Sovereign national state and international stability in the current era

Sovereign national state and international stability in the current era

by Prof Dr Ilias Iliopoulos*

“The binding axiom for all actors in an international system, or which should be mandatory for them, is rather to be understood as a modus vivendi between them, in the sense of, for example, the agreement ‘cuius regio, eius religio’ of the Augsburg Peace Treaty of 1555 or the principle of non-interference of the Westphalian peace. The idea behind this is that of non-intervention of one sovereign actor in the internal affairs of another. This idea has found its best application in the form of the basic principle of national sovereignty, which can look back on a remarkably long period of validity.”

When we talk about stability in the international system, we naturally always mean relative stability, because if we want to stay on the ground of historical empiricism and geopolitical facts it is the only possible stability. However, we mean a relative stability, which allows for the existence of – also relative – order. But looked at from a value-conservative point of view, order is, however, relative and deficient, something valuable that is not to be thrown overboard light-heartedly, both domestically and between countries. In all periods of history, from the Greek city-state system to the Cold War era, there have been two premises on which an international order rests: First and foremost, a balance of power, as we have known it since the times of Thucydides.

The balance of power guarantees stability, order, and peace.

Seen from a conservative-realist approach to international relations, only the greatest possible symmetry in the distribution of power can seriously guarantee stability, order, and peace, by ensuring a credible mutual deterrent and thereby keeping the relevant actors in the system from crossing the Rubicon. However, the absence of this symmetry, or its lapse, will – sooner or later and in spite of the pious or peaceful intentions expressed by politicians in their soap-box oratory – lead to the loss of international stability until, of course, the strained balance is restored at some later date.

Stability requires that no power can believe itself to be in the role of the chosen one

From the point of view of a conservative-realist theory of international relations, the second prerequisite for the stability of an international system is an axiom mandatory for all actors, though not in the fashionable, vulgar-liberal sense of the export of so-called “shared democratic values and beliefs”. One cannot warn strongly enough against this latter, because history shows us that international stability perished each time that a power imagined itself to be in the role of the elect and, alone or with the help of its allies, sought to impose its own ideal of civilisation on all the other participants in the system.

Examples from the ancient world

For instance, you may think whatever you like of ancient Sparta, but you cannot disregard one historical fact. It was not the idiosyncratic Sparta which would incur the wrath of today’s human rights preachers; it was the politically and socio-economically sophisticated Athens that bears the main responsibility for the Peloponnesian War and thus for the destruction of the international order of the inhabited world and the system of city-states. Moreover, this was the case precisely because the Athens of that time saw itself as a bastion of civilisation and – according to Pericles’ words – as a school or a model for all of Greece.1 By this conduct, Athens nurtured the fear in other city-states that it would want to force its own values and beliefs on them, and this in turn inevitably led to the emergence of an anti-hegemonic coalition.2
Let us on this occasion recall the fact that Athens acted in this manner at that moment when it believed to have reached the zenith of its power. After the end of the Persian Wars, when it had successfully fended off the Asian danger, it enjoyed the reputation of having crushed the common enemy and of thus having saved the entire free Hellenic world from Asiatic barbarism. Today this kind of expression would of course be simply impossible – and even liable to criminal prosecution – at university or in a schoolbook, due to the neo-Calvinist virtue dictatorship of the post-national left, that is to say political correctness.
It is remarkable that this former “superpower” did not stop at the battering of the common enemy, but sought – even then, even Athens – to score politically-strategic points from it. The liberal-democratic naval power Athens eagerly operated the transformation of the Delian League (originally founded to combat the Asian risk) into an institution to ensure Athenian hegemony, an instrument for putting in operation as well as ideologically and politically legitimising the “peace operations” – as they would be called today – undertaken everywhere in the former Hellenic world to safeguard Athenian interests.

Dissemination of EU- and NATO- “values” or military humanism is no guarantee of international stability

Back to the topic of international stability: Each actor of the system has its own constitution. Even the Scottish conservative writer Walter Scott knew in his time: “A civilised nation that has long had its laws and has despite all their shortcomings found ways and means to prosper under them, must not be regarded as a young colony, in which you can carry out legislative attempts with impunity.”3
Therefore, when I speak of an axiom mandatory for all actors as the second prerequisite of international stability, I certainly do not mean a purportedly missionary “commitment” to the forcible distribution of any EU- or NATO- “values” throughout Europe or even all over the world.  Also I certainly do not mean the desire for crusades rediscovered since the international law infringing war of aggression of the New World Order against Serbia. Nor do I mean the from that resulting postulation of a “military humanism” by Tony Blair, the Clinton clan, the feature pages of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and the post-nationalist progressivist licenced fool intellectuals of the neo-Soviet Brussels politburo.
Here a parenthesis is necessary: The supranational bureaucratic elite tend to present their ideological justification of their political or strategic actions as the true cause and aim of these actions. Still, it should be known to everyone that from time immemorial, any stronger international actor with a desire for power has sought after such justification; because “under the guidance of pragmatic motive combinations, the carriers of imperialism striving for power have ever again sought highly diverse forms of a quasi-normative legitimacy, in their own eyes as well as before history.”4

States remain key players in the international system

I now come to the binding axiom for all actors in an international system, or which should be mandatory for them. This is rather to be understood as a modus vivendi between them, in the sense of, for example, the agreement “cuius regio, eius religio” of the Augsburg Peace Treaty of 1555 or the principle of non-interference of the Westphalian peace. The idea behind this is that of non-intervention of one sovereign actor in the internal affairs of another. This idea has found its best application in the form of the basic principle of national sovereignty, which can look back on a remarkably long period of validity.
Since the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, the national states have been the main actors in the international system and they still remain the main actors, despite all the truly significant international interrelations. Contrary to a widespread mythology, they have not reached the point of no return yet. The massive, systematic, political, economic, military, ideological, and psychological war that has been waged against the idea of the sovereign national state since 1991 on the part of the supranational financial and bureaucratic elites cannot change the crucial role of the national states either.

Sovereign states – protection from the law of the jungle

For the rest, the conservative observer of international relations is aware that the term “sovereignty” could and can never be understood in an absolute sense but always in realistic terms. Nevertheless, the states hold on firmly to their sovereignty because they feel that this will protect them against the stronger one’s application of the law of the jungle in our imperfect international legal system: “The states’ claim to sovereignty reflects their fundamental quest for freedom and for self-determination of their own role in the international community.”5
Those who stand for a “post-modern” and post-national progressivist totalitarianism have since 1991 increasingly disregarded this basic principle, and have too easily declared it to be null and void – and they have thereby promoted a new edition of the – in its time so massively attacked – Brezhnev Doctrine in reverse. They should consider the following: It is quite easy to destroy a system, but it is very difficult to restore a system, especially a stable one.
The political leaders should always remember the words of the great British conservative theorist Edmund Burke: “A bungler who would not dare to dismantle his watch, thinks he is capable of disassembling and putting together again, just as he pleases, a much more important and more complicated mechanism made up of quite different wheels and springs and counterweights as well as of cooperating and divergent forces ... Their ... misled good intentions are no excuse for their hubris.”6
Viewed objectively, the threat to international security today is that both fundamental requirements of international stability – balance of power and a binding axiom – are currently not given.

Multipolar international system of the 21st century

In a geopolitical sense there is only one great power left today, which (in the sense of Carl Schmitt) is already master of its own economic and strategic metropolitan area, successfully defends this against the outside, and in addition has the means of planetary action, which it does not want to see limited by intervention bans issued by other, regional, great powers: And that is the United States.
Although the US is the only global power, it is not the only great power; it faces larger and smaller regional powers – for this reason the most prestigious American strategic analysts have called the first post-bipolar decade’s international system unimultipolar. They left no doubt that this would be a transitional period of several decades till the estimated five or six power centres constituting the multipolar international system of the 21st century would have achieved their final shape.
For a long time it looked as if particularly the regional, medium-sized powers of Western Europe were aspiring to a role of world power, mainly due to their economic strength. However, we now know that appearances were deceptive. Ironically, as happens so often in history, the end of their Europe-euphoric illusions coincided with their hour of triumph (Maastricht Treaty, 1992). In the decades of the Cold War, France and the Federal Republic of Germany had energetically pursued a “European unification”, each of these countries for strategic-political reasons of its own, some of which they had in common, but some of which were diametrically opposed. The US had strongly backed these endeavours. But it is precisely since the Maastricht Treaty that it became clear that this “European unification” was and remains lightyears away from a truly united Europe of Nations and notably also from a liberal-minded, identity-conscious and strategically independent Europe of Nations.

There has never been a “United Europe” – and neither is it a subject of international law

This unpleasant fact has again been confirmed in South Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean region in the last twenty-five years. In these regions, it were always the United States which waged wars of aggression in violation of international law, or which conducted operations of destabilisation against independent and sovereign states. There were also Great Britain, Germany and France; from which the first two were competing among themselves for the role of the big brother’s more faithful vassal. At the same time France – a post-imperial power of middle calibre, could – in its “delusional obsessive” belief (Brzezinski) to be a world power – plainly and simply not bear to be absent when the Americans (and the Germans too!) kept order on the old continent or in its periphery.
However, even while listing, it gets noticeable: a “United Europe” has never been existing and still just does not exist. No subject of international law is registered under this name – or, as Henry Kissinger is reported to have said analogously: “There is no such number.”
To prevent any misunderstandings in advance: I do not share the indignation of subsidised progressivist intellectuals, journalists, and politicians about Europe’s seemingly dramatic inability to act as a power and a factor of stability. The rage of professional Europeans is understandable, but it remains the reaction of those who place all bets on one horse that was not even able to run. Moreover, it was to be expected that this horse – or more precisely, the (Brussels) cow – would not run.

Europe and the US

A consistent and integrative political will will never be reached, because too ambivalent are the relations of those Western European powers aspiring to wider areas with the transatlantic world power under whose protection they are building that wider economic area, because the possible political-military and even strategic independence of that area would inevitably lead to conflict with this same world power. In addition, the age-old mistrust among Western European powers is too strong, though well covered up. And the influence of the leading world power on one or the other of the regional powers reaches so far that it might, depending on its assessment of the current situation, have given the privileged status of a special relationship to one middle-sized power at one moment, but declared the other state, which had barely been reunified and become sovereign (?), its partner in leadership a moment later.
For all these reasons, we are already, in the current phase of transition from the old to the future balance of power, seeing something other than the dreamed-of-by-many superpower Europe (which even – according to the wishful thinking of subsidised post-national academics – might be the counterweight to the US and so on and so forth). Instead we see the re-awakening of the peoples, the beginning of the dissolution of the hybrid, supra national, quasi-state construction of the so-called European Union. Moreover, we see the impressive revitalisation of centrifugal, homebound, national-minded movements, which are conscious of their identity and their history.

About the axiom of an international order

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet side, the supra-national financial elite, followed by their subordinate supra-national bureaucratic elites, tried to extend the scope of their ethical and anthropological ideas to the territory of the former enemy and, moreover, to the entire globe.
The Western – in actual fact the supra-national – elite is trying to force through its own systemic-ideological concept (the moralistic human rights universalism, paired with a parliamentary system and its concept of “free” market economy) as the leading axiom of the new, post-bipolar era in increasingly aggressive ways, with all its economic, cultural and political propaganda, and ultimately even by military means.
These aspirations are extremely easy to understand; and as easily understood is the Ovid Metamorphosis of those who, only a short while ago, used to denounce any criticism of the “real socialism” as blind anti-communism, but who are now at the forefront of journalistic and “activist” efforts calling for new holy war against nationalism (or even an alleged “fascism”!)

“Humanitarian” crusades are wrong and dangerous

Nevertheless, the newly discovered fancy for crusades is not only historically and anthropologically untenable; it is also politically unrealistic and highly dangerous. The new “humanitarian” crusades will share the fate of all previous ones: They will destroy international stability or what remains of it. What we have experienced in the Balkans since 1991 (Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere) or what we currently see in Syria is only a prelude; the Western interventionism will bring the West into confrontation with the rest of the world – and finally harm the West itself.
Let me emphasise here a significant point: Ethic-normative ideas are not conceived to be taken and implemented at their nominal value but to establish identity and to be used as a weapon of this identity in the struggle against other identities. If you cannot understand this, you will never be able to capture their inner mental structure nor their outer historical influence.

About the really existing universalism of human rights

Theoretically speaking, the moralistic human rights universalism declared by the supra-national elite would be conceivable if a world organisation were to be in charge of its implementation, in the context of which all large and small state actors on earth would join together. But this universalism would – theoretically (and ethically!) be acceptable only if a larger regional power or even a world power might, whenever necessary, be punished by direct intervention at the initiative of smaller powers, because it had failed to fulfil the generally accepted ethical and legal principles.
Now we know that during the Cold War the punishment of a great power or even a world power was out of the question – never did the US nor the former USSR have to suffer because of international-law missteps. After the end of bipolarity, the remaining world power has even gone miles beyond this; it simply overrides international legal norms and principles if those do not match its interests, and it does not even care about the appearance of legality.
Here at the latest it should really have become clear that the invocation of any humanitarian or democratic principles only serves as the ethical and ideological legitimisation of very specific power politics, by means of which very real issues of power are to be decided. A small power being brought to its senses about human rights by the initiative – and by the impact force – of a great power, proves nothing. Only the reverse would be the touchstone of a really existing universalism of human rights.

The idea of the nation upholding de-constructivists flout some of Europe’s most valuable heritage

Nonetheless, we must point to the fact that the intellectual representatives of today’s Western post-national progressivist totalitarianism, who pursue the de-construction7 of the idea of the nation, flout important anthropological and historical factors, even those belonging to the most precious spiritual heritage of Europe – ranging from the pre-Socratics via Aristotle to Montesquieu and Burke. This would be foolish, but it does seem as though the modern Western power elites and their licenced fool intellectuals believe themselves to be able – and obliged – to bomb through their own oligarchic, post-democratic system (euphemistically called “parliamentary” or – to use even more sophistically – “representative”  democracy) all over the world!
Actually, it should be a matter of course to history- and culture-conscious Europeans that there are different political systems in all the diverse corners of the planet – analogous to the historical experience, the geocultural identity,
geostrategic position, the geopolitical and socio-economic conditions and co-determinants as well as the political culture of each nation. They would not have encountered this diversity with missionary exhortations to overthrow alleged dictators but with supreme composure, had they only known – to use the words of the American thinker (and US president) of the 19th century, John Adams – that “despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats, Jacobins, and Sans-culottes, equally go into raptures over absolute power”.8
It should be equally obvious that, even if all nations on earth were to accept the Western-style supposed “democracy”, this system would come in shapes all different from each other, depending on the level of social development, on the historical experiences and conditions of geographical, cultural, socio-economic and strategic-political development. It was the same with Christianity, feudalism, slavery, bourgeois liberalism, fascism, or communism. We have seen the most diverse varieties of each of them.
No one likes to make the bearer of bad news responsible – we have known this ever since Teiresias incurred the wrath of the king Oedipus. Nevertheless, it must be said: The more arrogant the behaviour of the global supra-national elite, and the more massive their global promotion of ideas and behaviour belonging to a post-Christian, post-humanist, to an indeed profoundly degenerate western (sub-)culture, the more impudent and dynamic will be the response of the others, especially of those peoples and communities that would have liked to take the path of the west but will not be able to do so, and will eventually in their disappointment turn against the west as a whole and especially against its humanitarian moralism.

Europe should concentrate on and defend its own identity

Instead, Europe should find the will and courage to bethink itself of and vigorously defend its own anthropologic-ontological, historical, and geocultural identity. It should defend this against Islamic totalitarianism, and also against the cooptation of European national states and identities, indeed of European culture in general, that the supra-national elite is systematically and massively trying to impose on us.
At this point it would be highly appropriate to point to the significant political achievements of the identity-conscious, freedom-loving, nationally-minded political forces and citizens in several European countries, from Finland and Denmark to Slovakia and Hungary – let alone Russia and Switzerland, which are in any case the last bastions of the intellectual and cultural heritage of Christian Europe, yes, even of common sense altogether.
But in particular the British people’s decision in favour of Britain’s withdrawal from the so-called European Union has to be mentioned as an event of epochal significance.9 As a historian, I should like to predict that this decision will be the signal for the beginning of the end of that post-national, totalitarian Brussels Leviathan – and it will one day be recorded as such in the books of history.
Of course, it is to be hoped that the victory of the identity-conscious, liberal, national forces in the UK will be accompanied by analogous successes in the coming year of 2017, as this would then undoubtedly be the nemesis of European history, brought about by its hubris of de-constructing human identity.     •

*    Professor Dr Ilias Iliopoulos is lecturer on history, strategy and geopolitics at the Hellenic Naval Academy; former professor of strategy and geopolitics of Hellenic National Defence College; former Policy Analyst and Head of Section Geostrategic and Defence Analyses of the Defence Analyses Institute (IAA) of the Hellenic Ministry of Defence; first degree in History from the National Capodistrias’ University of Athens; Post-graduate studies in Modern History of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and Political Science at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich; Dr phil LMU Munich.

1    See significantly the famous Epitaph speech by Pericles, Thucydides, Historiai, II, p. 35-46
2    Thus for example, the Spartans, the Corinthians and other Greek city states declared: “We turn to war to liberate Greece.”, see ibid, I, p. 124 and IV, p. 85
3    Lockhart, J. G. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott. Edinburgh, 1853, vol. 3, pp. 305.
4    Kindermann, Gottfried-Karl. Grundelemente der Weltpolitik. Eine Einführung. Munich / Zurich, 1991, p. 254
5    Ibid., p. 170
6     Burke, Edmund. Appeal from the New Whigs. Works, London, 1854-57. Vol. III, pp. 111.
7     In this regard, see the excellent contribution of Dr René Roca “A view on the commemorative year 2015”. In: Current Concerns No. 32/33 from 31 December 2015, pp. 1.
8     See Kurt Russell. The Conservative Mind. 1953, p. 127
9     An in every respect excellent analysis of this question comes from Professor Dr Richard Werner and was published in Current Concerns; see Werner, R. A. “EU Basics. Your Guide to the UK Referendum on EU Membership”. In: Current Concerns No. 15 from 12 July 2016, pp. 1.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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