From chaos to cosmos

Lord Archer

By way of contrast with the speech by Tony Blair, and to prove that this blog is not always critical of politicians, let me refer you to the recent pamphlet published by Lord Archer of Sandwell QC. Peter Archer, as he was before acquiring a peerage, is president of the One World Trust and has had an eminent career both as a politician and as a lawyer. He is thus the ideal author of a work on how global order is slowly being built in order to keep the peace.

Entitled “From chaos to cosmos: keeping the peace”, it surveys in 24 pages (or 23 if you skip the biography on the back cover, but I would recommend reading that, too) the different treaties and international agreements that make up the international framework of law and peace. The title is borrowed from Bernard Baruch, if “cosmos” reflects the notion of an ordered universe and “chaos” accordingly the alternative.

Historically, national sovereignty was coined as a way of drawing lines between the responsibilities of different princes so that they would not have to fight each other. In return for not interfering in the internal affairs of other states, they would experience no foreign interference in the affairs of their own. The rise of the concept of human rights put paid to this notion: there were some things going on that no-one could stand by and watch, and so the absolute principle of national sovereignty started to give way to something better. The United Nations Charter, for example, contains examples of how this change started, and numerous treaties since have extended and developed it.

As with human rights, different types of weapons technologies have attracted their own international treaty systems to try and bring them under control. Nerve gases, biological weapons and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are all subject to treaty control of one sort or another, of varying degrees of effectiveness. The heart of the problem is that states acquire these weapons because they think they need them, and will not give them up without being convinced of the opposite. In a world of states all fearing that all the others are out to get them, this is a slow business.

But there is hope. Ironically, the proliferation of all kinds of weaponry in the hands of terrorist groups and other non-state actors fuels the argument for regulation at an international level. The pro-state argument is that state possession of these weapons deters other states: but how can Trident deter Osama bin Laden?

States are realising that something greater than mere state power itself is needed to deal with some of the non-state threats which they face. Furthermore, there are state-based threats which are beyond the capacity of any other state that might try to deal with them. (This is my point about Iraq.) Some other kind of approach is needed.

Work towards an ordered global system is slow and painstaking, and will face mistakes and setbacks. The idea, though, that the slow and painstaking work must continue is surely the right one. By bringing different states more and more into agreement with one another on issues of common interest, rather than leaving them in the sphere of contest and advantage-seeking, the threat of war can be controlled and diminished.

I am sure that Tony Blair himself would agree with much of the foregoing, particularly the bit about mistakes and setbacks if the advance briefing on his Georgetown speech is to be believed. But without a whole-hearted and determined commitment to the rule of law, all the rest of it will prove futile. Peter Archer concludes his pamphlet thus:

“Uniformity is neither a precondition nor a consequence of the Rule of Law. In the first intervention by an Israeli delegate in a General Assembly debate, Abba Eban referred to the crucial question which, he said, faced the contemporary world. To say that governments and states founded on similar doctrines and kindred cultures could achieve close co-operation, was to affirm something that stood in no need of proof. That was not the question which multitudes of people all over the world were asking. They were asking whether governments with different and opposing interests could achieve a point of mutual tolerance: they were asking whether divergent and contradicting political doctrines could live together in peace, side by side. The main issue was the co-existence of different ways of life within a common allegiance to a single international code.”

Tony Blair’s supposition that the world unites around the values of liberty, democracy, tolerance and justice needs to be tested a little more. Let him read this pamphlet, as you should, too. You can find it here.

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