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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States
Robert Jackson

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
464pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 25.00; ISBN 0-19-829625-8



This is a comprehensive and well researched book on the normative base of international society. The book's title 'the global covenant' refers to the normative arrangement of world politics. The Global Covenant is divided into three parts. In the first part, Jackson explores the theory and history of international society. His task is to 'rejuvenate the classical scholarship associate with the "English School" which posits the foundation idea of international society as a defining feature of the modern political world' (p. vii). In the second part, the author examines the practices and problems of contemporary international society, including war, peace, failed states and democracy. In the final part, the book discusses the value and future of international society.

Jackson exhibits the tensions similar to those in Hedley Bull's The Anarchical Society. The Global Covenant covers so many issues that it is hard to summarise it in a review of this size. Echoing Bull, Jackson argues that the 'great powers are the guardians of international peace and security' (p. 173). He claims that their special international procedural responsibilities have been codified in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Thus, the great powers are the permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, UK and USA. Jackson claims: 'The norm of international peace and security is not open to doubt as to its legal existence and form. However, it is open to the leaders of the great powers to decide when and where and how it shall be enforced' (p. 173). This view of great power responsibilities is outdated.

On armed intervention, Jackson dismisses the claim that humanitarian concerns have undermined sovereignty. He examines armed interventions, including Bosnia, northern Iraq, Kosovo and Somalia and concludes that sovereignty was not denigrated. He says it would be 'a mistake to conclude from these cases that solidarism is pre-empting pluralism in international ethics. Rather, they indicate that humanitarianism can be pursued within the pluralist framework of international society at least up to a point' (p. 289).

In The Global Covenant Jackson compares various normative values. For instance, should great power unity in the Security Council be considered more important than stopping ethnic cleansing? Jackson says: 'In my view, the stability of international society, especially the unity of the great powers, is more important, indeed far more important, than minority rights and humanitarian protections in Yugoslavia or another country - if we have to choose between those two sets of values' (p. 291). He believes ethnic cleansing is horrible, but unless there is agreement in the Security Council, no attempt should be made to stop it.

Jackson's unwavering support for great power governance is juxtaposed against his belief that individual human beings matter in world politics. He argues that state leaders 'have a fundamental obligation not only to respect but also, where possible, to defend human rights around the world'. He claims that the duty 'to respect the dignity and freedom of human beings is an obligation that everybody has and from which nobody is exempt' (p. 174).

The Global Covenant defends the pluralist view of international society very well. However, it might not appeal to those who believe that sovereignty has been redefined by globalisation and that the legitimacy of the great powers rests on their willingness to respond to human suffering, including ethnic cleansing.


Samuel M. Makinda



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