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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones