Monday, January 10, 2011

Essays on English School of International Relations: Hedley Bull (4 of 7)


I will answer one of the posited questions stated in the course outline, this is “to what extent does Bull’s conception of international society comply with the contemporary international relations?” The question gives me an impression of (un)certain putative degree or level about the compliance of Bull’s international society to the current milieu of international relations. We should first analyze what is the definition of international society for Hedley Bull[i]. He defined it “when a group of states conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions.”[ii] This is different when he meant for system of states which according to him is “formed when two or more states have sufficient contact between them, and have sufficient impact on one another’s decisions, to cause them to behave - at least in some measure - as parts of a whole.”[iii] I would also add from Dr. Yurdusev lecture that a system is when a state takes into consideration of the other state – be they existence, actions, or recognitions.
     It is difficult to decipher if Bull’s conception of international society complies or not to the contemporary (practice of) international relations or to what extent it comply because of the tensions and contradictions purported by Bull himself. Though I would contend that he is finding a middle way between realism and cosmopolitanism. Bull’s argued that there were universal goals of social life, that are, to secure life from violence, to ensure promises will be kept and to ensure that the possession of things will remain stable, these goals set the primary goals of international society. These were preservation of the system and of the society of states itself, maintaining the independence or external sovereignty of individual states, maintaining peace (or peace in the absence of war), limitation of violence, keeping of promises, and rules of property.[iv]
     If these were the goals then what are the courses or operationalizations to attain the goals of an international society? Bull did not give a direct bulleted courses or operations to attain the goals of his conception on international society instead he laid down functions of integral components of the contemporary international system. Functions of balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war and great powers were outlined in the book “The Anarchical Society.” I do not think that these functions can help me sort out if his international society complies with the contemporary international relations. Detailing the functions or even redefining the elements that composes the international society to fit to what he has conceptualized does not mean that it can be relegated as operations or courses for states to achieve an international society. Thus I would argue that these are just guidelines for states and not instructions imposed unto them. It is still within the prerogative of the state whether she will comply with the guidelines set by Hedley Bull. With this I mean that a scholar is making suggestions on what courses of actions should a state undertake, and not the other way around where a scholar is part of the government mission or an advisor like Henry Kissinger et al. This is still much debatable whether the advancement of scholarship or learning of a scholar should be utilized by the government in order to color a certain political agenda.
     Let us now analyze Bull’s definition of international society concomitant to what extent does it complies with the contemporary international relations. By this I meant the practice of international relations and not the discipline itself. He started the definition with ‘when a group of states conscious of certain common interests and common values’: my question here is how can you instill or trigger consciousness to a group of people (this also bothers me about what does he mean by a group of people – is it with common culture, language, traditions, norms and/or ethnical, racial or religious bounded) is it by following a certain identical pattern(s) of ideology(ies) or belief(s) or a lineage or pedigree of sense of belongingness to one’s own values and interests. The certainty of common interests and common values is to me an uncertain panacea. The second predicate of his definition is to ‘form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions’; existing consciousness of certain common values and interests does not necessarily lead them to form a society which is bounded by set of rules and institutions. There will always be pressures, conflicts and clashes among a group of people in every trajectory or projection of how they see themselves and how they see (perceive) the world.
     The only thing (if I could use this term) that I can see nearer to but not epitomizes his conception of international society is the European Union (EU) while all other regional and international organizations are far or have not committed nor complied to the standard of his international society. Even inside EU we cannot avoid the fact that there are pathologies (vulnerabilities and weaknesses) and parochial interests besetting the organization. From the parochial interests of different subgroups, rationality of individual actors to the striving sectional interests groups contributed to the intrinsic complexity of the society. When the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, did this country even acknowledged a little bit or sense of Bull’s idea. If I remember it correctly, it was in the lecture of Dr. Yurdusev that he said: “Bull’s last article condemned the two great powers, the US and Russia, for their horrendous irresponsibility which escalated a chaotic world and did not care about the plight of the third world.” Furthermore, his thesis is inapplicable to Middle East which was highly and deeply penetrated region from different interests of major powers in the world since the inception of the first (alternative) Middle East state.
     You cannot even rely to the attainments of his goals for an international society when even states killed its own citizens, look what happened in Rwanda, in Bosnia (Srebrenica) and now in Darfur, Sudan. How about the distinct varied cultures of Asia, South America and Africa that don’t want to be subdued to Western values? The Palestinian, Chechen, Kurdish and Moro (Southern Philippines) problems, questions in the Basque, Kuriles, Cyprus, Kashmir, Spratly and Sabah territories and low politics issue areas, e.g., environmental challenges (climate change, global warming, deforestation, desertification and toxic wastes), energy/water crisis, rapid population ageing, refugees/internally displaced persons, transnational crimes (human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, piracy, and small arms smuggling), food security (GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms), and weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical and radiological weapons). These are just some, if not all, burdens that the contemporary international relations encounter. So I am not shock if one day there will be World War III but hopefully all the means and ways must be done to prevent this catastrophic event.  


[i] There is one good source, a tribute to Hedley Bull about his life and ideas before he died. The book is so concise yet presents a comprehensive accounts and details of his world view and schema but of course with critical perspectives from the authors. This is the edited book of J.D.B. Miller and R.J. Vincent’s “Order and Violence: Hedley Bull and International Relations” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
[ii] Hedley Bull, “The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics” (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, p. 13)
[iii] ibid, p. 9.
[iv] Another online source that reviewed the book can be found here.