Page 1

Policy Brief Series Issue 6, March 2012

Rise of the East, Decline of the West? Global Security Governance in Transition Jochen Prantl1

Key Points


The global security order is at a critical juncture. Power shifts have led to a new diffusion of principles, preferences, and strategies, with deep implications for global governance.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to achieve global security governance.

Emerging countries have three basic choices: first, they can directly confront Western liberal security ordering; second, they can contest existing governance frameworks by constructing institutional alternatives; and third, they can assume the role of responsible stakeholders and mediate between entrenched positions of the Global North and South.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. This policy brief draws on work for a background paper for the Human Development Report 2012, commissioned by the UN Human Development Report Office. The opinions contained within this brief are those of the author alone.

Page |2

Introduction The global security order is in a state of flux and great uncertainty. The patterns and understandings of order that have evolved in the post-Cold War period are undoubtedly in a state of contestation. This process of contestation is reflected in the emerging structures of often overlapping global and regional security arrangements. This policy brief presents an analysis of the most critical shifts currently under way, making the case that there is no one size-fits-all strategy for achieving global security governance at the beginning of the 21st Century. The 1990’s continued to display the domination of essentially Western ideas about security. The early 2000’s were still analysed through the looking glass of U.S. hegemony. Now, especially after the global financial crisis of 2008, and the loss of US standing in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, the shifts in the distribution of power have started to take hold and have not only led to a diffusion of power but also to a diffusion of principles, preferences, ideas, and values, with deep implications for global governance. 2 The transformation in global security governance is driven by three main factors. First is the quantity and complexity of conflicts being placed on the post-Cold War security agenda of international organisations. Secondly, the increased functional and normative ambition of international society, as epitomised in the concepts of human security, the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), and the security-development nexus have put constraints on global security governance. Finally, the difficulties of international organisations to formally adapt to global power shifts along with the increasing pressure on stakeholders – regional and global – to adjust to those new realities further complicate the issue. Before we delve into the current state of affairs in the shifting global order, it is worth recalling that post-1945, multilateralism was a supplement rather than a substitute for inter-state relations. 3 Furthermore, multilateralism was not very multilateral. It worked precisely because it


See Andrew Hurrell, ‘Effective Multilateralism and Global Order,’ in Effective Multilateralism: Through the Looking Glass of East Asia, edited by Jochen Prantl (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, St Antony’s Series, 2012) forthcoming. 3 See Robert O. Keohane, ‘The contingent legitimacy of multilateralism,’ in Multilateralism under Challenge? Power, International Order, and Structural Change, edited by Edward Newman, Ramesh Thakur, and John Tirman (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006), 56-76.

Page |3

was centred around the United States and the industrialised Global North that largely excluded the developing Global South. The aims and scope of multilateralism were also partial.

The Shifting Role of the State

With the international security agenda expanding in the 1990s, the mode of collective action attending security has become more comprehensive and intrusive, deeply penetrating into the fabric of domestic societies. Security policy – to a large extent – no longer simply constitutes an imagined two-level game played at separate domestic and international tables. 4 Indeed, the two tables have now merged into one that is host to a diverse domestic and global audience that needs to be simultaneously accommodated. In this arrangement, the state has been transformed into an intermediary clearinghouse that negotiates between domestic and external demands.5

The Shifting Role of Global Security Institutions

While the transformation of the security landscape has triggered a high demand for mechanisms to govern global and regional security, there has been no global institutional reform thus far on the supply side. This should not come as a great surprise given that any far-reaching institutional redesign or adjustment would need a new bargain amongst the major stakeholders of the transforming global order. Subsequently, in its absence, any efforts for reform are bound to remain piece-meal. Reforms at the United Nations Security Council are a case in point here. Although the Council is not necessarily the pinnacle of global security governance, it nevertheless has, according to Article 24 of the UN Charter, the primary – though not exclusive – responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Since the early 1990s, it has been common wisdom that the Council is overdue for radical reform. However, it continues to be a divisive topic 4

See Robert D. Putnam, ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,’ International Organization 42:3 (1988), 427-60. 5 See Inge Kaul, ‘Blending External and Domestic Policy Demands: The Rise of the Intermediary State,’ in The New Public Finance; Responding to Global Challenges, edited by Inge Kaul and Pedro Conceição (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 73-108.

Page |4

amongst global and regional stakeholders both from the Global North and South. Unsurprisingly, despite the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the so-called BRICS countries) within the new global order, there is no common agreement among the five large emerging economies on the issue. Indicative of this, at the beginning of this year, the informal coalition of G-4 countries – Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan – launched another bid to expand the Council, which received instant criticism by China and the so-called ‘United for Consensus’ group led by Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Canada, and Pakistan. The perceived crisis of UN-centred governance stands in sharp contrast to the boom in peace operations. As of January 2012, a total of more than 98,000 military personnel and civilian police are serving in 15 peace operations, with an annual budget of US$ 7.8 billion. Given such dynamism, is the UN Security Council just ‘The Imaginary Invalid’? Not quite; there is much room to improve its decision-making, effectiveness, and representativeness. However, if Security Council membership were to be adapted to better reflect global power shifts, what would this mean in practice? Most reform proposals are overly concerned with enlarging the Council’s membership as a proxy for legitimacy and representativeness. Yet, there are two problems with this approach. First, Security Council reforms need to strike a balance between efficacy and representativeness - a larger Council is not necessarily more effective. Second, much of the Security Council’s weakness rests in political disagreements between its most powerful current and aspiring members that need to be settled prior to any large-scale Council reform. The recent Russian and Chinese vetoes on Myanmar (2007), Zimbabwe (2008), and Syria (2011 and 2012) reflect the difficulties in agreeing on the underlying rules and principles of collective action in global security. The central question is how to politically engage key stakeholders such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa inside and outside the Security Council to manage 21st Century security relations collectively and responsively.

The Proliferation of Informal Institutions

The proliferation of minilateral informal institutions – G-x groups, contact groups, core groups, groups of friends – in the post-Cold War order constitutes a significant structural change in the

Page |5

process and substance of UN crisis management. 6 Such groupings have come to play a range of critical roles and occupy a vital space between multilateral governance on the one hand and traditional major power diplomacy on the other. Between 1990 and 2006, one could observe a growth from four to more than 30 such mechanisms in UN conflict resolution. The multi-fold increase developed in parallel to the surge in conflict prevention, conflict management, and postconflict peacebuilding activities by the United Nations and others in this period. Informal institutions allow for exit from the structural deficiencies of the Security Council and provide voice for countries not represented at the table. In effect, those mechanisms may alleviate the pressure for formal adaptation. There also has been a significant change in the role of the five permanent members (P-5) running the UN Security Council. While P-5 coordination is still substantial, bilateral U.S.-China consultations outside the Council chambers have become far more important. At the same time, the BRICS – with mixed results – aim at coordinating their positions on important Security Council matters.

Contested Levels of Security Order

The contestation over the patterns and understandings of security order can be observed both at the global and regional levels. At the global (UN) level, contestation is particularly visible in the debates surrounding the implementation of RtoP. Despite the universal adoption of RtoP by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit, there is a deep political divide over the application of the norm. While North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) operation ‘Unified Protector’ in Libya was authorised in March 2011 by Security Council Resolution 1973 with direct reference to the RtoP framework, the case is very unlikely to serve as a model for future interventions. Notably, Brazil, China, India, and Russia – which had abstained from the vote – expressed strong reservations against the very broad interpretation of the resolution. They particularly opposed the arming of Libyan rebels and the outright pursuit of regime change. China’s and Russia’s vetoes in October


See Jochen Prantl, The UN Security Council and Informal Groups of States: Complementing or Competing for Governance? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); also Jochen Prantl, Whither Liberal Institutions? European Union, NATO, and United Nations in the Post-Cold War Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Page |6

2011 and February 2012 to authorise Security Council collective action in Syria need to be seen therefore in light of the Libyan experience. However, there has been no consistent BRICS position on this issue. Instead, India, Brazil and South Africa – the three democracies coordinating their efforts within the ‘IBSA’ trilateral group – have shown more closely aligned positions that are substantively different from those of China and Russia. IBSA’s voting record in October 2011 and February 2012 is indicative of this.7 While IBSA countries jointly abstained on the draft resolution in the former case, they voted in favour in the latter. At the same time, Brazil has adjusted its strategy and recently assumed the role of mediator between the more interventionist-prone United States and Europe on the one hand and opposing BRICS members such as China and Russia on the other. Introducing the concept of the ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ at the UN General Assembly General Debate in September 2011, Brazil acknowledged the continued importance of RtoP while also highlighting the need for a complementary set of norms – including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences – to be taken into account prior to the authorisation of military force by the Council. In a nutshell, ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ is designed to ensure the accountability of those to whom authority is delegated to use military force. At the regional level, contestation has become most explicit in the creation of alternative structures of security governance. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a good example. Established in 2001, the SCO brings together China, Russia, and four Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Based on a Sino-Russian great power bargain, it is the only international organisation where contemporary China has been a stakeholder since its creation. The SCO process is driven by what is often referred to as the so-called Shanghai spirit (Shanghai jingshen), which includes, according to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diversified civilizations and pursuit of common development” as well as “the democratization of international relations,” and “a multipolar world.” 8 Consequently, the SCO serves both an inward and an outward function: on the one hand, it regulates relations between a highly diverse group of autocratic or semi-autocratic member states,


Brazil served as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2010-11. India and South Africa are elected members of the Council for the period of 2011-12. 8 Xinhua News Agency, 11 June, 2011.

Page |7

providing a platform for cooperation; on the other hand, it provides a bulwark against and an alternative model to the perceived threat of a U.S.-led Western liberal order. For both China and Russia, the SCO is a multilateral forum to articulate and legitimise those claims.9 The Astana Declaration of the SCO’s 10th Anniversary effectively adopted the Russian language on missile defence by highlighting that the “unilateral and unlimited build-up of anti-missile defence by a particular country or a narrow group of countries could damage strategic stability and international security.” 10 Furthermore, the SCO’s 2001 Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism constitutes a fundamental challenge to the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. SCO agreements stipulate that member states are required to target separatists and extremists, as defined by the organisation, whether or not they use violence. While those practices violate international norms against refoulement, the SCO provides a framework for self-legitimation, setting the rules and principles of counter-terrorism strategies within the Central Asian regional context. Three principles for forging global governance during the current power transition can be deducted from the above.

Politics trumps institutional design and effectiveness. Effective security governance requires a political bargain amongst key stakeholders on ‘the rules of the game.’ Those rules precede international institutions and help to foster some degree of compliance with certain principles of conduct.

Multilateral pluralism trumps monism. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for effective security governance.

Contestation is part and parcel of collective action. Effective security governance requires a strategy on how to win the discourse that champions one path of collective action over another, that generates authority to enforce a particular collective action outcome and makes the outcome acceptable to a wider audience.


Both countries have used the SCO at times to criticize perceived Western double standards. th Astana Declaration of the 10 Anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, 15 June, 2011, Paragraph V.


Page |8

In sum, the contested and fluid nature of global security governance has significantly increased the demand for accountability of those who wield power and military force. The more that intrusive states or institutions operate within the traditional realm of national politics, the more consent from and accountability to the governed is required. The quest for accountability to restrain the exercise of public power has become a defining element of global security governance in transition

The Lee Kuan Yew School’s Briefing Room Series is edited by Toby Carroll, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, and Claire Leow, Senior Manager for Research Dissemination at the Research Support Unit. Feedback should be sent to:

Rise of the East, Decline of the West? Global Security Governance in Transition  

The 6th policy brief of the Briefing Room series by Jochen Prantl.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you