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Rule-ing the World
Review by Christopher C. Joyner

A New World Order. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. xviii, 341. $45.00 cloth.)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University, argues that transnational networks are guiding international relations toward a more just world order. That is, the 21st century heralds an era of globalization in which international relations are increasingly being conducted through integrated networks—i.e., systems of things or people that are purposively interconnected—and these networks can make good things happen between states. The operation of these networks, she suggests, improves the human condition and offers more lucrative opportunities for attaining greater justice for more peoples in more lands, governed more effectively through the rule of law.

As Professor Slaughter rightly observes, certain paradoxes earmark contemporary globalization. While interdependence demands the need for more regulation on a global level, such increased regulation generates greater apprehension over the possibility that too much control might accrue to supranational governmental structures. To counter this apprehension, a contemporary fact of international relations must be realized: Transgovernmental ties involving contemporary “unitary state” actors are shifting to the status of “disaggregated states”—a situation that reflects the increasing need for governments to operate beyond borders and regulate activities beyond a state’s national jurisdiction. For the unitary state, international cooperation is legally forged through multilateral agreements, which allowed the international system to concentrate on traditional international organizations and institutions created by governments of states. But with the rise of the disaggregated state, she contends, the new world order requires that governments seek out and create new transnational networks of cooperation. This new world of government networks consists of judges, regulators, legislators who interact with their foreign counterparts and work collaboratively to produce new policies intended to solve common transnational problems.

It is important to realize how these networks create and maintain world order. Professor Slaughter suggests that the key here is “soft power,” i.e., the power of information. She believes that the pen is mightier than the sword, or perhaps better put in today’s context, the computer and internet are mightier than guns or ballistics missiles. We all appreciate that governments have long practiced “hard power,” i.e., the power that accrues from armies and armaments. Yet, today, worldwide processes of interdependence and globalization make it necessary that hard power be complemented by pervasive forms of soft power, through networked forces of persuasion and information. This is so simply because government networks consolidate national laws and regulations into international legal rules and codes of conduct. Networks foster compliance of international legal agreements by facilitating information exchange among parties and monitoring national strategies. Networks promote cooperation by providing transparency, which engenders trust, which can make possible the political will needed to collaborate and work together in the search for common multilateral solutions for common regional and global problems. For policymakers especially, there is rich food for thought here.

Still, Professor Slaughter does not claim that her notions constitute a blueprint for world order. Rather they contribute to an ongoing debate over the nature of contemporary international relations and the future direction of the international system. Moreover, she freely admits that ideas in her book do not furnish a panacea for the world’s political, social, or economic ills. Even so, the search for solutions demands dedication and hard work, coupled with the willingness of governments to share, consult, and compromise on hard issues. And her contribution along these lines is to be highly commended.

The world is enmeshed in an era of intense, pervasive globalization—a time earmarked by rapid and profound transition in which technologies, peoples, and processes penetrate all national societies. Professor Slaughter would have us believe that statesmen, technocrats, academics, and lawmakers can contribute to making the world a better place by coupling like-minded professional interests and channeling them toward solutions to address worldwide problems. She is right. They can, and they do. It seems reasonable to believe that creating and using networks to foster international cooperation would be a productive enterprise.

By way of constructive criticism, this work would have benefited from the inclusion of a grand model or conceptual design that illustrated the interaction of various networking processes. A flow chart would make visually apparent the integration linkages between actors and institutions, such as that contained in the Donella H. Meadows, et al. classic, Limits to Growth (1972). Depicting such a world network model would demonstrate how these processes function in the real world by illustrating how network connections link together vast numbers of actors and institutions. In this regard, there are now 191 member states in the United Nations. But how many judges from how many courts are available to forge transnational judicial networks? How many regulators and legislators are there to provide the sinews of legal networks? The author provides no estimates, which leaves a reader puzzled as to how expansive these networks actually are. With such numerical estimates, a stronger case could graphically show why these networks really matter in changing international legal conditions across borders.

Unlike dry, ponderous legal tomes, A New World Order is written in clear, lively prose. Its style is not dense, nor is the text heavily laden with weighty legal citations. Rather the volume is a highly readable, sensible explanation of the author’s conceptions of how greater international cooperation can be facilitated. It is written for the layman more so than for the international relations theorist or legal scholar. Consequently, the volume is not abstract or obtuse in its analysis. Rather, it is more conceptually suggestive, as it proposes a vision that networks of persons are sharing information, collaborating on problem solving, and working together to create a more just world order. These lofty ambitions and high ideals undoubtedly will be difficult to achieve. But the reward comes in the journey to attain those goals, and the price seems wholly worth the investment of the opportunity. Much to her credit, Professor Slaughter gives hope that such a conceptual strategy might assist governments in reaching that end of that journey in coming years.End.


Christopher C. Joyner is Professor of Government and Foreign Service and Director of The Institute for International Law and Politics at Georgetown University. Among his recent books are The United Nations and International Law (1998) and International Law in the 21st Century: Rules for Global Governance(2005).


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