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Book Reviews

a new world order: whither thou pollyanna?

by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004
341 pages, $23.95 (trade paperback)

Reviewed by Andrea Charron

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Book coverAnne-Marie Slaughter is gaining a reputation quickly as the new guru of international relations. Therefore, when she writes about a new world order, people tend to sit up and take notice – certainly Prime Minister Paul Martin has done so. The “newer” world order, according to Ms Slaughter, is not characterized by international organizations or by non-state actors. Instead, “disaggregated” states relating to each other through transgovernmental networks represent the new world order of global governance. While Slaughter’s enthusiasm to solve international crises through increased communication is to be admired, her assertion that networks represent the new ordering principle is faulty; networks are not ordering variables, rather, they represent mechanisms by which states relate to each other. By referring to the new world order, Slaughter is necessarily focusing on the order of states. The fact that they are “disaggregated” does not change the order – merely how they relate to each other. Unfortunately, she is comparing apples (the order of states) with oranges (how they relate to each other).

Slaughter suggests that the first step to understanding this new order is to stop thinking about a system of states, and to begin to imagine a world of governments and related institutions that perform the basic functions of governments – legislation, adjudication, implementation – interacting both with each other domestically and also with their foreign and supranational counterparts. States are still important, but Slaughter suggests one cannot conceive of them as “unitary entities.” By this she means that states are not “billiard balls” connected solely through formal, diplomatic channels housed in a Foreign Office. In today’s world, states are also connected via regulatory, judicial and legislative channels. These new channels collectively make up “transgovernmentalism.”

Slaughter argues that transgovernmental network activity is the key to solving international crises. In her opinion, “networks of bureaucrats responding to international crises and planning to prevent future problems are more flexible than international institutions and expand regulatory reach of all participating nations.” For example, national regulators (bureaucrats who are responsible for the administration of antitrust policies, securities regulations, environmental policies, criminal law enforcement, and so on) regularly collaborate with their foreign counterparts in order to solve common problems. What Dr. Slaughter has remarked is that these meetings of bureaucrats are becoming more common – and they are preferred to world organizations, such as the World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund, principally because networks are more responsive than formal organizations. If this is the case, statistical examples showing a decline in the use of these more formal organizations would have been most helpful in confirming her argument.

The advantages of networks, such as increased responsiveness, apply not only to governments, but also to industry, local groups, criminal gangs and terrorists. Because they are usually less formal than institutions or organizations, networks are more flexible, and can respond to changing circumstances more quickly. Because like-minded individuals concerned about a particular issue form them voluntarily, they problem-solve more effectively. Finally, as they can be very inclusive or very exclusive, networks can vary memberships based on the issue and are not bound by a predetermined caucus of representatives. Compared to large, cumbersome international organizations like the UN, working through networks is the better choice, Slaughter believes. Criminal networks and companies have capitalized on the networking advantages for some time. Slaughter is convinced that a networked government world would produce “a more effective and potentially more just world order than what we have today”

However, the question one must ask is: Are networks a suitable panacea for states? In order for networks to be established, at the very least, government bureaucrats and representatives must think and work differently than they do today. Government officials must have the skills and freedom to work in their domestic and international arenas. They must exercise their national authority “to implement their transgovernmental and international obligations and represent the interests of their country while working with their foreign and supranational counterparts to disseminate and distil information, cooperate in enforcing national and international laws, harmonize national laws and regulations, and address common problems.” Furthermore, they must appreciate intimately the goals of their government to represent the state, and not the individual, on the network. Slaughter has made this sound much easier than it is in practice. She rightly reminds the reader that her concept is Utopian, but believes the “new” world order is possible and necessary, and will not diminish state authority nor the role of international organizations.

Slaughter has articulated how liberal democratic states do business today. For that matter, networks represent how most business is conducted in the Western world, from private organizations to parent/teacher associations. What Slaughter incorrectly assumes, however, is that every state has the opportunity to participate equally and actively in these networks, and this is decidedly not the case. Furthermore, her enthusiasm as well as her linear analysis (both figuratively and literally) means she does not address the more pedestrian elements of networking. For example, she does not discuss the great resources (both financial and personnel) required; many of the more successful networks that she mentions have large secretariats attached to them to “facilitate” networking. As well, she assumes that all participants of networks represent stable, legitimate governments with clear policies, and that these governments are capable of maintaining control of their representatives. Lastly, it is assumed that all states are willing to participate in discussions with every other state/organization at the networking table, and that they will not undermine such fora by establishing more exclusive networking opportunities elsewhere.

The ordering principle among states has much to do with the concepts of power, and the use and threat of use of force by states. States still hold the monopoly on the legitimate (and many would argue, illegitimate) use of force. And yet, Slaughter does not discuss power or the use of force, presumably because networks solve the world’s problems so that power and force are meaningless. Such optimism would make even Pollyanna blush! Increased communication and the sharing of intelligence through networks may well solve many of the security threats facing states today that would otherwise require the use of force. But again, networks are the mechanism, not the ordering principle.

Finally, Slaughter’s notion of “disaggregated sovereignty” discussed at the end of the book is both intriguing and frightening, as she acknowledges. But she is again confusing apples and oranges. If disaggregated sovereignty refers to the “capacity to participate in international institutions of all types,” this is a mechanism issue. If one is referring to the eventual dependence of states upon each other to the point that individual states are no longer recognized as individual entities, then we have a new world order. Presumably, if states are so intimately connected that they no longer need to be recognized separately, then states are no longer the primary actors, and we necessarily have a new ordering principle. The creator of Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry, would be most pleased.

However, a world state, which is what Slaughter is ultimately implying, is a wonderfully Utopian, Pollyanna-ish notion, but is not tenable. Individuals may be concerned about a safer, fairer, cleaner world, but states are not so inclined. States are and always will be primarily concerned with survival of the state. The mechanisms they choose to pursue survival may include networks, but they are not the panacea Slaughter claims they are. In fact, there are many reasons for states to be disconnected from state networks in order to pursue one’s survival covertly – North Korea being the glaring example. That said, it is important that the world continues to envision mechanisms by which the basic rights of all individuals are met. Slaughter should be commended for her optimism. Nonetheless, Mr. Martin should be cautioned not to place all his faith in Slaughter’s new world order.

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Andrea Charron is a PhD candidate in the War Studies programme at the Royal Military College of Canada.