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Updated: January 8, 2012 03:42 IST

‘National sovereignty no more absolute'

Special Correspondent
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FOCUS ON INTERDEPENDENCE: The increasing interdependence of states is a key feature of international relations today. And it is necessary to have a shared doctrine for managing such interdependency, the former British Foreign Secretary and Labour MP, David Miliband, said in a lecture in Chennai on Saturday. Photo: V. Ganesan.
FOCUS ON INTERDEPENDENCE: The increasing interdependence of states is a key feature of international relations today. And it is necessary to have a shared doctrine for managing such interdependency, the former British Foreign Secretary and Labour MP, David Miliband, said in a lecture in Chennai on Saturday. Photo: V. Ganesan.

Increasing interdependence of states a key feature of international relations today

The former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, on Saturday said the increasing interdependence of states was a key feature of international relations today, and it was necessary to have a shared doctrine on how to manage such interdependency.

Arguing that the Westphalian notion of national sovereignty was no more absolute, Mr. Miliband said what was needed was “responsible sovereignty” by which a nation could be questioned if it abused the rights of its citizens or caused injury to global interests, especially the global commons.

Delivering a talk here on “The Emerging New World Order: Economics and Politics,” the Labour MP for South Shields raised the question: “Who is to stand up for citizens when they are abused by their own government?” Further, actions of a nation-state could affect people in another side of the world. In such situations, for instance, concerning the situation in Syria, the world had a legitimate right to comment on its treatment of its citizens.

Borrowing a metaphor used by the former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who compared managing international relations in the Cold War era to navigating a ship in the Suez Canal — where one had to be slow and straight — Mr. Miliband said that in the post-Cold War era, it was like steering a ship in the English Channel — “one could see land within 26 miles, from Dover to Calais.” However, in the “post-post-Cold War era”, “It is like being on the high seas, you can't see land, you don't have a good compass, and navigators have to find land in a new environment.”

In such a situation, he said, there were five “gusts of wind” that would affect the navigation of “ships of state” in international relations: the seismic shift in economic power from the West to the East, the “civilian surge” by which individuals across the world have developed the power to share ideas, aggregate opinions and organise themselves using technology, the shift from a situation of “resource plenty” to one of “resource scarcity,” the rise of political Islam as an important force in the world, and the social, economic and political inter-dependence of the world that made it a “global village.”

On the first point, he said 50 to 70 million people in Asia would soon be joining the global middle class. “This kind of shift, and at such speed, has not happened before.” By 2018, China would be the biggest economy in the world, and India the third biggest by 2030. Jim O'Neill, who coined the term BRICS to identify the new players in the world economy, had another list of 11 countries who would join them. And six of these would be from Asia. “This is a fundamental change,” he said.

Mr. Miliband said the “civilian surge” implied that people could connect together and “create a global conversation.” It raised the barrier for accountable government in several countries. “It means rulers will have to legitimate their governments.”

He said when states were socially, economically and politically interdependent, there was an asymmetry to their relations, as small actors could cause big consequences. The debt problem of Greece was small in comparison with Europe's economy, but it became a crisis for Europe because it was not addressed.

There were two aspects to such interdependence — a democratising one that involved holding nations to account, but another that could create instability. “One is essentially positive, the other, scarily about the threat of chaos.”

The British MP identified four areas to be thought about in the face of such interdependency: the need for a shared doctrine, which means having responsible sovereignty rather than absolute sovereignty, to have stronger regional institutions — “the European Union is a success, not a failure” —, tackling inequalities within a country, and preserving the common resources of the world.

He noted that the dilemmas of democratic systems were apparent in both Britain and India, but there was a difference, he said, between the two. “Britain can still produce ideas, but the decisive player among the two of us is India. This is both a blessing and a burden for you,” he said, and added that at present, the burden of global leadership was being unequally shared. “We support India's entry into the Security Council so that it can share the burden of global leadership.”

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This notion could help to preserve the rights of citizens in developing states.

from:  S.Parathan
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 15:28 IST

It is difficult to accept this notion. Using this concept, western and developed nations could intervene in the affairs of less developed or developing states and say that the human rightws o fthe latter's citizens arfe being usurped. A new form of colonialism. Further thought should go into this campaign to throw out the Westphalian concepts.

from:  S. Subramanyan
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 11:44 IST

This is a very powerful lecture delivered by Mr Miliband. In the changed scenario we have to comprehend the world with new developing concepts. He has given very good metaphorical similarity in the example of Suez canal. English Channel and Open sea to understand the changed concept. I am Thankful to him for this opening thought.

from:  L N Mishra
Posted on: Jan 9, 2012 at 09:12 IST
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