InsightSeptember October 2004

A New Paradigm of International Relations and the function of religions

Hans Kung


I. A short reflection on history

Let me start with a short reflection on history: Three symbolic dates that signal the new paradigm in international relations that is slowly and laboriously establishing itself: its announcement (1918), its realization (1945), and finally its breakthrough (1989).

First opportunity: 1918, the First World War, unfortunately supported on both sides by the Christian churches, ended with a net result of around 10 million dead, the collapse of the German Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the Tzarist Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The Chinese Empire had collapsed earlier. Now there were for the first time American troops on European soil and, on the other side, the Soviet Empire was in the making. This marked the beginning of the end of the eurocentric-imperialistic paradigm of modernity and the dawning of a new paradigm. That new paradigm had not yet been defined, but had been foreseen by many far-sighted and enlightened thinkers, and was first set forth in the arena of international relations by the United States of America. With his ‘Fourteen Points’, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to achieve a ‘just peace’ and the ‘self-determination of the nations’, without the annexations and demands for reparations which some in Congress wanted. President Wilson has been ignored too much in the United States and even denigrated by Henry Kissinger who often polemized against ‘Wilsonianism’.

The Versailles Treaty of Clemenceau and Lloyd George prevented the immediate realization of the new paradigm. That was the ‘Realpolitik’, a word used first by Bismarck, but its ideology was developed by Machiavelli and it was the first time put into political practice by cardinal Richelieu. Instead of a just peace, there emerged a dictated peace in which the defeated nations took no part. The consequences of this approach are well known to you: Fascism and Nazism (backed up in the Far East by Japanese militarism), not sufficiently opposed by the Christian churches, are the catastrophic reactionary errors which two decades later led to the Second World War, which was far worse than any previous war in world history.

Second opportunity: 1945 saw the end of the Second World War with a net result of around 50 million dead and many more million exiled. Fascism and Nazism had been defeated, but Soviet Communism appeared stronger and more formidable than ever to the international community, even though internally it was already experiencing a political, economic and social crisis because of Stalin’s policy.

Again, the initiative for a new paradigm came from the USA. In 1945 the United Nations was founded in San Francisco and the Bretton Woods Agreement on the reordering of the global economy was signed (foundation of the International Monetary Fond and the World Bank). In 1948 came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with American economic aid (Marshall Plan) for the rebuilding of Europe and its incorporation into a free trade system. But Stalinism blocked this paradigm for its sphere of influence and led to the division of the world into East and West.

Third opportunity: 1989 saw the successful peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe and the collapse of Soviet Communism. After the first Gulf War it was again an American president who announced a new paradigm, a ‘new world order’, and found enthusiastic acceptance all over the world with this slogan. But in contrast to his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, President George Bush senior felt embarrassed when he had to explain what this ‘vision thing’ for the international order should look like. No change in Iraq, no democracy in Kuweit, no solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, no democratic change in other Arab States. And in the present moment the doubts also in the United States increase that the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ can be our vision for the future. So today the question arises: over the last decade, have we again forfeited the opportunity for a ‘new world order’, a new paradigm?

We should not give up hope. And especially committed Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other religions should work for the new paradigm. After all, despite the wars, massacres and streams of refugees in the twentieth century, despite the Gulag archipelago, the Holocaust, the most inhuman crime in the history of humanity, and the atomic bomb, we must not overlook some major changes for the better. After 1945, not only has humanity seen numerous grandiose scientific and technological achievements. But many ideas set forth in 1918 that had been pressing for a new, post-modern and overall global constellation were able to better establish themselves. The peace movement, the women’s rights movement, the environmental movement and the ecumenical movement all began to make considerable progress. There emerged a new attitude to war and disarmament, to the partnership of men and women, to the relationship between economy and ecology, to an understanding among the Christian churches and the world religions. After 1989, following the end of the enforced division of the world into West and East and the definitive demystification of both the evolutionary and the revolutionary ideology of progress, concrete possibilities for a pacified and co-operative world have begun to take shape. In contrast to colonialist European modernity, these possibilities are no longer eurocentric but polycentric. Despite all the monstrous defects and conflicts still plaguing the international community, this new paradigm is in principle post-imperialistic and post-colonial, with the ideals of an eco-social market economy and truly united nations at their core.

Despite the terrors of the twentieth century there is ‘still perhaps something like a hesitant historical progress.’ Over the last century, the formerly dominant political orientations have been banished for good. For one, imperialism has no scope in global politics after de-colonialization. Moreover, since the end of the South African apartheid regime, racism, a consistent policy of racial privilege and racial discrimination, is no longer the explicit political strategy in any state. Likewise nationalism has become a non-word in the lands of Western Europe from which it originated, and for many people is being replaced by dialogue, co-operation, and integration.

The movement is now tending toward a novel political model of regional co-operation and integration, and is attempting to peacefully overcome centuries of confrontation. The result is peace between Germany and France first, then in the European Union, finally in the whole area of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, founded in 1948 and developed in 1960), including all of the Western industrialized countries (the European countries, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan): half a century of democratic peace! That despite all failures and deficiences truly is a successful paradigm change. I know there were and are still wars in Asia, Africa, South America and in the Islamic world (e.g. El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Israel-Palestine, Sudan, Jemen, Algeria, Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo), but nobody could anymore imagine a war between Germany and France or the United States and Japan.

II. The new paradigm

After this all too brief historical tour I want to move now to the fundamental definition of the new paradigm of international relations. I have received much stimulation and support in a discussion within the small international ‘group of eminent persons’ which was convened by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the UN year of ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ 2001 , an endeavour which produced a report for the UN General Assembly, ‘Crossing the Divide. Dialogue Among Civilizations’, Seton Hall University, 2001. On the basis of the experiences in the EU and the OECD, the new overall political constellation can be sketched briefly as follows. Here, ethical categories cannot be avoided. In principle, the new paradigm means policies of regional reconciliation, understanding and co-operation instead of the modern national politics of self-interest, power and prestige. In specific, the exercise of political action now calls for reciprocal co-operation, compromise and integration instead of the former confrontation, aggression and revenge. This new overall political constellation manifestly presupposes a change of mentality, which goes far beyond the politics of the present day. For this new overall political constellation to hold, new approaches to international politics are needed. For one, new international organizations are not enough here; what is needed is a new mind-set. National, ethnic and religious differences must no longer be understood, in principle, as a threat but rather as possible sources of enrichment. Whereas the old paradigm always presupposed an enemy, indeed a traditional enemy, the new paradigm no longer envisions or needs such an enemy. Rather, it seeks partners, rivals and economic opponents for competition instead of military confrontation, and uses ‘soft’ power (diplomatic influence and political persuasion, cultural influence and prestige) instead of ‘hard’ military power (Joseph Nye). This is so because it has been proven that in the long run national prosperity is not furthered by war but only by peace, not in opposition or confrontation but in co-operation. And because the different interests that exist are satisfied in collaboration, a policy is possible which is no longer a zero-sum game where one wins at the expense of the other, but a positive-sum game in which all win. Of course this does not mean that politics has become easier in the new paradigm. It remains the ‘art of the possible’, though it has now become non-violent. If it is to be able to function, it cannot be based on a random ‘post-modernist’ pluralism, where anything goes and anything is allowed. Rather, it presupposes a social consensus on particular basic values, basic rights and basic responsibilities. All social groups and all nations must contribute to this basic social consensus, especially religious believers, but also non-believers and adherents to the different philosophies or ideologies. In other words, this social consensus, which cannot be imposed by a democratic system but has to be presupposed, does not mean a specific ethical system, but a common minimum of ethical standards, a common ethic, an ethic of humankind. This global ethic is not a new ideology or ‘superstructure’, imposed by the west to the ‘rest’, but brings together the common religious and philosophical resources of all of humankind. For instance the Golden Rule you find already in the Analects of Confucius but also in the writings of Rabbi Hillel (before Christ) and of course in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, but also in the 40 Hadith of an-Nawawi. ‘What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others.’ ‘No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.’ And a few very basic directives you find everywhere in humanity: Not to murder, not to steal, not to lie, not to abuse sexuality. I shall come back to this point. Global Ethic should not be imposed by law but be brought to public awareness. A global ethic is simultaneously orientated on persons, institutions and results. To this degree, a global ethic does not just focus on the collective responsibility to the relief of any responsibility the individual may hold (as if only the social ‘conditions’, ‘history’, and the ‘system’ were to blame for specific abuses and crimes). Instead, it is focused in a particular way on the responsibility of each individual in his or her place in society and specifically on the individual responsibility of leaders in politics, economics and culture. Free commitment to a common ethic does of course not exclude the support of law but rather includes it, and can in some circumstances appeal to law. Such circumstances include cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression contrary to international law, as in former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, following the ratification by more than 60 nations the International Criminal Court (ICC) is now established to which such violations can be brought, specifically when a signatory state is unable or unwilling to inflict legal penalties on atrocities committed on its territory (cf. President Milosevic). But: Our vision has to be confronted with political reality:

III. Realistic alternatives for the future

It is notorious that it is the second Bush administration which opposes precisely such important international agreements like the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the implementation of the Biological Weapons Treaty etc. These are sad facts for all admirers of American democracy: The present administration of the only remaining superpower seems to many people not only in the Islamic world, but also in the Asian and African worlds and in Europe to disrupt a policy in the new paradigm. So I cannot avoid comparing the new paradigm with the political reality after 11 September 2001, given that beyond any doubt the fight against terrorism had to be started and the monstrous crime in New York and in Washington could not remain unatoned for. After the perhaps avoidable war in Afghanistan and the illegal and immoral war in Iraq – two wars which have brought anything else than peace to both countries – the decisive question is more than ever: what international commitment are we to make? And should we simply continue the fight against terrorism in this style? Can armed forces solve the terrorist problem? Can a bigger Nato stop terrorism? And should European nations now furnish and finance what would amount to a ‘foreign legion’ in the service of the Pentagon? My concern are not the alternatives of the past, but the alternatives for the future. Have we any alternatives at all, as long as foreign policy is above all military policy and billions are being spent on sinfully expensive new weapon systems and transport planes instead on kindergartens and schools, healthcare and public services in Europe and on fighting against poverty, hunger and misery in the world? Are there still any opportunities at all for the new paradigm outside the OECD world as well? I think that there are, and I want to indicate them cautiously: not with seemingly firm predictions, but in the mode of ‘It could be that…’ I shall do this in full awareness of all the real uncertainties of the future, which today often bring about fundamental changes more quickly than before, changes which are however not always for the worst – as we have seen in the changed attitude of the Bush administration regarding the United Nations. I shall adopt so to speak the realistic anti-Murphy principle: What can go wrong need not always go wrong…‹ And as an admirer of the great American tradition of democracy and the demand for human rights, I would plead for peace politics – even in face of the campaign against terrorism which should not primarily be a military, but a political, economic and cultural fight. It could be that the present or the next American administration, will realize that those who think that they can win the fight against evil all over the world are self-righteously condemning themselves to eternal war, and that even the sole remaining superpower and a self-designated police force of the world can carry out a successful policy only if it does not act unilaterally in a high-handed way but has real partners and friends, not satellites, practising therefore the ‘humility’ in dealing with other nations G.W. Bush promised before his election, but did not practise afterwards. It could be that the United States, more shrewdly than former empires, will not over-extend its power and come to grief through megalomania, but will preserve its position of predominance by taking into account not only its own interest but also the interests of its partners. The attempt to organize a messy world to our liking, is hubris; and also for empires – remember the French, the British, the German, the Japanese, the Russian empire – pride goes before the fall. It could be that the present or the next American administration, because it does not want to alienate the whole Islamic world, will take more interest in the root causes of Arab and Muslim resentment towards the West and the United States in particular; that instead of being concerned only with the symptoms it will be more concerned with therapy for the social, economic and political roots of terror; that instead of spending yet more billions for military and policing purposes it will devote more means to improving the social situation of the masses in its own country and those who lose out all over the world as victims of globalization. It could be that the superpower USA would also act out of enlightened self-interest to prevent the international sense of law from being shaken, as it is when the only superpower sets different standards from those which apply generally in international law, because by doing this it helps those powers which do not want to observe the standards of international law and precisely in this way encourages terrorism and the breakdown of international rules governing the use of force. It could be – to say also a word on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the main source of terrorism – that a new majority of the Israeli people replaces leaders who provided Israelis with neither peace nor security but with an economy which teeters on ruin, and will elect more peace-minded political leaders with the vision and ability to lead the country out of the morass and – not without heavy American pressure – to implement the ‘Road map’, supported by the UN, the EU, the US and Russia: withdrawal from all occupied territories and recognition of the State of Israel by all Arab states, with normal political and economic relations. The Geneva Initiative of December 2003 should be considered as a welcome ‘navigation system’ to implement the road map. This would create the conditions for an autonomous and viable (not dismembered) state of Palestine, preferably in an economic union with Israel and Jordan, which could be a real blessing for the whole region and especially for Israel. Indeed, it could be that then even the extremist Palestinians, who apply the same logic of violence, will stop their bloody terrorist activities, and that the Palestinians will realistically restrict their ‘right to return’ to symbolic return for some particularly hard cases – in exchange for new settlements and financial compensation. In the long run only the recognition by Israel will lead to a less authoritarian and corrupt and more democratic administration in Palestine. – But you are certainly eager for the dessert. IV. Consequences for religions and ethics

Here particular demands would be put on the three prophetic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, not to support uncritically the official politics of their respective governments but to show their prophetic role: ? ‘Recompense no one evil with evil’ (Romans 12.17). This New Testament saying is today addressed to those Christian crusaders in America and elsewhere who look for evil only in the other, thinking that a crusade hallows any military means and justifies all humanitarian ‘collateral damage’. ? ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Exodus 21.24): this saying from the Hebrew Bible on the limitation of damage is addressed to those Israeli fanatics who prefer to take two eyes from their opponent instead of just one, and would like to knock out several teeth, forgetting that the perpetuation of ‘an eye for an eye makes the world go blind’ (Gandhi). ? ‘And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it’ (Surah 8.61): this saying from the Qur’an is addressed to those Palestinian warriors of God who today would still like to blot out the state of Israel from the map and try to sabotage all peace initiatives. Peace among the religions is a presupposition of peace among the nations. Let me therefore conclude with a few elementary remarks on a Global Ethic which in the age of globalization is more urgent than ever. Indeed, the globalization of the economy, technology and communication needs also the globalization of ethic in coping with global problems. The two fundamental demands of the 1993 Chicago Declaration, confirmed by the call to our guiding institutions of the 3rd Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town 1999 and taken up in the Manifesto ‘Crossing the Divide’ for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, are the most elementary ones that can be made in this regard, yet it is by no means a matter of course. The first is the principle of Humanity: the demand for true humanity: ‘Now as before, women and men are treated inhumanly all over the world. They are robbed of their opportunities and their freedom; their human rights are trampled underfoot; their dignity is disregarded. But might does not make right! In the face of all inhumanity our religious and ethical convictions demand that ‘every human being must be treated humanly’. This means that every human being – man or woman, white or coloured, young or old, American or Iraqi has to be treated not in an inhuman, even bestial way, but in a truly human way. The second fundamental demand is the Golden Rule: ‘There is a principle which is found and has persisted in many religious and ethical traditions of humankind for thousands of years: What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others … This should be the irrevocable, unconditional norm for all areas of life, for families and communities, for races, nations, and religions’. On the basis of these two fundamental principles four ethical directives, found in all the great traditions of humanity, have to be remembered: – Not to murder, torture, torment, wound; in positive terms: have reverence for life; that means a commitment to a culture of non-violence and reverence for life. – Not to lie, deceive, forge, manipulate; in positive terms: speak and act truthfully;that means a commitment to a culture of truthfulness and tolerance. – Not to steal, exploit, bribe, corrupt; in positive terms: deal honestly and fairly; that means a commitment to a culture of fairness and a just economic order. – Not to abuse sexuality, cheat, humiliate, dishonour; in positive terms: respect and love one another; that means a commitment to a culture of partnership and equal dignity of men and women. But let me conclude now: I started with the lack of vision after 1989. I hope it became clear what this vision really could be. It is not a vision of war – but a vision of peace. Let me summarize it in the following four propositions: There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. There will be no dialogue among the religions without global ethical standards. There will therefore be no survival of this globe without a global ethic.


Kung, Hans, Global Responsibility. In Search of a New World Ethic, New York 1991, London 1991. Kung, Hans (ed.), Yes to a Global Ethic, New York 1996, London 1996. Kung, Hans – Schmidt, Helmut (eds.), A Global Ethic and Global Responsibilities. Two Declarations, London 1998, New York 1999.
Kung, Hans, A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics, London 1997, New York 1998.
Kung, Hans (ed.), Globale Unternehmen – globales Ethos. Der globale Markt erfordert neue Standards und eine globale Rahmenordnung, Frankfurt/M. 2001. Picco, Giandomenico;
Kung, Hans; Weizsäcker, Richard von (a.o.), Crossing the Divide. Dialogue among Civilizations, South Orange, NJ, 2001. Kung, Hans, The Catholic Church. A Short History, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 2001, The Modern Library, New York, 2001
Kung, Hans, Tracing the Way. Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions, Continuum, London 2002; and Continuum, New York 2002.
Kung, Hans – Senghaas, Dieter (eds.), Friedenspolitik. Ethische Grundlagen internationaler Beziehungen, Piper, Munchen 2003.

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