The Duck of Minerva

APSA Redux: Georgia, Russia and the Future of Global Order

3 September 2008

Besides Dan’s creative performance at the Network Theory panel, the most noteworthy event I attended at this year’s APSA conference was the early Saturday morning roundtable “The Future of Global Order.”

Jeff Legro, Dan Drezner, John Ikenberry and Bruce Jentleson spoke all too eloquently (especially given the hour) of the crisis in global institutions, the changing nature of sovereignty, the rise of the global south, and the legitimacy gap between existing institutions of global governance and the balance of power. Their points differed in emphasis but shared an agreement with the premise of the panel: that existing global institutions are inadequate to solve the political crises of the hour, and that the future is therefore uncertain.

But then, Barbara Koremenos issued a rejoinder that began by taking the panel abstract and refuting it sentence by sentence:

“International institutions are not under siege. Very few are falling apart, and even those that have, like the ABM treaty, did so according to the rule of law. American hegemony is not in decline, or if so only when compared to to where it was in 1991. The sanctity of the nation state is not under assault from terrorists. Institutions still matter – why else would Russia feel so threatened by NATO? And I see no evidence that the have nots of today are better organized than in the 70s.”

Listening, I asked myself what the Russo-Georgia war tells us about this debate. I decided I come down on Barbara’s side. Under an earlier international order, the crisis could easily have been a trigger event for a real great power confrontation… instead the war lasted for only a few days, fewer than 1000 people died (so it may not even count as a war at all), and parties on both sides of the dispute are still bending over backward to invoke international law and international institutions, albeit self-servingly and contradictorily, in their political rhetoric; while, effectively, standing down.

Seems to me like the global order is in reasonably good hands.