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The need for regime-building

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Mariano Aguirre
22 December 2005

The tension between national and multilateral interests will be one of the crucial fields in the international relations of 2006. In other words, a joint and universal approach to transnational problems will continue to be in confrontation with old-fashioned, single-state oriented visions and policies.

This is neither a new development nor an original prediction, but 2005 has been dramatic in the fields of regime destruction. The agreements on environment and trade have been weakened, torture and “extraordinary renditions” have been practised by the United States in worldwide centre of illegal detention, the people of Darfur are still waiting for a coherent response from the international community (not necessarily the use of force), and the United Nations’ world summit in September produced almost nothing except a peace-building commission that could end empty of any meaningful content.

Maybe in 2006 the concept of regime could be restored to one of its most important meanings. A regime is a consensual agreement around one issue reached by many actors. The narrow definition indicates that states agree “on implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures” (Stephen Krasner, ed.,International RegimesCornell University Press, 1983). An updated practice and definition (and controversial for some realists) includes also non-state actors because of their influence on states.

Kofi Annan, some governments and civil-society actors hoped that the UN world summit would open the discussion on a more advanced international regime that could deal with threats and challenges in the international system. The need for cooperation among states in security, human rights, trade, terrorism, environment and international crime comes from the connection between them and the fact that no individual state can deal with these problems alone. The world needs regime-building.

An obvious remark. But one of the most dramatic paradoxes of our time is that the majority of the most powerful states use the multilateral system to advance their national interests. The problem is that the boundaries between national and international are diffuse. Common security is a concept to return to. Pure national interest and security are not viable. By acting as if the world system of states was that of fifty years ago, I’m afraid, some governments in 2006 will drive us deeper into chaos and disorder.

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