What do these invasions teach us about the state of our geopolitical system?
When the US invaded Iraq, it certainly contravened international legal norms that provided for aggression only when an enemy presented an immediate threat. This is a norm that the US helped to enshrine in the post-World War II legal order. We have witnessed, since the fall of the Soviet Union, a strengthening of the social and economic order promulgated by, and beneficial to, the US: democracy and free markets. The process of the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath involves a negation of the legal order of the era of Pax Americana but an affirmation of the era’s social and economic order. In short, the US undermined the international legal system while strengthening the international social system.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia, however, represents a challenge both to the international legal order and to the socioeconomic order of US-led globalization. In Iraq, we ultimately seem to be witnessing the triumph of the liberal economic and political order. The ability, or inability, of that socioeconomic order to prevail in Georgia is of great symbolic significance over the next few years.
The US invasion of Iraq was, if you will, a wager in which the socioeconomic order of international democracy was chosen over the international norm of national sovereignty. It is not surprising that US disregard for the latter is costing us right now. Still, we would be foolish to be entranced by that fact and to overlook the greater stakes that underpinned the initial wager. The pace of the march of political and economic freedom around the world is at stake.