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I am interested in the role of discourse in IR, so when I encounter an ambiguous phrase that suddenly becomes a set piece of int. policy speech, is presented as self-evident, has no clear definition, and is treated as it had always been there, I go like this: #WIISTOTC /1
The “rules-based international order” (RBIO) is a good ex. Many (e.g. @cafreeland) lament that it's “under attack”. RBIO is also finding surprising allies: @SecPompeo deplores that it has been “allowed to corrode”, @mfa_russia complains that it “is being ruined”. #WIISTOTC /2
Many versions of RBIO coexist in a battle of narratives, where various actors claim legitimate authority in shaping the rules of international society. Narratives by liberal democracies, but also Russia, China, etc. all reproduce 3 (powerful but unstable) “myths”. #WIISTOTC /3
Myth #1: There is a single RBIO, w. a clear meaning. Problem: RBIO is like motherhood & apple pie, but rules clash, are hard 2 balance & need to be hierarchized. Ex. sovereignty v. HR (#R2P), open trade v. democracy (#FTAs), multilat. v. sovereignty (#EU; #Brexit). #WIISTOTC /4
Most #RBIO narratives look like #Marvel movies. Myth #2: There are bad guys who challenge/threaten/usurp RBIO. They form a multi-headed hydra made primarily of foreign (West or non-West) states, but also non-state (terrorists!), and domestic (extremists!) actors. #WIISTOTC /5
Problem: Not many "challengers" are actually clearly seeking to overthrow RBIO + actors sometimes defend some rules but violate others. The distinction btw. who's in/out is more blurry than it might seem. The hero might go rogue if his girlfriend is murdered. #WIISTOTC /6
Myth #3: Every narrative has good guys who uphold/protect RBIO, “fight back” & “plant the flag” on the “city on a hill” (@cafreeland); “rally the noble nations of the world” (@SecPompeo), “lead the resistance”, are “defenders, builders, contributors” (@MFA_China). #WIISTOTC /7
In most RBIO narratives, there are heroes & villains. Villains are evil as they’re not like the heroes. Heroes are good bcause there are villains to fight. Identity is relational. When Thanos disappears, Thor just sits around drinking beer all day and grows fat. #WIISTOTC /8
Actors claiming legit. authority on the global stage 2day need RBIO narratives! Yet some still reckon RBIO is “not perfect”...but #sorrynotsorry they will not allow "whataboutism"/“false moral equivalency” btw. the flaws of the good guys and evilness of villains. #WIISTOTC /9
#WIISTOTC There is another option. @AbeShinzo @leehsienloong r good ex. They eschew radical Othering, show humility, self-resp., single out “inward-looking tendencies” & take unruly big powers 2 task. These “anti-heroes” are no Avengers, but still look like lead characters: /10
A clash of narratives isn't mere rhetoric, but (discursive) power: it shapes the realm of possibilities, (de)legitimizes action. Let's not forget good guys can turn out 2b corrupt & villains have origin stories. Making RBIO strange is a step towards reconciliation. #WIISTOTC /11
Thanks for tuning in! S/O to @AyseZarakol, @Prof_ch_epstein, @profptj, @AmitavAcharya, @AnnTowns3, @agathang1 and others (Roxanne Doty, Andrew Hurrell, Lily Ling...) whose work I draw from/engage with. Want more? PM me for the actual paper! #WIISTOTC /12
P.S. This is based on a working paper I've written for the @DSF_Group, a collaborative network initiative funded by @NationalDefence's MINDS Programme.
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