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The Contemporary International System

The Principal Actors in the Contemporary International System

The principal actors in the contemporary International system are states (Stivachtis 15). States wield a lot of power; guaranteed by each states military and soft power or might. A state like the USA is a major player in the international system due to its military, economic and soft might. It has some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world, it has the hugest economy in the world and its soft power amassed through sustained sale of given values and aiding of other states over time is immense. World power balance is maintained by relative power of states and collective powers of given international bodies.

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Stability and instability in the world is caused by perceived or actual tempering with established balance of power between states (Stivachtis 34). World conflicts are often in the form of feuding within a state or conflicting interests between states. For instance, the great lakes region in Africa has been largely volatile. The main reason for instability in the area is internal instability due to greedy political actors. Inter-state conflicts are often caused by disagreement on borders e.g. Ethiopia and Eritrea border dispute, aggression from one state e.g. in the case of south and North Korea. Unity between nation states improves world peace tremendously while inter-state conflict poses a danger for the whole world. Alliances in interstate conflicts make it hard to end the conflicts.

Some of the major non-state actors in the contemporary international system include terrorist groups, international criminal syndicates and other separatist groups (Snyder 4). Over time intergovernmental organizations have taken centre stage as actors in the international system. The most pivotal intergovernmental al organization in the contemporary international system is the UN. The UN was formed specifically for fostering intergovernmental relations and arbitrating interstate conflicts. Of interest as well are nongovernmental organizations especially those that operate internationally. NGOs have become powerful lobby groups in international affairs and largely influence international proceedings. Most NGOs help support world stability by responding to the needs of the poor, the unfortunate and the marginalised. Through NGOs the world manages to respond appropriately to catastrophes like famines. Finally there are multinational corporations that are continually growing into global conglomerates.

Terrorists and international criminal gangs only help to destabilize the world. International nongovernmental organizations and other intergovernmental actors plus the multinational corporations help increase international interdependence thus stabilizing and maintaining world peace. Some of the major intergovernmental agencies that play critical roles in stabilizing the international system include the Breton Wood institutions, the UN and other regional organizations that maintain peace and advance development in the different areas. The UN is a central intergovernmental body that worked hard to sustain stability of the international system. Through its varied departments, the UN concerns itself with world economic growth, world security and international law concerns.


Traditionally, homeland security agencies dealt with security issues inside own country and were not concerned with non domestic activities or criminal activity in other countries. However in the recent past, due to terrorism, homeland security agencies were forced to foray into a domain that was largely that of intelligence agencies. This change in focus or jurisdiction has been necessitated by change in crime patterns; crime nets are no longer regionally limited but cut across the globe (White 66). Technological improvements have also led to law enforcement agencies acquiring capacity to develop new methods though which they can capture data or information on criminals both in and out of own nation. This shift was necessitated by happenings like the September 11 terrorist attacks that happened in the USA. Such terrorist attacks have changed the public’s expectations or opinion on the mandate of homeland law enforcement agencies.

Governments can no longer afford to be pre-occupied with looking inward. There is need for homeland security to interact with international agencies or law enforcement agencies in other states so as to nub criminals and diffuse terrorist cells. If governments remain occupied or stress on homeland security being divorced from international investigative work, terrorism is likely to heighten. Terrorism can only be defeated through concerted efforts to identify terrorist cells around the world and infiltrating the same. It is only after each of terrorist cells has been infiltrated and quashed that terrorism can be stemmed. The terrorists have pockets of the larger network in different nations. It is only through sharing information internationally that the law enforcers will actually track down the cells.

If terrorism heightened, it is likely to roll back the advance of globalization. Threats by terrorists are likely to make people fearful and thus restrict free movement of people and sharing of information. However, if the terrorists are taken on through international networking between security agents, globalization will speed up. Globalization will speed up because the world will become a safer place allowing for free flow of people and information.

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Dominance in International Affairs 100 Years from now

At the moment, nation states are the major actors in international affairs. Much at the international level is centred on agreements between nation states. However, over time, the influence of intergovernmental agencies or organizations continues to rival nation power or influence in international affairs. For instance, the UN remains a powerful organization and with changing fortunes in superpowers like the USA, it will continue to play a more powerful role in world affairs (Stivachtis 26). China as a state is growing fast and its influence is likely to be a major rival to the US influence around the world (Stivachtis 88). In Europe, to counter the hegemonic powers of US and the threat of china, the European Union is likely to be strengthened. The European Union is already playing a significant role in world affairs. Africans are already thinking in terms of a United States of Africa. Therefore, the future of international affairs is likely to be dominated by powerful intergovernmental organizations or agencies.

Multinational corporations are also growing very fast. In the near future, a company like Wal-Mart is likely to be a very huge conglomerate operating in every part of the world. Multinational Corporation change the way business is done around the world (Stivachtis 204). They also influence international affairs due to interdependence created. Some multinational corporations make more profits than the GDP of several nation states, in given regions of the world, combined. This is a pointer to the reality that as multinational companies grow, they are likely to wield more economic muscle than some countries. With economic power, multinational corporations will have more say in international affairs than given countries or regions of the world. Definitely, with a strong influence in world affairs, multinational corporations will diminish the power of given nation states.

Canada and US Unique Relationship in World Politics

Canada and the USA are unequal in size and power but work very closely due to a number of factors. The first reason for their close ties is the fact that they are neighbours. Being neighbours, they are more or less like one nation and share a long boundary over which their people interact. The border between them is not militarised thus allowing for free interaction of civilians. Immigration to and from both countries is high. Secondly, the two countries are great trading partners. Trade between the two countries was enhanced since when the North American Free Trade agreement came into force (Stivachtis 43). In actual sense, the North American free trade agreement has kind of merged the economies of the two countries into one big economy. Thirdly, the countries share the same history and hold to similar socio-cultural values. Both countries were colonized by England and their cooperation especially in military matters dates back to the cold war period.

Three important issues that the two countries are likely to cooperate on in the future are security, tackling international crime and addressing climatic challenges. Terrorism remains a major threat to world security with both Canada and the USA being likely targets. The two countries are cooperating in the war on terrorism and this cooperation is likely to continue into the far future. International crime especially drug trafficking, cyber crime and money laundering are major concerns for both countries. Finally, climatic issues and environmental degradation related issue are becoming critical concerns in world politics. A section of scientists have convinced the world that if carbon emissions are not reduced, unpredictable weather and hostile climates will be the order in the future. Environmental related concerns are issues around which the two countries would have to work together.

The issues that are likely to lead to problems between the two countries are concerns that Canada is losing its identity. The cultural values and norms that would be identified as Canadian have been eroded by American values or ways of doing things. Some Canadians are concerned that the USA seems to dominate Canada. Secondly, USA policy on terrorism e.g. going to war in Iraq has created jitters in Canada. Therefore, if the US continued with an adversarial approach against perceived enemies, Canada’s support would wane. Finally, there are concerns about trade and how to deal environmental degradation especially around the border between the two countries. Border related challenges may contribute to deterioration of relationship between the two countries.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Arguments have been put forward explaining why the North American Free Trade Agreement ought to be renegotiated. Proponents for re-negotiation argue that the agreement has not brought tangible benefits for citizens in member countries. It is argued that instead of spurring economic growth, the agreement has led to loss of jobs in member states and failing of economies in given sectors. The agreement, it is argued, goes against principles of free trade thus denying citizens opportunities that would amount to prosperity.

Those against re-negotiation of the agreement point out that problem with the agreement have to do with implementation and not principles in the agreement (Stivachtis 49). The agreement is said to have generated a lot of trading opportunities between member countries especially the USA and Canada. The increased trading in turn improves and bolsters investment in the three countries thus improving local economies. Although the agreement is blamed for increasing levels of unemployment in the three nations, it has generated more opportunities for savvy traders thus increasing national GDPs for member countries. Majority of those who want the agreement renegotiated are pro-protectionist policies that only help to stifle the economy.

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Should there be renegotiation, the issue of how to cater for social and economic costs accruing as a result of the agreement has to be addressed. The agreement has to be negotiated so that it does not favour investor at the expense of the local poor or small firms. Secondly, the countries need to negotiate on how to respond to climatic hazards. Finally, the countries have to renegotiate and institute clauses on how to protect labour such that many locals in member countries do not lose jobs. Many locals are opposed to the agreement due to loss of livelihoods. Goods originally produced locally in the member states can no longer be produced due to cheaper imports from member states.

International Law

There is no world body like a nation’s legislature which debates and passes international law. Devoid of such a body, one would wonder if international law is a real law. Such wondering would be pegged on understanding that laws are only made by a legislature. However, close inspection or scrutiny of even national laws; it becomes apparent that not all laws are passed through parliament. In the case of international laws, they result from treaties or protocols signed between states (Shaw 7). Once nations ratify a treaty, the stipulations of a treaty are codified and enforced as law. Secondly, international laws also takes shape based on customary practiced witnessed across board in the international community. International laws are also deciphered from the common laws of states. No matter the source of international law, the stipulations are refined by legal experts such that there are no contradictions between member country constitutions and the international laws. Finally, the political leaders have to agree and ratify the laws for them to become applicable.

Laws at national levels are enforced by the executive and judiciary. At the international level, international law is not easy to enforce. This happens because there is no clear enforcer of international law. Secondly, international law tends to be more of a political agreement and thus is often not universally ratified or accepted. Finally, due to socio-cultural differences, the universality of international laws becomes highly challengeable.

However, globalization has made international laws more visible. Globalization is a phenomenon simply described as the world becoming a small village due to the enabling capacity of transport and communication technologies. Information technology and ease of movement due to improved transport technologies has led to more interaction among the people of the world. As such, the people of the world tend to have same values and much cultural differences are diffused. This lays ground for the possibility of international laws that are truly universal.

Enforcement of International Law

Nations voluntarily follow international law because international law helps advance interests of the nations. International law helps nations to deal with each other in a systematic or more orderly way. This is in line with national objectives of forging a good working relationship with other nations for prosperity (Shaw 4). Nations also voluntarily follow international law because it is not very removed from customary law in most states. International law seeks to address the basic issues that affect all living human beings in the world. These are basic issues of natural justice that are captured in the customary laws of most nations. Finally, nations voluntarily ascribe or follow international laws because failure to attracts the wrath of other nations. When a country does not voluntarily follow international law, other nations act as enforcers of the same. Through unilateral decisions made by given international actors, nations are forced to follow international law. However, to avoid conflicts with other nations that may be interested in enforcing given international laws, nations choose to comply.

Nations can violate international law if it is in contradiction with domestic law. However, this does not happen often given nations try to harmonise domestic laws in line with international laws while international laws are only ratified or accepted if they are in tandem with domestic aspirations. Enforcement of international law largely depends on consensus among member states. Largely, nations are expected to be reciprocate towards each other i.e. respect this and I will also respect it in return. Therefore, when a member country chooses a selfish route or does things that do not advance the interests of all players, international law is broken.

The International Criminal Tribunals

The UN often forms special courts or tribunals to deal with violations of international law. International Criminal tribunals are formed to handle cases of human violation that cannot be handled objectively by local justice systems or where there is no domestic justice system (Shaw 952). As international institutions, these courts try suspects based on the postulates of international law. States saw the need to establish such like institutions due to cases of state violence against citizens or in cases where states are not bringing individuals involved in human rights abuse to book. The main concern of this courts or tribunals is to ensure justice for the underprivileged and the oppressed is realized. Secondly, this tribunals or special courts also help in determining justice in case violation involves more than one state. The operations of these tribunals have given tooth to the efforts of the intergovernmental agencies especially the UN. Through such tribunals and courts, the whole world is able to help towards realization of justice in states or areas where it would otherwise be elusive.

The International Law Commission is an arm of the UN charged directly with the duty of promoting and developing of international laws. It is the mandate of the commission to codify international law. The general assembly acting on recommendation from earlier efforts at codifying international law resolved to set up the commission in 1924 (Shaw 966). The commission has individuals working on their capacity as experts and not as representatives of any interest party e.g. their state of origin. The membership is varied in terms of expertise so as to provide holistic appreciation of issues in the development and codification of international law. It is understood that the commissioners have to bring to the exercise a real feel of international affairs. Therefore, effort is made to identify individuals who understand how the world is functioning and why. Since its formation, the commission has worked hard and its efforts embody the international law order or framework by which countries operate today.

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The Role of the United Nations in the Creation of World Law

The UN plays an integral part in the development and enforcement of international law. The UN charter grants power to the General Assembly to continuously work out and identify areas and opportunities through which international law can be developed (Shaw 1153). Once the law is developed, the Justice arm of the UN ensures it is codified. Finally, the UN has to seek the consent or ratification of the law from member states. For some laws, consent is not sought directly but is rather based on other treaties or agreements that member states have agreed to or ratified.

The UN through its various organs has come up with universal standards. For instance, the universal declaration of human rights provides for the basic entitlements that people of all calibre and culture can identify with. The UN has facilitated agreements like the Geneva Convention, which stipulates guidelines that parties involved in an armed conflict have to adhere to (Shaw 1088). The UN secretariat and general assembly works closely with organizations like the ILO, UNESCO, WIPO, WHO, WTO to stipulate standards in different sectors of world affairs (Shaw 1083). All member states of the UN are obligated or encouraged to observe the stipulations of the given organizations. By so doing, the UN helps build and enforce international law.

There are regional bodies or organizations that support or complement the UN’s efforts in building and enforcing international law. Such regional organizations develop and promote local initiatives that affirm or are in tandem with international law (Shaw 1168). The organizations also provide expertise and advice to the international law development bodies like the UN. Regional bodies are able to develop material and disseminate the same appropriately in support of international law initiatives. Such bodies also facilitate closer cooperation of nations in international law related initiatives.

Works Cited

Shaw, Malcolm Nathan. International Law. 5th Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Snyder, Craig A. Contemporary Security and Strategy.London: Taylor & Francis, 1999.

Stivachtis, Yannis A. International Order in a Globalizing World. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.

White, Jonathan Randall. Defending the Homeland: Domestic Intelligence, Law Enforcement, and Security. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004.

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