I just deleted a small post on sophism because it didn't go the way I wanted it to: Iwas trying to be too academic. No sense it that here: no one cares which version of the translation of the Sophist you might want to use, since what is important are the ideas (or at least should be).
Part of the reason for blogging here is trying to make sense of it all. I've got a stack of articles on my desk here at home that is no less than two feet tall and no time to properly go through them all (but I will...).
Trying to make sense of it all is trying to place things in perspective. Getting things in perspective in an increasing complex world is one thing: trying to understand that what you see ain't what you get is another; on the gripping hand, applying heuristic and hermeneutical methods to making sense out of "everything" is what is really needed.
I remember visiting my friend Chris in DC after the wall came down in Germany. He's an ex-Marine captain, worked briefly for the agency and has been at State now for quite a while. He's got a great wife and kids. Chris is probably the most straight-forward guy I know. In our long discussion back then - I think it was 91 or 92, I can't remember - we both came to the conclusion while that the end of the Cold War was a great thing, it didn't mean that the world was a safer place.
The Cold War covered up a lot of problems, allowing them to be simply pushed together and excused as a result of East-West tensions. The concentration during the Cold War on the state of US-Soviet relations meant that the machinations of other countries was largely ignored, downgraded and/or excused by the machinations of the other side. The behavior of country A, for instance, in, say, the Middle East was acceptable to the US because the goals of country A, while in and of themselves problematic, if not outright vile, matched the major policy goal of the US in the area, of preventing the Soviets from gaining ascendency.
If your country is in the way of superpower interests, things tend to get rather unpleasant rather quickly, especially if your country isn't being held together by much more than the interests of the other superpower. You end up getting screwed by some bastards, but as the saying goes, no one cares because "they're our bastards".
But this is nothing new and indeed has been the field of play for Realpolitik since the beginning of the colonial period in the 19th century into the 20th. Placing blame for this is silly, since it is the game that is played and you can't turn history around. Everyone was in on the game in one way or another, and there were those who were consummate players and those who bumbled around at it. The US belongs more the the latter group than the former; the former would be former colonial powers, which include the UK, France, China and the Soviets.
Where does that leave us in the 21st century?
We face a group of transarently failed countries; a slew of failed countries that maintain more or less a facade of not being failed; countries that are muddling through, a few success stories for post-colonial development, and what is euphimistically called the developed world.
The greatest danger at the beginning of the 21st century isn't so much this crisis or that: those are temporary problems that can be solved by throwing money at them or throwing bombs at them. The more fundamental crisis is that the international system of bilateral symmetry, of the Cold War, has dissolved and everyone's floundering around trying to figure out how the world will work after the Fall.
Part of the reason for this difficulty is the increasing meaninglessness of states. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia, states have been the actors of international relations. Treaties are between states; the study of international relations is the study of the relationshop between states; there are even those who believe in international law as being binding on states.
But the concept of states is being undermined from below and above.
They are being undermined from below by conficts that predate the states involved that haven't been resolved. Many of the failed states belong to this category: countries like the former Yugoslavia dissolved from within because they were artificial states that failed to impress upon their citizens the worthiness of the state as the fundamental entity within which to operate.
They are being undermined from above as well. Quangos, MNOs, NGOs, whatever you want to call them. Quasi-Autonomous Government Organizations, Multi-National Organizations, but above all the Non-Governmental Organizations are slowly usurping traditional state roles.
The role of NGOs is especially problematical, since they operate without responsibility. The NGOs go into a country with a problem and try and deal with the problem according to their own priorities and needs. What they end up doing is undermining the authority of the state: whether this is done out of the best of intentions, or deliberately for political purposes, or accidently plays no role in the effect that it has on the states involved: they are weakened.
Why is this important? It's important because if you are going to push for things like an International Court of Justice, treaties like Kyoto, for "obeying international law" - whatever that means - then you can't at the same time dismantle the actors that work within this framework.
And I think that many of the NGOs are pursuing their own special agendas that don't have all that much to do with providing aid or help and have a lot more to do with ensuring that the problems failed states face don't go away, since that would mean the NGOs involved would lose their main arguments for fund-raising and that some of those involved might have to drop the pretense of trying to save the world and actually find a real job.
So the mere concept of the state as international actor is being undermined, largely, as I see it, by those whose agendas fail to gain support in individual countries (i.e. their politics ensure that they wouldn't be elected, so they aim for achieving power by other means).
There's a lot more for me to cover: the importance of secondary players in international politics has changed drastically and more fundamental interests that were pasted over during the Cold War have re-emerged and will present new challenges.