News services report that President Obama, speaking to the Indian Parliament, has endorsed India receiving a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The AP story adds that this was the biggest applause line in the speech, fully consonant with the rise of Indian nationalism within India, and its rapidly increasing sense of importance in the broader world. What of this nationalism? And the rise of national pride of place among the newly rising great powers, not just India?
I continue to find mystifying the Western academic international law world’s infatuation with the ideals of the diminishing importance of states and membership in states. Particularly when that mostly seems to refer not to a universal aspiration, but only to the inability of the leading Western-states-in-decline to persuade themselves to exercise the coherence that makes states socially useful – and that largely through the cultural and class predilections of the elite political classes of those societies. When are we going to see proper analytic attention to the Globalized New Class as a phenomenon? In any event, the rising new powers understand that states are about coherence, and that the constant struggle of most states, most of the time, is to remain coherent and prevent “disaggregation” of the state into internal groups of power and “public choice” struggles for primacy and the resources of politics to economic ends.
Disaggregation is attractive to many Western intellectuals, I’d suggest, however, because our species-being, so to speak, has gradually come to be purely contractual free agency. We gave up on any kind of “fiduciary professional” model of the intellectual when we discovered that we could leverage our knowledge skills, at least until China and India caught up, across a needy global economy. It required freeing ourselves from the strictures of local communities; but the opportunities for globally marketizing our professional expertise being very large, we have moved a long, long way from RH Tawney’s post-war British model of the professional as community leader through expertise.
That’s not how we academics pronounce the disaggregation of the state. Our favored trope is to declare disaggregation of the state as an enabler of individual freedom. We mean by that, of course, particularly market freedom of the academic free agency market (best of both worlds: free agent competition as academics and tenure). The coherence of states is seen by us as an inhibition to individual freedom in some cosmopolitan, fully-marketized, free-agent status for every individual in the world.
Disaggregation, in corporate law terms, represents a peculiar kind of management-led leveraged buyout of the state by its leading expert elites, who then see the opportunity to break up its cohering power centers, in order to free up the value of political power in their hands, and for their benefit. To the polity as a whole, the whole of an ordered state power in service to ordered liberty is greater than the sum of the parts; to Globalized New Class elites, break-up frees up value for them in parts – for a while. Until the commons are over-fished and the available political power dissipated and monetized. Christopher Lasch had it right when he called it the “revolt of the elites.”
Thus a better way to understand disaggregation of the state is as the mechanism by which those able to take advantage of globalized economic activities free themselves of obligations to the specific states and polities that, through their coherence as expressed through governance and the rule of law, enabled those activities in the first place. What emerges from this free form disaggregation is a class of free global agents who, in classic public choice mechanisms, manage the terms of political disaggregation because, while their affiliations in an economic sense are global, they also manage the political commons. Disaggregation of the state becomes a crucial mechanism by which the Global New Class becomes the oligopoly that results from the “public choice” leveraging of global economic benefit by disaggregating state power. The result, however, is a tragedy of the commons in which the Global New Class internalizes benefits from the dissipating power of the Western states, and externalizes the costs on those who, so to speak, do not live in the blessed jet stream but have to deal with life on earth, within states that are less and less able to provide effective governance.
One might actually define geopolitical decline as being the disaggregation of the state; and geopolitical rise as achieving governance coherence. That’s too extreme, but there is an important element of truth in it. China has coherence of an ugly kind; India, of a largely attractive kind. Thus leaving the question, what does this mean for liberal democracy? Coherence and disaggregation do not track authoritarianism and freedom; far from it. A better way to understand governance and coherence is, instead, to use a framework that Francis Fukuyama discusses in one of the books a few years ago on governance and development. It consists of a two axis model – strong and weak governance, on the one hand, and broad versus narrow, on the other.
Authoritarian states are those which feature strong governance on a broad range of matters, including those that foreclose individual rights and liberty. Ungoverned states are those have weak governance on broad matters. Liberal democracy works best when it is strong governance, but within a relatively narrow range; within the areas that it governs, it is clearly supreme and coherent, but that range of things is both limited – and, importantly, revisable through democratic means. Interestingly, Fukuyama points out, China’s authoritarianism is of a particularly unstable kind – an attempt to have strong governance over a wide range of things, but failing; and yet, with respect to the outside world, and largely through cultural mechanisms, able to operate with authoritarian coherence.
Disaggregation is not that to which India aspires internally or externally. On the contrary, its constant struggle has been to maintain internal coherence and avoid disaggregation, and to make membership count for something. Its external goal is to act coherently in the world and so ratchet up its effective power. This is true of all the rising great powers, for obvious reasons. I tracked the Indian English language press during the 2005 UN reform debates. The fantastic importance attached to it in Indian public opinion was not surprising to those who see India as a strong force in the rise of the New Westphalianism of rising great powers and jostling, competitive multipolarity – states with external coherence in their ambitions joining the club of declining Western states that are disaggregating, and mostly going in for an apparently permanent global nap. Thus, Security Council status was the only issue of any importance within India related to the UN and UN reform. This was also true of other contenders to permanent places on a reformed council – so much so that a worried Kofi Annan had to plead with states to back away from so much focus on the actually-quite-unlikely prospect of Security Council reform (in any deep way) in order not to lose what might be achieved in more realistic matters.
The Obama endorsement is less than meets the eye. It is an endorsement in the context of a larger Security Council reform settlement in which, to start with, permanent membership would likely mean something different from what it means for the P5 now – which is to say, most of the (quasi-) plausible proposals for SC reform, in one version, envision a new group of permanent members who are permanent but lack the veto. That proposal is the most likely to actually work its way through UN reform. But the US is already on the record as favoring a deal that would have included India in that in any case. Among the most likely contenders, there is always the problem that existing members do not want to dilute their club. There is also the problem that every new contender has some reasonably powerful state or group of states that would oppose its elevation: India by Pakistan, the Islamic Conference, and perhaps China; Japan by China; Brazil perhaps less than others, but perhaps not; Germany by, well, everyone contemplating another EU seat on the Council. The US – which, ironically, is so obviously a member as the (still) hegemon that it can actually function in this as a kind of good faith referee among the mob – is primarily concerned about the dilution of effectiveness of the Council, rather than a dilution of its own power and status.
But what might push the Council finally to allow reform to the extent of allowing an additional tier of veto-less permanent members? Well, a perception that the Council might become sufficiently irrelevant in the future, as states essentially “contract around” it through other mechanisms, that it would be prudent to allow certain reforms to forestall greater irrelevance. That seems to me the most likely reason why some form of Council reform would actually take place.