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

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

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by Robert Cooper

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Based on an essay that has been hailed as one of the most influential policy pieces published in the last decade, Robert Cooper sets out a radical new interpretation of the shape of the world in this path-breaking book The Breaking of Nations.


Based on an essay that has been hailed as one of the most influential policy pieces published in the last decade, Robert Cooper sets out a radical new interpretation of the shape of the world in this path-breaking book The Breaking of Nations.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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The Breaking of Nations

Order and Chaos in the Twenty-first Century
By Robert Cooper

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Robert Cooper
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-87113-913-8

Chapter One

THE OLD WORLD ORDER 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 theempires but the small states that proved to be a dynamic force in the world. Empires are illdesigned 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 smallstate 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 semiautomatic 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'etat. 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'etat 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. The second factor was the change in technology in the late nineteenth century, which brought the Industrial Revolution on to the battlefield. War was inherent in the balance-of-power system: but by the beginning of the twentieth century, technology was raising the price of warfare to unaffordable levels. The third change came with the second. The Industrial Revolution brought with it not just the means of moving the masses to the battlefield, but also mass society and democratic politics. This meant that war and peace could no longer be left to the judgement of a small and internationally orientated elite. Balance-of-power thinking could be maintained in the Treaty of Utrecht or the Congress of Vienna or in Bismarck's Treaty with Austria after the war of 1866. But already in 1871 the influence of popular national feeling was playing a part. Bismarck's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, against his own better judgement, showed that the Bismarckian days, when states could be juggled and balanced, were coming to an end. By the time of the Versailles Conference, the kind of peace negotiations that Talleyrand and Metternich had conducted were no longer possible. The idea of the balance of power was already dead in 1919, although the Second World War saw one final coalition to save the European state system. If the European state system of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (and up to a point the first half of the twentieth century) was one of the balance of power, the world system was one of empires. The empires were, for the most part, the European system writ large. And the wars of empires - for example the Seven Years War - were essentially European wars. Empires added wealth and prestige and provided the background for European politics - whether in the Congress of Berlin or in the Agadir Incident - but the heart of the system still lay in Europe. That European powers had empires overseas was natural given their relative strength and their acquisitiveness, but it was also a paradox. The paradox was that powers which operated a system of balance in their own continent - with its acceptance of national states and international pluralism - operated empires overseas that suppressed nationalism and were hostile to pluralism. This paradox was at the bottom of the unravelling of the empires in the second half of the twentieth century. But empires were also natural. It is an assumption of the balance-of-power system that states are fundamentally aggressive or at least that some states are aggressive some of the time. A system designed to thwart hegemonic ambitions makes the assumption that such ambitions are common. And, since balance in Europe prevented expansion there, it was natural for that expansion to take place overseas. This is another reason why Germany was a disturbing factor. By the time of Germany's emergence most of the available chaos had already been converted into empire (and some of the non-chaos, too) or had been declared empire-free (South America under the Monroe Doctrine). This left little room for Germany or Japan.

THE COLD WAR ORDER The wars of 1914 to 1945 destroyed both the European balance of power in its traditional sense and also the European empires. The empires depended on prestige, and this was fatally undermined by the Japanese successes in the Second World War. In Europe itself, America and Russia were now needed to keep the system intact. What happened after 1945 was, however, not so much a radically new system as the concentration and culmination of the old one. The empires became spheres of influence of the superpowers. And the old multilateral balance of power in Europe became a bilateral balance of terror worldwide. In a strange way the old systems - balance in Europe and empire outside - were combined to produce something like a world order of balance between empires or blocs: a final culminating simplification of the balance of power. The Cold War years were a period of wars and tension, but there was also an underlying order. This came in the shape of a tacit understanding that the United States and the Soviet Union would go to great lengths not to fight each other directly, as would their major allies. Behind this, of course, lay nuclear weapons. The other side of this coin was that the Soviet Union was free to invade its own allies without Western interference. These unwritten rules also permitted the Soviets to arm North Vietnam, and America to arm Afghan guerrillas; but neither sent conventional combat forces to a theatre where the other was committed. For the most part, the Cold War was fought with propaganda, bribery and subversion. Where there was military combat, it was most often for political or ideological control of a particular country - Nicaragua, Angola or Korea, for example - rather than between countries. Many of the actual battles of the Cold War took place in civil wars. Thus the system had a certain orderliness, since boundaries did not often change and major inter-state conflicts were usually outside the Cold War framework. And yet the Cold War order was not built to last. Although it was stable on a military level it lacked legitimacy as a system. It was not just that many found the balance of terror repugnant - on the whole it was individuals rather than governments who had the moral doubts. Rather, the ideologies of both sides rejected the division of the world into two camps; each claimed a universal validity and a moral authority for their own version of how the world should be. (On the Western side, this was probably truer in America than in Europe.) In this sense, the Cold War balance differed from the European balance-of-power system, which was accepted by the governments of the day as legitimate and which, in some sense, matched the rationalist spirit of the times. The Cold War system of balance and division never suited the more universalistic, moralistic spirit of the late twentieth century. Moreover, both sides, within certain limits, were always ready to undermine it. The end of the Cold War has brought not only the rearrangement of the international scene that usually follows hegemonic wars but also domestic change. Since the Cold War was a battle of ideas as much as one between armies, those changes have not been imposed by occupying forces but introduced to willing, if bemused, governments by hordes of MIT-trained economists, management consultants, seminars and programmes of technical assistance (including the aptly named British Know-How Fund). The unique character of the Cold War is also shown by the fact that instead of extracting reparations - a practice which lasted from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century - the victors have instead given aid to help convert the defeated side. Thus are wars of ideas different from wars of territory. Ideas are not cost-free. They can be dangerous to peace. Democracy, the victorious idea in the Cold War, is a destroyer of empires. To run a democratic state with majority voting requires a strong sense of identity. Democracy entails the definition of a political community. In many cases, this is provided by the idea of the nation. The break-up of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia - both in different ways Cold War empires - is a consequence of the victory of Western liberalism and democracy. The wars in those territories are democracy's wars. Liberalism and nationalism can go together today just as they did for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century states emerging from one or another form of imperial rule. (Continues...)

Excerpted from The Breaking of Nations by Robert Cooper Copyright © 2003 by Robert Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Robert Cooper is one of Britain’s most senior diplomats. He is Head of the Defense and Overseas Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and former British ambassador to Bonn. He is also Tony Blair’s special advisor of foreign affairs.

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The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
MarineFreak37 More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing read. I chose it for a book review that was required for my Graduate Theories of International Relations course and was expecting it to be a boring read. However, I have enjoyed the book immensely and have a whole new understanding of how past and present international relations are influenced by schools of thought like post modernism. The author explains complex ideas with an ease and simplicity that makes even non-political science majors able to follow along. I would recommend anyone in international politics to give this book a try. You will be glad you did.