The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century


In this landmark book, Robert Cooper sets out his radical interpretation of our new international order. He argues that there are now three types of state: lawless “pre-modern” states; “modern” states that are fiercely protective of their sovereignty; and “post-modern” states such as those that operate on the basis of openness, law, and mutual security. The United States has yet to decide whether to embrace the “post-modern” world of interdependence, or pursue unilateralism and ...

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In this landmark book, Robert Cooper sets out his radical interpretation of our new international order. He argues that there are now three types of state: lawless “pre-modern” states; “modern” states that are fiercely protective of their sovereignty; and “post-modern” states such as those that operate on the basis of openness, law, and mutual security. The United States has yet to decide whether to embrace the “post-modern” world of interdependence, or pursue unilateralism and power politics.

Cooper shows that the greatest question facing our post-modern nations is how to deal with a world in which missiles and terrorists ignore borders and where Cold War alliances no longer guarantee security. When dealing with a hostile outside enemy, should civilized countries revert to tougher methods from an earlier era – force, preemptive attack, deception – in order to safeguard peaceful coexistence throughout the civilized world? The Breaking of Nations is a prescient examination of international relations in the twenty-first century.

Winner of the 2004 Arthur Ross Book Award Silver Medal

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Robert Cooper’s The Breaking of Nations is a small book with a huge subject. What is the new world order and can it be made to work? How can we have peace? How can nations, often of very different natures, work together? He is immensely thoughtful, learned and subtle.”
–Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919
THe New York Times
On the toughest issues, the trans-Atlantic divide really may be unbridgeable, at least until Tony Blair becomes president of Europe and installs Robert Cooper as his national security adviser. — Max Boot
Publishers Weekly
Cooper, a senior member of Tony Blair's cabinet, worries that the 21st century may wind up being the worst era in European history, as Western governments continue to lose control over the technology of mass destruction. Advocating "better politics rather than better technology" to combat the encroaching chaos created by unstable nation-states and rising terrorist organizations, he lays out a cogent argument for why the governments of Europe should present a united front and take an active role in promoting geopolitical stability, perhaps even through increased military presence. Only by pooling their resources, he suggests, can European nations offer a viable alternative to American policy mandates. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The United States has Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kagan as its prophets of the coming world order. Who does Europe have? The answer is Robert Cooper, a former adviser to Tony Blair and an EU diplomat. This small book of essays offers a sweeping interpretation of today's global predicament. Cooper argues that two revolutionary forces are transforming international relations: the breakdown of state control over violence, reflected in the growing ability of tiny private groups to wield weapons of mass destruction, and the rise of a stable, peaceful order in Europe that is not based on either the balance of power or the sovereignty of independent states. In this scheme, the Westphalian system of nation-states and power politics is being undermined on both sides — by a postmodern Europe and a premodern world of failed states and post-imperial chaos.

Cooper makes a good case that the growing threat of terrorism necessitates new forms of cooperation and a reconstructed international order that goes beyond the balance of power or hegemony. Stable order in the new age must be built on legitimate authority and more inclusive political identities. But apart from these postmodern urgings, Cooper's vision remains sketchy.

Kirkus Reviews
A slender but not slight consideration of Europe's future on a hostile planet. British diplomat Cooper, once the UK's ambassador to West Germany and now head of the government's Defence and Overseas Secretariat, posits a world divided not into first, second, and third parts, pace Chairman Mao, but into "pre-modern," "modern," and "postmodern": the first made up of such hopelessly backward, even failed states like Afghanistan, the next of distinct nation-states such as China, and the last of super, or perhaps supra, states-those that make up the European Union. These states coexist uneasily, pre-modern Rwanda alongside modern Argentina alongside postmodern Japan ("Unfortunately for Japan it is a postmodern country surrounded by states firmly locked into an earlier age," each with its own sense of destiny). The US stands apart, in its way, if only because it has vastly outspent the rest of the world militarily-and then, Cooper writes, spent more efficiently-so that "were all the rest of the world to mount a combined attack on the United States they [sic] would be defeated." Problem is, the world is changing; the most dangerous enemies of the peace are not states but nongovernmental groups, the most common wars civil and not imperial or state against state-and in any event, the world is probably no safer with one superpower than with many ("However admirable the United States may be-and for many it is the embodiment of freedom and democracy-would those qualities survive a long period of unilateral hegemony?"). In these three essays, Cooper wrestles with the implications, concluding that if Europe is to hold its own in this new world, it will have to have America's ear: "And that means weshall need more power, both military power and multilateral legitimacy." Recommended reading for policy wonks, realpolitikers, and other students of the modern (and pre-modern, and postmodern) world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771022661
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 2/8/2005
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Cooper is one of Europe’s most senior diplomats. A former special advisor on foreign affairs to Tony Blair, he is currently Director-General of External and Politico-Military Affairs for the Council of the European Union.

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Read an Excerpt

To understand the present we must first understand the past. In a sense, the past is still with us. International order used to be based either on hegemony or on balance. Hegemony came first. In the ancient world, order meant empire: Alexander’s Empire, the Roman Empire, the Mogul, Ottoman or Chinese Empires. The choice, for the ancient and medieval worlds, was between empire and chaos. In those days imperialism was not yet a dirty word. Those within the empire had order, culture and civilization. Outside the empire were barbarians, chaos and disorder.

The image of peace and order through a single hegemonic power centre has remained strong ever since. It was first present in late medieval dreams of the restoration of Christendom (by such writers as Dante), or in the many proposals for world or European government made over the years by idealists such as Immanuel Kant, Saint-Simon, Victor Hugo or Andrew Carnegie; it is still visible today in calls for a United States of Europe. The idea of the United Nations as a world government (which it was never intended to be) still survives; and the United Nations is often criticized for failing to be one.

However, it was not the empires but the small states that proved to be a dynamic force in the world. Empires are ill-designed for promoting change. Holding the empire together — and it is the essence of empires that they bring together diverse communities under a single rule — usually requires an authoritarian political style; innovation, especially in society and politics, leads to instability. Thus the standard instructions to a provincial governor in the Chinese Empire were to ensure that nothing changed. Historically speaking, empires have generally been static.

Europe’s world leadership came out of that uniquely European contribution, the small state. In Europe, a third way was found between the stasis of chaos and the stasis of empire. In the particular circumstances of medieval Europe, empire had become loose and fragmented. A tangled mass of jurisdictions competed for control: landowners, free cities, holders of feudal rights, guilds and the king. Above all the Church, representing what remained of the Christian empire, still held considerable power and authority, competing with the secular powers.

The success of the small state came from its achievement in establishing a concentration of power — especially the power to make and to enforce the law — at a single point: that is to say in the establishment of sovereignty. Unlike the Church, whose claim was to universal rule, the state’s secular authority was limited geographically. Thus Europe changed from a weak system of universal order to a pattern of stronger but geographically limited sovereign authorities without any overall framework of law. The war of all against all that Hobbes feared was prevented by the concentration of legitimate force at a series of single points; but both legitimacy and force were exclusive to single states. Hobbes’ primary concern was domestic order; he had lived through the Civil War in England. But the concentration of power at home left the international order without the shelter — admittedly now a very leaky one — that the Church had provided in the shape of a system of law and authority to which even kings were subject. Domestic order was purchased at the price of international anarchy.

The diversity of the small European states created competition. And competition, sometimes in the form of war, was a source of social, political and technological progress. The difficulty of the European state system, however, was that it was threatened on either side. On the one hand, there was the risk of war getting out of control and the system relapsing into chaos. On the other, there was a risk of a single power winning the wars and imposing a single hegemony on Europe.

The solution to this, the essential problem of a small-state system, was the balance of power. This worked neither so perfectly nor so automatically as is sometimes imagined. The idea that the states of Europe would, by some semi-automatic Newtonian process, find an equilibrium among themselves that would prevent any one of them dominating the continent nevertheless retains a powerful grip on the historical imagination. For a hundred years the principle of maintaining a balance of power in the European continent was written into the annual Mutiny Acts of the British Parliament. Nevertheless, whatever the conceptual confusions (to which the US National Security Strategy has just added with its references to a ‘balance of power for peace’ — which seems to mean the same thing as US dominance), when it came to the point that the European state system was threatened by imperial ambitions from Spain, France or Germany, coalitions were put together to thwart those ambitions. This ran with the grain of the system: a sovereign power is naturally inclined to protect its sovereignty. This system also had a certain legitimacy; statesmen were conscious of the desirability of balance. Over the decades following the Thirty Years War, a consensus grew among governments and elites that the pluralism of European states should be maintained. Many saw this as a condition of liberty in Europe.

With the balance of power went the doctrine of raison d’état. Machiavelli first put forward the proposition that states should not be subject to the same moral constraints as individuals. This philosophy — that moral rules do not apply to states — was the counterpart of the changes by which the state ceased to be the private property of its ruler. At the same time it reflected the breakdown of the Church’s universal authority. Acceptance of raison d’état grew from the Renaissance onwards until, by the end of the nineteenth century, it was the accepted wisdom and questions that had troubled Aquinas and Augustine about whether or not wars were just were no longer considered relevant.

Nevertheless, the balance of power had an inherent instability. It was the system in which a war was always waiting to happen. The end of the system came about as a result of three factors. The first was German unification in 1871. Here, for the first time, was a state that was too large and too dynamic to be contained within the traditional European system. Restraining German ambitions twice required the intervention of non-traditional European powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. And on the second occasion both remained behind, changing the nature of the system for ever.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The Condition of the World 1
1 The Old World Order 7
2 The New World Order 16
3 Security in the New World 55
Pt. 2 The Conditions of Peace: Twenty-First Century Diplomacy 81
Pt. 3 Epilogue: Europe and America 153
Notes 173
Index 176
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