Marchant Lecture by Dr. Abiodun Williams to the Hans van Mierlo Stichting
Amsterdam, 13 November 2014
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you for that warm welcome.
It is a special honor for me to be with you tonight, and to deliver the 2014 Marchant Lecture.
I would like to thank the Hans van Mierlo Stichting for their kind invitation to me to address you tonight, and – of course – to thank you all for coming in such great numbers.
It is especially heartening to see so many young people in the audience. Given that progress towards fostering peace and justice is rarely linear, the task of preventing deadly conflict and building sustainable peace is one that falls anew to each generation. It is therefore of critical importance that those of us engaged in the spheres of international politics and diplomacy engage with young people as often as possible.
I am delighted that Marietje Schaake will offer remarks in response to my lecture tonight. Marietje joined us at The Hague Institute for Global Justice just a few weeks ago to discuss Europe’s role in the world. She is one of the Netherlands’ most dynamic voices on international affairs, and I look forward eagerly to hearing what she has to say tonight.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is often said that contemporary politics is too much concerned with crisis management and short-term pressures, and too little with the need for new ideas that can make a lasting difference.
To my mind, if our politics is enveloped by such clouds of cynicism, the existence of the Hans van Mierlo Stichting is a beacon of light which pierces the gloom. The Foundation continues to breathe the bold, enterprising spirit of reform, driven by ideas as well as idealism, which motivated Hans van Mierlo when he founded D66. And that this lecture is named after one of the towering figures of twentieth-century progressive liberalism, Henri Marchant, reminds us not only of his commitment to education but also of the need for constant and radical renewal of the democratic process.
Order with Justice
The topic on which I will speak tonight requires a level of boldness with which both Marchant and van Mierlo would be familiar.
It requires boldness because the topic of "order with justice" is a grand one, and when applied to no less a question than "the challenge for the world", you will see that its grandeur is matched only by its topicality.
So I would like to begin by explaining why I have set myself such an ambitious task.
First, I believe that the notion of international order underpinned by international justice is one wholly consistent with the philosophy of D66. Yours has always been an internationalist party, and your conferences have been marked by some of the most sophisticated debates on equity in global affairs, as well as on the particular contribution to it that the Netherlands can make.
Second, while a just international order ought to be a consistent aspiration, detached from the circumstances of any one age, it is clear that order with justice is an especially urgent imperative in our own times. Whether we consider the continuing civil war in Syria, the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia, the recent resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the ongoing and often under-reported conflicts in central Africa, even the most cursory glance at the news headlines reveals a striking lack of order and justice in the world today.
So my topic has resonance both for this Foundation and for contemporary international politics. It is also at the core of my own personal ethic. This is the third factor which accounts for my boldness in advancing such an ambitious agenda tonight.
Working in the varied worlds of academia, the United Nations and think tanks, I have spent my entire life trying to figure out how to make the noble aspiration of a just international order a reality. And it is with this perspective – that of a scholar-practitioner – that I will speak tonight.
An Inextricable Link
What, then, is the relationship between order and justice? Are they indivisible concepts at the heart of successful societies? Perhaps contrary aims, pursued in parallel but intrinsically in tension? Or are they merely the elusive concepts of the rhetorician, coupled together as any two abstract nouns might be?
It seems to me that order and justice are indeed linked together. In the kind of societies we wish to see flourish, and in a world at peace, giving all its peoples the chance of a decent life, order and justice would be two sides of the same coin.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that international order is not possible without justice.
But it is equally true that, without order, justice will never be secure.
In short, a concern for international order must include a concern for justice, and vice versa.
A Conceptual Understanding of Order and Justice
I stress the interconnectedness of order and justice in the kind of world that we want to live in, because it is readily apparent that there have been, throughout history, attempts to instill order with little concern for justice, or at least without making justice accessible to all enabling it to serve the interests of all.
Too often, order and justice have been in opposition, rather than exercised in tandem.
The revolt of oppressed peoples yearning for justice against an order imposed by usurping authorities is at the very heart of many countries’ founding narratives. Here in the Netherlands, for instance, your national story tells of the Dutch people’s struggle for justice against an unjust order arbitrarily imposed by foreign rulers.
Another example is that of my own country, the United States, whose founding documents proclaimed the right of the governed to cast off an unjust government which did not serve their interests.
"Governments," according to the Declaration of Independence "are instituted amongst Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
As both the Dutch and the Americans had learnt, colonial powers – like other forms of authority with similar aims – frequently appeal to a higher purpose of order to legitimize their rule.
Throughout history, however, such claims have generally proved antithetical to the realization of justice for those over whom colonial powers held sway. The "just powers" which America’s Founding Fathers declared a sine qua non of legitimate government have over the past century been increasingly understood as inescapably linked to national self-determination.
A just international order begins, then, with the independence of peoples.
Equally, while only anarchists question the need for some kind of order to protect people against the chaos of conflict, most of us now agree that this must not be the order promised, throughout history, by autocrats.
Dictatorships, past and present, have exploited disorder to consolidate their power, and used the fear of disorder to justify their rule. But when authority is exercised solely to preserve order – invoked for its own sake, and not as a means to an end – it is almost invariably exercised in an arbitrary way, and can even take the form of totalitarian terror. The history of this continent in the twentieth century provides all too many eloquent examples.
The scholarship and practice of the past few decades have helped us to understand that secure states do not necessarily equate to secure peoples. The notion of "human security", which suggests that poverty and inequity are the enemies of secure communities just as much as inter-state violence, has made it harder for governments to justify internal repression by invoking the need to guard against external threats.
It was Kofi Annan who spoke of "two concepts of sovereignty" – state sovereignty and individual sovereignty. This radical notion, worthy of the reforming heritage of van Mierlo and Marchant, is the cornerstone of the pursuit of a new order which guards against conflict, but in so doing puts the security of the world’s peoples – and not just the states in which they live – front and center.
If a just international order begins with states, then, it cannot end there; rather a truly just order must be founded on self-determination not only for states, but more importantly for their citizens.
Order, I would argue, is principally a means to facilitate justice. Order alone is too often the aspiration of the tyrant. And a just order recognizes the imperative of human dignity, and directs the resources of authority towards its pursuit.
International Order and Justice
I have talked so far about the relationship between order and justice within the confines of a given community, most often understood as the nation-state. But when we are faced with collective action problems such as climate change, illicit financial flows and pandemic health emergencies – challenges that Kofi Annan used to call "problems without passports" – it becomes clear that the need for justice is not limited to the existence of 193 justly governed states, but extends also to a more effective international order, similarly informed by principles of justice.
In the search for better global governance, the domestic analogy is helpful. Just as there have always been those who justify arbitrary rule under the banner of order within states, so there have been initiatives to reduce chaos and disorder internationally through initiatives which have shown little concern for the rights and aspirations of individuals, or indeed of smaller states.
Next year, we mark the two hundredth anniversary of the most famous of such efforts, the Concert of Europe. The Concert was, at its core, an early attempt at international organization driven by a preoccupation with order. In reaction to the revolutionary convulsions which had emanated from France, and which Napoleon had brought in tow with his conquering armies, the powers of the Concert attempted to restore predictability to international relations.
The Concert, while exhibiting nascent European interest in collective security and external intervention to uphold its guiding principles, differed critically from today’s international organizations precisely because of its single-minded focus on order. It was, as the historian of global governance Mark Mazower has written, imbued with "a deeply conservative sense of mission. Based on respect for kings and hierarchy, it prioritized order over equality, stability over justice."
What relevance does a long defunct arrangement such as the Concert of Europe have for our modern understanding of international politics? Considerable relevance, I would suggest.
As Henry Kissinger, who dedicated his doctoral thesis to the Concert, appreciated, this particular form of international order represented both an attempt to innovate in international affairs and - of no less interest to Kissinger – a clear attempt to bind an outlying state to the rules of the international game. For Metternich and Castlereagh, the target was, France. For Kissinger, Soviet Russia. And as geopolitical power shifts dramatically in the opening decades of the twenty-first century, attempts to bind rising states to the preferred international order of established powers are becoming an increasingly central feature of global affairs.
The Concert is a kind of prototype of such efforts, which replicate internationally the attempt to instill domestic order without justice.
This domestic analogy is, as I have said, of a certain use in conceptualizing the challenge we face, but the task of fostering a just international order is significantly more complex.
Although the issues which concern our everyday lives are increasingly international in nature, we still operate in a world of nation-states. And though there are mechanisms for those states to cooperate to deal with common challenges and even – in the case of Europe – to pool their power, the prospect of effective global governance still remains a distant one.
Political scientists tend to see the international sphere as one characterized by anarchy. Without a sovereign, there is little chance of order. And without order, as I have argued, there is no chance of justice.
And this conceptual understanding of an anarchic world seems echoed in practice by devastating conflicts, failure to make tangible progress on international climate change negotiations, and our inability to agree common standards to harness the power of the digital era, while leaving the global economy at the mercy of recurrent shocks.
How then do we bring about the just international order, which alone can deal with these seemingly intractable global challenges and deliver both peace and prosperity to the world’s people?
I believe that even in a world of nation-states, and even within an international political system that eschews the Leviathan of world government, more effective cooperation is possible. The contrast between that incipient international organization, the Concert of Europe, and today’s universal multilateral body, the United Nations, is telling. Whereas, the Concert sought to preserve the security of its Member States, including by reacting harshly to expressions of national self-determination, the UN has the aim not only to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", but also to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights" and to "establish conditions under which justice… and international law can be maintained".
In committing the new world organization to promote development (then called "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom") and fundamental human rights, as well as peace, the UN Charter demonstrated how far international relations had developed in the century since the Concert fell apart. The League of Nations established at the end of the First World War was an important attempt "to achieve international peace and security" and "to promote international cooperation" which were its two main functions. These functions were expected to be complementary, though the former was viewed as the more pressing.
Inspired by this progress, and by what we have achieved in the nearly 70 years since the Charter was promulgated, I do believe that a just international order is possible. What is critical, however, is the marriage of the two concepts which inform my remarks to you this evening. Without order, our world will continue to suffer from deadly conflict, with devastating effects for both lives and livelihoods; without justice, peace will be short-lived, and the gains of development will be felt only by some of the world’s people – often only by those in whose hands power has long been concentrated, and perhaps not for long even by them, since such skewed and acquisitive development will not be sustainable.
A just international order is the lodestar by which we should set our collective course. It is to the conditions of such an order that I now turn.
Conditions of a Just International Order
There are, it seems to me, three essential criteria which must be met.
First, there must be peace, based on respect for the liberties and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. As I have already argued, the designs for world order which are not so based, whether dreamt up by ideologues or hammered out at the conference tables of cynical statesmen, will lack both legitimacy and longevity.
With that essential caveat accepted, it nevertheless remains central to the pursuit of a just international order that peace, in its narrowest sense, must obtain. By its narrowest sense, I mean the absence of violence, or the threat of 7
violence, for in conflict, nothing else is possible: no development, no rule of law, no hope of realizing the potential inherent in every human being.
But, as I have said, there must be more than peace, there must be the opportunity for the just representation of individual and collective interests. At the local and domestic level, this can mean participation in civic affairs through representative democracy, though no single model should be held up as the standard which all countries ought to replicate.
At the international level, representation means the ability of all states to participate in international decision-making processes, for their voices to be heard, and for disputes to be managed predictably and equitably, under the guidance of a consistent rule of law. It is for this reason that the development of international justice, including the expanding role of two international institutions which call this country home – the ICJ and the ICC – is so important.
And finally, more than the mere absence of violence and the chance for all peoples to air their grievances and assert their interests, a just international order requires the creation of genuine opportunities for the development of states, communities and individuals, bringing with it the prospect of equitable and sustainable development. Societies exhibiting this kind of "positive peace", in which the rule of law ensures equal access to resources and checks the risk of corruption, are those most likely to flourish, and to maintain peace with their neighbors as well as within their borders.
These three conditions: peace, representation and opportunity are informed by the principles of equality, whether of sovereign states or of individuals, and of liberty. These pillars of a just international order turn old notions of order on their head by demonstrating that order flows from freedom, rather than requiring its curtailment. It is a vision which should be at the heart of contemporary international affairs, just as it is at the heart of the agenda of this Foundation.
The Role of the UN and the Need for Better Global Governance
It will not surprise you to hear that, as both an advocate and a former employee of the United Nations, I believe that that Organization has a critical role to play in promoting a just international order – a role that is multifaceted, and incorporates all aspects of the three conditions of just order which I have discussed.
It is the UN, through the Security Council, that has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, and in so doing, preventing the eruption of deadly conflict which undermines both order and justice.
It is the UN that provides all states with a representative forum, and through its institutional machinery, can ensure that their interests are taken into account. 8
And it is the UN which provides normative leadership, advancing aims such as human rights, gender equality and sustainable development, through the work of its agencies, funds and programs, the policies agreed by its members, and the public pronouncements of its leaders.
But in order to be able to play that unique role, the UN is in serious need of reform.
The Security Council – which represents the political realities of 1945 – fails the test of representation on which a just international order depends. That is gradually eroding its legitimacy, and thereby limiting its effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate to maintain international peace and security.
But we must be honest with ourselves, and admit that, even if reformed, the UN will still have its limits, and will remain an imperfect institution. There are sound reasons for this. As the great American statesman, Ralph Bunche, remarked when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, "the United Nations itself is but a cross section of the world's peoples. It reflects, therefore, the typical fears, suspicions, and prejudices which bedevil human relations throughout the world."
These limits were acknowledged even by one of the Organization’s foremost leaders, Dag Hammarskjöld, who famously remarked that the body had been created "not to lead us to heaven but to save us from hell." Hammarskjöld, however, combined a realistic humility about the UN’s purposes with bold and visionary leadership, thereby maximizing the Organization’s potential where it did have a special role to play. His tenure as Secretary-General should remind us that realism about the UN’s deficiencies does not entail fatalism about the opportunities it presents.
We should also remember that the UN has proved, time and again, that with inspired leaders who are willing to act as "norm entrepreneurs", both within the Secretariat and among Member States, path-breaking change is indeed possible.
I think of the emerging norm of the Responsibility to Protect, which derives from the understanding that peoples are sovereign, rather than states, and that violations of the most fundamental human rights demand a response – if not from their own governments, then from the international community. This understanding is an essential component of a just international order.
The Responsibility to Protect has developed from the recognition that, in several instances – especially in Rwanda and Bosnia – the UN manifestly failed in its duty to protect civilians. Other innovations, including more robust peacekeeping mandates, a greater emphasis on protection of civilians and a more effective international human rights architecture, stem from the same approach, which Hammarskjöld modelled and which Kofi Annan inherited: reflection on the UN’s deficiencies; acknowledgement of the limits of its influence, and bold leadership where action is indeed possible. 9
The reforms which the United Nations requires today will, I believe, depend on wider recognition of the conditions of a just international order. Kofi Annan’s understanding of order with justice provides encouragement for those who believe both that the inherent dignity of the individual should guide world affairs, and that international institutions offer a path for its realization.
His own landmark report, In Larger Freedom, underscored this belief. In it, he wrote that: "The protection and promotion of the universal values of the rule of law, human rights and democracy are ends in themselves. They are also essential for a world of justice, opportunity and stability. No security agenda and no drive for development will be successful unless they are based on the sure foundation of respect for human dignity."
In other words, order, according to Annan, is founded on justice.
The Role of Think Tanks
Before closing, given the shared mission of the Hans van Mierlo Foundation and my own organization, The Hague Institute for Global Justice, I would like to offer some brief thoughts about how think tanks – which should also be "do tanks" – can contribute to a just international order.
Think tanks play an important role in shaping the normative environment in which states and international organizations act. Sometimes they make recommendations which are transferred instantly into policy. More often, the ideas that they propound through policy-relevant research have a gradual and incremental impact on the thinking of international actors.
One instructive example of this role is the work of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, whose path-breaking work in the 1990s informed, to a large extent, the thinking of the United Nations and several key Member States.
Although the extent to which UN bodies such as the Security Council or Peacebuilding Commission should have a preventive mandate remains contentious, the importance of conflict prevention is now recognized by most relevant actors, as is shown in its integration into the work of peacekeeping missions, development activities and efforts to strengthen human rights and the rule of law in fragile states. After all, it is only by preventing deadly conflict that we can truly "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".
Think tanks such as the van Mierlo Foundation and Hague Institute also do vital work through convening experts, sharing knowledge and thereby influencing practice. This can take the form of highlighting cutting-edge research through advocacy, or training practitioners to improve the implementation of policies.
By concluding with this emphasis on the contribution that think tanks can make to the development of a just international order, I hope to remind you that we all 10
have a role to play in bringing about the kind of world we want to live in. As Gandhi said, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
The establishment of order with justice is not only the preserve of diplomats and politicians. It is also the task of economists, lawyers, community activists, businesspeople and, perhaps most importantly, educators – for it is, as I have said, young people who must continue this essential work in the decades to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although the challenges that the world faces today are serious, and although there will always be those attracted by an order which concentrates power in the hands of the few, not the many, I find myself optimistic about the possibility of a just order for our world.
Optimistic, because of what has been achieved by the pioneers of justice, both within states and on the international stage.
Optimistic, because of the commitment and engagement of those gathered here tonight, and many people like us around the world.
Optimistic, in short, because the tools for a just international order are at our disposal. What is required is merely the will to put them to work.
If we make it our common endeavor, order with justice can be the hallmark of international life in the decades to come. Right now, it is a noble aspiration: our task is to make it a reality.
Thank you very much.