Point of Order

Is China More Westphalian Than the West?

Amitai Etzioni

G. John Ikenberry asks whether China will buy into the prevailing liberal, rule-based international order, which has been promoted and underwritten by the United States ("The Future of the Liberal World Order," May/June 2011). With regard to one key element of this order, however -- the Westphalian norm of sovereignty and nonintervention -- he might have inverted the premise. For here, the West has been seeking major modifications that weaken the norm, whereas China has championed the established rule and the international order based on it. 

Several leading Western progressives have sought to legitimize armed humanitarian intervention, under the rubric of "the responsibility to protect." Others have gone even further, seeking to legitimize interference in the internal affairs of other countries if they develop nuclear arms, invoking "the duty to prevent." Both concepts explicitly make sovereignty conditional on states' conducting themselves in line with new norms that directly conflict with the Westphalian one. The issue, in other words, is not simply whether China will buy into the existing rule-based order but whether it can be persuaded to support the major changes in the rules that the West is seeking. 

The past two decades have seen numerous humanitarian crises. The international community intervened with the use of force in some but not others. Many liberals were particularly troubled when the international community did not act to stop mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan, and their concerns led to calls for limitations on sovereignty in order to facilitate such action in the future. The Evans-Sahnoun Commission, an international study group on humanitarian intervention that released its report in 2001, and a 2004 UN secretary-general's high-level panel formulated and promoted the idea that when states do not conduct their internal affairs in ways that meet internationally recognized standards, other states have a right to intervene. This idea has since been referred to in shorthand as "the responsibility to protect." Writing in these pages in 2004,

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