Friday, January 30, 2009

Multilateralism and the Globalization of Abortion

Many readers of this blog are likely not up on some of the hottest trends in international relations theory.

World politics, and the academic study of it, evinces a central tension between power and cooperation in international affairs. Since World War II, the great hope of international idealists has been to create institutions that would promote peace and facilitate cooperation among nations. As time has passed, real world events have shown the false benigity of such hopes, for example, in the emergence of the United Nations General Assembly as a Third World power shop seeking to shift global resources and influence away from the industrialized nations of the global north. Key manifestations are found in the demands for a "New International Economic Order" in the 1970s and ongoing U.N.-sponsored "Conferences Against Racism," with the next installment scheduled for April in Geneva. For an idea of the anti-Western agenda at the upcoming "
Durban II" meeting, see U.N. Watch, which includes this photo:

Zionism is Racism

I've been thinking more and more about academic international relations theory and "real world" events this last few weeks, especially since Foreign Policy announced its new website and stable of bloggers. In particular, the blogging debut of Harvard's Stephen Walt has been something of an eye-opener. My academic relationship to Walt is discussed here. I am now about halfway through Walt's book, The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy, which I find disturbing, but readers can get a feel for Walt's views at his blog. Walt's a "neorealist" who specializes in alliance formation and the balance of world power (it's interesting how the "amoralism" of realism is deployed so effectively by Walt to delegitimize the moral existentialism of the Israeli state).

My point in this essay, however, is to take a look at trends on the "neoliberal institutionalist" side of international theory, starting with Robert Keohane, Stephen Macedo, and Andrew Moravcsik's new essay at International Organization, "
Democracy-Enhancing Multilateralism." The abstract of the article is at the link, but the basic gist of the piece is an attempt to secure some middle ground between critics of "global goverance" and "universal sovereignty," and those who favor the use of global mutlilateralism to advance "pragmatic" international change, cooperation, and democratic deliberation.

These passages from the conclusion are worth citing:

Our discussion has shown that multilateral institutions can empower diffuse minorities against special-interest factions, protect vulnerable individuals and minorities, and enhance the epistemic quality of democratic decision making in well-established democratic states. Moving some forms of governance up to a higher level, insisting on elaborate mechanisms for public debate and criticism, and making use of impartial and expert decisionmaking bodies can improve democracy ....

Democracy requires that governments control factions, protect minority interests, and maintain the epistemic quality of deliberation. Multilateral constraints, like other constitutional constraints, can enhance the ability of publics to govern themselves and enact their deliberate preferences over the long term ....

Yet we are not apologists. We emphatically do not claim that multilateralism always enhances domestic democracy. To the contrary, the standards we have articulated for defending multilateral institutions on democratic grounds equally enable criticism of democracy-inhibiting multilateralism, should international institutions promote special interests, violate rights of minorities, diminish the quality of collective deliberation, or seriously degrade the ability of people to participate in governance without compensating democratic advantages. There are good reasons to be concerned that multilateralism can sometimes empower unaccountable elites—a tendency against which it is necessary to guard.
I offer this review of multilateral theory mainly because it's the cutting edge of the discipline. Keohane, Macedo, and Moravcsik demonstrate the kind of academic detachment inherent to the scholarly enterprise, although the implications of some closely-related research in the field - and the ideological agenda of many adherents to multilateralism - leave much to be desired.

For a quick sample (albeit journalistic), let me leave readers with an example of the multilaterization of an emerging regime promoting abortion as a human right under international law. Michelle Goldberg has a piece on this at Slate, "
Abortion Rights Go Global." Here's a chilling excerpt:

In the last four years ... women and their lawyers have brought abortion actions before the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which investigates human rights violations in the Western hemisphere. Several times, women who've been denied abortions have won both compensation and an acknowledgment that their rights were violated. For feminists worldwide, this represents a great victory, since it elevates women's rights and safety above the often-sacrosanct principle of national sovereignty ....

Yet as abortion rights go international, so does the anti-abortion backlash. The globalization of the abortion wars creates some of the same tensions—between universal human rights and community mores, between majority rule and the protection of individual liberty—as Roe v. Wade, on a larger scale. All over the world, in countries including Kenya, Poland, and Nicaragua, local anti-abortion movements (often working with American allies) rail against the meddling of powerful outsiders. In Poland, traditionalists who oppose abortion bemoan the loss of their country's Catholic values as it integrates into secular Europe. They speak about international human rights and the courts that enforce them with something of the frustrated anger that American conservatives sometimes direct at the federal government. "Abortion proponents cannot win elections on these issues, so they have to go through the least democratic bodies in the world, the United Nations, for instance, and the courts," says Austin Ruse, the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a pro-life organization active at the United Nations.
That last quotation from Austin Ruse brings us back to the theoretical foundations and benefits of multilateralism.

Will creating an international human rights regime for abortions advance the interests in individual nation-states of the international system? My feeling is that folks like Michelle Goldberg don't care, and the Democratic-left's accession to power in the U.S. with the advent of the Barack Obama administration will certainly put the push for a global abortion regime into hyperdrive. Obama's move to overturn the Reagan-era "Mexico City Policy" is a sign of the times for the power of the mulitlateralists to advance an agenda that is not only anti-democratic in its hubristic assumptions, but radical in its anti-life aspirations.