International Systems


Sept. 22, 2008: The Past and Future of the Nations/Rome; the rise and fall of hierarchical sovereignty/ China’s and Europe’s vassalage systems/ France; the absolutist state/ Intervention in S. America and the League of Nations Conference at Montevideo/ Break-up of Yugoslavia, from Belgium to Kosovo/ State Behavior in the International System; Iraq, Kyoto Protocol, Africa, United Kingdom, Australia, India. And a future move towards hierarchical sovereignty?


The most fundamental form of change in the international system is the change in the type of units (like for example trade, security, and ideology) that compose it. Discontinuities between subsystems like —trade, security, and ideology—will dictate the viability of alternative sovereign principles.

To test the above we looked at Rome from the early years of the Republic through the fall of the Roman Empire focussing on the rise and fall of a principle of hierarchical sovereignty. See:

In another case study we focused on the successive developments of feudalism and the absolutist state in medieval France. See:

A third  case study traces the evolution of transborder sovereignty over the course of China’s longest lasting dynasty—the Zhou Dynasty which lasted from roughly 1000 BC to 221 BC. The first reliable historic period in Chinese history also corresponds with its longest stable dynasty: the Zhou. This period of history has attracted scholars for years. Most recently the attraction, especially for those studying international relations, has been the interesting correlations between the Eastern Zhou period and feudal Europe in central Middle Ages. The Eastern Zhou period is commonly broken up into two separate periods: the Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn) period, and the Zhanguo  Warring State) period. These two periods spanned roughly from 722 BC to 221 BC.236 Because the Zhou kings lacked a strong centralized authority and ruled with a vassalage system it invites easy comparisons to vassalage system employed in Europe some fifteen hundred years later. See:


The evolution of institutions and international systems through history has proceeded through fits and starts. Whereby a core issue is an oft-argued and much-maligned concept: sovereignty.

Sovereignty is generally treated as either a matter of no consequence, or as a central issue in international politics. Yet for all the recent discussion we have little understanding of how systems change might actually relate to sovereignty if at all. Indeed, if world order is changing we have little understanding of how it is happening and what outcomes are likely.

What we lack is a taxonomy of world orders. The discipline’s fixation on systemic change tends to lead it to miss the important differences caused by systems change. Sovereignty forms a key mechanism which resolves underlying conflicts between competing social hierarchies. Competing social hierarchies are the multiple and contradictory social systems that exist in everyday life. As the social systems enter into competition with each other they seek solutions which will acknowledge the importance of each subsystem while giving each subsystem its due power. Sovereignty it thus the key to understanding evolutions in world order. Yet world order varies when sovereignty becomes inefficient and the type of world order that will arise is determined by the competing hierarchies.

Political Science’s obsession with the nation-state as a fundamental unit of analysis is apparent from international relations to state formation.
To make this understandable in the context of for example the break-up of Yugoslavia the previous nign years, we have set ourselves the major task of  covering the intervention in  S.America that led up to the League of Nations Conference at Montevideo. See:

One has to know hereby of course how important an historical consciousness, and the knowledge thereof is. And second, that the recognition, when Yugoslavia was replaced with five independent countries was based on the actions and decisions of powerful nations while basing their decisions on their political interests, historical ties and economic sphere of influence. And so long as this practice is accepted, there will be no uniform standards, and that efforts towards cooperation will be perceived with skepticism and doubt, most likely resulting in failure. See:

But while authority figures are sensitive to potential threats our proposition was that as the number of sources of transcendent credibility in a system increases, the physical form of the political units will change and the distinctiveness of the boundaries between political units will increase. See:

Plus the state is not the only form of political unit to have existed and, if predictions of borderlessness are even partly accurate, not the only type that ever will. See:

Generally speaking one can also ad, that the legal tradition of a state which develops throughout the history of a society becomes a mirror of that society. Law reflects the values of society, the culture, the economics and the politics. Law reflects the wishes of the decision-makers and the desires of the population, depending on society’s structure. Legal rules are rooted in social norms and values, and the legal tradition frames the notions of what that society believes is just. What people think about the law and the values embedded therein has much to do with how they behave, as well as significant consequences for the larger political and legal systems. In general, attitudes towards the rule of law likely influence a people’s willingness to comply with the law.

The events which took place in the case of former Yougoslavia furthermore demonstrated that previous standards to date, were but a facade for politics of economic and political influence. See:

And is it possible that in certain instances, a state will ignore the attributes of its legal tradition and make an interpretation contrary to the society’s understanding of the role and purpose of law, and appropriate action under the law. An example of this situation can be seen in the case of Spain and the international legal principle of anticipatory intervention in self-defense in the case of Iraq in 2003. Spain’s legal tradition is very much like that of France, and maintains similar attributes stemming from similar histories. Spain, however, initially adopted a liberal interpretation of the principle of anticipatory intervention, along the lines of the United States.

This was a contrary interpretation to what would be expected under the theory of legal tradition, but largely in line with what one would expect under traditional international relations theories cantered on interests. In this case, however, the Spanish government was punished for acting contrary to its own legal tradition by being ousted in the next election in favor of a government which promised to accord Spain’s behavior with society’s conception of law and appropriate action under the law.

Another area which will be explored more in-depth is the influence of the European Union on the legal traditions of member states. While the case studies conducted here examine three EU member countries, a more systematic study will be made on the influence membership in the European Union has had on the legal traditions of its member states. An important question arising from consideration of this issue, is whether the legal traditions of EU member states are converging, and if so, whether this convergence has resulted in greater cooperation and harmony? The results of such an in depth study of EU member state legal traditions could provide guidance to developing countries as they continue to build up their own legal traditions. The information gleaned from such a study may also be useful to further cooperation in other international and regional organizational settings where states with different legal traditions are present, such as the Organization of American States, the African Union, and the World Trade Organization.

But  while in the case of how the Yugoslavia break-up was handled, it was apparent that the international community was not prepared, and did not have proper policy tools to respond to the crisis in Yugoslavia --the question we next answered is why. See:

As can be seen from this 6 part study above, we investigated various legal traditions and found among others that the legal tradition of states is key for understanding the approach a state takes to international law. And in the same way that policy makers and government officials seek to gather information on other states’ political system, economy, population, and military, among other things, in order to better understand one’s neighbors in the international community, it is important to understand the legal constraints in effect, and how these shape the positions that decision-makers take on a given issue.
Currently then we are looking into case studies, covering a wider array of states within the Asian and Latin American traditions plus also, the role of the Islamic law tradition in the development of different state legal traditions.

But returning back to the initial three case studies at the top, for one, it is clear that a sovereign principle becomes outmoded when the expected costs exceed the expected benefits.

In the various theories of global governance and the evolution of the international system the concern is that mundane problems of globalization will continue to manifest themselves and irrevocably undermine the edifice of the Westphalian system. Taken as face value these concerns seem at once legitimate and obscure. For example, it is not entirely clear how increasing instability in Africa might ultimately undermine the stable zone of peace that exists among American, European, and East Asian countries. Nor is it clear that a democratic deficit exists or is actually problematic for sovereign states.

In addressing the future course of the international system we must therfore also move beyond various challenges, plus and deal with the spatial dynamics of the subsystems. And if American imperialism is the dominant story of the last 60 years then perhaps we ought to expect a move towards hierarchical sovereignty.

It is also entirely possible that we could speak of a nascent American imperial that represents the status quo. See:


While world government tends to be equated with world dictatorship, a political institution associated with “humanity” as a global civil society possible is not. ThePast and Future of the Nations P.1: Introduction.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.2: China and Tibet.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.3: Islamic Empires.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.4: Christians and Pagans in Europe.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.5: Protestant Reformation.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.6: From God To  Proto-Nationalism.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.7: Demand for increased boundaries.

The Past and Future of the Nations P.8: Federalism and its Consequences.



Following our case study about the recent disintegration of Yugoslavia underneath, we hereby move on to investigate the crux of  international relations. State Behaviour in the International System P.1.

What is legal tradition & why it is important? State Behaviour in the International System P.2.

Differing Legal Interpretations During 2003 Iraq Standoff.  State Behaviour in the International System P.3.

The Kyoto Protocol and Africa.  State Behaviour in the International System P.4.

United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Sierra Leone. State Behaviour in the International System P.5.

Conclusion and Outlook. State Behaviour in the International System P.6.



The institution of the modern state and the creation of Belgium as such, depends on the co-existence of many “nations” as multiple sources of transcendent credibility. This system of nation-states would  wither away however  if the “nation” is replaced as the dominant type of source of transcendent credibility in the world. From Belgium to Kosovo P.1.

S.America and the events that led up to the League of Nations Conference. From Belgium to Kosovo P.2.

Recently, leading British Newspaper Telegraph asked (ironicly): "perhaps there should never be a Belgian government." From Belgium to Kosovo P.3.

While Russia and the United States continue to tango over issues of missile defense and Iran, one issue has yet to be resolved: Kosovo. But as rumors swirl of U.S. concessions to Russia, the Kosovar issue might be added to the tally of compromises. Plus as is known, the Prime Minister of Bosnia the Serb Nikola Spiric recently resigned. From Belgium to Kosovo P.4.

When Bosnia-Herzegovina gained its independence in 1992, armed conflict, and then a genocidal war that involved the whole former SFRY region, erupted among all the groups. At the time, Bosnia-Herzegovina was largely controlled by the Serbian majority, which is now concentrated in the current Serb Republic. Eventually, the Bosniaks and Croats teamed up to create the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to counter The Serb Republic. Unpleasant truths about a devided Bosnia. From Belgium to Kosovo P.5.

While we briefly mentioned Richard Holbrooke who said to have let wanted, Radovan Karadzic go (topic of  "The Hunting Ground" with Richard Gere, opens Nov.23) today we take a deeper look at all three, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. From Belgium to Kosovo P.6.

Codifying statehood and switching recognition into the realm of international law would be the equivalent of giving up the right to intervene and control international affairs. The Geostrategic Gamble and Kosovo. From Belgium to Kosovo P.7.

Following our Introduction now our Conclusion.




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