Commentary Magazine

A New International Order?


It is a matter of general agreement that traditional patterns of inequality in international society are widely challenged today. Differences may and do persist over the lengths to which this challenge can be expected to go in the years ahead and the consequences it will have if permitted to run its logical course. These differences do not affect the view that for the present, at any rate, we are in a period when inequalities once accepted as part of the natural order of things are no longer so accepted. Nor do they affect the judgment that many of the inequalities endemic to international society in the past are no longer sustainable.

The contemporary challenge to inequality has been almost as sudden as it has been pervasive. It is of course the case that we may find harbingers of the opposition to inequality we experience today not only in the interwar period but in the years preceding World War I. The egalitarianism of nation-states that is a commonplace today was not unknown at the turn of the cenury. Nor was the logic of this new egalitarianism obscured to its adherents. The 20th-century equation of the nation and the state not only invested the state with a legitimacy it has not previously possessed; that equation also gave to the claim of state equality an appeal and force it had never before enjoyed. For the equality of nation-states evoked, if nothing else, a far more persuasive analogy with the ideal of individual equality than had the analogy earlier drawn between states and men. The ideal of the nation carried with it a quality of “naturalness,” hence a quality of individuality, that could be attributed only with considerable difficulty to the state alone. Once the implications of this ideal were accepted, it followed that nation-states need be no more identical than men to claim that they had an equal value by virtue of their individuality. And as in the case of individuals, so in the case of nations, it was argued that equality was violated when individuality was suppressed, through denial of political independence, or when it was robbed of self-respect by the disabilities—political, legal, and economic—which effectively deprive a collective from full participation in international society.

But if the new egalitarianism of nations was eventually to serve both as a prime factor in the creation of new states and as a powerful rallying cry for the removal of inequalities held to deprive peoples of self-respect, these were consequences that largely materialized only in the years following World War II. They are indeed the consequences that form part of the basis for the present challenge to inequality. Prior to World War II, however, they appeared as little more than the first winds that herald the possibility of a coming storm. On balance, the interwar period conformed to traditional patterns of inequality. Although the legitimacy of the more extreme manifestations of self-help—above all, armed force—was no longer accepted with the equanimity characteristic of an earlier era, the historic functions of military power remained largely unchanged. The current view taken of the “disutility” of military power was clearly not the view taken in the interwar period.

Nor was it only with respect to the use made and expected of military power that the world of the 1930's was still very much a traditional world. It is instructive to remind ourselves that demands for equality in the interwar years were, in the main, the demands of states now, as indeed then, comprising the powerful and wealthy of international society. What was then popularly termed the struggle between the “haves” and the “have-nots” was in reality a struggle among the haves. In this respect as well, the interwar period clearly followed a traditional pattern. A majority of the have-nots of today had yet to achieve independence. With rare exception, they were not in a position to press for equalities that, for better or worse, are achievable only through the institution of the state. Of the have-nots of today that did enjoy independence then, the claims to equality, when heard at all by the haves, seem quite modest by comparison with the claims of the developing states today. What is increasingly taken as a commonplace today, that the division between the rich and the poor nations poses a grave danger to peace and stability, was then no more than the musing of a few seers. The contemporary persuasion that this division is morally repugnant was the possession of perhaps an even more select group. The conviction that justice requires the rich nations to help all peoples obtain a “minimum subsistence” could scarcely be seriously entertained by nations that had yet to recognize the precept of minimum subsistence in their domestic lives.

It is no more plausible to find the promise of a new egalitarianism in the wartime declarations of the United Nations or in the institutions established to order the postwar world. Certainly, one may find repeated reaffirmation of the principle of the “sovereign equality” of all states. But the homage paid to this principle broke no new ground. What is significant in the wartime declarations is the extent to which they reflect, rather than break from, the experience of the interwar period.

Similarly, the structure of the institutions to govern the postwar world can scarcely be interpreted as a departure from traditional patterns of inequality. The Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) closely reflect, in their voting arrangements as well as in other ways, the economic inequality of the participant states (an inequality that separated the United States from all other participants). In the structure of the United Nations Charter the reality of inequality is no less, despite the affirmation of the “equal rights . . . of nations large and small,” the pledge to respect “the sovereign equality of all the members of the United Nations,” and the voting provisions for the General Assembly. In the charter's original design of order the feature of fundamental importance is the practically exclusive power and almost unlimited discretion conferred upon the Security Council—that is, upon the great powers—in providing for international peace and security.

The charter afforded no assurance that the powers accorded the Security Council would be so employed as to give equal protection to all interests of all member states. The charter's design of order was made dependent on the condition that the great powers retain a basic identity of interests (a design which in itself clearly did not preclude acknowledgment of great-power spheres of influence). So long as this basic identity of interests was maintained, if the price of order was deemed by the great powers to necessitate the sacrifice of what otherwise would be regarded as the legitimate interests of states, there was little in the charter to prevent this sacrifice. Given the role and powers of the Security Council, the chief difference between the traditional balance-of-power system and the system of the charter is that the latter sought to make explicit and to legitimize what the former left rather obscure and never quite dared to legitimize.



If we are to find in the United Nations the principal institutional expression today of the demand for greater equality, we must do so in terms of what the organization has become and not in terms of what it was initially intended to be. The change from an instrument of the great powers to a forum for the new states to press their claims begins in the 1950's and coincides with events that suddenly gave the weak of the world unexpected significance. In part, this significance may be traced simply to the impact of the rapid decolonization that marked the years from the late 1940's through the early 1960's and to the very novelty of an international system that had achieved universality. Even in the absence of the cold war, this sudden appearance of a large number of new states would have aroused exaggerated expectations of their effect on world politics and, particularly, great-power relations. In part, however, what gave special significance to the emergence of these states was a bipolar power structure and a concomitant hemegonial conflict that soon became coextensive with what was for the first time a universal international system. The pervasiveness of the cold war was matched by its intensity. A characteristic feature of the conflict was the tendency to make almost any discrete issue into a symbol of the whole and to relate almost any conflict of interest to the underlying and ultimate conflict of interest.

In these circumstances, the states of the Third World took on an importance for the superpowers they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Although almost any feasible shift in the political allegiance of Third World states could not have decisively altered the respective power positions of the United States and the Soviet Union, it was nonetheless assumed that the global balance of power might well depend upon the ultimate disposition of the underdeveloped nations. In fact, once the cold war moved from Europe to Asia and to the Third World generally, conventional balance-of-power calculations became increasingly irrelevant to the major protagonists. What moved the latter was not so much a fear for their conventional security interests—though this fear was never absent—as a fear that they might become irrelevant to the majority of humanity comprising the Third World. It was this prospect of a diminishing influence that led to the vision (or nightmare), which persisted for more than a decade, of an America beleaguered in a hostile world that had chosen the example of Communism.

Although the cold war gave many of the states of the Third World a salience and leverage they would never otherwise have enjoyed, it also limited considerably their independence and freedom of action. Conversely, while the decline in intensity of the cold war after the mid-1960's increased the level of independence of these states, it did so largely because the great cold-war protagonists attached a decreasing significance to an interest they had earlier deemed crucial. In part, they did so simply for the reason that in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, and the dangers that crisis illuminated, they had partially and almost imperceptibly turned away from a view of their rivalry which previously had given it an almost completely hegemonic cast. In part, perhaps, they did so out of a sense of fatigue as well as out of a growing realization that the contest could not have a decisive outcome, particularly in the area that the cold war had increasingly centered on. The struggle over the status of the Third World had been primarily a struggle for political allegiance and influence, not territorial control or conquest. But the reliability of political allegiance and influence in the absence of more traditional means of control was increasingly placed in question. Thus what had once appeared as a vital and manageable stake in the cold war took on an elusive and questionable character.

It is not without irony that the decrease in the significance to the two great powers of the Third World states coincided with the rise in the demands of the latter for a greater measure of equality. Although by the middle to late 1960's the restraints imposed upon the states of the Third World by the cold war had clearly begun to recede, the burdens an increased measure of independence imposed upon political leaders of these states had just as clearly not receded. However persistent many Third World governments had been in their criticism of the cold war, the attention they had received as a result of that conflict had assuaged deep anxieties over their very viability as states. If the cold war restricted their freedom of action, it also gave them a much needed sense of importance and worth. This latter sense was probably of greater moment to governing elites than fears—real or simply professed—that the cold war threatened their independence, for despite the restraints it imposed, the cold war provided a psychic confirmation of independence.



In retrospect, then, the cold war may be seen as having afforded not only the occasion for an otherwise unexpectedly rapid decolonization but as having provided a marked stimulus to demands for greater equality on the part of the new and developing states. Nevertheless, the common view at the close of the 1960's was that the Third World formed, for the most part, an area of marginal significance in world politics. Even those who objected to this view, and to what they saw as its manifestations in the Nixon foreign policy, did so more out of hope that the developed and capitalist states might be induced to acknowledge a responsibility to improve the lot of the developing nations than out of conviction that the latter might somehow compel the former to do so. No doubt, this view was an exaggerated reaction to what appeared as an excessive preoccupation in the 1960's with the Third World, a preoccupation that was held largely responsible for the disastrous intervention in Vietnam. We had failed to see that the world—developed and underdeveloped alike—had become pluralistic. Although a pluralistic world might be far more complicated than the world of the classic cold war, it was nevertheless held to be a much safer world. Interpreted in essence as the triumph of nationalism, pluralism in the prevailing view meant that Communist expansion no longer carried the threat to America it once carried. Pluralism also meant that the prospect of Communist expansion had dramatically declined. With that decline, the importance of the Third World declined as well. Contrary to the radical explanation that we were in Vietnam because the greater stake in the conflict was access to indispensable raw materials on Western terms, the prevailing view was that we were in Vietnam because we had misunderstood the changes that had taken place in the world. Indeed, the argument went, we had never really understood the Third World at all. John Kenneth Galbraith summarized the new understanding of Third World states in these terms:

They are poor and rural. . . . For the appreciable future they will so remain. Even by the crudest power calculus, military or economic, such nations have no vital relation to the economic or strategic position of the developed countries. They do supply raw materials. But even here the typical observation concerns not their power as sources of such supply, but rather their weakness as competitive hewers of wood in the markets of the industrially advanced countries.1

With the advantage of hindsight, we can see what Galbraith passed over, that the supply of raw materials might not always be in excess of demand, that at least some of the “hewers of wood” might choose to combine rather than to compete, and—above all—that the heretofore weak might achieve a “vital relation” to the strong should the latter, for whatever reasons, prove unable or disinclined to make use of their strength. Moreover, this estimate of the relations between the developed and underdeveloped states not only underestimated the progress in development that marked the efforts of a number of Third World states; more importantly, it neglected the rising demands throughout the underdeveloped world for a greater measure of equality. During the trauma of Vietnam these demands had been, perhaps understandably, overlooked. In fact, the challenge to inequality had slowly but steadily gathered momentum throughout the 1960's. It had done so in international forums where the increasing acceptance of the “one state, one vote” rule gave the small and weak an influence they had never possessed in the traditional system dominated as it was by customary practices that reflected a consensus of the strong. On a number of significant issues requiring international agreement, novel constraints were thereby introduced by virtue of the need of the powerful to obtain legitimation of their interests through the consent of majorities often made up of Third World states. An emergent political equality has been attended by the demand for a greater measure of protection for the economic interests of the underdeveloped states and by the insistence that the historically disadvantaged be given preferential treatment. Nor have these claims fallen on deaf ears in the developed and capitalist states. Among Western elites, at any rate, many are responding, if not over-responding, to what they suddenly see as an urgent need to reduce international inequality, if for no other reason than that of vital self-interest rooted in an ever-growing interdependence.



What are the characteristics of the new egalitarianism that are expected to determine the future international system? In part, it is clear that the new egalitarianism resembles nothing so much as the old equality. If international society is on the threshold of a new era, it is not apparent in the commitment of the new states to an interdependence that precludes a freedom of action states have habitually claimed in the name of their sovereign equality. Westerners increasingly find a contradiction between the new egalitarianism, which is held to result largely from a growing interdependence, and the state's insistence upon its undiminished freedom of action, but the elites of the new states do not share this outlook. On the contrary, for the latter it is precisely the complete independence and sovereignty of the state that forms the most important—certainly the most emphasized—part of the new egalitarianism. It is the new states which with unwearying insistence have reiterated that the international order, based on the sovereign equality of states, must accord to every state the unrestricted right to determine its own course of political, economic, and social development. Thus the “full permanent sovereignty of every state over its natural resources and all economic activities,” to use the words of the UN General Assembly's 1974 Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, is an “inalienable right,” the exercise of which is not to be subject to any external “economic, political, or other types of coercion.” More generally, the principle of sovereign equality is interpreted to give every state the right to define its legitimate interests and, subject to limitations which remain uncertain, to take such measures as may be necessary for their defense. Save perhaps for the self-consciousness with which these claims to equality are made by the new states, there is little that is novel about them.

Nor is there any novelty in the insistent claim that the subjects of the new egalitarianism are states and states alone. There is no warrant for seeing in the new egalitarianism the precursor of a growing equality within states. The growth of equality among states may prove quite compatible with a continuing, even a deepening, inequality among individuals within states. Whatever the meaning we may give to the equality of states, the assumption that the consequences of state equality need not be clearly distinguished from their consequences for individual equality can only lead to confusion and worse. The almost wholly abortive attempts since World War II to secure the effective internationalization of basic human rights afford a clear illustration of the point at issue. To the extent that the human-rights movement has made any progress—and such progress has been minuscule—it is not unfair to say that it has been made despite the insistent assertion by states of their rights—among which the right of equality has been paramount. The central thrust of the claim to equality in international politics and law not only remains a claim to the equality of states, it is a claim that serves today—as in the past—to reaffirm the view of the state as the exclusive guardian of the interests of, and sole dispenser of justice to, the human beings who comprise it. This claim shows few signs of receding today. Certainly, the new egalitarianism in no way challenges it. If anything, the new egalitarianism has given this claim renewed strength.

In some respects, therefore, the new egalitarianism is little more than a refurbished version of the old equality which was quite compatible with almost any and all forms of inequality. In other respects, though, the new egalitarianism is indeed new. The powerful are not to employ their power, certainly not their military power, against the weak on behalf of interests whose defense would have evoked the threat or use of force only a short time ago. Intended primarily to deny the legitimacy of armed intervention in response to action a government may take within its territorial jurisdiction, the prohibition has also been extended to cover so-called issues of “global management” (e.g., conflicting claims over the use and exploitation of the oceans and space). At the same time, the developed states are to acknowledge a duty to assist the underdeveloped states in the great task of reducing the material disparities among them. The prevention of nuclear war apart, this task forms the most important purpose of the new international order. Here again, the Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order may be cited as representative of the new egalitarianism. The principal purpose of the new order, the Declaration reads, is to alter a system wherein the developing countries “which constitute 70 per cent of the world population, account for only 30 per cent of the world's income.” A substantial reduction of inequality in the global distribution of income forms the collective responsibility of the developed states. The framework within which this duty is to be implemented, however, must be one designed by the “whole international community,” the collective decisions of the community reflecting the principle of political equality.

The logic of the new egalitarianism therefore requires discrimination on behalf of the materially disadvantaged. This logic has been given expression in the preferential standard by which the developing countries, through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), have sought to replace the most-favored-nation standard. There is no question that the UNCTAD scheme is discriminatory. In place of equality of treatment between the rich and poor, UNCTAD substitutes a standard of equity. Its well-known rationale is that among developed nations equality of treatment (in the form of the most-favored-nation principle) is equitable, whereas among developed and underdeveloped nations equality of treatment is inequitable and, along with other consequences, promotes further inequalities of wealth. Among unequals, the undeveloped nations have argued, equality of treatment leads to discrimination in favor of the stronger. Hence the conclusion that the discrimination shown in favor of the weaker, by virtue of the preferential standard, is equitable because it serves to reduce inequality.


Are the claims of the new egalitarianism, as articulated by Third World spokesmen, to be taken seriously? I see no reason why they should not. It is easy to show that they often combine two different standards: one for the developed states of the North, another for a largely undifferentiated South (comprising the very poor states, the emerging class, and the nouveaux riches). Thus the insistence that every state has exclusive control over its own resources cannot logically be reconciled with the insistence that some states have a duty to share their resources with others. Whereas the former claim risks nullifying the basis for an “international welfare order,” the latter claim attempts to save such basis by proclaiming it the special duty of the favored few. It is for this reason that a detached, though not unsympathetic, Western observer of the new states' position can voice concern over the possibility that these states have “constructed needless barriers to some of their central needs for the future—namely the acceptance by more affluent states of some level of duty to transfer resources to other states to meet the direst material needs of great sections of mankind.”2 But logical consistency here could be maintained, and supposedly “needless barriers” removed, only by the concession in principle of a claim that responds to anxieties which are the result of a long history of domination and formal inequality. Rather than make such a concession, the new states find little difficulty in advancing logically inconsistent positions, or, more to the point, in insisting upon a double standard of conduct. Besides, this double standard can always be justified by invoking a past in which material disparities presumably arose because of what is seen as a double standard imposed on developing peoples.

If the claims of the new egalitarianism are not to be dismissed because they proclaim a double standard, they are also not to be dismissed because they gloss over divisions separating the countries of the South. The juxtaposition of Southern rhetoric with Southern realities has been undertaken many times. But what does the exercise prove apart from what we already know: that there are many conflicts of interest among the countries of the South and that, given normal expectations of state behavior, a number of these conflicts will persist and even deepen if for no other reason than as a result of markedly different rates of development? We did not need the oil crisis to demonstrate this, though it clearly has provided a very vivid demonstration. The devastating effects of current oil prices on many developing countries have been met with relative indifference by the major OPEC countries, thereby putting to rest the romantic notion that the new states would lead the way to humanity's moral regeneration. The most telling comment on this notion has come from a Senegalese official who is reported as having said about the world's response to the West African drought that while the United States “gives enough to allow itself an easy conscience,” the infinitesimal assistance given by rich fellow Muslims in the Arab countries indicates the latter “have not reached the state of conscience.”3

The oil crisis affords apparent vindication of the view that “the South” does not exist in the sense that it was widely seen to exist only a decade ago. At the same time, if the major OPEC countries have not set the kind of example that many vainly expected of them, the all-important point remains that to date thay have set an example that others will attempt to emulate, even though on a considerably more modest scale. Communal solidarity is not a prerequisite to common grievances that express themselves in claims to greater equality. Nor, for that matter, is the presence of conflicting interests a bar to the pursuit of interests that are still perceived as shared by most governments of the South. The rather disconcerting truth is that the reactions of Southern victims of present oil prices have been almost as astonishing in their way as the reactions of Northern victims. A large literature on what sociologists term “relative deprivation” would have led us to expect the Southern countries to show intense resentment toward the sudden riches and new status of the major OPEC states, and particularly in view of the lack of concern the latter have shown over the effects their actions have had on the world's poor. It may be a mixture of fear and hope that prevents this resentment from becoming manifest. Then again, however, it may be the persistence of grievances and interests that are still held in common despite feelings of resentment. To the extent that it is the persistence of commonly held grievances and interests, the response of the developed states to OPEC actions has clearly not served to discourage the claims of the new egalitarianism. If anything, this response has given such claims new impetus.



What is extraordinary about the contemporary challenge to international inequality is not so much the challenge itself, however, as the response it has elicited and the expectations it has generated among liberal elites in the developed and capitalist states. It is quite true that in theory at least liberalism has always been far more egalitarian than is commonly recognized, and that this egalitarianism did not stop at the boundaries of the state. Nor did liberalism rest with the promise of legal and political equality for those peoples that met the standards of civilization and, accordingly, were deemed capable of directing their own destiny. The liberal credo not only held out the promise of legal and political equality but the further promise that free trade, besides being proportionately beneficial to all, would promote a gradual equalization in international income distribution.

Even so, until very recently it would have seemed incongruous to hear from liberal lips that material inequality in international no less than in domestic life must be justified and that, at the least, such justification must fail if it does not encompass the provision of a minimum level of subsistence to all peoples. That a just society must insure a minimum subsistence for all is a principle accepted within most Western societies only in this century, and within the United States only in the past generation. Even now, the controversy over what constitutes minimum subsistence continues to evoke widespread and deep disagreement. That what has been accepted as a precept of justice only so recently within historic national societies may—indeed, must—also be regarded today as a precept of justice in international society deserves, one would think, to be treated with some skepticism.

The point remains that this response is increasingly taken for granted by Western elites. It is apparent in the view that finds a “logical inconsistency” in the disparity of effort made to alleviate poverty at home and abroad. It is equally apparent in the persuasion that not only the same moral case may be made for the redistribution of wealth among states as for such redistribution within states, but substantially the same peacekeeping case as well. The appeal of and need for greater global equality, it is held, must grow with the growing awareness of the vast gulf between conditions of domestic life (in developed societies) and those of international life. Thus the growth of equality within the state forms the precursor of the movement toward the growth of equality among states. In this view, the dynamic of equality cannot and will not be contained at the boundaries of the state. Reflecting the development of the more influential domestic societies, the world community will become a welfare community in roughly the manner that Western states have become welfare states.

Still, the question persists: what will induce the powerful in international society to yield what has only so recently and often so reluctantly been yielded in domestic society? Clearly, if the inequalities that have traditionally marked state relations are to decline, the institution that has afforded the primary means for maintaining inequality must also decline. The effective challenge to inequality requires, at the outset, that the more extreme forms of self-help—especially military force—no longer perform their time-honored functions. Provided that physical coercion of the weak by the strong has largely lost its former utility, as many now believe, nothing would appear to be of comparable moment in altering the hierarchical structure of international society. It is in the assumption that the rising material and moral costs of employing force now effectively inhibit—or very nearly so—the strong from resorting to force against the weak that we must find one of the root sources, if not the root source, of the challenge to inequality.

Nor is it reasonable to expect that a growing disutility of military power will have no effect on the economic power wielded by the strong. Although disparities in economic power remain in a world where military power is presumed to be increasingly at a discount, the effects of these disparities must surely be altered as well and in the same direction. Power may not be indivisible, but few would care to argue that though the utility of military power has markedly declined, there need be no devaluation in the efficacy of economic power. Recent experience has shown that even against a very small state, and one with a vulnerable economy, the effectiveness of economic coercion alone may prove surprisingly limited. In part, this is so for the evident reason that economic coercion permits the weak alternatives that physical coercion does not. Then, too, the limited effectiveness of economic coercion may in some measure be attributed to the same sources that limit the effectiveness of physical coercion. While the legitimacy of the former has not been subject to the same standards as has the latter, economic coercion has been called increasingly into question even when employed by the wealthy country to protect interests that are the result of undertakings the weaker (underdeveloped) state consented to.4 This argument draws added force once it is recognized that economic coercion can only have its full effects to the extent it leaves open the option of physical coercion. In this respect, it is quite understandable that many who reject serious economic confrontation in the oil crisis do so in part on the ground that this may lead eventually to military confrontation. Finally, as in the case of physical coercion, so in the case of economic coercion, the same argument will be, and has been, employed: the costs may well outweigh the gains, whether economic or political, in a world where the poor and weak have displayed increasing sensitivity to any form of coercion.

The erosion of military and, in some measure at least, economic power as instruments of the strong must clearly have, if continued, a profound impact on the hierarchical nature of international society. Even so, this erosion cannot of itself confer the kind of leverage needed to effect a significant redistribution of the world's wealth. The reduction of material disparities among states is affected by the new constraints on force largely to the extent that these constraints permit the weak to take measures within their territories that in an earlier day would have invited armed intervention. In this sense, a restricted scope afforded to forcible measures of self-help may diminish, and for one select group of countries spectacularly so, disparities in wealth. Yet it is only in this sense that the new constraints may do so. In consequence, their effects—again, the case of oil apart—would appear to be rather peripheral in reducing material disparities.

In a broader perspective, however, the leverage Third World states are expected to enjoy by virtue of their possession of natural resources indispensable to the industrialized states is only one feature of a more general vision in which the vulnerabilities of the strong will become increasingly apparent. The dependence of the rich on the raw materials held by the poor is only the most recent and dramatic manifestation of this vision. The vision would persist in the absence of concern over continued supply of raw materials at less than exorbitant prices. It is to be found in the repeated admonition that we cannot begin to solve the many environmental problems we face without the cooperation of the Third World states. It is also to be found in a host of economic issues other than natural resources—investments, markets, monetary reform, trade liberalization—in which the Third World is considered to have the power to “hold us up.”5


Still, it is not these and related issues that form the crux of the conviction that the present inequalities of nations—above all, material inequalities—must somehow be reduced. Instead, the essence of the challenge to inequality is the presumed danger that these inequalities hold out to international peace and stability. The power of the weak that is most to be feared, on this view, is the power to transmit misery in the form of chaos and war. Whether this transmission takes an active or a passive form is held to be less important than the vulnerability of the rich to whatever form it takes. We have become familiar with the metaphors that are intended to convey this sense of the vulnerability of the world's favored peoples to conditions that may one day prompt the less fortunate and their governments to desperate behavior. The United States, Samuel Huntington writes, “is a tenant occupying the largest, most elegant, most luxuriously furnished penthouse suite in a global apartment house.” As such we have “a clear interest in insuring that the structure as a whole is sound and that minimum conditions for decent human existence prevail in the building.”6 Robert L. Heilbroner puts the matter more generally, as well as more ominously, in these terms: “Even the most corrupt governments of the underdeveloped world are aware of the ghastly resemblance of the world's present economic conditions to an immense train, in which a few passengers, mainly in the advanced capitalist world, ride in first-class coaches, in conditions of comfort unimaginable to the enormously greater numbers crammed into the cattle cars that make up the bulk of the train's carriages.”7 Eventually, in the absence of a greater equality, the world's apartment house or train will be subject to dangers that may threaten all of the inhabitants or passengers. But it is the rich among them who are presumably the more vulnerable, if only for the reason that they have a great deal to lose.

Thus in what almost appears as a reversal of the “natural” order of things, it is the weak of the world who are considered to hold out grave peril to the strong. Moral obligation apart, it is the world's interdependence—indeed, its indivisibility—that compels us out of self-interest to reduce present material disparities between the world's rich and poor. The appeal to self-interest resulting from an inescapable interdependence need not and should not be understood only in the narrow sense of avoiding material injury. Even if the poor could be safely left to their suffering, the prospect of living in a prosperous enclave that is surrounded by a despairing world would prove unwelcome. More than that, it is argued, this prospect must eventually prove morally debilitating, especially given our awareness today of conditions from which it was once possible and rather easy to divert our attention.

It is in this manner that a view initially based upon calculations of self-interest moves almost imperceptibly to one based upon moral obligation. The sentiment of sympathy or pity may not appear in unalloyed form, but it is clearly there even though combined with anxiety over the actions to which the poor may finally be driven in the attempt to alter their condition. Since the same combination is a commonplace in arguments for greater equality today within Western societies, there is no cause for surprise that it should form the basis for appeals to reduce inequalities in international society. What is surprising is the rather casual manner with which a collective moral responsibility that encompasses humanity is increasingly viewed almost as self-evident.



The oil crisis enables us to see with a clarity we could not have before some of the consequences of the new egalitarianism. One consequence is that if permitted to run its logical course the new egalitarianism will lead, as it is leading today, to a growing disjunction between power and order, that is, to an international society in which the principal holders of power—at least among the developed and capitalist states—may no longer be the principal creators and guarantors of order. And since nature abhors a vacuum, the new equality is also likely to lead to an international system in which the relative power position of the Soviet Union will be considerably enhanced, for the Russians are neither dependent in any significant way on the new states nor disposed to view their claims in the manner of Western elites. The disjunction between power and order will accordingly be largely one-sided in its effects. Whether this prospective outcome is to be welcomed or decried is not at issue here. What is at issue is the problems it must raise to the degree it is realized.

There are many who will take exception even to this manner of formulating the consequences of the movement toward greater equality in international society, let alone to what they sense to be the implications of the formulation. Why speak of a growing disjunction between order and power, it will be asked, rather than of a changing power? Moreover, why speak of the principal possessors of power that are no longer the principal creators and guarantors of order, if it is admitted that order implies power? True, convention sanctions the loose usage whereby one speaks of power that is no longer usable or effective. This manner of speaking is misleading, however, since power that is no longer usable or effective is no longer power in any meaningful sense.

Thus, it is argued, no useful purpose is served by pointing to the markedly declining utility of traditional forms of power as creating a separation between power and order. What is happening instead is that a new and more egalitarian order is emerging, in part because a form of power that was once decisive and pervasive is no longer so, or, at any rate, no longer nearly so decisive and pervasive. On this view, then, to point to a growing disjunction between power and order betrays a retrogressive outlook and a yearning to return to the traditionally hierarchical system ordered primarily on the basis of relative military capability.

There is some merit to these considerations, if for no other reason than what may appear as order to one observer may yet appear as disorder to another. So it has always been, and we have no persuasive reason for believing contemporary judgments are somehow free of this perennial bias. Unless the concept of order is reduced to the mere effectiveness with which power—whatever its ingredients and application—secures such behavior as its holders ordain, there is an unavoidable element of preference implicit in all judgments on what constitutes order. If this is true with respect to civil society, it is for obvious reasons all the more true with respect to international society.

It is not these qualifications, however, that form the principal objection to the position which holds that there is a growing disjunction between power and order in state relations. Instead, objection centers on the alleged failure to recognize what Pierre Renouvin has termed the “underlying forces” at work in contemporary world politics. For it is these forces which are presumably constantly eroding the old order and the forms of power that maintained it. There is neither space nor need here to review once again what by now a large, and still burgeoning, literature has elaborated. Suffice it to say that an increasingly interdependent world is found to result from weapons that can no longer protect, let alone aggrandize, the state; from a technology that no longer permits the “separate” state; from transnational economic and social actors that have come to function largely independently of the state; and from a process of industrial growth which creates problems that cannot be resolved in isolation by the state. In almost all its variations, then, the theme of interdependence points to the state's growing loss of autonomy.

But what is of relevance in this context is not so much the state's loss of autonomy as the egalitarian implications this loss conveys. Marked inequality—certainly radical inequality—is seen to threaten an interdependent society for the reason that interdependence is considered but a synonym for vulnerability. A society made up of increasingly interdependent units is a society made up of increasingly vulnerable units. If the great moral imperative of the age is equality, as we are constantly told, an interdependent world that does not respond to this imperative is evidently a world with a very bleak future.

Interestingly, however, the by now pervasive theme of interdependence is only seldom applied to the Soviet Union (or, for that matter, China), and with good reason. By this very omission we may conclude that interdependence is largely irrelevant to the state that will assuredly continue to play a major, and increasing, role in world politics. For the purpose of conventional political analysis, this qualification alone may well be regarded as critical. Still, one need not press this point. The qualifications to interdependence are considerable even when kept to the rather abstract level its advocates appear to prefer. If in one sense modern weapons make all states vulnerable as never before, in another sense these weapons confer a security on their possessors that states seldom enjoyed in the past. If in one sense technology—particularly communications—no longer permits the “separate state,” in another sense technology gives the state making full use of it powers it previously rarely possessed. Moreover, the same technology that confers these powers also makes possible—at any rate, for the favored few—a policy akin to autarchy. It is of course the case that whether states pursue a policy of independence or interdependence, they must eventually face the problems attendant upon growth. But there is no compelling reason for believing these problems can only be resolved through the methods of interdependence and, indeed, there are a number of reasons for believing quite the contrary.


Even if one accepts the view of an ever-rising interdependence occurring at the expense of the state, the prospect of a growing disjunction between power and order is not thereby excluded. It is excluded only if one assumes that interdependence itself is largely constitutive of order and that this order is self-maintaining, at least in the sense that its maintenance does not depend upon the threat or use of physical coercion. In fact, however, such interdependence as we have in international society today, while creating the need for a greater measure of order, provides no assurance this need will be met, whether by a supposedly declining state or by some alternative institution (s). Indeed, if the state is being slowly but surely drained of its autonomy, as the believers in interdependence would have it, then in the absence of effective alternative political institutions, what order international society has heretofore enjoyed must be jeopardized. Surely the order of the past generation must be jeopardized, since the state that has presided over it is presumably no longer capable of doing so.

If the interdependence advocates do not see matters in this light, it is because they do assume that interdependence itself is largely constitutive of order, that an interdependent world must establish its own set of rules and constraints, and that this order does not include force, the ultima ratio that characterized and defined the traditional system. Obviously, the new system will still be one largely dominated by self-help. What else could it be in the absence of supranational institutions? But the self-help of interdependence will show a far more benign face than the self-help of the traditional system, and it will do so because the threat or use of force is destructive of interdependence. Is this apparent circularity of the argument a fundamental flaw? No, provided a sufficiently high value is attached by all participants to those consequences held to follow from interdependence.

To be sure, the more cautious prophets of the new order of interdependence readily concede that the emergence of this order is both complicated and threatened by the persistence of “obsolete” forms of power (and, of course, by the persistence of equally obsolete attitudes that have yet to adjust to the requirements of an interdependent world). But this admitted tension between the old and the new is seen as unavoidable in a period of transition. It can, and in all likelihood will, be overcome as the forces of interdependence continue to erode the already weakened position of the state.

What is the basis for believing that this tension between the old and the new will be resolved in favor of the new? It will not do to respond by pointing once again to “underlying forces” the significance of which are, as noted, quite ambiguous. At best, these forces leave one on uncertain grounds and, if anything, suggest that the tension, rather than being resolved in favor of the new, may only become more pronounced. If this is so, it serves to strengthen the view of a growing disjunction between power and order with all that this disjunction must portend. Even in the new order of interdependence, it seems only reasonable to assume that conflicts of interest will arise and that, as the oil crisis has demonstrated, a growing interdependence will itself be productive of many very serious conflicts of interest. How will such conflicts be resolved if the traditional means for resolving them are to be neither employed nor meaningfully threatened? To respond that the means of conflict resolution will increasingly approximate the means of resolving conflicts within the; state) assumes a degree of consensus international society has not known in the past and clearly does not know at present. But this in turn assumes a formative agent of consensus—and, indeed, of conscience—that heretofore at least has invariably been the state (and not, as a still regnant liberal outlook insists, an elusive “society”).



If we are plainly not already in a consensual world, is there plausible reason to believe that we are moving toward one? Interdependence cannot of itself provide such reason, since it is as much a source of conflict as of consensus, if not more. Can development provide what interdependence cannot provide? Many apparently think so and find in the very universality of commitment to the cause of development the consensus that may serve as the foundation of a new order. But the issues that interdependence raises are also in large measure the issues development must raise, however widespread the approval development elicits in principle. This is so if only for the reason that the commitment to development, if taken at all seriously, is evidently a commitment to a greater measure of equality. Although development may and does mean many things, one thing it surely means to its legions of supporters is a world in which material disparities will be less marked than they are at present. No doubt, those who go so far as to equate development with equality exaggerate. The exaggeration is a pardonable one, however, in view of the importance equality occupies in the development imperative.

Unless we assume that the greater measure of global equality expected to attend development will result from the indigenous efforts of the developing countries themselves, the development of the latter evidently entails a steady and very substantial transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor countries. Is it reasonable to expect such transfer to occur voluntarily as a consequence of some transcendent consensus on the desirability of development? It would not seem so. Certainly, it would not seem so if we take as our point of reference the only experience we have. Within major Western democratic states, the efforts that have been made to achieve a greater measure of socioeconomic equality have met with considerable resistance, and this despite their relative modesty in both intention and result. Yet these efforts have been undertaken within nation-states that have a long history and enjoy some measure of cohesiveness and solidarity.

The paradox, and the difficulty, attending all movements toward achieving greater equality are that in large measure they must presuppose the very conditions they seek to achieve. The great end ultimately sought through equality is fraternity, in Tawney's expression, the society of fellowship. Yet the achievement of this end remains unattainable without that preexistent measure of cohesiveness and solidarity which safeguards against the conflicts that demands for greater equality raise, conflicts that may well prove destructive of fellowship. No major Western state has yet managed to resolve this paradox satisfactorily, and for the reason that none has enjoyed the moral resources, the degree of consensus and sympathy, requisite for its resolution. Instead, the quest for equality has been met by the promise of equal opportunity, by the expectation that everyone's material condition may be constantly improved through growth, and by the recognition that everyone must at least be insured a minimal level of subsistence. Whether one regards this record as commendable or deplorable, a substantial realization of equality or a betrayal of it, is not at issue here. Of relevance is the point that this, in rough approximation, is the historic response Western democratic states have made to demands for greater equality. In part, this response—the provision of a minimal standard of subsistence—was made only after a relatively high level of development had been achieved. Even so, its recognition has come slowly and, to many, quite inadequately.

If this experience has any relevance for the problem of global inequality, we can only expect that the development imperative, whatever the degree of consensus it elicits in principle, will in reality provide an acute and continuing source of conflict. Given the notorious lack of cohesiveness and solidarity of international society, the demand to reduce present disparities of income and wealth would prove productive of conflict even in quite favorable circumstances. For even in quite favorable circumstances, international economic relationships would still be relationships of equity with their clearly redistributive overtones. Moreover, the prime movers in the demand for equality will be states. Is there reason to expect that the claims of underdeveloped states to greater equality will be moderated with a steady improvement in their standards of living? Here again, if the experience of domestic society is at all relevant, the answer cannot prove comforting in its implications for international conflict.

It is a well-known theme of conservatives that the issue of equality grows more acrimonious and demands for greater equality more insistent as the poor begin to improve their living standards and to see the possibilities heretofore hidden from them. But the theme also happens to be borne out by experience, and candid egalitarians have always acknowledged, while defending, the growth of resentment against inequality that attends the growth of equality. It is one of the great egalitarians of the century who wrote that the determination to end disabilities deemed needless and advantages deemed preferential “has its source, not in material misery, but in sentiments which the conquest of the grosser forms of poverty has given room to grow.”8 Recently, a champion of greater global equality has warned in unequivocal terms against the belief that a modest rise in living standards among the underdeveloped nations will moderate their claims and thereby promote a world with less conflict.9 Nor is the reason for the sharpened intolerance of inequality that attends the growth of equality to be found simply in the sentiments that rising expectations bring, sentiments which readily make remaining inequalities appear intolerable. In part, this rising determination to end inequality is to be explained by the conviction that the position of the privileged is no longer secure once concessions have been wrested from them by whatever means. The significance of this conviction will of course vary according to circumstances. In international society it is bound to prove quite significant, given the circumstances normally marking the concession of interests by states—let alone the concession of vital interests. It was entirely to be expected that the major OPEC states should view the manner in which concessions were wrung from the developed and capitalist states as indicative of a power position no longer secure. And it is to be expected that if the latter states continue to behave as they have behaved to date, the former, acting on this view, will press for a still greater measure of “equality.”

These considerations suggest that the development process—as interdependence—holds out the promise of far more conflict than consensus, and this even accepting the assumption of relatively open-ended growth. It is this assumption that provided the foundation for Western-inspired postwar development programs, just as it is this assumption that accounted for the optimism placed in these programs. Given a moderate amount of competence and will on the part of governments of developing countries, a convergence of per-capita growth rates was expected to result in the not-too-distant future from modest aid infusions and technology transfers. Convergent per-capita growth rates, in turn, would eventually lead to per-capita income levels that, if not equalized globally, would still exceed the levels of income prevailing at the time in the developed states.

This view persists in some quarters even today, but it is clearly a rapidly declining faith. Population growth alone has dealt it a very severe blow. The goal of converging per-capita growth rates has been moved from the not-too-distant to the indefinite future and levels of per-capita income once entertained have simply been abandoned. In the meantime, disillusionment within Western countries over the results of development efforts in many Southern states has been met by rising resentment of the poor over what is seen as a commitment by the rich that is at once no more than of token significance and yet increasingly unbearable for the interventionist pressures it is often felt to bring.

In retrospect, it is apparent that the favored solution for international inequality was a variation of the favored solution for domestic inequality. Even if the rather elusive, though ubiquitous, “gap” was not substantially closed, it would not matter terribly, it was believed, if the standard of living of all rose dramatically. This proposition is far from self-evident, again as domestic experience has shown. What Charles Frankel has observed in the domestic context (“a man does not have to be poor to be disadvantaged; he merely needs to be poorer than somebody else”) may prove no less relevant in the international context.

At any rate, the favored solution of an open-ended growth process has been called into question and, in consequence, the faith that found in development the promise of a new order has been shaken. For the appearance of constraints on growth changes the entire setting in which development and the reduction of global inequalities were to have taken place. What once appeared as not only a plausible but a painless goal no longer does so. Nor is it enough to respond that present constraints on growth will not prove to be lasting, that what we are confronted with is a short-to-medium term problem likely to be resolved, depending upon the particular constraint, over the next ten to thirty years. The long term may produce catastrophe. On the other hand, the long term may find solutions to problems that appear next to insoluble today. We cannot know. But it is not the long term that concerns us. It is the near term, for that is the only term statecraft responds to, if indeed it responds to that.



Given the circumstances likely to prevail in the near term, the need for order will not prove less but greater than in the past. It will prove greater because interdependence creates relationships and development gives rise to claims which, if not somehow resolved, may easily lead to chaos. The oil crisis strikingly illustrates this need without affording any assurance it will be met. If anything, the course of the crisis to date indicates that it may well not be met. If it is not, the reason will be that the strong among the developed and capitalist states are no longer willing to enforce the order of the past, while the weak who have challenged this order are in-capable of creating a new order. Even so, the failure to enforce the order of the past will still mean, on balance, the relinquishment of interest by the strong.

Is it plausible to expect this anomalous situation to persist? If not quite plausible, it is still possible, if only for the reason that this situation will remain critically dependent upon political and moral perceptions which may yet transform today's possibility into tomorrow's reality. To be sure, these perceptions are not of equal moment. Nor are they directly relevant to each and every conflict of interest between the developed and capitalist states of the North and the states of the South. Moreover, they are identified much more with elite groups in the North than with the publics at large. Still, their general significance today for the response the new egalitarianism has evoked cannot be in serious doubt. Implicit throughout the preceding discussion, they are: a rising disinclination to use or to threaten force, whether from the belief that force is no longer expedient or from the conviction that force is no longer a legitimate instrument or, more likely, from a combination of the two; an exaggerated view of the sources of strength of the Third World which is, in large measure, a function of the view that the developed states are in many respects highly vulnerable; a persuasion that growing interdependence is threatened by inequalities which, if allowed to persist, will result in generalized chaos or war; a commitment generally to reducing international inequalities, though without a clear idea of—or, for that matter, interest in—the effects a redistribution of wealth would have on the redistribution of world power; and, finally, a sense of guilt over a past for which we are now thought to be paying the inevitable price.

It is against this outlook that the response to OPEC actions may largely be understood. This response could scarcely condemn the ends presumably sought by the oil-producing states, for these are the very ends (interdependence, equality, development) to which Western liberals have long been committed. It may of course be argued that however unexceptionable the professed ends sought by OPEC states, the means employed to these ends are to be condemned. But such condemnation is less than persuasive if it is made simply on the ground that the present oil price is an administered price of a cartel. Quite apart from the consideration that pre-OPEC oil prices were also the administered prices of a cartel, the prices of a number of industrial goods developing states must import are, in effect, administered prices. If the OPEC oil price today were one-third its actual price, it is doubtful that much weight would be given to the fact that the price is administered by an oil-producer cartel. It is very late in the day for Western liberals to object to price-fixing simply because it is undertaken by states. Equally, it is very late to object to international transfers of wealth which result from state action when the need for a positive role for the state in the form of aid-giving has long been taken for granted.

It is another matter to condemn the means to otherwise laudable—or, at the very least, unobjectionable—ends because of the effects these means have on others. Although OPEC actions affect both the rich and the poor, it remains the case that the effects are very different. The rich, if they are lucky, may only be made marginally poorer. The outlook for the poor is of a different order. Suppose, however, that the major OPEC states were to show an unexpected degree of wisdom and self-restraint and to offer the poor states a concessional price for oil. Suppose, further, that the Arab oil producers decided to share a very substantial portion of their huge revenues with their Arab brothers and to grant large loans on soft terms to predominantly Muslim countries. In these circumstances, what petrodollars might remain for recycling in the West would be modest and of manageable proportion. Indeed, the price of oil levied on the developed-country importers might be markedly raised. What would the objection be, then, to the actions of the oil exporters? Clearly, objection would have to be taken simply to the sheer magnitude of the transfer of resources involved. Yet this would prove no easy case for Western liberals to make. Though perhaps still objecting to the means, their objection would seem almost trivial when set alongside the approved ends.


Since these circumstances do not obtain, those committed to the new. egalitarianism are saved from having to face the consequences of their commitment. The point remains that the oil crisis is the clearest indication we have to date of the way the new egalitarianism may be expected to work if given free rein. It is not easy, however, to see it being given free rein in the future. A political-moral outlook that once proved not only relatively costless but congenial to our interests is bound to be challenged once it is apparent that if acted upon the result will mean a world over which we will have decreasing control at increasing cost. For if a large portion of Western liberal elites finds no more difficulty in distinguishing between the United States and Bangladesh than it does between California and Mississippi, it is safe to say that the general public continues to find a great deal of difficulty and that democratic governments will continue to prove responsive to the distinction the public draws between its collective welfare and the welfare of those outside the state.

There are even reasons for believing that this distinction may be drawn more sharply in the future than in the recent past. One reason, paradoxically enough, is the growing demand for greater equality within many of the developed states. That in America this demand may be expected to mount in intensity is forecast alike by champions and critics of equality.10 Yet a more egalitarian America need not mean a greater willingness to reduce global inequalities of wealth, and this all the more so to the extent that egalitarianism takes place within the cultural and value setting of “traditional” America.11 In these circumstances, a case may be made for an America that shows no more, and perhaps even less, disposition than today to concern itself with poverty abroad. We may expect that those experiencing improved material well-being will, despite their improvement, insist upon defining “needs” in terms of “wants.” This being so, the demands for further material improvement are, if anything, likely to increase. These considerations, moreover, are only underlined by the prospect that industrial growth within the developed countries may decline in the years ahead, however modestly. For even a modest slowdown in industrial growth will intensify the problem of equality for domestic societies whose social stability is so centrally dependent upon economic expansion.

In retrospect, the present concern over reducing disparities of wealth among the developed and underdeveloped nations may yet appear not as the beginning of a new era but as a brief interlude that is followed by a restoration of attitudes not essentially dissimilar from those which preceded it. This is not to say that traditional patterns of inequality will be or should be restored. It is to say that the claims of the new egalitarian-ism will either be moderated or we will have a period which by comparison will make the postwar period seem almost benign.



1 John Kenneth Galbraith, “Plain Lessons of a Bad Decade,” Foreign Policy (Winter 1970-71), p. 37.

2 Julius Stone, Of Law and Nations, p. 361.

3 New York Times, November 10, 1974, p. 34.

4 It serves no useful purpose here to enter into extended discussion of what constitutes “consent” as between parties greatly unequal in power. If the fact of inequality per se is held to invalidate the consensual nature of an undertaking, then almost any bilateral agreement between developed and underdeveloped countries may be regarded as devoid of validity. An apparently more plausible attack on the validity of agreements entered into between the rich and the poor holds that the test must turn on exploitation rather than inequality per se. In fact, the alternative turns out to reveal almost as many difficulties as the test it replaces.

5 Cf. C. Fred Bergsten, “The Threat Is Real,” Foreign Policy (Spring 1974), pp. 84 ff.

6 Samuel P. Huntington, “Foreign Aid: For What and For Whom,” Foreign Policy (Spring 1971), pp. 130-31.

7 Robert L. Heilbroner, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, p. 39.

8 R. H. Tawney, Equality, p. 225. Of course, what constitutes “needless disabilities” and “preferential advantages” varies with the growth of equality itself.

9 Gunnar Myrdal, “The World Poverty Problem,” Britannica Book of the Year 1972, p. 34.

10 For the former, see Herbert J. Gans, More Equality. For the latter, Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. Gans writes (p. xii) that “more equality must come because Americans favor it and because America cannot function in the long run without more equality.” Bell finds (p. 425) the redefinition of equality—from equality of opportunity to equality of result—“the central value problem of post-industrial society.”

11 As Herbert J. Gans is so persuaded. He writes that egalitarianism in the future America “will not be based on altruism,” that “it will be individualistic,” and that “it does not presuppose that people are ready to stop competing for material or nonmaterial gain.” More Equality, pp. xvi, 25.


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