Word for Wednesday: Internationalism definition

Internationalism is not a political movement like social democracy or neoliberalism, nor is it a central term in a body of argument, like globalisation. Rather, it is a general aspiration. So I’m going to offer my own definition, and try to tease out its relevance to our present problems. As opposed to globalism, internationalism accepts the reality and legitimacy of national governments. This legitimacy arises in part from acceptance of the idea of the nation-state, that particular groups of people (nations) are bound together by ties of common history and language, and are natural units of governments. But the legitimacy of the nation-state is provisional, dependent on both on the consent of the people who make up the nation and on adherence to evolving rules of international law. So, for internationalists, notions of sovereignty, derived from the idea that a king or emperor has the right to manage the affairs of his domain as he sees fit, are problematic.

From an internationalist viewpoint, the debate over the war between Iraq and the US-led coalition has been highly unsatisfactory. On the one hand, the anti-war idea that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that interference with its internal affairs is necessarily wrong cannot be accepted. Saddam’s lack of democratic legitimacy and numerous breaches of international law give the world community the right to protect itself. On the other hand, despite the figleaf of claiming to enforce UN resolutions (now virtually abandoned) the US-led coalition has relied essentially on nationalist arguments that the US has the right to do whatever it sees fit to promote its own national security and national interest. The commonly heard statement ‘S11 changed everything’ can be unpacked into a claim that, in a situation where the US has been subject to direct attack, it is not bound by any concept of international law.

The outcomes of the war so far give strong support to the internationalist view. In particular, the arguments for reliance on international organisations like the United Nations are, in large measure, the same as the arguments for liberal democracy within nations, for example, that no one nation (person) has the wisdom to make the decisions for everyone and that any nation (person) who is given a position of absolute power will ultimately abuse it. It is already clear that on the key issue that divided the US from the majority of members of the UNSC (the claim that Saddam’s weapons represented an immediate threat, and the claim that the calculus of costs and benefits favored immediate action over taking time to build an international consensus), the US was wrong and the majority was right.