NEW YORK – For nearly four centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, the concept of sovereignty – the right of countries to an independent existence and autonomy – has formed the core of the international order. And for good reason: as we have seen in century after century, including the current one, a world in which borders are forcibly violated is a world of instability and conflict.
But, in a globalized world, a global operating system premised solely on respect for sovereignty – call it World Order 1.0 – has become increasingly inadequate. Little stays local anymore. Just about anyone and anything, from tourists, terrorists, and refugees to e-mails, diseases, dollars, and greenhouse gases, can reach almost anywhere. The result is that what goes on inside a country can no longer be the concern of that country alone. Today’s realities call for an updated operating system—World Order 2.0 – based on “sovereign obligation,” the notion that sovereign states have not just rights but also obligations to others.
A new international order will also require an expanded set of norms and arrangements, beginning with an agreed-upon basis for statehood. Existing governments would agree to consider bids for statehood only in cases where there was a historical justification, a compelling rationale, and popular support, and where the proposed new entity is viable.
World Order 2.0 must also include prohibitions on carrying out or in any way supporting terrorism. More controversially, it must include strengthened norms proscribing the spread or use of weapons of mass destruction. As it stands, while the world tends to agree on constraining proliferation by limiting countries’ access to the relevant technology and material, the consensus often breaks down once proliferation has occurred. This should become a topic of discussion at bilateral and multilateral meetings, not because it would lead to a formal agreement, but because it would focus attention on applying stringent sanctions or undertaking military action, which could then reduce the odds of proliferation.