“World politics: Interests, interactions, institutions” Summary
In Chapter 11 of their 2014 book World politics: Interests, interactions, institutions, Frieden, Lake and Schultz discuss the influence of international law on the current state of affairs in the arena of international relations, while promoting the Constructivist idea that this law transforms the very essence of how different countries interrelate with each other. According to the authors, international law is “a body of rules which binds states and other agents in world politics in their relations with one another and is considered to have the status of law” (Frieden, Lake & Schultz, 2014, p. 459). In Chapter 11, a distinction is drawn between what the authors define as the “customary international law” (based on different diplomatic customs and traditions and developed over the course of centuries), and the “treaty-based” one, enacted during the process of two of more independent countries becoming the signatories of a particular international treaty/agreement. According to the authors, international law is there to facilitate cooperation between sovereign states, within the context of how they go about addressing the issues of global importance, such as the ones concerned with the protection of human rights or the effects of the Global warming. Frieden et al. also outline what can be considered the main weaknesses of international legislations, such as the fact that, as a rule, these legislations are much too conceptually vague to represent any real legal power and also the fact that there are no truly workable law-enforcement mechanisms in the domain of IR.
Chapter 11 also contains the conceptualization of what Frieden et al. (2014) refer to as “international norms”, defined as the “standards of behavior for actors with a given identity defined in terms of rights and obligations. They rest on a community’s beliefs about what is appropriate for an actor under some specified condition” (p. 469). Even though it often proves challenging to distinguish international norms from one another, it is still possible to discuss them as such that fall into three major categories: constitutive (concerned with the matters of legitimacy), procedural (observed in the domain of international diplomacy), and regulative (expected to help ensuring the ethical soundness of international affairs, as a whole).
The authors also mention the so-called “Transnational Advocacy Networks” (TANs), which “are gradually assuming some responsibilities formerly fulfilled by states” while consisting of, “(1) international and domestic NGOs; (2) local social movements; (3) foundations and other philanthropic organizations…” (Frieden et al., 2014, p. 469). Among the most recent violations of the “norm of non-aggression” Frieden et al. consider the “annexation” of the Crimea by Russia from the failed state of Ukraine. As it can be inferred from Chapter 11, in the future it will be up to TANs (specifically NGOs) ensuring the full compliance of the nationally-enacted laws and regulations with the provisions of international law – the development predetermined by the very logic of historical progress.
“Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: The Liberal delusions that provoked Putin” Article Summary
In his 2014 article Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: The Liberal delusions that provoked Putin, Mearsheimer argues that it is specifically the US and its allies in Europe that should be held responsible for the violent seizure of political power by the Ukrainian neo-Nazis in Ukraine in 2014 (which Western media continue to refer to as the “democratic revolution”), which in turn resulted in causing the overwhelming majority of Crimea’s Russian-speaking residents to decide in favor of declaring independence from Ukraine and consequently asking Russia to protect them from being subjected to ethnic cleansing by the self-appointed “revolutionary authorities” in Kiev. The reason for this is that the Western powers used to actively support the “people’s uprising” in Ukraine while driven by their realpolitik intention to turn this country into the NATO’s yet another East-European stronghold against Russia. Hence, the overall idea promoted throughout the article’s entirety: “This grand scheme (to expand NATO) went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant—and states that ignore it do so at their own peril” (Mearsheimer, 2014, p. 78). According to the author, contrary to what most people assume it to be the case, the numerous Western-based NGOs are not there to preoccupy themselves with the solely humanitarian affairs – their true function is to serve as the agents of foreign influence in the host-countries while assuming the de facto decision-making centers on the locale. According to the author, “Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves” (Mearsheimer, 2014, p. 80). As it appears from the article, most of this money was channeled to Ukraine by the National Endowment for Democracy – “the nonprofit foundation that has funded more than 60 projects aimed at promoting civil society in Ukraine” (Mearsheimer, 2014, p. 80). According to Mearsheimer, this constituted a blatant violation of the international norm of “non-expansion” (with the reference made to the existing military alliances) on the part of the NATO, which Russia rightfully recognized to pose clear and immediate danger to its vital interests in the region – especially given the fact that this organization has repeatedly broken its promises not to expand eastwards ever since 1991. As the author aptly observed, “Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory” (Mearsheimer, 2014, p. 82). He concludes his article by pointing out to the fact that in terms of reactive adequateness, the West’s collective leadership does not even stand near Vladimir Putin, “He (Putin) is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy” (Mearsheimer, 2014, p. 84). Because in his article the author has made a number of explicit and implicit references to the notions of “international law” and “international law”, there can only be a few doubts that Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault does relate to the earlier reviewed Chapter 11 in the book by Frieden et al.
As it appears from the provided summaries, there is indeed a good reason to doubt the conceptual soundness of the Constructivist “core theory”, endorsed by the authors of Chapter 11. The reason for this is apparent – many of this theory’s axiomatic provisions are best defined as utterly arrogant, if not to say intentionally misleading. Evidently enough, Frieden et al. strived to divert readers’ attention away from the fact that it is specifically the Realist paradigm of IR that provides the scientifically legitimate explanation of the actual forces behind the observable dynamics in the field of international relations. According to it, there are only three major purposes to just about any country’s existence: a) political/economic expansion, b) maintenance of a political stability within, c) destabilization/destruction of rivaling of countries (Gray, 2016). We can discuss long and hard what caused the authors to act in a such a manner, but the fact remains – Frieden et al. provide a strongly erroneous outlook on the significance of TANs(NGOs). According to the authors, “TANs change how actors conceive of their interests by promoting new moral values… TANs encourage and support socially appropriate behavior and help spread norms across national borders” (Frieden et al., 2014, p. 476). However, as Mearsheimer’s article revealed it, American-based TANs were directly responsible for organizing the anti-constitutional military coup in Ukraine in 2014 (disguised as yet another “democratic revolution”), which resulted in bringing about the outbreak of the still ongoing civil war in this country. In other words, while in Ukraine, Western NGOs acted to undermine the country’s national sovereignty. Because the concept of national sovereignty continues to represent the most fundamental cornerstone of international law, as we know it, it means that the role of NGOs must be reassessed. These organizations are not the “guarantors of international law”, but rather yet another tool with which the West strives to preserve its continually weakening hegemony over the world. The West uses NGOs to meddle in the internal affairs of foreign countries under the pretext of “promoting democracy” (Hamm, 2015). This once again suggests that the activities, on the part of NGOs in just about every part of the world, should be assessed within Realist framework of IR – if anything, these organizations contribute to the proliferation of international laws/norms the least.
Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that the Chapter’s interpretation of the most recent geopolitical developments is strongly biased, in the ideological sense of this word. For example, as it was pointed out earlier, Frieden et al. argue that in 2014 the Crimea was “annexed” by Russia, without mentioning the fact that, having been reflective of the collective will of 97% of Crimea’s residents, which in turn was expressed during the people’s referendum on March 16, 2014, the peninsula’s incorporation into Russia was perfectly legal. After all, the Crimea enjoyed the status of an autonomous republic within Ukraine, which is why the Crimean Parliament did have the right to call for an all-national referendum (Bebler, 2017). After the US-supported Ukrainian Nationalists and neo-Nazis had toppled the country’s democratically elected government, the peninsula’s Russian-speaking people refused to recognize the illegitimate authorities in Kiev and Russia was there to assist quickly and decisively. Therefore, the fact that the US continues to sanction Russia on account of this country’s “occupation” of Crimea is just another proof that, despite their skillfulness at indulging in the Constructivist rhetoric (on the importance of protecting “democracy” and “human rights”), Western politicians never ceased being driven by the considerations of the realpolitik logic.
In light of what has been said earlier, the Chapter’s insights into what the concept of international law stands for and what are the concept’s discursive implications, cannot be regarded representing much practical value. This simply could not be otherwise – because of the geopolitical realities of the 21st century’s second decade, many of the Chapter’s axiomatic premises do not seem to be making any sense, whatsoever. As Mearsheimer (2014) noted, “The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states” (p. 88). It is namely a war and not international law that has always been the ultimate solution to the seemingly unresolvable tensions between the world’s most powerful countries. As of today, however, the outbreak of the full-scale nuclear WW3 between Russia/China, on one hand, and the collective West, on the other, would put an end to the human civilization, as we know it. The mentioned tensions, however, continue to accumulate, which in turn presupposes that there must be a way for the US and Russia to be able to wage war on each other, without risking the chance for the ongoing conflict between them to turn nuclear. Such a way has been found. It is called a “proxy war” – the civil war in Ukraine (where the West supports outright Nazis) and the ongoing war of everybody against everybody in Syria (where the West supports Islamic terrorists) are the typical examples of what the concept stands for. In a “proxy war”, both NGOs and terrorists are seen merely instrumental (Cooley, 2015). It is understood, of course, that this presupposes that as of today, the very notion of international law has grown hopelessly outdated. This once again points out to the fact that, just as it was suggested earlier, the “core theory” of Chapter 11 cannot be regarded even moderately insightful.
Bebler, A. (2017). On the geopolitical aspects of the conflict over Crimea. IUP Journal of International Relations, 11(1), 7-26.
Cooley, A. (2015). Countering democratic norms. Journal of Democracy, 26(3), 49-63.
Frieden J., Lake D., & Schultz K. (2014). World politics: Interests, interactions, institutions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Gray, A. B. (2016). Realpolitik: A history. Naval War College Review, 69(4), 163- 169.
Hamm, B. (2015). The end of democracy as we knew it. Foresight: The Journal of Futures Studies, Strategic Thinking and Policy, 17(2), 161-193.
Mearsheimer, J. (2014). Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: The Liberal delusions that provoked Putin. Foreign Affairs, 93(5), 77-89.