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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
June 2, 2003

New Phase of Cooperation Among States After the Iraqi War

Akihiko TANAKA (Professor, University of Tokyo)

World order is sometimes said to be formed and reorganized by war. Athens acquired its hegemony after defeating Persia. "The Concert of Europe" in the 19th century resulted from the Napoleonic Wars. WWII brought about the UN, and a host of international organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank and GATT that characterized the latter 20th century.

There were a number of signs at first that the Iraqi war could induce such reorganization. First, there was an unprecedented difference of opinion among major nations, especially between major US allies such as Germany and France on the one hand and the US on the other. In addition, a new force with deep skepticism toward the UN has been born in the US. Furthermore, the US won an overwhelming victory, which reaffirmed the formidable strength of US military forces to the world.

Would the world after Iraq be lead by the US ignoring the UN? Would allies of the US be favored and opponents be ill treated? Would the course of the world order be determined by military forces?

Such trends may well be strengthened. It is said that reconstruction of Iraq will be under strong influence of the US and the UK, where the role of the UN could become marginal. However, I do not believe that the Iraqi war itself was the kind of war that serves to establish a new world order as the major world wars did in the past.

One reason is that the war lasted only for a very short period. This was due to the overwhelming US military power, but this very fact means that not much impact has been given on other aspects of international politics. The war did not lead to any energy crisis, nor to any special economic policy to deal with such a crisis on a world wide basis.

Another factor is that those countries that opposed the attack by the US in no way supported Iraq militarily. There were some public opinions from some parts of Europe condemning Bush as more dangerous than Saddam and that it would be better for the US to lose. But neither France nor Germany did ally with Iraq and fight against the US. Some may call those two countries as well as Russia the losers, but that is merely a metaphorical expression. In reality, Iraq was the only loser.

The Iraqi war was, after all, a short-term local war, which could not change the international order, as the global wars did in the past. The Evian Summit was held as scheduled and the UN Security Council is discussing various issues including the Iraq problem. The international community is concerned with the long-standing issue of nuclear developments in North Korea, the continuing threat of terrorism, Palestinian issues, the world economy, and SARS. It appears as if the world had returned to its normalcy overnight.

However, it is not correct to say that nothing has changed as a result of the war. In my opinion, the effects of the Iraqi war must be assessed in relation to other medium- and long-term trends of affairs, which could be described as a world of increasing complexity.

In the book that I authored seven years ago, I referred to this world of increasing complexity as "The New Middle Ages." Only if we take account of such trends, we will be able to grasp the effects of the Iraqi war on the world order.

First of all, the world is still under the threat of global terrorism. The threat continues as was revealed by recent attacks in Saudi Arabia. The US military power demonstrated in the war could be effective against terrorism to an extent, but never to a level of full satisfaction. There is no panacea for terrorist attacks attempted by non-state organizations. Even the US needs to cooperate with other states in order to counter terrorism.

Globalization, which in a way has given terrorists a kind of global capability, is also affecting various aspects of the world. In terms of world order, globalization has a tendency to strengthen cooperation among states. SARS is a case in point. Without cooperating with the international community, no state could avoid a catastrophic consequence in itself. China seems to be learning this the hard way.

It is not true that the trend of globalization is making the sovereignty of states meaningless. Although states may have less control over cross border flows of various things than in the past, it is to minimize adverse effects from these flows where needs for states' involvement are getting stronger. Be it terrorism or SARS, states should play ever more important roles as main subjects for international cooperation to deal with it.

From this viewpoint, the Iraqi war in the context of globalization has two significant implications. One is that there are many irresponsible states remaining in a world, where the roles of responsible countries are being needed.

Needless to say, many states in the international community including the US must think over how these irresponsible states have come into being and need to realize their own responsibility. The irresponsible regime was doomed by the US forces but an important issue is whether a responsible state can now be established.

Another implication is with regard to the rules to govern relations among states. I do not share the view that against such a rogue state as Iraq was, the international community has now acquired the right and obligation to intervene with military force and overthrow such a regime. I do think, however, that it is certainly becoming more difficult for those states that are totally irresponsible to their own people to rely on the normative framework of the international community for their own survival.

There are few who would show sympathy to an irresponsible leader such as Saddam Hussein, who claims that he is a victim of foreign intervention in domestic affairs. In a globalized world where evils such as terrorism and infectious diseases that easily cross national borders are serious issues, pressures against irresponsible states would become stronger.

The Iraqi war itself did not change the world order at once. After the brief war period, "the season for diplomacy" now has arrived, as symbolized by the G-8 summit. In the diplomatic arena it is not merely the number of guns that rules everything. As such, world politics may go on not much differently from before the Iraqi war, at least on the surface.

Nevertheless, the trends of globalization and increasing complexity that are changing the undercurrent of the global system will clearly redefine the roles of states and surely affect the way in which cooperation among states is established and maintained. The influence of the US seems overwhelming, but the roles of its allies such as Japan and the UK in adjusting the course of the world affairs will also be important.

(The original Japanese article appeared in the May 22, 2003 issue of Nikkei Shimbun. Do not quote without the author's permission)

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