Thursday, 8 December 2011

Understanding the Principles of International Relations

Photo courtesy of Gala Diner in the evening of 20th November 2012, Diamond Island, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I. Realism and Liberalism

Realism and liberalism have been the two main dominant ideologies of international politics. Now the two theories have received more strength in the contemporary world, especially in the 21st century. Realism and liberalism have their own features as follows:

In realism, states are the central factor in international politics in which anarchic system exists and one can control or is above states. Military capability and use of force is pursued in conducting foreign policies and states must be self-help to solve their own problem and to achieve and maximize its national interest. So, power and national interest are the central values to be considered first by statesmen in engaging with other states which can or cannot pose threat to each other in pursuing their own ends. In realist’s view, these ends can be achieved through cooperation, but there is potential for conflict. 
In liberalism, states are important, but other actors are worth taken into account such as multinational corporations, intergovernmental organizations, and also terrorist groups which have played important roles in world politics. Unlike realists, liberalists seek cooperation and establishment of regimes and institutions between the states by considering the fact that states are interdependent and help each other for mutual benefits rather than isolation. So, win-win strategy and negotiations are considered by state leaders in solving their difference with other states. More beneficially, liberalism has its prosperous values for all people by valuing liberty, justice, toleration, free market economy, democracy, and human right etc.

II. International Ethics and Cosmopolitanism

According to Balis, Smith, and Owens in their famous book of “Globalization of World Politics”, international ethics is the study of the nature of duties across community boundaries. It is the study of how members of “bounded” communities, mostly nation-states, ought to treat “outsiders” and “strangers” and also the study of whether it is right to make such a distinction. Furthermore, the book asks how it is possible to treat others as equals in a world with two conditions: the existence of international anarchy and moral pluralism. Globalization prompts us to ask whether human beings ought to be considered, 1) as one single moral community with some rules that apply to all (cosmopolitanism); 2) as a collection of separate communities each with their own standards and no common morality (realism) or 3) as a collection of separate communities with some minimally shared standards (pluralism).   

In the context of globalization, cosmopolitanism challenges realists and pluralists on two grounds. First, states are considering the possibility of defending themselves and not helping others as this action would be harmful on it owns. Second, states are thinking of the possibility to object to the duty as a world citizen in which equality is imposed and helping others is an obligation. Presently, cosmopolitanism could be seen in international agreements and practices of many states, international institutions, and individuals, including the Universal declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Court of Justice (ICC).

While there are elements of cosmopolitanism present in the international order, most state practice and most people continue to give priority to their fellow nationals.” (Textbook, p.205). It is common that some states uphold cosmopolitanism while other states and most people are still stick to nationalism by giving priority to their fellow nationals. For example, Cosmopolitanism can be seen and is upheld in some democratic states which promote pluralism such as United States where its citizens coming from every corner of the world receive equality in the whole society while other communist countries (China, Myanmar, etc) that have ethnic problems are appeared to be too realist and nationalist.

I think that this statement acknowledge the present reality in many countries around the world that the provision of public service by a government of country is in favor of or give priority to their fellow citizens despite the advent of cosmopolitanism and globalization. This is the realist approach that focuses only the national interest or self-help while giving no help or providing different treatment to foreigners or citizens of other countries. This practice is neither uncommon nor wrong as states shall give priority to their fellow nationals before considering foreigners. In financial and fiscal context, it is their nationals who pay taxes for the Government so they must be considered with the first priority. However, the effects of globalization and the establishments of metropolitan cities by developed countries impose the concept of cosmopolitanism in day-to-day conducts of the governments as they face the problems of mixed population consisting of foreign workers, migrants, tourists, international students, foreign staff of NGOs, etc. Giving the priority to the fellow nationals is the right decision by government, but the government has to provide basic service and similar treatment to foreigners in the same way as it citizens whenever possible and as much as it can. That’s why World Trade Organization (WTO) use the term “national treatment” in order that the foreign companies which come to invest in a country should receive similar treatment and the same advantages as the local companies. From my own view, this practice is acceptable as long as it does not breach international laws. However, states will get negative consequences if this practice is transformed into severe discrimination or racism.

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