Year XL, 1998, Number 3 - Page 183
Moving Towards a World System of States
The nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan in this year can be seen as a sign, among others, that the international political scene is going through a period of major evolution. The significance of this is not the fact that two new states have acquired the level of technology needed to build an atomic bomb. India and Pakistan, with a number of other countries, have had this technology at their disposal for a long time now. Indeed, the technology and the financial means needed to build an atomic bomb (and the missiles to carry it) are now within the reach of any medium-size power. The new element that has emerged is not of a technological, but rather of a political nature: while, in the past, the proliferation of nuclear arms was kept in check first by the joint dominion of the United States and the Soviet Union, and subsequently by the dominion of the United States alone, today, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the inability of the United States to hold a front which has become too vast for its forces to sustain have allowed India and Pakistan to come out into the open, kick-starting a process within which the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests are certainly not destined to be the final incidents.
The breaking of the nuclear monopoly held by the five permanent members of the Security Council does not, in itself, constitute a threat to the survival of the human race. If there is a danger, it lies in the state of disintegration in which states such as Byelorussia and the Ukraine now find themselves. Having inherited a large section of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, these new states have neither the power, nor the capacity to manage it, and the fear is that some of the nuclear arms they now possess may fall into the hands of groups of madmen, terrorists or religious fanatics. On the other hand, when an atomic bomb is controlled the government of a state that can rightly call itself such, it becomes a sort of status symbol in the power game, not destined to be used unless, in an extreme instance, the very existence of the state to which it belongs should find itself faced by the very real threat of an aggression.
This does not mean, of course, that the recent events in India and in Pakistan do not warrant serious reflection. On the contrary, in order to understand how they fit in with the current process of globalisation and, looking ahead, with the process leading to the unification of mankind, these occurrences indeed merit careful analysis.
The presupposition on which such an analysis must be based is that there exist two possible interpretations of the historical significance of the Cold War. The first of these is that the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union represented the culmination of the historical phase of the world system of states which, beginning at the end of the Second World War, succeeded the European system of states as the international framework of reference whose vicissitudes condition the destinies of all the peoples of the world. From this perspective, the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of the world system of states, leaving the United States as the only world power, a situation which, in turn, can be seen as a sort of prelude to the political unification of mankind which is destined to become a reality as soon as the benevolent hegemony of the United States over the rest of the world is seen for what it really is: nothing other than an initial, imperfect political expression of a process which will culminate in the substitution of American imperial hegemony with the democratic power of a UN equipped with institutional structures appropriate for the role of world government which the organisation is destined to fulfil. From this standpoint, the events in southern Asia must be seen as a temporary halt in the process, a disappointing setback that will delay the march towards world unification.
And yet there is a second, more credible, interpretation of the Cold War, according to which it is seen not as the culmination, but as the start of the historical phase of the world system of states. Indeed, according to this second interpretation, before it can achieve its political consummation (in the foundation of a world federation), the process of the unification of mankind still has to go through a completion, maturation and crisis of the new equilibrium.
From this perspective, a partial analogy can be drawn with the conflict which emerged in the first half of the sixteenth century between the empire of Charles V and France under Francis I. This was a crucial moment in the birth of the European system of states, marking the beginning of a historical phase which was destined to last until the end of the Second World War. The driving force behind the process was the growing level of interdependence, then reflected in the progressive expansion of markets and in the differentiation of society as a result of the spread of trade and of a monetary economy. And, at a time when men lived mainly off the land, this occurred at the expense of the traditional lifestyle. As the process turned into a conflict between two sole powers, it marked, in the sphere of power relations in Europe, the end of the previous order, i.e. the joint dominion (albeit hostile) of the emperor and the pope over the entire continent. The other embryonic centres which existed in Europe at that time played a secondary role in the conflict which broke out between the two dominant powers, a conflict which was bound to take its toll upon the strength of the one — the empire — whose territory was more vast and more widely scattered and whose internal organisation was still based on the models of the past. At the same time, the conflict helped to strengthen those political subjects (situated either within the empire, or on the edge of the stage on which the conflict was played out) who had been passive during the previous phase, allowing them to take on an active role in European politics. This lent considerable impetus to the evolution of the modern state and created the conditions whereby, in the European framework, inter-state relations were able to settle into a multipolar equilibrium which, despite being upset by recurring conflicts, nevertheless had the capacity, after each split, to put itself back together again — an equilibrium which was to remain more or less intact for almost four centuries.
European unification is a problem posed, historically, by the crisis of the European system of states, in other words, by its inability, in the face of the growing interdependence of human relations (whose increasingly global dimensions have, in the course of the twentieth century, been clear to see), to maintain a reasonable degree of stability in international relations, to promote values of civil co-habitation, or even, in the ‘20s and ‘30s, to prevent the brutal negation of the same by fascist regimes. And yet, such a crisis could never have occurred had this system not fully run its course, and had the nature of international relations and the structure of internal power and consensus not been radically altered the evolution of the modern state. The modern state emerged as the result of a long power struggle fought among entities first of local, and subsequently of regional and national dimensions, and the ones to survive this struggle were those whose sovereigns best understood how to use military might and dynastic politics as instruments to increase the size of the territory they controlled. Thus, modern Europe was born, a Europe in which the state, (even paying the price of bloody conflicts in order to retain exclusive control of its forces), by guaranteeing social peace and observance of the law, created the conditions which made it possible to achieve a very long period of social progress, transforming subjects into citizens who are aware of their right to take part in the management of power and to express, through the institutions of the state, their need for self-government and freedom.
It is to the birth of the modem state, and to the dissolution of the empire, that the birth of national peoples, organised into Kantian republics, is to be attributed. And it is also thanks to the birth of the modern state that these peoples came into contact (and conflict) with one another, and have thus been able to gain an awareness, albeit still just a dawning awareness, of their common destiny. This is how the preconditions for the federal unification of Europe, a political design formulated and pursued during the final stage of the crisis of the European system of states, were established. These preconditions are, first, the existence of a group of states in which each member acknowledges the equal standing of the other members, founded as it is on shared liberal-democratic values, and can thus regard them as legitimate parties to a federal agreement and, second, the emergence of signs that a European people is starting to form — a European people that will ultimately become the holder, in the last instance, of the European constituent power.
The analogy drawn between the Europe of Charles V and Francis I and the world of the Cold War period is inevitably an imperfect one, as all analogies drawn with the events of long-gone historical periods are bound to be. In particular, while the opposing positions of the empire of Charles V and the monarchy of Francis I represent the conflict arising between an old order about to disappear and a new one about to emerge, the United States and the Russian Federation (founded in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union) are both destined to remain as main actors in the world system of states. And yet the comparison between these two periods is fascinating: like the sixteenth century conflict mentioned above, the Cold War, too, marked the start of a new phase in the history of international relations (the phase of the world system of states); the Cold War, too, was characterised by the assumption by two powers only of the responsibility for governing a world still attached to the models of state which had prevailed in the previous historical phase; the Cold War, too, had the effect of wearing away the power of the two hegemonic states, thus favouring the emergence of other centres within the world’s global system of states, not however through military victories and dynastic politics, but by allowing states to aggregate into regional groupings and by helping the major states (or states in the making) already in existence to escape from the colonial or semi-colonial condition in which they found themselves, and to enter the world’s trade, finance and power circuits. (In this last case, the analogy can be considered only a partial one since, in the conflict between Charles V and Francis I, it was only the empire whose power was eroded).
In any case, what we are witnessing now is a process of global diffusion of power and, therefore, of responsibility too. After its bipolar beginnings, the world equilibrium is laboriously moving into a multipolar phase. On the stage of world history, new peoples are coming into the limelight, building an identity and an independence without which the interdependence of which there is so much talk, would be nothing other than a screen masking American hegemony, and which, therefore constitute the prerequisite for the formation of a single world people. And among the peoples caught up in this process, we can certainly count the Indian people. In this country, nationalism, fuelled by the knowledge that India is destined to become a world power, has, in a society which is striving to break free from the degrading caste system, from the wretchedness of extreme social inequality and from the sore of ethnic, regional and religious conflicts, come to represent an important weapon of liberation. Another people caught up in this process is the people of China, a country which, as underlined by the financial crisis which is disrupting the region’s economy, has emerged as a key player on the political chessboard of the Far East.
The movement towards greater levels of interdependence that has, through centuries characterised by wars and oppression, carried Europe from the fragmentation of power and the economy of the feudal era to the welfare state that we know today, is producing its effects on level through the coming about of a multipolar system of states founded on groupings of continental dimensions. While the ultimate objective of this process is the establishment of peace through the foundation of a world federation, it is one which is advancing, today as in the past, through a series of crises and contradictions. There exist no automatic links between economic integration and political integration; such links must be created by developing new forms of legitimising power and of obtaining consensus; and this, in turn, is a process which is inevitably difficult to set in motion and which must go through dramatic phases of regression or disintegration. However, while the birth of new, bigger political areas constitutes an essential step forward on the road towards the unification of mankind, the emergence of these areas does not suppress violence (either actual or threatened violence) but tends, rather, in the relations between the subjects of the new equilibrium, to reproduce it on what is, territorially, a larger scale.
Faith in the capacity of mankind to proceed towards its own unity can be seen as the fundamental basis for any political action which is motivated by the pursuit of values. And yet, history has taught us that the battle between reason and violence is often fought within the domain of the latter, and that reason emerges intact from conflict between irrational forces. And this is why those whose ambition it is to modify, to whatever degree, the course of the events of their time, never find themselves faced with alternatives which can be separated unequivocally and neatly: one deemed the way of reason and the other the way of violence. In accordance with this, the proliferation of nuclear arms emerges as the violent side of a process which, taken as a whole, must be seen as a major step forward in the evolution of the world system of states which, in turn, is a precondition for the birth of a world people. It provides us with an example of the tortuous paths which are followed by the historical process and which cannot be ignored by taking short-cuts which, in the final analysis, are roads to nowhere.
States, just like men in the Hobbesian state of nature, do not come together and form political communities out of an instinct of sociability; they do it when (and because) division is starting to represent a serious threat to their very existence. In accordance with this, mankind will unite in a world federation when the global system of states proves no longer able to guarantee the world a governance which is reasonably stable and compatible with the advance of civilisation and when its crisis represents a real threat to the very survival of mankind. And the evolution of the global system of states, in the course of which the states will have to develop, often through traumatic phases of transformation, a common political civilisation founded on liberal-democratic principles, can be seen as the march bringing us ever closer to this goal.
While it is clearly impossible to predict how long the evolution of the global system of states will take, it is possible to try and identify the conditions that will be instrumental in determining how long (or short) and how contentious the process will be, and how stable and peaceful the equilibrium that will characterise its ascendent phase — conditions which, in particular, will favour the progressive affirmation of the culture of the unity of mankind as a factor, concerning to be sure only a minority, which will condition in an embryonic manner the power of governments and be the ultimate precondition for the definitive transcending of the sovereignty of the state.
These conditions can be fulfilled by the foundation, in the short term, of a free, open and democratic European federation equipped with the strength necessary to promote and defend the values on which it is based. While Europe will certainly have a raison d’état and an army of its own, its multinational character and its relatively modest armament mean that it will be obliged, in its foreign policy, to rely more on the channels of trade and collaboration than on military might. Europe will thus focus on collective security, on enhancing the mediatory role of the UN, and on increasing the efficiency of the organisation’s peace-keeping missions. It will encourage the evolution, in a federal direction, of the aggregations of states which already exist, thus helping to fill the voids of power that represent the cause of the current instability in international relations and promoting the establishment of a stronger equilibrium that is better able to fulfil the need for correctly run and efficient international institutions. Finally, when the global system of states starts to show of being unable to guarantee an acceptable level of stability and progress in the civil and economic spheres, Europe will stand before mankind as an example of how independent peoples, renouncing their sovereignty, can freely unite to form a single, great and pluralist people. And at the culmination of the process, this will refer to the whole of mankind.