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International System and International Society

For several years, scholarship on the contemporary international state has been marred by a lack of clarity. Most scholars have failed to draw a clear distinction between an international system and an international society. As a result, comparative analysis between international systems in the concept of international society could not be carried out clearly. In addition, it has been difficult to carry out an analysis of the historical development of the international system. Furthermore, the concept of an international society and the world society has also faced similar challenges. Scholarship has barely made a clear distinction between the two. It has also slightly tried to elucidate the relationship between them. To offer clarity on these rather fuzzy concepts, this paper intends to identify the tools that could be used in the conceptualization of the international system and international society and hence clear distinctions between the terms provided. It will then identify that the contemporary international structure can better be captured as an international society as opposed to an international system. This conceptualization also relies upon a proper understanding of the concept of society and the application of the international relations theory of postinternationalism.

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What, therefore, is the distinction between an international system and an international society? Buzan offers a clear definition of an international society. He defines it as a group of independent states or independent political entities which come together because of two reasons. First, because of the necessity calling upon them to work in collaboration in order for each to attain its given objectives and second, because of the specifications defined in their established dialogue, and the rules and institutions established to govern their relationship and safeguard their common interests within the relationship. An international system, on the other hand is characterized by interdependence of certain political units or communities and whose interaction is defined by certain principles. The behavior of each unit is necessary for the safeguard of the calculations of the other units within the interaction. The international system is therefore characterized by interactions like war, commerce, diplomacy information flow, migration, et cetera (Bull, 2002).

Although the English schools had already offered clear definitions for an international system and international society, the relationship had not been clearly identified. This is to say, it had not been clearly established as to where a system starts and ends and to where the society picks up and completes the relationship. Considering the identified definition of an international society, a clear picture of where a system ends giving room for a society can be seen. The definition identifies that the international system is prior and at the same time necessary for the formation of the international society. Therefore, a system is a basic concept which is a result of necessity. It does not depend on the society to form. It takes the position of primacy. On the other hand, a society takes a secondary position. There has to be a system before a society exists. This means that a society is dependent on the system for its formation. It cannot exist without it. On the other hand, a system can exist without a society. This means that a system and a society are two distinct phenomena. They are not interchangeable or inter usable as witnessed in several kinds of literature on the concept of international society.

Borrowing from Buzan, the development of an international society can be well understood if the concept of a society is well explained. This means that it is important to acquire the two major conceptions of a society. The two conceptions are; the civilization conception and the functional conception. The civilization conception is one that views society as an origin of a given tradition, shared culture and experiences, shared blood and a shared identity. In precision, this is the conception of a society from a historical perspective. On the other hand, the functional conception of a society conceives it as a form of relations based on contract. The individual units forming the society are heterogeneous in that the heterogeny calls for interdependence which eventually sustains the community’s solidarity. This could be considered as an organizational approach to the concept of a society. In the sentimental civilization approach, the society is believed to grow and it is not made. This is in opposition to the functional approach which argues that the society does not grow either is it bonded by sentiments. The second approach argues that a society is constructed (Buzan).

To analytically point out that the contemporary international structure is best characterized by an international society as opposed to an international system, the mentioned factors will be put into consideration. First, the issue of a society being conceived as a functional relationship rather than a sentimental relationship must be identified. In addition, the characteristics of a society (functional) should be considered so that the current characteristics are put on the backdrop of the identified characteristics in order to ascertain the argument that the current international structure is an international society (Deighton, 1995).

Taking the civilization concept, the international society has evolved for years and was bonded by commonality of certain characteristics. This conception is true considering the ancient civilizations like Ancient Greece and also the early stages of the modern Europe. Culture played a significant part in the formation of those societies. They were bonded together by the commonality in language and religion. The ancient Greeks had a specific religion and language of which distinguished them from Barbarians. On the other hand, the early European countries shared the religion (Roman Catholic) and languages that had been used earlier in the Roman Empire. However this argument tends to be less reliable. Although arguable, it does not support some early civilizations especially in the Middle East where several societies were closely knit without any commonality of culture or any other sentimental bonding (Bull, 2002).

The conception of a society as a functional unit can however assist in capturing the current structure as an international society. While assuming the functional approach, Buzan identifies that the common need for order is a prerequisite for the formation of a society. This perception is especially true considering that a society is made up of several units that work together. Unless order is established, there is a high likelihood that the society will not stick together. A common need for order in the different units therefore acts as the cohesive power that maintains the societal solidarity.

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In the contemporary society, the units, which are actually political entities like states identify the need for order. The chaos expected if the states relate without regulations are put into consideration. Eventually, leadership in the units weighs the disadvantages associated with this and hence decides that it would be better if they were part of a system that had well-stipulated principles of relating one with the other. To maintain order, three distinct goals become fundamental for the formation of any society. They are the need for limiting the use of force within the society, structures to ensure that contracts are held and adhered to sacredly and how property ownership is defined. These three goals become the founding needs for a society. The need to identify these mentioned needs leads to cooperation between units and hence develops a society. Mutual self-interests then force leaders to ensure that they come together (Shannon, 1996; Jackson, 2010).

While a system is maintained by a set of rules and regulating institutions, the units become more and more concerned with the development of a common set of values. Slowly, the system becomes transformed into a society. In a system, the powerful units could dictate their ways through flexing their economic and military muscles. There is no development of mutual need for a common value. The values in the powerful units become the values of the system. However, in a society, the cohesion is established by dialogue and the desire to ensure that they promote the rules and institutions that ensure solidarity and assist in meeting of self-interests within the society. Unlike in a system, even the most powerful units within a society comply with the given rules of relations as established by dialogue. The leadership in the units does not steer away from the dialogue but tries to identify the disadvantages associated with failure to guide the relations. Therefore, unlike a system, a society is not maintained by force but by mutual consent through dialogue (Keene, 2002).

Common identity or otherwise the aspect of “we” is a must for any community to be labeled a society. Without this aspect of together as one, it cannot be passed as a society. This could pose a challenge in the contemporary society. Several units which form the international society have various interests that make it difficult to construct the “we” culture. How, however, is this culture developed in the contemporary international society?

Literature points out two ways through which functional societies develop the “we” culture. To begin with, anarchy is believed to develop similarities in the long run. The theory argues that as units continue working together within a given system, they get used to each other and eventually develop a belief that the others, within the system are similar to them. As more and more units embrace this idea, the whole system eventually becomes a unit with the initially different-minded units starting to believe that they belong to a single community. With such a trend of mindset, the different units develop a sense of “we” (Bull, 2002).

The second explanation of how a society in the functional approach develops that sense of togetherness is borrowed from Bull’s concept. He refers to it as neomedievalism. In Bull’s neomedievalism approach, neo-medieval international systems develop into societies when the different units within the system acquire identity not through accepting each other, but through accepting the rules and institutions that make the differentiated units legitimate and those that specify the rights and responsibilities of each actor within the system. Therefore, neomedievalism is a concept that borrows from medieval structures. For instance, medieval Europe had much of its culture and legal aspects borrowed from the Roman Empire. The church, therefore acted as the force that underpinned the differentiated actors. Neomediaval system however will only evolve from a society that already contains units that have similarities as shown in the first example of social formation. Considering this, the neo-medieval approach as advocated for by Bull offers the secondary stage of social formation. Like units formation of a society is usually prior to the formation of an integration of units that have different roles and interests. Neomedievalism hence explains a highly advanced form of international society (Buzan).

From the arguments above, an international society can be formed in two ways. First through civilization and two through functional integration. Historical analysis of international societies shows predominance of civilizational formation. Most of the societies starting from medieval to recent international societies, most of them were held together through common identity in terms of culture. This stems from ancient Greece where the different units boasted of a shared culture in terms of religion and language to Europe where the shared culture was a developed from imperialism. Nonetheless, both the societies were products of shared culture. On the other hand, functional international societies cannot be identified in their purest form. However, the concept of functionalism is inevitable in any postcolonial society. When a society grows beyond their similarity in culture, other forms of interdependence develops. The units start to depend on each other leading to differentiation of roles between the different actors or units. This in itself is functionalism. Therefore, a society that depends on civilizational approach will have its borders confined within a small region because it cannot sustain a multicultural population. In post-colonial era, globalization has led to multicultural societies that do not stick together as a result of shared culture, but as a result of shared common goals that can only be achieved through functional solidarity.

To portray the fact that the current international political climate is captured by an international society as opposed to an international system, it is important that one of the several theories of international relations is applied. In this case, the theory of postinternationalism will be used. The theory of postinternationalism was developed by James Rosenau and it is founded on the basis that international politics directly depends on non-state actors as opposed to realist approach that puts the state at the center of international politics. In internationalism, the stipulated international norms and the role of globalization form the annals of international politics. It is from these two that the politics are sustained.

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In their analysis of postinternationalism, Ferguson and Mansbach (2004) argue that the state has been the most important form of political authority for ages. Humanity owed its highest loyalties to the state. Furthermore, the state has remained the primary locus of international cooperation and also the determining factor of public values. During medieval European societies, the dominance of the state as an actor in international relations as evidenced by the state’s claiming total rights over territories and subjects within their jurisdiction boundaries. Global politics was characterized by states’ refusal of interference of internal affairs by external sources. To be precise, the state, during the epoch of medieval Europe claimed dominance and preeminence over any other actor of international politics.

This conception of the state clearly reflects the issue of the development of the international platform as a society. In the literature pointed out earlier, the societies were knit together through similarities of culture. Equally, the medieval Europe was characterized by states that demonstrated the highest degree of decision-making on the international platform. In terms of the international system, these were units that were autonomous and different from each other. However, within the given units, solidarity was established by similarity in culture. In the case of medieval Europe which had borrowed heavily from the Roman Empire, the church and languages marked the item of similarity. Therefore states, as units within the international system, claimed rights over every territory and subject within their jurisdictive boundaries. This is what Bull terms as the development of an international society on the foundation of civilization.

However, the contemporary international politics is acquiring a new dimension. Unlike the former perceptions of the state as the main actor in international politics, current environment is marred with challenges that call for the analysis of more than the state. Picarelli (2005) argues that the contemporary challenges call for less focus on the state as the primary locus of political affairs on the international scene. In the recent years, the world has witnessed rise of other bodies, other than the state, that has great significance on the state of international politics. The new actors that need consideration include powerful individuals, international organizations like terror groups, hackers and arms cartels and Non Governmental Organizations. Such groups do not emanate from the state as a unit but form on their own volition (Hutchings, 1999).

Therefore, according to the internationalism approach to international politics, the world order can be viewed in two dimensions. The first dimension is made up of actors that consider sovereignty a matter of principal concern. This involves actors like the state. The second dimension is made up of actors that view sovereignty as an irrelevant factor. They operate without putting any emphasis on sovereignty. These actors include the international crime organizations and NGOs. The given analysis clearly outlines the actors in postinternationalism. It becomes clear that this theory does not just view the state as the only player on international political platforms but views other players like organized international crimes and the NGOs as other international players (Rosenau, 2000).

How does this viewpoint out to the fact that the current international political climate can best be captured by an international society as opposed to an international system? Buzan argues that an international system develops from primary needs of the individual actors. As a result, they develop certain principles that define their relationships in terms of roles and responsibilities, property rights and develop mechanisms that would assist in assuring that the rules and institutions are respected duly. However, an international society goes well beyond this. Within an international society, there is need for common identity. The actors have to identify something that puts them in one league. They have to develop the feeling of “we” (Pettman, 2001).

Based on the postinternationalism theory, globalization has brought with it new challenges like formation of international crime organizations that operate across boundaries. Considering Buzan’s approach to the international system, it is necessary that the different states that are affected by the international crimes come up with a strategy that would stop the crimes. The crimes in question include trafficking of women and children, drug cartels and small arms trade. These types of commerce involve more than a single state. As a result a decision to fight the crime from within the state without cooperating with other states could result in no success. The units of the international system hence identify the need to work together towards a common goal. They have to make statutes and form institutions that have power across state boundaries to help in ensuring that the states meet their objectives. In this case, states come together and make legislative measures that would curb terrorism or small arms trade. The institutions made include Interpol, which has the mandate to operate in all the countries so that they can curb international crimes (Picarelli, 2005; Neuman 1998).

On the other hand, the international crime groups also need to cooperate on the lines of their trade. As mentioned earlier, their operations go beyond the boundaries of a single state. They maintain operation on a large scale basis including beyond a single continent. For example, child trafficking might involve actors in Africa who play the role of getting the children in an African country. It might also involve transporters who ferry the children to Europe. Then comes the recipients of the children for whatever purpose. Just like the state actors who have the need to cooperate in order to stem out the international crime, the criminal organizations also need to cooperate in order to ensure success of their business venture. However, the organizations break off completely from their national identity. They operate without observing their relationship with the country of origin. Furthermore, these organizations are characterized by members who have no social ties. They might have nothing in common to ensure solidarity within the society (Donelan, M. 1990).

Waltz and Bull’s analyses of the formation of an international society come into question. Waltz advocates for the formation of a society through cultural ties. This is what we called a civilizational approach to society formation. In this approach shared identity would be used to create solidarity within the society. This can be identified within the units of the society. The different states and actors have commonalities in terms of perception. On the side of states, most the governments view child trafficking or small arms trade as a form of social ill. This is a value that is held on a common ground between the several states. As a result, civilizational approach to formation of society as advocated for by Waltz comes into question. Commonality of value becomes the essence of cooperation between the several states. As a result, they develop rules that would define the actions of individual states in a case of identified child trafficking. The rules might include definition of child trafficking, definition of trafficking, the punishment associated with such a crime if proved guilty, et cetera. These rules hence start operating within the member states (Deighton, 1995).

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As a matter of fact, a state that fails to join in the system stands to lose a lot. Precisely, it might become the haven for drug deposits. The repercussions of drugs to a state have been outlined in a plethora of literature. Seeing the importance of cooperating with others, the leadership of the state hence decides to join. Eventually an international system is formed. On the other hand, the criminal organizations also develop in a similar way. To begin with, an individual identifies the profitability of operating a drug cartel. This thought pattern is identified in several other individuals who eventually come together, their solidarity established by their common identity which is the belief that drug business is a profitable one. They form an organization that brings together different actors who eventually form a system (Wight, 2006).

Bull, on the other hand advocates for the formation of a society in terms of functional needs. As explained earlier, the international crime organizations operate beyond the boundaries of a single state. Fighting such a crime by an individual state would result in no good. Furthermore the operations of the gangs within the different states differ. For instance, while Africa might be the source of children, Europe might be the market where the children are sold. This means that an actor in Africa needs not identify where children trafficked are taken. Instead, they should focus on how children are stolen from their parents and how the organizations pack and transport them. On the other side, states in Europe should identify the routes through which the trafficked children are brought into the country. They should also identify the locations where the children are sold. They should seek to kill the market while African states seek to kill the source of raw materials (Bull, 2002: 25).

On the other hand, the organized crime organizations also operate within similar dynamics. Those in Africa identify the vulnerability of children and women. However, they do not have somewhere to sell them. Those, in contrast, those in Europe identify markets for children but do not have a source where they can get them. Eventually they meet and decide to work together. Their common objective is making profit from the sale of children. However, their roles are completely different. These two examples offer an explanation of what Bull calls a functional society. The units within the system cooperate as a result of a common goal but the differentiated units play different roles which eventually assists all the units to meet their objectives (Wight, 1991).

Functional societies, according to Bull do not need sentimental attachments. They do not evolve or come into being naturally. They are constructs of human beings. Leaderships within individual independent units identify the need to develop cooperation with others who also have similar needs. They then develop rules and institutions that will define their cooperation. In the case of organized crimes, states identify the need to stop such crimes. Several states with similar needs come together deliberately and develop avenues to combat international crime. On the other hand, organized crime groups do not develop naturally. They are constructed by the actors who see the need to cooperate in order to maximize their profit through child trafficking or to force compliance through terrorist activities. In both cases, it is evidenced that they do not evolve. The systems are constructed deliberately depending on the needs and abilities of each unit (Picarelli, 2005).

An international system is also characterized by institutions that purpose towards driving forth the stipulated objectives. In the case of child trafficking or drug trafficking, states that come up with organizations like Interpol who have the mandate to operate across boundaries in order to curb the crimes.

This is the early formation of an international system. Buzan argues that a system is a prior stage to the formation of a society. A system must first be established before society comes into question. After the units identify the rules of cooperation and institutions that promote the cooperation, the system slowly starts to develop into a society. The main characteristic of the international society is eventually the feeling of commonality which develops. Due to the common rules that establish the system, the units become more and more concerned with the development of a common set of values. The cohesion in the society is then established by dialogue and the desire to ensure that they promote the rules and institutions that ensure solidarity and assist in meeting self-interests within the society. This apparently is the situation in the current political economy (Buzan; Hobbs, 2000).

To justify that the current international politics is made up of an international society, it is imperative to identify the aspect of togetherness which is the key concept of a society. Without this, then it would be said to be an international system and not a society. In this case, contemporary societies form cohesion through neomedievalism an approach established by Bull. In his analysis, he posits that international systems develop into societies when the different units within the system acquire identity not through accepting each other, but through accepting the rules and institutions that make the differentiated units legitimate and those that specify the rights and responsibilities of each actor within the system (Ferguson & Mansbach, 2004).

Similarly, postinternationalism theory argues that units within a system are characterized by lack of adherence to sovereignty. In addition, they are also characterized by loose social bonds. What binds these units together is the sense of belonging to a similar course. The units develop a sense of “we.” through the binding rules and institutions and responsibilities which are defined in their relationship. Similarly, the current international system tends to operate within units that have clearly differentiated roles. The attachment between them is not patriotic but role-playing. The units have developed a sense of togetherness through adhering to the stipulated rules and institutions. Eventually, togetherness can be clearly seen on the international platform. For instance, Islam as a religion has become a clear indication of “we” (Burchill, 2005).

The contemporary international order is characterized by several institutions that define how the units relate to each other. The roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. These, according to Bull (2002) are the sources of the sense of belonging according to the neomedieval approach. The various units within the system identify others as their own because together, they adhere to certain rules stipulated through institutions of governance. The theory of postinternationalism on its part offers a further explanation of the need for rules and institutions of cooperation between units. Rosenau argues that the development of a global society has brought with it many changes. New challenges that never existed a few decades ago have attained a point of primary focus. For instance, the shift in the power grid from the North to the South is a point to note. Rising economic powers like India, China and Brazil bring with them great changes within the international platform. The global society is also experiencing an increase in transnational threats. Climate changes and organized crimes including terrorism are attaining a primary locus role every passing day. Unlike several years ago when strong extremely powerful states offered a threat to international wellbeing, the current international order is threatened by weak and failing states like Afghanistan and Somalia. These and several other changes in the international order have brought challenges that actors on the international platform must give firsthand concern (Ferguson & Mansbach, 2004; Astrov, 2005).

How can such challenges be met? The most appropriate way of meeting such challenges is through analyzing the situation through the spectrum of postinternationalism. States should not adhere to the conventional conception of them being the primary locus of authority. Cooperation should be given emphasis. Other players like NGOs should be encouraged. But above all, rules and institutions of cooperation should be enacted. In other words, a systematic approach should be established between actors on how they can cooperate to step up the efforts in meeting the challenges. This will involve developing definitions of what roles and responsibilities each unit is supposed to play. The defined approaches will only survive if the member actors within the system adhere to the specified rules.

Although several institutions have existed for some decades, it is clear that the contemporary international order calls for either reform within the existing institutions or formation of new ones that will address the contemporary challenges. To be precise, most of the institutions that have existed to define cooperation were formed in the forties and early fifties. They include the United Nations Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank et cetera. However, the era within which these institutions were formed has passed while they remain mostly unchanged. This calls for reforms or the formation of new institutions (Lindberg & Scheingold, 1971).

To what point does this need drive us? It drives to an international system which will, if not has, lead to international society. With institutions whose jurisdiction transcends beyond boundaries of individual states, neomedievalism theory argues that the actors develop a sense of togetherness. The sense is developed in terms of common rules and institutions. Uganda will feel that Ukraine is a brother, not in terms of culture but because they both abide by the rules and stipulations of the United Nations Charter. By allowing Interpol to operate within its boundaries to stem out international crimes, Kenya will feel that Fiji is its brother. This will happen through sharing of information concerning the crime the crime in question. Eventually, the units within the international system become attached to each other. This is the fundamental characteristic of an international society (Morgenthau, 1993).

What, then, justifies the United Nations and the institutions mentioned earlier to be institutions that make the world an international society? First, an international society develops from a collective need for a given course. Given the United States as an example, several countries witnessed the atrocities committed during the first and second world. Together, there was need to put in place measures that would ensure that such atrocities are not repeated. This identifies the first step in the formation of an international system. The states needed to maintain peace. The only way they would do this was through developing rules that would govern their relations. The rules would be promoted through an institution. This led to the formation of the United Nations. Its charter prohibits interfering with the peaceful existence of another state. Furthermore, the rules in the charter aim at promoting human rights and economic development. Just like specified in the international system, a state that fails to sign membership stands a chance of facing serious repercussions. This forces even strong and powerful nations to become members. Other institutions like World Trade Organization were formed from the collective needs of economic development. The need for raw materials, market, skilled manpower, et cetera forced states to identify a way through which they could attain this. Clearly, increased market and access to raw materials may force a state to look beyond its borders. As a result, cooperation was inevitable. The different states which possess different parts in the continuum of business cooperation hence come together and look for ways through which they could attain their common objective which is economic development. They then devise rules upon which their relationship would be founded. This leads to the formation of World Trade Organization.

In conclusion, the current international politics can best be captured by an international society as opposed to an international system. An international system is held together by rules and institutions that define responsibilities and how each unit relates to the other. On the other hand, a society is held together by the same rules but goes one step further. The units within the society must have a “we” feeling. They must have a common identity in terms of culture or a common desire. The current international political platform has clearly evolved from an international system to international society through the presence of a community feeling cemented through what Bull refers to as neomedievalism. Considering the international relations theory of postinternationalism, contemporary international politics point towards interdependence among independent political units. However, the state does not hold the primary locus role in decision-making. Globalization, therefore, has forced interrelations between units other than the state who have eventually developed a sense of commonality. This is the major characteristic of international society. Therefore, the current international order is best captured as an international society.

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