The role of the non-state actor can tell us much about the nature and power of the state. While in the first instance the role of the MNC is seen as relevant in development and labour standards, for example, there are deeper more fundamental aspects of the MNC that help us to understand legitimacy. Some countries that struggle for legitimacy – fledgling regimes, less democratic regimes, oppressive regimes – manage to sustain themselves in spite of a lack of popular support by enriching those who control the levers of power, such as the army generals, and the judiciary. The wealth that flows to those regimes comes from multiple sources, including the sale of natural resources, and sovereign debt markets, both of which are essentially controlled by MNCs.
The coincidence of the Syrian crisis with the Jubilee Celebrations in the UK for the 50th anniversary of their Queen’s accession to the throne may appear at first instance to be entirely separate news items in a pretty busy news schedule. But underneath each story is a crisis of legitimacy, and attempts by key protagonists – Bashir Al-Assad in the first instance, and Queen Elizabeth in the second – to maintain their weakining legitimacy. Henry Kissinger waded into the Syria crisis with a strongly worded criticism of US policy in the crisis. With an argument rooted all the way back in The Treaty of Westphalia, Kissinger railed against the default interventionism that has characterised the Arab Spring as breaking with centuries of – essentially – respect for national sovereignty. Of course one could argue that the proxy wars of the Cold War and more recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan – and even in Yemen, Somalia, and Kosovo – pre-dated the Arab Spring and clearly established an option of pragmatic interventionism, moral hazard be damned.
The integrity of the state, the sanctity of its sovereignty, and quite literally the neck of Syria’s leader, are all on the line. A question arises about where the state itself gets its legitimacy. While Assad held recent elections, it appears pretty clear that those elections did little to legitimise his position. The opposition and self-proclaimed oppressed people within Syria are looking to the International Community to intervene and protect their human rights. Now, when we legitimise a political institution, we offer up our freedom to that institution so that it will secure our individual rights and freedoms. If the oppressed peoples of Syria are looking to the international community to secure their rights, and if interventionalism (humanitarian or otherwise) has become a default position, are we witnessing a transition of sovereignty and / or legitimacy to “The International Community”?
Meanwhile, closer to home, the sun is stubbornly refusing to make an appearance in London for the pomp of the Jubilee. Quite literally, it is raining on their parade. As if the British weather wasn’t enough, Poly Toynbee decided to have a pop at the Royal Family, as she is wont to do. Her assault is more wide ranging than that – she attacks that fading vision of Britishness, a decrepit and anachronistic national identity that bears no resemblance to who the British actually are. Perhaps the legitimacy of the State is not undermined by the extraordinary edifice that is the Monarchy; it is more tourist attraction / museum piece than something that geniunely represents Britain. But its position is increasingly detached from the State, and one suspects that the next accession could well be strained.