International security relations and post-imperialorders

AuthorRadu-Sebastian Ungureanu
PositionLecturer, Ph.D, Faculty of Social and Administrative Sciences - 'Nicolae Titulescu University', Bucharest
Radu-Sebastian Ungureanu
Radu-Sebastian UNGUREANU
This paper intends to investigate the relations between former imperial powers and new
sovereign states succeeding an empire in the field of international security, particularly when
involving the use of force. Despite their stated attachment to the normative principles of what we
usually call “Westphalian order”, former imperial powers continue to interfere in the domestic
affairs of these new states, especially those unable to exercise their sovereignty efficiently and
legitimately. One could say that, by military interventions, these powers deny the sovereignty of
weak states in the regions once under their control; but the preparation of these missions makes
the actions not to be interpreted as expressions of an imperialist attitude. I consider there are two
major ideal-types that could better explain such interventions. In a power-oriented post-imperial
order, the intervention of a former empire is the result of the projection of its national interests
and identities. In a norm-oriented post-imperial order, the sense of moral responsibility of the
former imperial power is the main reason for its interference. The intervention’s legitimacy and
suitability require domestic and international support. This paper, grounded on a constructivist
approach, intends to contribute to the understanding of international security issues in terms of a
world shaped by actors’ interests and identities and the dynamics of their relations. The identified
ideal-types of post-imperial orders consider both material and cultural factors. The analytical
elements that may link extremely different situations are the socially variable interpretations of
past and present.
Keywords: empire; hegemony; intervention; power-oriented post-imperial order
(POPIO); norm-oriented post-imperial order (NOPIO).
The term “empire” seems to have gained in recent IR literature an incredible spreading, its
usage covering various interpretations of the contemporary social world, as for the expansion of
the global capitalism, or the projection of American military and political power, or the leveling of
political expectations worldwide, and so on. In spite of their different meanings, all the forms the
term “empire” is used suggest the image of unity and of an (un)conscious march toward this unity,
or the “imperialism”. In this paper I use the term “empire” in a more narrow (and old-fashioned)
way, as a territorial political entity.
Despite this precaution, to define an empire is not a simple task. In the last half of
millennium, we have witnessed the progressive establishment of what it is generally called the
“Westphalian” order, where the political space is divided into separate territorial sovereign states,
interacting in an anarchical environment. At least since the end of the two World Wars, the
dominant idea of the legitimate organizing principle of a sovereign state is the expression of the
will of a political community shaped into a nation defined by the “self-determination” principle. It
is precisely the claim of every nation to benefit from sovereignty that makes the system to be
Lecturer, Ph.D, Faculty of Social and Administrative Sciences - “Nicolae Titulescu University”, Bucharest
(e-mail: A previous version of this paper, entitled “Post-Imperial Orders in
International Security Management”, was presented at the “2nd Annual Durham International Affairs Conference,
‘Informal Empires, Past and Present’”, Durham, United Kingdom, 2009.
278 Lex ET Scientia. Administrative Series
anarchic, in the absence of any authority capable to impose the order into the system, by power
and legitimacy.
This conception is somehow misleading, because it is obvious that this legalistic point of
view does not have an authentic correspondent in the political reality, for the contact between the
nation-states. In fact, the supposed anarchy of the international realm should be considered in
practice only in part, the states observing several ways of dealing with the anarchy. Many factors,
material and ideational as well, contribute to the formation of a much more complex international
realm, in particular due to the way the political entities understand and exercise the sovereignty,
inside the borders and during their interactions with others. In a famous article, Alexander Wendt
points out that the anarchy has multiple meanings, which appear from the interactions among
states.1 By supporting a constructivist perspective toward International Relations, I take into
account the importance of the interactions among actors in defining their interests and identities, in
a mutually constitutive relation between structure (anarchy) and actors. I thus consider that the
meanings of “security” and “sovereignty” are socially constructed, dynamic, and interconnected.2
It is not my intention to investigate all the social meanings of the sovereignty and security
that occur during interactions among political entities, from the shared sovereignty of EU member
states to the establishment of some sort or hierarchy. In this paper I shall focus on the interventions
made by the former imperial powers, mainly with military means, in the territories that used to be
under their control.
The starting points for investigating such a theme are three empirical observations. Firstly,
the weak states facing an external intervention that I envisage are mainly those that used to be part
of an empire, now part of what is generally known as the Third World. Secondly, the former
imperial power tends to be the main subject (if not the only one) of the intervention, so that it can
be granted a special interest in conducting the operation. The question that I raise is why precisely
the former empire is taking the initiative in dealing with the situation and the answer I suggest is
that happens because of the special links that bond the two actors. I group such links in a
“post-imperial order”. Thirdly, I consider that these interventions can be divided into two major
categories: those designated mainly to protect interests of the former imperial patron and those that
have as the prime objective to protect the lives and properties of the people living in the countries
affected by the failure of the state.
Based on these three observations, I suggest in this paper that the post-imperial orders
imply that the former imperial powers are in particular interested in interfering in those weak states
that used to be under their control. The relations among states succeeding an empire would thus
have distinguishing features from other kinds of international links. In my opinion, these special
relations between the former centre and subordinated units of an empire, the post-imperial
identities and interests, could offer some good answers for the study of contemporary international
security issues.
In order to investigate the post-imperial orders, the first necessary step would be a
definition of the empire and to distinguish it from other forms of political dominance over alien
territories. Once we identified the empire, it is possible to discuss the post-imperial order. The
third section of the paper is dedicated to identification and definition of two ideal-types of
post-imperial order that I call power-oriented post-imperial order (POPIO) and, respectively,
norm-oriented post-imperial order (NOPIO). As I suggest in the final part of the paper, these two
1 Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is what States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics”, International
Organization, 46 (1992): 391-425.
2 I tried to demonstrate this idea in Radu-Sebastian Ungureanu, Securitate, suveranitate şi instituii internaionale.
Crizele din Europa de Sud-Est în anii ’90 [Security, Sovereignty, and International Institutions: The South-East
European Crisis of the ‘90s] (Iaşi: Polirom, 2010).

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