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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 25, June 12, 2010

Scholarly Critique of Unipolar World Order

Monday 14 June 2010, by Vijay Kumar



World Order: Vision and Reality by Hans Kochler, edited by David Armstrong; International Progress Organisation, Vienna; Indian print published by Manak Publications, Delhi; pages 530, price: Rs 2000.

The book under review offers a serious, indeed searching, critique of the current world order shaped by the sole superpower and for this reason alone is bold and scholarly response to unipolar political order. The range and horizon of Prof Kochler are truly amazing. The book has 34 articles which have been accommodated in two parts and editing has been done brilliantly by David Armstrong. The book is as much an exercise in international law as in political philosophy, geopolitics, jurisprudence and global diplomacy. The interplay of all these disciplines is evident in ample measure which, in turn, makes the book profoundly instructive. Another strength of book lies in thematic integrity of an exceptionally rich nature. Theorising on inter-national relations in a span of two decades in fast changing geopolitical landscapes with remarkable consistency, indeed, is a great hallmark of the work under review. This remarkable degree of consistency is maintained on the strength of robust conceptual clarity.

Prof Kochler, in the preface of the book itself, makes the tasks cut out and clear and reminds himself that the ‘philosopher’s task is to look behind ideological smokescreens’ and ‘to undertake a fundamental critique of the nature of the world order’ and the ‘political philosopher must expose useful fictions as what they really are for the legitimatisation of the exercise of power in the name of the people’. He further reminds himself that the ‘task of the philosopher is not only confined to analysing actual political practice’ but also to work out alternative ideas for the reform of this practice. Having delineated his approach in the preface, Prof Kochler proceeds on the main theme with great perspicuousness.

The opening chapter of the book brings out the philosophical dimensions of globalisation and the author emphasises that the economic activity has to be subjected to the norms in same manner as the political activity is subjected to the rule of law and international law. All activities, whether political or economic, must be subjected to norms. The author laments that in the days of globalisation politics has become the function of economics which ensures the primacy of economics over politics. To the extent the major decisions are taken by transnational bodies like the multinational corporations which are accountable to their shareholders rather than the people, the democratic deficit is inherent in the very structural logic of globalisation. The author concludes that globalisation has succeeded in ‘globalising poverty rather than the global expansion of prosperity’.

Having dealt with the philosophical foundation of globalisation, the author moves on to the state of international law after the end of the bipolar world and the extant nature of democracy. He argues that the coercive nature of legal norms is conspicuous by their absence in the realm of international law resulting in international law becoming a mere ‘legal rhetoric’. As far as the nature of democracy is concerned, the author is of the view that it has undergone a sea-change in view of information technology resulting in the civilisation itself becoming a technological civilisation. Since the civilisation has become technological, democracy has degenerated into its procedural form at the expense of dilution of its substantive values like equality, social justice and egalitarian ethos. Here, I am reminded of the striking similarity with profound prophecy of Prof Randhir Singh, India’s most distinguished Marxist theorist, made as far back as in 1966, when he wrote his classic Reason, Revolution and Political Theory that ‘ideographic aspect of democracy was more important than the normo-logical aspect’. Another lamentation of the author is about the obsession of democratic politics with representation resulting in democracy degenerating into ‘party dictatorship’ and ‘ontological fiction’ by making the hidden lobby of businessmen virtually a parallel, invisible government.

Thereafter, the author proceeds to the analysis of the UN and erosion of its credibility in the unipolar world. He rightly opines that the structural weaknesses of the UN arises out of mainly three factors. First, there is normative inconsistency in the UN Charter between the concept of ‘sovereign equality’ on the one hand and the ‘veto power given to the five permanent members in the Security Council’ on the other. The second factor for the weakening of the UN is because its very origin owes to the power constellation that prevailed or was dominant in 1945. The third cause for the crisis of the UN is the utter absence of separation of powers which alone can perform the crucial function of checks-and-balance by making it more democratic. As things stand today, all the powers, whether executive, legislative and judicial, are vested in the Security Council. The veto power vested in the five permanent members of the Security Council can easily emasculate whatever little legislative competence the General Assembly is having. Similarly, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Court (ICC), despite being independent from the UN, are subordinated to the Security Council in their functional dimensions. So far as the ICC is concerned, the Security Council has both referral and deferral power resulting in it exercising even legislative and judicial functions apart from the executive function which alone is its domain. The bottom-line in the author’s analysis is that in the absence of any structural reform resulting in democratising the very structure of the Security Council, the credibility of the UN cannot be enhanced.

Having identified the root cause of a paralysis of the UN, the author comes out with his own prescription. Prof Kochler advocates for introduction of weighted voting a la the Europeon Union (EU) election. The author argues for a bi-cameral body of the UN. The present General Assembly should be treated as the second chamber like the Senate while the first chamber of the UN should consist of representatives elected on the basis of population because that alone would reflect the genuine representative character of the UN as a credible and democratic world body. The author is of the firm view that only these two chambers should have the legislative power while the restructured Security Council would exercise executive power and the judicial power, having universal jurisdiction, must be vested in the ICJ and ICC. The restructuring suggested by the author would ensure checks and balance.

Thereafter, the author takes up the issue of international terrorism and he rightly emphasises that in the globalised world the repercussion of terrorism cannot be limited to the geographical boundary of any particular state and for this reason alone, the global war on terror must be pursued by a credible global body rather than the unipolar world power interested only in preserving its hegemony in the name of the ‘global war on terror’. The author also argues that the case pertaining to terrorism, apart from crimes against whole communities like torture etc., must be tried by a genuinely independent international criminal court.


The second part of the book comprising two sections and 10 articles deals with the vexed and yet important issue of ‘civilisational dialogue’ in the context of ‘clash of civilisations’. With great clarity, the author starts by saying that the theory of ‘clash of civilisations’, propounded by Samuel Huntington way back in 1993, gained currency only after 9/11 precisely because it offered a key concept in the hegemonic discourse pursued by the sole superpower. While calling for furtherance of inter-cultural or inter-civilisational dialogue, the author argues for the critical self-comprehension and he means by this the ‘ability to perceive oneself with the prism of others’. For furthering the inter-civilisations dialogue, the author emphasises the fostering of the culture of ‘respect’ and ‘tolerance’ and on the basis of mutual respect and tolerance he conceptualises the notion of ‘horizon of understanding’ and suggests the integration of the same with the other concept termed by him as ‘fusion of horizon’. And he concludes the chapter dealing with the inter-civilisational dialogue by arguing that this phenomenon is intended not only for ensuring ‘peaceful coexistence’ but going beyond this by ensuring ‘mutual enrichment’.

The last chapter, comprising five articles, deals with ‘clash of civilisations’ which, the author argues, hinders the inter-civilisational dialogue. The ideology which was the basis of the bipolar world has been replaced by the spectre of ‘clash of civilisations’ in a unipolar world. While interrogating the ‘clash of civilisations’, the author emphasises the need for’ balance of power’ the absence of which tends to reduce all spheres of human life to the requirement of preservation of the hegemonic power. The thesis of ‘clash of civilisations’ is an attempt to rationalise the undeclared economic, military and other interests of the sole superpower in the unipolar world. In the end, the author rightly concludes that inter-civilisational dialogue has become an imperative issue for ‘collective survival’; otherwise the pernicious doctrine of ‘clash of civilisations’ will become a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

From the analysis of the last two chapters dealing with inter-civilisational dialogue in the context of ‘clash of civilisations’, it is evident that the sole superpower of the world, in order to maintain its hegemony, needs an enemy. Earlier the Soviet Union and communism were the enemy and after the disintegration of the USSR and the collapse of communism, at least as a model of governance, the only superpower has invented the enemy by conceptualising the doctrine of ‘clash of civilisations’. Though this is not stated explicitly by the author anywhere in the book, his analysis inescapably leads to this conclusion.

The book is written in descriptive mode but the philosophical foundations and normative norms are not conspicuous by their absence. The author not only identifies the problems of the day by going to the root cause but also offer concrete solutions. While offering solutions, the author is not unmindful of its idealistic nature which speaks volumes of his intellectual integrity. For instance, one of his prescriptions to ensure multilateralism is the formation of regional blocs. Is this prescription realistic in the culture of mutual suspicion and distrust which prevails among the countries in every part of the Third World, whether it is East Asia, South-East Asia, Arab countries and Africa? No work, however great and seminal it may be, can provide complete answers to all the problems. The strength of a great work lies in stimulating the intellectual interest, inquiry and investigation so that some useful and productive ideas or solutions could be further developed. Herein lies the strength of the book under review. Prof Kochler is regarded as the foremost political philosopher of international law and the work under review is testimony to the fact that he has lived upto expectations.

The reviewer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of India.

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