Machiavelli’s lesson remains valid: the new order has lukewarm defenders as those who will benefit from it remain uncertain, while the old order has staunch defenders among those who already derive certain benefits from it, Dario Velo writes.
The European experience, in the centuries between the discovery of America and the Second World War, saw an alternation between hegemonic attempts by the most powerful state during that time period and the re-establishment of an international balance.
The states that pursued hegemonic attempts include Spain, France and Germany. The state that played a central role in bringing the international system back into balance was Great Britain. The script was basically repetitive; the actors have changed, but the logic which developed during these different phases has been constant.
This presents a question of whether the historical European experience is destined to repeat itself on a global level, mutatis mutandis, so as to allow us to predict, as an interpretative hypothesis, the developments of a new international order.
One of the most important historians of the twentieth century, Ludwig Dehio, has studied European events in depth, grasping the alternation between hegemonic attempts and the affirmation of balance, enriching his analysis by inserting in European events the role played by third countries, which have contributed to restore balance, gradually gaining power in the international order.
Dehio’s analysis shows how European countries have encountered increasing difficulty in restoring balance; this has made it necessary to increasingly appeal to third countries. An international order increasingly open to the participation of new countries was the outcome.
The Second World War marked a historic modification of this script. The Nazi hegemonic strategy surpassed all precedents in violence and military capacity. Great Britain, which initially stood alone to face the Nazi hegemonic strategy, sacrificed the empire it had built over the centuries by bringing the countries closest to it into play. The decisive turning point to restore the balance would take place with the entry into the war of the United States and the Soviet Union, which would become the real winners of the conflict.
The hegemonic strategy born within the European framework would no longer be defeated by an alliance between European states headed by Great Britain, as in the past. The role of third countries would be incomparably greater. The new international order that would emerge with the end of the conflict would be dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. The end of colonialism would lay the foundations for affirming the role of Third World countries in the international order. Destroyed Europe would have to build for itself a new role in the international order.
The alternation between hegemonic strategy and the restoration of balance has characterised the European framework for centuries. It is legitimate to ask whether the impetuous development that took place after the Second World War made a few decades enough to exhaust the international order established after the war, paving the way for a new equilibria. Such an acceleration of change represents a historical novelty, to such an extent as to support the belief that it is already necessary to immediately reflect on how to conceive a new order.
Historical processes are fuelled by real phenomena which, generally, develop gradually until they lead to change.
Often these phenomena are not perceived until they produce leaps in continuity. Then symbolic events assume importance, which require us to become aware that “something is changing”.
On the occasion of the conflict in Ukraine, a motion condemning the Russian Federation was voted on in the UN and was approved with a large majority, with three quarters of the votes in favour; the votes against and the abstentions represented a small minority, about a quarter of the total votes. It was not immediately understood that this minority represented over 50% of the world’s population and was made up of the countries that are developing at the fastest pace economically and militarily, with a coherent strategic approach.
This vote testifies that a new international order has begun to take shape, for now without taking on a precise connotation. The international institutions founded during the post-war period are finding it difficult to implement these changes; the modifications of their governance necessary to implement the changes that are emerging ever more clearly in the international order are destined to meet with the opposition of the countries that today have a pre-eminent position. Machiavelli’s lesson remains valid: the new order has lukewarm defenders as those who will benefit from it remain uncertain, while the old order has staunch defenders among those who already derive certain benefits from it.
The changes in the international order that have characterised European history in recent centuries have experienced diplomatic regulation with the Treaty of Westphalia. This precedent is significant, also in that it could inspire solutions to ensure today the birth of an international order capable of reducing the risk of conflicts which could be devastating in the age of nuclear weapons.
The Treaty of Westphalia constitutes a fundamental chapter in modern history. The treaty ended the Thirty Years War which had ravaged Europe. European statesmen identified the balance of power and the limitations on its exercise as a guarantee of order and security.
The application of the Westphalia peace agreement principles should have stopped attempts to undermine the current order, thanks to the formation of coalitions capable of acting as a counterweight.
The Thirty Years War had been devastating, also because it was animated by religious aspects, the clash between Catholics and Protestants. With modern terminology we could interpret this clash by ascribing to the sides two irreconcilable ideological visions.
The Treaty of Westphalia brought the clash between the contenders back to a secular dimension, the struggle for power; a dimension that allowed diplomacy to regain its role.
The fundamental ambition of the Treaty of Westphalia and its potential relevance can be identified as a long-term attempt to interrupt the traditional script of history, which pits emerging countries against declining ones. The latter have always resorted to war to block growth for emerging countries, before the balance of power tips in favour of emerging countries.
Many commentators, including Henry Kissinger, have interpreted the wars fought by the United States on China’s borders as an attempt to contain the affirmation of this emerging power. This interpretation refers to the Treaty of Westphalia, however with differences that should not be underestimated. A profound difference separates the era of the Treaty of Westphalia from the present era.
At the time, the Treaty sanctioned a European order and a world order at the same time; this derived from the centrality that Europe had at the time. The statesmen of the time assumed that the solutions valid for Europe would automatically extend to the international community.
That’s not the case today. A “New Treaty of Westphalia” constitutes an objective that can be pursued on condition that it defines what content it must have in order to correspond to the conditions in force. Of crucial importance would be the definition of which countries should have the responsibility to promote a “New Treaty of Westphalia” and to ensure its implementation.
The European Union has a responsibility to play a crucial role.
New specific treaties are called for to renew the existing international institutions, within the general framework of the project of a new international order. Existing international institutions are in trouble as a result of an original limitation; they were born after the war as part of a US initiative and were shaped by the United States, which felt obliged to act in the interest of all humanity, thanks to the superiority of their democratic system and their vocation for peace and the resulting solidarity by the Founding Fathers, who emigrated from Europe in search of a promised land.
All US Presidents from the 20th century onwards, with different language but with the same spirit, have claimed for the United States an exceptional role in the world, to represent good. The American model was to be applied to the whole world as a better one, not as support for a hegemonic power. The role played by the United States in defeating Nazism confirms this certainty.
The reality today is more complex. History has forged different cultures, different religions, different social models. Every community aspires to see its own traditions and values recognised. This applies to states and within states to local communities. Every community aspires to see its culture, its language, its choices of how to live respected. A country like the United States, with its dominant culture and language, has difficulty understanding the divisions that characterise Europe and Asia, which are rooted in thousands of years of history.
Diversity is a global treasure, whereas the will to affirm a single model is doomed to fail. With reference to European current affairs, it is sufficient to refer to the Balkans to understand the dangers associated with the attempt to deny the rights of minorities by centralising majorities.
New treaties, new international institutions and the reform of existing institutions are necessary to guarantee a fundamental principle: all communities must contribute to designing and governing states and the international system. This is the condition for the rules to be respected.
Affirming an international order supported by consensus implies that every community must be aware of its right to protect its values with constitutional instruments.
The lessons of the European unification process for the foundation of a new international order
The first fundamental aspect that the world community will have to face in order to build a new international order is the federation/confederation alternative. The same alternative has characterised all the stages of European unification from the initial stages to the current stage; the European experience is full of lessons for those pursuing the goal of a new international order.
The federation/confederation alternative has evolved over time in different forms, for which the terminology federation versus confederation is considered by many to be a simplification that does not capture the complexity of the positions that have developed from time to time.
According to this view, the two constitutional alternatives represent two ideal types for finding a line of continuity in the multiple positions that have emerged over time.
Altiero Spinelli is considered the unshakable defender of the federal model as the objective of European unification. The source of his conviction is the US experience. The debate that defined the American constitution is summarised in “The Federalist”, written by the three Founding Fathers Hamilton, Jay and Madison at the end of the eighteenth century. In the US experience, the federal model was fully defined by the constituent process at the beginning of the life of the United States; in parallel, the necessary institutions were created to endow the federal government with all of its fundamental powers.
The confederal model was defended by those who considered the transfer of broad powers from the states to the federation premature. In Europe this position has generally been identified with the positions taken by De Gaulle.
In reality, the opposition between the two alternatives was concentrated on the speed with which to develop the process of federal unification. The federalist positions, in Spinelli’s interpretation, aimed to bring together a constituency, following the historical example of the United States, and to define from the beginning of European unification the constitution and the institutions necessary to ensure an adequate government.
The merit of Jean Monnet was to find a synthesis between the two alternatives, recognizing the federal nature of the unification process and identifying the achievements capable of advancing the unification process, making concrete individual chapters of the European constitution which would thus be completed gradually.
Spinelli’s approach was ideological, whereas Monnet’s was strategic, capable of understanding the spaces for an initiative capable of tackling and solving the problems that had matured.
The precedent of European unification suggests that the constitution of a new international order will see the supporters of the federal option and the confederal option collide/collaborate.
A new international order must be strengthened by an ideology that defines its historical importance. Spinelli’s logic, applied to the new international order, identifies the goal of world federation as a fundamental value that underpins the project.
The new international order will be able to begin to materialise if it is supported by a strategic political design, capable of seizing the possibility of advancing in the process on the basis of realistic gradualism. This is the logic of Monnet, renewed in a global dimension.
This schematisation briefly describes the script developed in the first phase of European unification, which could inspire current solutions to start the establishment of a new international order.
The second fundamental aspect that the world community will have to face in order to build a new international order is the definition of the rules with which to govern the international order itself.
The precedent established by European unification indicates the importance of recognising the role of countries ready to form a vanguard and of defining in a shared way relations with countries favourable to the process but not yet ready to adopt the initiatives of the avant-garde.
Countries ready to form a vanguard to build a new order and countries with greater power do not necessarily coincide. The European experience and the solutions designed for the UN are profoundly different, from this point of view.
The importance of distinguishing between the roles played by the countries and political forces in favour of forming a vanguard and the countries and political forces in favour of taking a wait-and-see position emerged most clearly when the European unification process addressed the need to adopt a single currency.
The European Monetary Union was a turning point for the European Union; the same will happen when the problem of the monetary order is addressed internationally. The Monetary Union was born as a form of strengthened cooperation, even before this legal form was approved, with the adhesion of the vanguard countries and the right to join at a later time for the other countries, under certain conditions.
The third fundamental aspect that the world community will have to face in order to build a new international order is represented by the choice of the terrain on which to build the foundations of the process.
Europe chose the monetary order for this purpose, first thanks to Robert Triffin with the European Payments Union, then thanks to the intuition of Jean Monnet, Robert Triffin and Edmond Giscard d’Estaing, who led to the Monetary Union.
To evaluate the importance that the monetary problem will have for the constitution of a new international order, it is necessary to fully understand the precedent of the European Monetary Union.
It took three decades to reach the approval of the European Monetary Union, overcoming provisions deemed insurmountable. The debate was particularly animated when it came to defining the statute of the European Central Bank. The opposing positions can be reduced to two symmetrical opinions.
A first position consisted in maintaining the role of the national central banks. This design was believed to be faithful to the Keynesian approach and would have made it possible to resort to the Central Banks to cover the national public spending deficits. It corresponded to a confederal model. This position did not need to be clearly explained, drawing strength, according to those who supported it, from the evidence of the existing order.
A different position that will be affirmed with the definition of the Statute of the European Central Bank hypothesized the reduction of the role of monetary policy by strengthening the role of real policies. This position was innovative and undermined the overall European order.
The meaning for the new international order of the precedent constituted by the definition of the rules that would govern the European Central Bank requires us to evaluate the reasons for choosing the current statute of the European Central Bank and at the same time the reasons that animated the opposing forces.
It is necessary to focus attention on the central issue discussed at the time in order to foresee the contents of a possible new international monetary order.
Less important, even if worth considering, are the technical aspects.
The traditional structure of the nation-state assigns control of the central bank to the executive in order to finance public spending. This solution, brought to the level of the new international order, would imply the affirmation of a national currency as international currency. The limits of the current international monetary order would be repeated.
A federal order implies the autonomy of the Central Bank; the nature of the choice has a constitutional dimension, in the case of European unification the European federal model. The federal option translated into a statute of the European Central Bank qualified by the cardinal principle of monetary stability.
This is a fundamental choice which, mutatis mutandis, will be able to qualify the new international order.
In the case of Europe, this principle was seen, by those who were bearers of a traditional culture, as a conservative, deflationary choice, an obstacle to the adoption of expansionary inflationary policies. It was considered an approach that values the constitutional perspective as an interpretative criterion offers a completely different point of view.
In an international order, it is necessary that money cannot be used to centralize power. Monetary stability hinders the arbitrary movement of resources and the abuse of power.
The European currency, thus conceived, could have the consent of the member countries as it did not achieve a centralization of power at the European level. This is a lesson that Europe offers to the international community.
Some concluding remarks
A new economic order within the framework of a new international order will have to define other aspects in addition to those considered in this paper, primarily the financing of development and the international financial order.
A new international order implies a complete renewal of defence management. To be realistic, a new international order must be designed as a process, with progressive stages of development capable of responding realistically to maturing problems.
This is the great lesson of European unification, thanks to the foresight of Jean Monnet.