Podium: The flaws in the new world order

Robert Skidelsky From a `Prospect' lecture by the Conservative peer and Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick

ONE OF the oldest divides in politics is between the moralists and the prudentialists. Moralists have a passion to make the crooked path of humanity straight; prudentialists to make the best of an inherently imperfect world. I know that prudence is itself a moral virtue, and moralists are also capable of discarding the sandals of the preacher for the clogs of the politician. But the basic divide goes back at least to biblical times. The New Testament calls the two sides the "children of light" and the "children of this world".

Both moralists and prudentialists indulge in dreams of a single world. Moralists often think of this in terms of a new world order, a world united by a common set of principles or "norms". Prudentialists typically think of the world growing together through commerce, the movement of peoples, the gradual encroachment of ideas.

The moralist perspective leads naturally to world government; prudentialists are strongly suspicious of Utopian projects, and they have biblical support. As Jesus Christ said: "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light".

This division of outlook helps explain why it is possible to have two views of Nato's war in Yugoslavia. As you may have gathered, I am a prudentialist. This does not mean I have a partiality for Milosevic. It does mean that I believe that the Balkans, and the world, would be better off if this war had never taken place.

At the moment, the moralists are in the ascendant. Nato's resolve has been vindicated; Milosevic has capitulated. Would-be tyrants have been shown that crime does not pay. Air power works!

But look again: Kosovo has been "cleansed" of 850,000 extra Albanian Kosovars since the start of a war intended to prevent a humanitarian disaster. They will have to be returned to a devastated territory or resettled. The bills for military occupation and reconstruction will be vast.

"Globalisation," says the Prime Minister, "is not just economic. It is also a political and security phenomenon. We live in a world where isolationism has ceased to have a reason to exist. We are all internationalists now. We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights in other countries if we still want to be secure."

The New Doctrine, Mr Blair said, requires an `important qualification" to the principle of "non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries". Implicitly recognising that the Nato action would not have gained Security Council authorisation, Mr Blair says that "we must find a new way to make the UN and its Security Council work".

He also implicitly endorsed the notion of establishing protectorates in countries that are incapable of civilised self-government. To the historically minded, the New Doctrine bears an uncanny resemblance to the Old Doctrine of ethical imperialism, in the name of which "civilised" countries imposed their "values" on "barbarous" ones.

Mr Blair insists that the New Doctrine is based on "values" not on "territorial ambitions". However, values and interests, he adds, cannot be separated.

The New Doctrine assumes a world that does not exist. It may be the world we would like to exist, and which will come to exist, given time. But right now the "international community" is merely a project - a Western or American project. Insofar as an "international community" can be said to exist, it is clearly not synonymous with Nato. The attempt to convert a defensive alliance into an agent of ethical imperialism is fraught with danger. The New Doctrine unashamedly identifies the good of the world with Anglo-American "values". It has to be stressed that there is no world government responsible for enforcing human rights, nor does Nato have any general mandate to act as policeman.

What we have in the UN Charter are rules designed to maximise the chances of peaceful co-existence - no more and no less.

I do not deny that the international system needs to be revised. But in trying to revise it unilaterally, in terms of universalist principles not universally shared, we - Clinton and Blair particularly - have taken immense risks with international relations, without securing the long- term future of the Kosovars themselves. These risks may turn out well, but we shouldn't count on it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on