International intervention and the failure of the West
Author: Philip Cunliffe

Liberal cosmopolitanism promised a humane and progressive vision of global reform and improvement, in contrast to the terrible utopian projects of the twentieth century. Yet the efforts to globalise human rights and democracy through force have subverted the liberal international order and produced a new type of cosmopolitan dystopia, in the form of permanent war, jihadist insurrection and a new paternalism embodied in transnational protectorates and the paradigm of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. Cosmopolitan Dystopia explains how this came about through the rise of humanitarian exceptionalism. The book argues that humanitarian exceptionalism saw humanitarian emergencies as opportunities to develop deeper forms of human solidarity that went beyond nation states, thereby necessitating military responses to each new crisis. This in turn helped to normalise permanent war. As the norm and exception have collapsed into each other, the rules-based order envisioned in traditional liberal internationalism has corroded away. Efforts to embed humanitarian exceptionalism into the international order have undermined the classical liberal ideal of self-determination, with the spread of protectorates and a new paternalist legitimisation of state power in the ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ paradigm.

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The rise of cosmopolitan dystopia
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter lays out the theme of cosmopolitan dystopia, and shows that the most direct and concrete embodiment of the failure of global cosmopolitanism was expressed in the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. The Introduction explains that the counter-utopianism built into the structure and functioning of cosmopolitan human rights means that cosmopolitanism is reactive rather than transformative, with the result that humanitarian politics is trapped in a loop of responding to humanitarian emergencies with military force. Incapable of transcending the existing political order, efforts at melioration succeed only in eroding that order. The end result of these cumulative military interventions is a decayed liberal international order and a cosmopolitan dystopia of permanent war across the Greater Middle East.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter considers various accounts offered for the challenges confronting liberal international order today, and finds them wanting. It is argued that the most militarily aggressive and revisionist states over the thirty years since the end of the Cold War have been the status quo states of the West, not ‘emerging powers’ such as Russia or China. It is Western states that have repeatedly used force to reshape the international order as well as adapting international organisation to suit their new humanitarian outlook. This cuts against the expectations of International Relations theory regarding the origin of revisionist challenges to international order, and requires explanation. As this new form of liberal revisionism arises from the status quo states rather than outside them, this type of behaviour is called ‘inverted revisionism’.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
The new critics of intervention
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter considers existing critiques of the post-Cold War era of the ‘new interventionism’. The strengths and weaknesses of these various accounts are explored, ranging from English School pluralism through legal defences of non-intervention rooted in the UN Charter, and political realist defences of international order and grand strategy, to those who argue that intervention has transformed the international order. Each of these various critiques is found wanting, either in its explanatory power or in its normative implications, or both. The critique offered in this chapter motivates the search for a more consistent account of liberal interventionism and its specific features.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter considers how influential strains of theorising in International Relations have fed what is described as a ‘vulgar Leninism’, in which the basic problems of the contemporary international order are distorted and misconstrued. Instead of imperial rapacity, this chapter argues that it is imperial failure that must be explained. Alternatives to intervention and empire, such as state-building, are also considered and shown not to get around the problems posed by the need for self-determination. The new form of state authority emerging from the era of permanent intervention is considered, its paradigmatic statement being the doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). It is argued that to do proper justice to this paradigm it needs to be considered not purely as an international norm or emerging form of law, but rather as a theory of state. Once analysed like this, it becomes apparent that this doctrine embodies a paternalist legitimisation of state power that cuts against ideas of representative government in favour of simply providing security. It is shown that the implications of this new paradigm are even more authoritarian than the traditional Hobbesian accounts of state power.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
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The politics of humanitarian exceptionalism
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter uses a conceptual framework developed by Jef Huysmans to show how political exceptionalism transforms the character of liberal internationalism, with the result that humanitarian emergency is seen as a permanent condition of international order, necessitating the institutionalised and recurrent use of global military force. As a result, international institutions have been restructured around destructive anti-diplomacy and a new form of law as embodied in human rights doctrine. The chapter begins by justifying the application of exceptionalism to international politics, despite the fact that it is more commonly used in relation to domestic politics. In this framework of international exceptionalism, military force to rescue imperilled humanity is taken to represent a higher vision of solidarity, superior to a world of state-based interests, institutions and egotistical national politics. This explains specific characteristics of the global humanitarian order, in which political pluralism is suppressed in favour of a cosmopolitan monism, and the superpower claims limitless and universal jurisdiction.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
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Waiting for the Americans
Philip Cunliffe

This chapter offers concluding thoughts regarding humanitarian exceptionalism. It is argued that liberal interventionism has globalised political infantilism, and so undercuts the aspiration to political self-reliance and autonomy, as well as amplifying the conceits of US global leadership as the ‘indispensable nation’, luring the US and its Western allies into thinking that international order is easily malleable. The result has been enormously destructive. It is argued that the problem has not been the instrumentalisation of human rights, but the fact that they embody the ideology of permanent war and political paternalism.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia