Bull, p. 125.

35 N. Bobbio, cit., p. XIV, footnote 9.

36 For all, see Arie Kacowicz (ed.), Stable Peace among Nations, Laham, Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.


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