For Raymond Aron, the disasters of the first half of the twentieth-century forever established the importance of the transatlantic relationship for European security. In Aron’s view, one of the principle purposes of transatlantic cooperation and indeed of politics itself was the search for a just international order. Aron believed that any such order requires mechanisms that help define the concept of legitimate action—norms, laws, and institutions. But he also recognized that any conception of international order must acknowledge that international actors will always have recourse to force. Ultimately, major states will only obey mechanisms that recognize their rights to sovereignty and self-defense—according to their own definition.
The problem remains managing the inherent tension between a legal regime robust enough to maintain stability and flexible enough to accommodate the demands of powerful states. But the specific contours of that problem have changed dramatically since Aron contemplated how to manage the Cold War confrontation. Maintaining order in a world of catastrophic terrorism will require international mechanisms that can quickly achieve agreement and motivate action. For many Americans, such mechanisms do not now exist; thus the United States can and must use force alone if necessary. But from the perspective of many Europeans, U.S. action unsanctioned by international institutions are illegitimate and even dangerous. European critics assert that the taint of illegitimacy carries real costs, both for the United States and for global stability. In this inaugural Raymond Aron Lecture, two of Aron’s most distinguished students will discuss U.S. and European approaches to the old problem of legitimacy and force and their implications for the new global order.