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'War is Never Civilised': Civil Society, the Construction of the Post-Cold War Order and Western Intervention in Kosovo, 1999 *

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000

‘War is never civilised’, Prime Minister Tony Blair declared on 10 June 1999 as the Serb government yielded to NATO’s bombing campaign, ‘but war can be necessary to uphold civilisation’. 1 Thus 79 days of war were brought to an end by the assertion that they had secured for the future the principles on which the post-Cold War European order was founded. For that reason the Kosovo war provides an opportunity to study what the West believed to be the foundation of the new European order. 2 It is important to use this opportunity because the reflexive confusion which followed the end of the Cold War has finally settled in a new order. To understand how the West constructs this order is a major concern for anyone how wants a glimpse of what the twenty-first century has to offer international relations.

In the context of the debate on the futures of international relations Blair’s construction of the Kosovo war may sound like the realisation of Samuel Huntington’s scenario of a clash between civilisations. 3 Is Blair not arguing that while war has ceased to be a means of politics in the relations between Western states, the West’s relations to other civilisations do, sometimes, necessitate war? It is true that the Kosovo war was constructed as a defence of civilisation. However, that fact does not vindicate Huntington’s conception of the post-Cold War world. On the contrary, it exposes Huntington’s conception of civilisation as the culmination of a long tradition of conceiving government, including the relations between governments, in terms of civilisation. A tradition which saw its conceptual beginning in the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly Adam Ferguson, and concluded in Immanuel Kant’s conception of a federation of liberal governments as the cosmopolitan purpose of history. The centrepiece of this tradition is the construction of government in terms of civil society. Adam Ferguson coined the term in An Essay on the History of Civil Society from 1767 in which he described the development of a new type of society in Britain. In the idiom of the present what Ferguson described were the consequences on domestic and international order of the development of a modern society defined by an elaborate division of labour. The division of labour, Ferguson argued, made it possible to establish an organic organisation of society which allowed for the establishment of social institutions independent of the state. In turn these institutions produced a free society, the organic nature of which made it the host of progress. 4 Thus Ferguson linked the notion of civil society with the concept of civilisation. Civilisation is an understanding of society as history which developed out of the same Enlightenment belief in progress and freedom through social organisation which made Ferguson think of civil societies. Ferguson found that civil society was the vehicle of civilisation, as it realised what Norbert Elias was to term the civilising process. 5 In this, as in other instances, Immanuel Kant developed the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment arguing that civil society was the foundation on which liberal republics were to be build. Only then would their constitution be of a character which would allow them to form a pacific federation. 6

In 1999 the West believed to have realised the pacific federation and it was this cosmopolitan peace the bombing campaign was to defend. The French prime minister Lionel Jospin agreed with Tony Blair that intervening in Kosovo was the answer to the most profound question of European identity:

‘For decades Europe, at any rate our Europe, has been being rebuilt on new foundations of peace, respect for human rights. To accept the flouting of these values on the European Union’s doorstep would have meant betraying ourselves. What is at stake in today’s conflict is a certain conception of Europe. Do we accept the return of barbarism on our continent or do we rise up against it? For us, the choice is clear’ 7

Europe was more than a matter of geography. To Western leaders like Jospin and Blair ‘their’ Europe represented a certain claim on civilisation. Challenging this conception the Milosevic government did not only prove itself to represent ‘barbarism’ in the eyes of the West, it did also threaten the ways of civilisation by which the West defined the ways of Europe. In other words, the conflict in Kosovo did not threaten the physical borders of Europe, but it did threaten the limits for the use of force in international affairs by which the West defined Europe. But who were Jospin and Blair to define the nature of Europe? The civilisation on behalf of which they spoke for Europe, Samuel Huntington would be the first to point out, was only one voice in a cacophony of civilisational identities. Serbia fought for the rights of the ‘Orthodox’ civilisation and Russia supported its Slav brothers in that fight against the Western civilisation. From this perspective one might argue that what happened in Kosovo was not the triumph of civilisation, as proclaimed by Blair, but the first nasty glimpse into a world in which conflict stem from the mutually exclusive identities of civilisations.

Huntington’s argument is that the West cloaks its particular civilisational interests in universalism to the extent that Western leaders, like Jospin and Blair, might not be able to see the difference between what they want as Westerns and what other Europeans (not to speak of peoples in other parts of the world) want. There is no such thing as an objective identity, however. If a number of nations construct a collective identity in terms of the West and define it in universal terms then it is true to them. Though other peoples might have other ideas and identities, that does not make the Western construction less true. What matters is whether Huntington’s assertion that any identity, including the Western, is inherently in conflict with other identities holds true. If it holds true then the fight against ‘barbarism’ is the necessary effect of Western identity and the Kosovo war is the prelude to a century of civilisational conflict. If it does not hold true, the Kosovo conflict will show that a Europe, an international civil society, has been created in which international politics are not constructed in terms of war.

The essay will pursue these questions by means of a constructivist conception of international relations. 8 Actually, Huntington meets the constructivist argument half way, as he claims that the politics of governments are shaped by their identity. He differs from Constructivism, however, by arguing that the basis of these identities can be objectively defined by the concept of civilisation. Thus, Huntington’s argument works by what James March and Johan Olsen term of the logic of consequentiality. 9 Huntington finds it to be the purpose of theory to establish categories, like civilisations, which can explain and predict occurrences in international relations. 10 Constructivism rejects the possibility of such theories. Agents do not act on a preprogrammed schedule, Constructivism holds, but under the influence of events and by means of the rules of action given to them by social institutions. 11 Constructivist studies therefore surveys what March and Olsen term logics of appropriateness. 12

The study of international relations is—primarily, but not exclusively—the studies of the actions of governments. 13 The question for Constructivism in International Relations thus becomes by what rules states define how to act appropriate. Huntington’s analysis goes some of the way to answer that question, as he claims that different types of states have different conceptions of what is appropriate. Huntington’s explanation for this is culture. As it will be argued below, that position is untenable, but Huntington’s basic assertion that states differ is an inherent constructivist one. The question thus remains whether there is some way to conceptualise political appropriateness. Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality offers as solution. The basic assertion of the concept of governmentality is that government is constructed and that it is possible to study this construction as a totality. Foucault thus rejects the notion that in a constructivist analysis the level of policy formulation must somehow be disaggregated. On the contrary, Foucault argues that government does not only concern politics, but also the government of the self. The way a nation is governed and the way individuals govern their own behaviour (e.g. by manners) are part of the same construction. This observation springs from a tentative study Foucault made of the historical sociology of the state in which he pointed out, in terms very similar to Elias, that the creation of the modern sovereign state came hand in hand with the creation of a public sphere distinct from the private sphere. 14 By conceiving the West as governmentality rather than a civilisation one is able to understand that the concept of civilisation itself is the manifestation rather than the explanation of the West’s construction of appropriate government in post-Cold War Europe.

The essay will proceed by, first, describing the way Huntington constructs civilisation. The next section will argue that this construction is the manifestation of the governmentality of civil society. The third section will conclude that this governmentality can explain the Western construction of the Kosovo war.

‘Who are you?’

Like the other constitutive text on the prospects for the post-Cold War world, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History , 15 The Clash of Civilizations concluded that the end of the Cold War was a moment of becoming. But where Fukuyama concluded that the end of the Cold War had made states essentially the same, Huntington concluded that states were becoming essentially different because they had come to define their interests by virtue of mutually exclusive collective identities. During the ideological confrontations of twentieth-century the identity of an agent, individual or state, was defined, Huntington argued, by the answer to the question ‘which side are you on?’. In the post-Cold War world that defining question had been replaced by ‘who are you?’. 16

Basically accepting the realist conception of international relations, Huntington argued that the sources of conflict would remain what they had been for millennia. 17 On the eve of the new millennium, however, the construction of these conflicts had become defined by identity. This was bad news because identity was constituted by conflict. ‘Identity at any level—personal, tribal, racial, civilizational’, Huntington asserted, ‘can only be defined in relation to an ‘other’, a different person, tribe, race, or civilization’. 18 After the history of ideological struggle had ended, and thus left politics and the state unable to construct people’s identity, one might conclude that personal identity, ethnic groups etc. had become the new levels of identity. Huntington, however, found that civilisation had become the defining level of identity. He defined civilisation thus:

‘The civilisation to which he [the individual] belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he strongly identifies. Civilizations are the biggest ‘we’ within which we feel culturally at home as distinguished from all the other ‘thems’ out there’. 19

Huntington wrote his book for an American audience in order to impress his views on the United States’ foreign policy. In an American context the empirical evidence for civilisation as the defining level of identity seemed shaky at best in light of the way new social movements and the pursuit of personal identities had shaped late-modern identity in the Western world in general and in the United States in particular. 20 But that was the point. Huntington’s project was to a large extent one of reconstructing Western values faced with what he saw as a dangerous fragmentation. 21

Huntington distinguished between the material and pop-cultural elements of Western civilisation and the values which made the West the West. ‘The essence of Western civilization’, Huntington asserted with his flair for a catchy phrase, ‘is the Magna Carta not the Magna Mac’. 22 So arguing, Huntington placed himself firmly within the German conception of Kultur(culture), especially in the way it was presented by Spengler. 23 Nevertheless, it was very important to Huntington to reject the German notion of culture. 24 This contradiction in Huntington’s thought demonstrates his purpose with the concept of civilisation and how it reflected a very Western concept of civilisation.

Huntington was concerned about the fragmentation of Western identity because he defined identity in confrontational terms. As mentioned, he found that the self (and, by implication, societies) only became itself through conflict with an ‘other’. The Cold War had clearly defined Western identity, but with the Cold War won Huntington found the West falling into a post-historian complacency believing its values would rule the future. 25 But at the same time the West stopped imagining itself as a subject of history, Huntington asserted, peoples elsewhere were about to become subjects of histories which they wanted to conclude very differently from the West. Huntington’s examples were a list of the usual suspects: Islamic fundamentalism, Chinese revivalism and Russian revanchism. 26 These civilisations could only find themselves in conflict with their ‘other’, the West. The West would have to realise this and reengage in history, Huntington argued. Otherwise, the West would cease to be a subject of history and would become an object of the history of others. 27

Huntington thus saw a danger in the Western attempts to create a whole Europe by means of enlargement following the Cold War. Europe could not be redefined by politics. Politics had to be based on the civilisational fact that Western Europe was a very different entity from Eastern Europe. The Cold War had forced the borders of Western Europe West. Enlargement of NATO and the EU could redress that situation, but Europe could never include the Slavs: ‘Europe ends where Western Christianity ends and Islam and Orthodoxy begins’. 28 EU-membership would be awarded to states within that sphere, 29 but the defining act of organisation would be NATO enlargement:

‘NATO is the security organization of Western civilization. With the Cold War over, NATO has one central and compelling purpose: to insure that it remains over by preventing the reimposition of Russian political and military control in Central Europe’. 30

Conflict was the basis of Huntington’s argument, as it was the basis for creating identity in civilisations and the empirical reason why the analysis of civilisation was important. However, Stephen Walt rightly complained that ‘Huntington never explains why conflict is more likely to arise between civilizations than within them’. 31 The explanation, I would suggest, was that Huntington conceived civilisation in terms of peace. States in a certain civilisation could be expected to act in certain ways. They would never feel the need to continue their political intercourse in war because they acted in conforming ways whereby they did not present each other with an ‘other’. Within a civilisation there would be peace. 32 This interpretation explains the curious fact that according to Huntington Africa was the only continent without a distinct civilisation. 33 As sub-Saharan Africa was rivetted by war within and between states, it did not qualify as a realm of peace. That point was underlined by the fact that sub-Saharan Africa did not have a common religion. Religion was an important element of Huntington’s definition of civilisation—though not the exclusive factor as it is sometimes claimed—because, I would argue, religion was a gospel of peace. Religions preached peace among its followers. If one shared a religion one thus share an understanding of peace. In the case of Christianity and Islam the realm of the faithful was traditionally defined in terms of peace, whereas relations with the infidels were defined in terms of war. 34

To Huntington civilisation was thus a collective of peace achieved by the conflict with ‘others’. But why did Huntington believe peace depended on collective values? This question is the point of departure of the next section.

The Civilisation of Civil Society

The reason why Huntington defined civilisation in terms of peace becomes apparent when one turns to his definition of Western civilisation. Though he shared Spengler’s Weltanschauungof quiet desperation and like him searched for identity beyond the disembedding values of modernity, the values Huntington defined the West by were notthose of high culture but social and political values. To Huntington the West was defined by (1) the classical legacy, (2) Catholicism and Protestantism, (3) the separation of spiritual and temporal authority, (4) the rule of law, (5) social pluralism, (6) representative bodies, and (7) individualism. 35 Huntington was criticised for dismissing the state as an agent of international relations. 36 In view of his definition of Western civilisation that was hardly fair. 37 On the contrary, Huntington strove to define what made Western states unique. Their uniqueness, he argued, was the product of history. One might even regard Huntington’s list of Western characteristics as a timeline which describes how the West starts out in antiquity, finds its form in Christendom, matures in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and ends in the democratic societies of the West. So arguing Huntington faithfully reproduces what David Gress has identified as the grand narrative of the West. The West, Gress tells us, is an ancient reference to the land of promise in European culture. The West is not prey to history, but able to make its own history by virtue of its superior values. As such, the concept of the West has defined what is the best of the civilisation Huntington terms Western and thus served to separate its constitutive nations as well as bring them together. 38

It was only by the First World War, Gress argues, that the West took upon its current meaning as a reference to the North Atlantic community of democratic nations. 39 After Russia had left the war and the United States joined it, it was possible to give the endless battles in the Flanders meaning by constructing them as a struggle of democratic nations against German ‘autocracy’. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson argued that the war was caused by the nature of the German government. The course of German history had created a governmentality in which the use of force was a legitimate means of government. In the beginning of the war Wilson had believed that the war could be ended on the international system’s terms by means of diplomacy and with a new state of international law as the outcome. As Germany rejected his peace proposals and stepped up submarine warfare, Wilson came to believe that the First World War had no third image causes. 40 It was not the international system, but the nature of German government which had caused the war. As such, it was not the international system which had to change but Germany which had to be forced to become a democracy. Because where ‘the Kaiser’ was the symbol of the end state of a historical development, which in the view of Allied and Associate Powers had created an aggressive society, democracy was the culmination of a historical process which had progressively generated more free and more peaceful societies. 41 Democracies were peaceful not because they were democracies, but because democracy was the culmination of a civilising process.

The West was the states of the civilising process. The notion of the civilising process originates with Nobert Elias who described the history of manners in these terms. 42 Thus Elias described the same process as Foucault captured in the notion of governmentality: the process whereby a public sphere was created which set new standards for how the individual was to govern his own behaviour and how the state was created in this sphere. One obvious example is the state’s monopoly of violence. In the seventeenth century most men of standing were carrying sidearms and allowed to use them. This reflected the fact that violence was a right and a duty of private persons, as the lack of public means of violence—from standing armies to police forces—made it necessary for society and individuals to depend of private violence. In the course of the seventeenth century this changed, as the state gradually assumed a monopoly of violence. The state assumed the responsibilities hitherto held by individuals, who now were compelled not to use force against each other. This is a development which continues to this day where more and more acts of violence are delegimtised in the private sphere. The right of the head of a household to punish servants, women and children has disappeared to the point where most Scandinavian countries have prohibited parents from physically punishing their children.

In 1767 Adam Ferguson described the development of the monopoly of violence as a constitutive part of the division of labour which in these years set out to make Britain a modern society. Ferguson termed the society a civil society. 43 Through Hegel’s use of the term most works of social science have come to regard civil society as the private elements of society (e.g. the economy or social movements), 44 but as Ernest Gellner and John Keane has pointed out Ferguson used civil society to describe the very fact that public and private functions were being separated as constitutive of a new kind of society. 45 Civil society, Ferguson argued, was based on an ever increasing division of labour which allowed for the resources of society to be diversified with increased wealth as the result. 46 As a former military chaplain, Ferguson was very interested in the relationship between the army and society. He found that the fact that each man no longer needed to be able to defend his society was an important reason for the division of labour, as it allowed men to specialise in other professions. The state’s monopoly of violence thus produced a civil nation in which political and military power was separated. 47

A civil society, Ferguson argued, was characterised by ‘peace and regular policy’. 48 Civil society was peaceful because the monopoly of violence had made war the purview of the state, thus making the relations of citizens guided by peace. As Elias would later point out, the manners of people and the manner in which they related to each other transformed, thus making society even more civil. As the state was no longer dominated by the violent struggle for power, policy became more stable and civilised peoples wanted it so because their commercial pursuits depended on the law and order. Civil society was thus characterised by an evolution which accumulated an ever greater civility, thus making society ever more of itself. This notion of a society striving for ever greater perfection is the link between civil society and civilisation.

Ferguson was one of the first to use the concept of civilisation into the English language. 49 To Ferguson civil society was the sociological manifestation of civilisation. Civil society was a description of the nature of a present society and the dynamics by which this society developed. Civilisation referred to the latter as it described the historical significance of civil society. As civilisation, civil society represented ‘an ideal order of human society’ and this order was ideal because it had history on its side. 50 Immanuel Kant thus described the culmination of history as the realisation of civil society. History, Kant argued, had been driven by wars, but between civil societies war could be outlawed because the shared civility of these states would guarantee that they would not force as means of policy. 51 When civil societies had created a pacific federation they would be able to look back on history as if its very purpose had been to create a ‘cosmopolitan system of general political security’. 52 It was this notion of a cosmopolitan peace Woodrow Wilson reinvoked when he declared that the purpose of the First World War was to make the world safe for democracy:

‘We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty’. 53

The promise of civilisation could be realised and history could be brought to an end if the war could realise democracy. But democracy was not only a matter of regular elections. A democracy could only be peaceful if it was the crowning achievement of a civil society.

The West is not a civilisation. It defines itself as civilisation. Following the First World War the West was defined in terms of civil society and civil society defined in terms of civilisation. Gress shows how the West became constructed as the culmination of civilisation. The West was constructed as the system of cosmopolitan security Kant had argued would be the culmination of human history. Therefore, the alliance of democracies which came into being after the Second World War was thus seen not only as an alliance of states but the culmination of civilisation. 54 History, Gress ironically points out, was constructed as a continuos development ‘from Plato to NATO’. 55 When NATO acted as it did on the Kosovo issue it did so on the basis of its belief in itself as a ‘cosmopolitan system of general political security’. The next section is to sketch how this construction played out.

The Cosmopolitan Soul of Europe

The West would have to realise, Huntington argued, that its Europe was fundamentally different from the ‘Orthodox’ Europe of Russia and, indeed, Serbia. Between those two Europes there was either the possibility of conflict or mutual recognition, but never the possibility of integration. The Kosovo war showed that the West did not construct Europe that way. As mentioned above, Prime Minister Jospin found Europe to be a governmentality rather than a term of geography. To Jospin Europe was the result of a process one can only characterise as a civilising process which had started in the West after the Second World War and by 1999 defined an international civil society in Europe. The Kosovo war was not a way to draw the line between this Europe and the ‘barbarians’. On the contrary, the Kosovo war was to secure the civilising process in the East. The British Foreign secretary, Robin Cook, formulated it this way in the Guardian:

‘There are now two Europes competing for the soul of our continent. One still follows the race ideology that blighted our continent under the fascists. The other emerged fifty years ago out from behind the shadow of the Second World War. The conflict between the international community and Yugoslavia is the struggle between these two Europes’. 56

There could be only one Europe. Cook thus agreed with Jospin that the West could not accept ‘barbarism’ one place and have civilisation in another. But what did ‘barbarism’ signify? Jospin and Cook defined it as a lapse into ‘Europe of the past’. This notion can be explained by the civilising process which, as mentioned, defines the increases in civilisation in terms of a historical development away from what Ferguson termed ‘rude’ societies. 57 In 1999 the West constructed the Second World War as the culmination of its past. The Second World War had brought out the most evil of human society in shape of Fascism, and the West had only barely been able to defeat it. Fascism, however, had been able to flourish because of the confrontation between European nation states. The process of European integration initiated by France and Germany in the 1950s was to end that. ‘The European Common Market’, Christopher Coker remarks, was ‘a ‘civilising process’ that was intended to render Europe at peace with itself for the first time’. 58

In 1999 the West believed that the civilising process had delivered them from their past into a present of a ‘cosmopolitan system of general political security’. The end of the Cold War had ensured that the civilised ways of the West were the only game by which European politics could be played. However, the Serbian regime had shown otherwise and by doing so it denied the entire claim that European politics had in fact transformed. This would not have been the case if Serbia was constructed as a part of the ‘Orthodox civilisation’. In that case Serbian coercion against Muslims in Kosovo would only have proved that civilisations were in conflict and that very conflict would have constructed Serbs and Kosovo-Albanians as ‘others’ to the West. As it turned out the West had no ‘other’. There was no other Europe to the West but the one in which it struggled to turn its back on the past. The methods of the Serbian government did thus prove a provocation in a way ‘worse’ atrocities in Rwanda a few years before had not or the conduct of the Russian army in Chechnya a few months later would not. The notion of a non-civil past was so present in the Western construction of its own political project for Europe that faced with non-civil ways of acting the West immediately gave them European significance.

There was no ‘other’ in the construction of European identity because that identity was defined in terms of cosmopolitan integration. Tony Blair probably came closest to defining the nature of Cosmopolitanism when he on the air campaign’s 31st day offered his audience in the Economic Club of Chicago to set ‘what is happening in Kosovo in a wider context’. 59 The context, Blair argued, was globalisation. Globalisation has become a standard reference to the accelerating integration of international relations. Especially associated with the most advanced industrial, or post-industrial, societies globalisation refers to the integration of markets and its political consequences as governments allegedly lost most of their ability to control the national economy to transnational market forces. 60 Because it is signified by an economics-discourse, the rules of globalisation are constructed as objectively given by the nature of the market. Having based much of his ideological platform on the conceptions of reflexive modernity developed by Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck (among others), 61 Blair has a different conception of rules. Rules are in a reflexive relationship to one another and though one had to bow to some of the rules of the market, Blair argues, he does not believe that rules are a priori given. Rejecting the economistic conception of rules as given by the market Blair focused on how agents’ actions were shaped by the community and how community could be made to work better in order to improve opportunities and behaviour. 62 In other words, Blair focused on civil society. And he believes it is the values of the organic communities of civil societies which were the true source of rules.

The market, Blair therefore argued, is only the ‘most obvious’ case of globalisation. Globalisation was neither only a matter of economic integration nor was it governed by rules beyond politics. Economic globalisation was an integrated part of the transformation of the conditions of community as such. Thus, Blair pointedly told his American audience that ‘we are all internationalists now’. In the West community was no longer only defined in terms of the state. It had an international dimension as well. Community had become cosmopolitan. Blair agreed with his Foreign Secretary that Cosmopolitanism had begun its development after the Second World War, but the implication of Blair’s argument is that it was only now that the civilising development of history had come into its own in the way Kant imagined:

‘Today the impulse towards interdependence is immeasurably greater. We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community. By this I mean the explicit recognition that today more than ever before we are mutually dependent, that national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration and that we need a clear and coherent debate as to the direction this doctrine takes us in each field of international endeavour. Just as within domestic politics, the notion of community—the belief that partnership and co-operation are essential to advance self-interest—is coming into its own; so it needs to find its own international echo’. 63

The rules of action were not given by national interest. The national interest, routinely referred to by Western leaders, had gone through a civilising process whereby the democratic societies had transcended their warlike nature of the past in favour of ‘international collaboration’. International action was not guided by transhistorical national interest but was a function of domestic politics which translated to an ‘international echo’. So arguing, Blair invoked the notion championed by Ferguson that through integration the civil nature of individual societies would transform into an international community.

The national interests of Western governments were closely associated to maintaining the values of the international community. ‘If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society’, Blair argued, ‘then that is in our national interest too’. 64 These values, which defined the community and were to be spread, were those of civil society. But why should the West want to spread civil communality? Because, Blair argued, ‘the spread of our values makes us safer’. Nations which shared the civil values did not go to war against one another. Instead, they integrated into a democratic community, and according to Blair’s definition of a community that meant that their relations were governed by ‘the belief that partnership and co-operation are essential to advance self-interest’. This was the communal nature of cosmopolitan security. In Blair’s words, ‘the principle of international community applies also to international security’. 65


One might argue that the West constructed the Kosovo campaign in terms of civilisation by default. As the bombing campaign had only the shakiest foundation in international law, the West realised that the argument was weak and it therefore was the time to deploy the heavy rhetoric of civilisation. Even if that line of argument would hold up in an analysis of the Western communication strategy during the war, however, it would prove the importance, rather than the emptiness, of the concept of civilisation. If civilisation is a term which could justify actions international law could not, then civilisation held a very powerful position in the minds of Western leaders and apparently also in their electorate. And as war allegedly starts in the minds of men, this makes civilisation a concept in urgent need of attention.

Samuel Huntington has, almost singlehandedly, placed the question of civilisation on the agenda of International Relations. When faced with the rhetoric of civilisation the first thought of most students of international relations would therefore probably be to turn to Huntington for an explanation of what it was all about. Huntington’s conclusion is that civilisations are identities of peace. But according to Huntington peace can only be found by conflict. Only by identifying a common enemy, ‘an other’, can a number of societies define a common identity that renders them in peace with one another. Following Huntington one is left to conclude that the war in Kosovo showed that peace in Western Europe excluded peace with Eastern Europe. The West’s rejection of the universal values of international law thus showed that the time for the particular identities of civilisation had come, and showed that time to be a time of war.

This line of argument has left many students of international relations to argue that the very notion of civilisation is the problem. To them the war in Kosovo is proof that Huntington’s conception of civilisation is a very dangerous figure of thought when applied to politics. It excludes the possibility for political solutions between those defined as ‘others’, thus leading directly to war. So arguing one accepts Huntington’s conception of what a civilisation is. This essay has argued that while Huntington’s conception of civilisation is mistaken civilisation is a very important concept for the way the West understands international relations and one will have to focus on it on its own terms if one wants to understand the post-Cold War order.

This essay has argued that civilisation is a manifestation rather than an explanation. Huntington essentially replaces the neorealist concept of the state as the unit of analysis with civilisation believing, like Neorealism, that every international occurrence of importance can be explained in terms of this unit. In order for that line of argument to hold every international agent must belong to a unit of civilisation. The fact is that they do not. Civilisation is a uniquely Western concept. A concept which developed in the Enlightenment as a way to express the belief that society could only be understood in terms of history. Western societies had civilisation because they, or so it was believed, had a claim on the future because of their progressive modernity. Thus, civilisation was the expression of a certain conception of society and can only be understood in light of this conception. Adam Ferguson introduced the concept of civilisation in English in An Essay on the History of Civil Society . Civilisation captured the notion of history in Ferguson’s essay, while civil society was Ferguson’s description of the society civilisation thus placed in history. A civil society, Ferguson argued, was characterised by an elaborate division of labour which allowed for a polity of ‘peace and regular policy’. Immanuel Kant saw the realisation of such a policy as the condition for establishing ‘a cosmopolitan system of general political security’. Civil societies, Kant argued, did not go to war against each other.

When Tony Blair argued that ‘war is never civilised’ he thus invoked the conception of a civil society defined by ‘peace and regular policy’ internally and externally defined by cosmopolitan peace with other civil societies. War was not a civil mode of interaction. On the contrary, war broke down the possibility of a regular policy of peace on which civil society depended on nationally as well as internationally. Blair feared that if war or coercion were seen to work in Europe it would threaten the regularity by which European politics had developed by means of integration since the end of the Second World War. The Second World had become a symbol of the end to a European history defined by war. The European order had allowed for war as the final arbitrator and therefore had even the European civil societies been prey to the breakdown of the balance of power in the world wars. European integration was constructed as a civilising process which was to establish a European civil society as the foundation for a ‘cosmopolitan system of general political security’.

The Milosevic government, Robin Cook argued, threatened the ‘peace and regular policy’ of that system because it showed that war and coercion could actually produce political results. The raison d’être of European integration had been to ban war as a means of policy, the Serb actions in Kosovo showed that war worked. Thereby, Jospin argued the Serb government defined itself as ‘barbarians’. People who did not engage in the political discourse of civil society, but blatantly used force as a means of politics. As ‘barbarians’, the Serb government had placed itself outside politics in the mind of the West. War had to be the answer to their actions and therefore Blair argued that ‘war is sometimes necessary for civilisation’.

Civil society can explain the actions of the West. It is not civilisation, but civil society which is the unit of analysis. But how is one to conceptualise a construction of politics as a unit? In this essay it has been argued that Foucault’s notion of governmentality provides a conceptual framework for understanding a construction of politics as the basis of collective action. As such, governmentality serves the same analytical purpose as Huntington’s notion of civilisation. However, governmentality is not based on a priori assertions of how collective identity is created. Governmentality springs from an analysis of the historical contingencies of Western politics and thus it shows civilisation for what it is: a manifestation of civil society. Because governmentality is an analytical category, it also rejects the a priori notion that identity is necessarily conflictual. On the contrary, this essay shows that the West is not pursuing ‘others’ in order to remake its collective identity after the end of the Cold War. Post-Cold War order is created on the basis of inclusion rather than exclusion. To the West the Kosovo war was necessary to keep Eastern Europe in the ‘cosmopolitan system of general political security’ the European civil societies had created.

* I would like to thank the Copenhagen Research Project on European Integration for funding the research from which this essay stems. I am grateful to Christopher Coker and David Gress for their comments on previous incarnations of the ideas presented in the essay. Any errors and omissions are, as always, mine alone.


Note 1: Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Speech on a New Beginning for Kosovo , (London: Prime Minister’s Office, 10 June, 1999,  Back.

Note 2: In a conflict of identities no concept is innocent. Thus even the spelling of the site of the conflict is contested. The Serb spelling translates to Kosovo and the Albanian to Kosova. As the former is the most commonly used in the West, I adopted it in the acknowledgement that in the absence of a neutral term the only term to use is the one used by other people trying to be neutral.  Back.

Note 3: Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order , (London: Touchstone Books,1998 [1996]).  Back.

Note 4: Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , ed. Fania Oz-Salzberger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995 [1767]).  Back.

Note 5: Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978 [1939]).  Back.

Note 6: Immanuel Kant, ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ and ‘To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch’, in Kant’s Political Writings , edited by Hans Reiss and translated by H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970 [1784/1795].  Back.

Note 7: Lionel Jospin, Speech to the National Assembly , Paris, 26 March, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1999).  Back.

Note 8: The purpose of this essay is neither to develop constructivist theory nor to discuss its merits vis-a-visother theories of International Relations. The essay seeks to analyse the Kosovo war and—in this case—constructivist approach must prove its worth on its analytical merits rather than on its ontological and epistemological credentials. For these discussions I refer to Emanuel Adler, ‘Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics’, in European Journal of International Relations , Vol. 3, No. 3 (1997). For more general assertion of the constructivist position, see John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality , (London: Penguin Books, 1995). Furthermore, it should obviously be noted that the kind of Constructivism presented in these texts is hardly the only one laying claim in the trademark of Constructivism.  Back.

Note 9: James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, Rediscovering Institutions. The Organizational Basis of Politics , (New York: the Free Press, 1989), pp. 160-161.  Back.

Note 10: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , pp. 13-14.  Back.

Note 11: Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society. Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984). Searle, The Construction of Social Reality .  Back.

Note 12: March and Olsen, Rediscovering Institutions , p. 161.  Back.

Note 13: Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).  Back.

Note 14: Michel Foucault, ‘Governmentality’, in Graham Burchell, Colin Cordon and Peter Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect. Studies in Governmentality (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990). For an introduction to the concept of governmentality and the research done on the field see Michell Dean, Governmentality. Power and Rule in Modern Society (London: Sage, 1999). Within International Relations Michael Dillon has used governmentality to explore questions of world order, Michael Dillon, ‘Sovereignty and Governmentality: From the Problematics of the ‘New World Order’ to the Ethical Problematic of the World Order’, Alternatives, Vol. 20 (1995).  Back.

Note 15: Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man , (London: Penguin Books, 1992).  Back.

Note 16: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 128.  Back.

Note 17: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 129.  Back.

Note 18: Ibid.  Back.

Note 19: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 43.  Back.

Note 20: Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash: Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order , (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994).  Back.

Note 21: Thus Huntington argues that ‘the clash between multiculturalists and the defenders of Western civilization and the American Creed is, in James Kurth’s phrase, ‘the realclash’ within the American segment of Western civilization ... The futures of the United States and of the West depend upon Americans reaffirming their commitment to Western civilization. Domestically this means rejecting the divisive siren calls of multiculturalism. Internationally it means rejecting the elusive and illusory calls to identify the United States with Asia’. Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 307.  Back.

Note 22: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 58.  Back.

Note 23: Oswald Spengler,: The Decline of the West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991 [1918-1922]). The distinction between Kulturand civilisation originated in the revival of German nationalism in which wanted to distinguish the traditions of the German bourgeoisiefrom the French speaking aristocracy. Elias, The Civilising Process , pp. 7-24. For an encyclopaedic introduction to the distinction between civilisation and culture in German political discourse see Jörg Fisch, ‘Zivilisation, Kultur’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozial Sprache in Deutschland , Band 7, Verw-Z, (Stuttgard: Klett-Cotta, 1992).  Back.

Note 24: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , pp. 41-42.  Back.

Note 25: Samuel Huntington: ‘No Exit: The Errors of Endism’, in Parameters. US Army War College Quarterly , Vol. XIX, No. 4 (December 1989). On post-historical conceptions see Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire. Has History Come to an End? , translated by Patrick Camiller, (London: Verso, 1994 [1989]).  Back.

Note 26: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , pp. 155-179.  Back.

Note 27: On the other hand, the challenge to Western identity could provide a revitalisation of Western civilisation. Huntington thus came dangerously close to arguing that war, or at least conflict, would be good for the West.  Back.

Note 28: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 158.  Back.

Note 29: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 161.  Back.

Note 30: Ibid.  Back.

Note 31: Stephen M. Walt, ‘Building up New Bogeymen’, in Foreign Policy , No. 106, (Spring 1997), p. 184.  Back.

Note 32: The way Huntington’s argument treats civilisations in the same way realists treats states seems to underline the assertion that civilisations are defined by peace. The realist conception of states is based on the domestic analogy according to which states are a realm of peace by virtue of a social contract whereas the international is in a state of war in absence of thus a common identity. Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Macmillan, 1977). p. 46  Back.

Note 33: Huntington regards Sub-Saharan Africa as a ‘possible’ civilisation. The ‘possibility’ for civilisation, however, seems very remote indeed. Though Huntington considers the possibility that ‘sub-Saharan Africa could cohere into a distinct civilization, with South Africa possibly being its core state’. Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 47.  Back.

Note 34: Hedley Bull and Adam Watson eds., The Expansion of International Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985).  Back.

Note 35: Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , pp. 69-72.  Back.

Note 36: Walt, New Bogeymen , p. 187 et seq.  Back.

Note 37: Though understandable because Huntington himself insisted that civilisations were not political. Huntington, Clash of Civilizations , p. 44. However, Huntington focused on reasons for acting rather than the units of actions. When identifying civilisations as the units of world politics in the twenty-first century Huntington was not saying that civilisations would become agents but that civilisation would be the reason for acting. The agent remained the state. But the state was no longer capable of generating identity on its own accord and therefore one could not understand international relations on the basis of the state only.  Back.

Note 38: David Gress, From Plato to NATO. The Idea of the West and Its Opponents (New York: The Free Press, 1998), p. 24 et seq .  Back.

Note 39: Gress, From Plato to NATO , p. 31 et seq .  Back.

Note 40: Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War . A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954).  Back.

Note 41: Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, A Time for Peace (Copenhagen: Institute of Political Science, University of Copenhagen), forthcoming.  Back.

Note 42: Elias, The Civilising Process .  Back.

Note 43: Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society .  Back.

Note 44: G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right , edited by Allen W. Wood, translated by H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991 [1821]), pp. 220-275. Robert Cox have utilised this conception of civil society in his ‘Civil Society at the turn of the millennium: prospects for an alternative world order’, Review of International Studies , Vol. 25 (1999).  Back.

Note 45: Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and its Rivals (London: Penguin,1996 [1994]). John Keane, Civil Society. Old Images, New Visions (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).  Back.

Note 46: Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , p. 254.  Back.

Note 47: Ferguson’s great fear was that the military power might turn the tables on its civil masters as they were not able to fight back in case of a military coup. He was thus a ferment advocate for citizens militias which he found not only could serve as a counterweight to the army but also teach the civilians the Spartan virtues of army life. Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , pp. 143, 253.  Back.

Note 48: Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , p. 214.  Back.

Note 49: Oz-Salzberger, ‘Introduction’, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , p. xxii.  Back.

Note 50: Christopher Coker, Twilight of the West (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1998), p. 14.  Back.

Note 51: ‘The greatest problem of the human species’, Kant argued, ‘is that of attaining a civil society’. But in isolation a civil society could not create the ‘peace and regular policy’ referred to by Ferguson because of the ‘distress which every state must eventually fell within itself, even in the midst of peace’. In the idiom of twentieth-century International Relations, the security dilemma would prevent civil societies to be in if they were not able to create an international civil society: ‘the problem of establishing a perfect civil constitution is subordinated the problem of law-governed external relationship with other states’. Kant, Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, pp. 45-47.  Back.

Note 52: Kant, Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose , p. 49.  Back.

Note 53: Woodrow Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s War Message , as delivered on 2 April 1917, reprinted at hhtp://  Back.

Note 54: To the West the peaceful nature of the democratic alliance was such that a democratic peace theory developed which sought to explain the inherent peacefulness of democracies. But the history of democracy in terms of civilising process was taken for granted to the extend that democracy was dealt with in a narrow political-institutional sense only. Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller (eds.), Debating the Democratic Peace (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1997).  Back.

Note 55: Gress, From Plato to NATO , p. 16 et seq .  Back.

Note 56: Robin Cook, ‘It is Fascism that We are Fighting’, in the Guardian(Wednesday, 5 May 1999).  Back.

Note 57: Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society , p. 7 et seq .  Back.

Note 58: Coker, Twilight of the West , p. 106.  Back.

Note 59: Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Speech to Economic Club of Chicago (Chicago, Prime Ministers’ Office,, 23 April 1999).  Back.

Note 60: Kenichi Ohmae, The Borderless World (London: Collins, 1990); Robert Reich, The Work of Nations (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991).  Back.

Note 61: Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash, Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994).  Back.

Note 62: Tony Blair, The Third Way: New Politics for a New Century (London: Fabian Society, 1998).  Back.

Note 63: Blair, Speech to Economic Club of Chicago .  Back.

Note 64: Blair, Speech to Economic Club of Chicago .  Back.

Note 65: Ibid.  Back.