Case Study

Today’s challenges to international society

The idea of international society is centred on shared beliefs and values regarding how international relations should be run. What happens when there are significant challenges to those beliefs and values – which reject and hence undermine the basic rules on which post-Westphalian international order was founded and the institutions that seek to maintain it? At the current time, such challenges come in four main ways:

  1. Such challenges can manifest themselves in rejection of the state as the main political unit in international relations – that is, denial of the principle that leaders of states have the right and duty to deal with other leaders in international relations.
  2. Negation of the principle that states are the sole actors that can legitimately use force is significant, as rejection of restrictions on the use of force (for example, in international law civilians cannot legally be targets of war; terrorists, on the other hand, may explicitly target civilians as a key war-fighting technique).
  3. Violent non-state terrorist actors undermine state–society relations by weakening the ability of governments to carry out one of their basic responsibilities to their citizens: general security. It is very difficult for governments to protect citizens against random terror attacks, such as those seen on 9/11 in the USA and more generally, for example, in Turkey and elsewhere in 2016, with bomb attacks by the Islamic State.
  4. The actions of violent non-state terrorist actors often provoke strong reactions from a powerful state actor. For example, the USA lashed out against al Qaeda following 9/11, invading both Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), with long-lasting regional and international ramifications. This had the effect of undermining a long accepted code of conduct in international relations: state sovereignty is sacrosanct.