The battle of the Marne is over!


Professor Bertrand Badie explores the international problems we face in todays world.

The main international problems that we are facing nowadays in our global world converge on pointing out the same challenge: people and rulers are commonly reluctant to consider the fabulous changes that took place on the international arena. A conflict, in Sahel or in Afghanistan, is still supposed, in about all the minds, to be solved by a new battle of the Marne which would immediately bring the defeated fighters to capitulate in Rethondes; climate change would be ruled out by an inter-state convention, a kind of a miraculous bargaining among sovereign nation-states, while coronavirus should be efficiently contained by restoring the old border-lines and visas… Sovereignty has been sanctified as an everlasting and omnipotent virtue which will work in a global world with the same efficiency it had in the nineteenth century! All the Western rulers fall more or less in the same trap: they were trained and socialised by the past, but, overall, they consider a drastic change in their foreign policy as a source of decline, weakening, leading to a loss of status, all the more worrying that the old world favoured European nations at a high rate. Conservatism is critically considered as an insurance, a precious resource in the hands of the old nations, that they have to keep and protect as a treasure.

International relation studies are strongly impacted by this bias. We must keep in mind that they were mainly constituted in the USA, just after the second world war, when the American military power could beat the Nazi monster: power politics was then properly reputed as good and efficient. But we do not have in mind that this sequence was only a short moment of a long History which has now completely changed. Decolonisation, USSR collapse, rising new nations, new cultures, new transnational relations have totally shaken the old structures: beyond our emotions, we must keep in mind that Usama Ben Laden is not Hitler nor Stalin, whatever perverse he was. Corona virus today is quite different from the Spanish flu that took place in 1918, in a traditional inter-state world. If we use the same concepts for pointing new actors and new phenomena, we do not see the most relevant part of the real world and we fail in dealing with the new world and the new dangers. Time has come to bleach all our old concepts and to promote new ones which would be adapted to our present world.

The main IR concepts were coined in the context of the Western nation-state formation: territory, borderline, sovereignty, civil society, national interest, power politics, alliance… The traditional and well- known European wars directly resulted from the clash among these competing territorial and sovereign units. That being said, what does it happen when the target is no more another state, but a transnational network, sometimes a gang or simply a virus? What does it occur when the adversary does not have a territory that could be formerly occupied or controlled for containing his plans? How to challenge an actor who is not using the same grammar as ours? How to deal with an international danger which is not exploited by a strategist, but shaped either by a nature effect or by a careless use of the new technology? How to use power for challenging a powerless enemy? Can we still consider him as an enemy, that is to say a rival, a peer competitor, or should we conceive him by using a new concept? How to challenge climate warmth or a virus attack which do not question our national interest but a global interest which is hardly identifiable with our state-centered concepts and foreign policies?

Maybe we find here, in our common turmoil, the positive aspect of globalisation that so far we did not want to look at frankly: a global and interdependent world makes human being the unique possible reference of the new fights. National interest which was previously the corner-stone of our old political science is now over or at least questioned in its relevance: from now on, in a global world, winning the games implies to make simultaneously the other winning. This is result of an increasing interdependance which dismantles the old concept of sovereignty: it is probably the only way for restoring new international relations and promoting a new science!

Bertrand Badie
SciencesPo Paris, France


Rethinking International Relations
Bertrand Badie

Read Chapter 1: How international relations were invented free on Elgaronline

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