chapter  10
18 Pages

Race, racialisation and rivalry in the international legal order

ByRobert Knox

As noted by Anievas, Manchanda and Shilliam in the introduction to this collection, debates about imperialism have been – in an oblique manner – one of the main ways in which international relations has grappled with the question of race and racism. The contemporary resurgence in IR scholarship on race is no different, part of a wider scholarly and political revival in the study of empire and imperialism. As has often been noted, this wider revival occurred in the wake of a wave of military interventions. Thus the 1999 Kosovo ‘humanitarian intervention’, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the wider “war on terror” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq were all central to the re-emergence of debates about ‘empire’. Analysing these military interventions in terms of empire and imperialism has

also brought their racialised nature to the fore. The justifications for all of these military interventions implied and relied upon a stark distinction between different regions of the world, with some states being entitled to intervene, and others existing to be intervened in. This points more generally to the fact that it has often been through issues of military violence that the global colour line has been understood and contested. This is a familiar story to any student of IR. Indeed, as the introduction to this

volume notes, the discourse of rogue states and new wars, and the technologies of contemporary military violence all bear the stamp of race. Yet there is something missing from this picture. While military interventions obviously involve questions of force, power and political economy, they also crucially involve questions of law. Military interventions are almost always accompanied by attempts to argue for their legality. Indeed, the discourse of ‘rogue states’ emerged as part of the broader legal architecture of the war on terror, and some of the most heated debates over drones have been conducted in juridical terms. This should draw our attention to

the fact that the last wave of contemporary military interventions have been quite intensely juridical – with much of the specificity of humanitarian intervention and the war on terror lying in their juridical characterisations. As such, one can draw important connections between the global colour line,

military intervention and international law. In this respect, it is unsurprising that critical scholars of international law have attempted to map these connections. These approaches have tended to locate the use of force within a wider dynamic of a ‘civilising mission’, in which the role of law is to racialise peripheral territories in such a way as to justify the intervention of advanced capitalist powers. Building on a previous article (Knox 2013), this chapter will argue that the conceptions of race and imperialism that underlie such approaches cannot sufficiently account for the shifting patterns of legal argument over the past decade. Briefly examining some of the major military incursions of the 1990s and 2000s, this chapter argues that the difference between the legal justifications for the first invasion of Iraq and the later invasions cannot be accounted for by the concept of racialisation outlined above. It argues that instead it is necessary to foreground the role of inter-imperialist rivalry in creating particular legal forms of racialisation. The chapter then attempts to reflect more broadly what role inter-imperialist

rivalry plays in the relationship between imperialism and international law and how this can illuminate questions of racialisation more directly. In so doing it attempts to shed light on the complex and shifting nature of the global colour line.