Sunday, February 21, 2010
Contemporary International Relations
The era when nations viewed each other as enemies is over as all have been replaced by the emergence of transnational actors leading to genuine transformation in world politics. Mutual misperceptions that fueled discord and rivalry and the mirror image phenomenon during the Cold War have been replaced by mutual understandings. Global cooperation among nation-states have brought about integrative trends leading to increased trade and communication where they individually and collectively strive to overcome disintegration trends like weapons proliferation, terrorism, environmental degradation, and genocide.
The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan which was signed in Washington, DC, on January 19, 1960 is a prime example of transnational cooperation. Another important agreement is the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT I) between U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. It was an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and an Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Most importantly, the collapse of the U.S.S.R. paved way for major global cooperation on many international levels. The creation of the United Nations in 1945 after the failed League of Nations (which the U.S. never joined) and the formation of Amnesty International in 1961 have opened a path for joint international cooperation on issues pertaining to facilitation of international law, international security, social progress, human rights, economic development, and the observance of global peaceful coexistence.
The emergence of multilateralism where nations work in concert for a certain cause has become a global preference as opposed to unilateralism where nations act individualistically without seeking cooperation.
The Realist Theory states that “states are the most important in world politics and that states are sovereign, and because there is no higher power, world politics is a ceaseless struggle for world politics.” Less concerned with ideals, social reconstruction or ethics, realists mainly focus on national interests and security. In the Realist Theory, special attention is given to great powers whereas NGOs, multinational corporations, and individuals receive less credence in the international arena. The Realist Theory is mainly based on the abhorrence of cooperation or alliance, amassing of resources, relations based on military and economic capabilities, and the use of pragmatic approaches to solve problems.
Despite coming to fore on the eve of World War II, the writings of Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes have played a great role in the history of Realist Theory. The failure of realists in defining the importance of power and national interest and their failure to account for new trends in world politics make them less reliable in the international arena. To Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who wrote Leviathan, international politics is about “a war of all against all”.
On the other hand, there is the Liberal Theory which “emphasizes reason, progress, ethics, and mutual gains.” Liberals value the importance of free trade for the prevention of unnecessary conflicts; they give significance to international institutions to solve conflicts, and prefer the use of legal procedures to overcome conflicts before they escalate. Liberalism is the most accepted view in the world today. Adam Locke is considered the father of liberal thought. Though realism and liberalism each have “comparative advantage in explaining certain kinds of international events”, none seem to be perfect as viewed from international theory and global future.
In principle 3 of economics, we learn that rational people think at the margin. Given the available opportunities, rational people systematically and purposefully do the best they can to achieve their objectives. At the international affairs level, the President of the United States has greater responsibility in foreign policy more than any other president because as a nation, the U.S. remains the sole super power after the demise of the former Soviet Union.
America’s military superiority over other nations in deterring belligerence anywhere in the world always gave every U.S. president the leverage to act unilaterally as happened in the invasion of Panama in 1989 when President George H. Bush was in office leading to the subsequent capture, transfer, and imprisonment of General Noriega in U.S. soil. Despite some nations within the international community viewing this unilateral act by the U.S. as irrational and a flagrant violation of international law, to the President of the United States and his loyal bureaucrats, interest groups, and supporters, it was an act undertaken to preserve America’s interests abroad.
The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Thomas R. Pickering, cited Article 51 of the U.N. Charter as sufficient grounds for the invasion. Perhaps, General Noriega rebelled against the mighty U.S. because of his preconceived notion that Panama had nothing to lose in the war with the U.S. The type of government that existed in Panama at the time of the invasion was less restrained by domestic factors. The economic factor that mattered most to General Noriega was that he was a drug trafficker while at the same time being on the payroll of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. For the economic factor, it was in the interest of the U.S. to ensure the smooth running of the Panama Canal.
At the individual level the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary and the rise of Adolf Hitler sparked World War I. The rise of hegemons seeking world dominance culminated in the start of WWI. On the state level, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire and the creation of new states and the evolvement of nationalism-a mindset that glorifies particular states came to the fore. At the global level, the League of Nations was created. Colonialism, multipolarity that lead to domino effect, and imperialism which implied expanding state power through conquest as experienced by Japan and Germany surfaced during these brutal wars.
On the persistent underdevelopment of the Global South, I find modernization theorists’ arguments to be more convincing. The “Global South’s own internal characteristics, including managerial inefficiency, lack of modern technology, and inadequate transportation and communication infrastructures” are the major factors behind the suffering and underdevelopment visible to this day.
Insecurity, corruption, embezzlement of state coffers, the absence of allocation of resources, retarded technology, poor governance, lack of political pluralism, and disparities between the rich and the poor are to blame for the suffering seen in the Global South. The notion that the absence of division of labor between the industrialized core and the underdeveloped periphery is the cause of the Global South’s underdevelopment seems to be out of context.
Many people believe Multinational Corporations (MNCs) can provide significant financial infrastructure for trade and industry and social improvement in developing countries as long as MNCs abide by the ethical standards and guidelines for operating in developing countries. However, others believe these institutions exploit the hardships encountered by developing nations. There are those who believe that most of the negative perceptions about MNCs are anecdotal rather than empirical.
There have been several documented cases of environmental degradations by MNCs as happened in Liberia a few years ago where Firestone was found to have created extensive environmental degradation and to have allowed its local employees live in squalid conditions. As long as MNCs abide by the internationally recognized environmental standards management set forth by ISO 14000, there shouldn’t be any problem for MNCs operating from far a field in developing countries.
The emergence of the World Wide Web has had adverse effects on the cultural and social well-being of some cultures notably Singapore and China where there have been outcries from many sectors of society. The negative effect of the internet on Chinese society has prompted the Chinese government to impose censorship on some URLs. Besides, pro-democracy advocates claim that the internet is playing a great role in the dissemination of democracy in politically retarded Asian nations. But there are those who cite the effects of pornography and other obscenities as harbingers of social degradations and other cultural absurdities.
A few Multinational Corporations have been involved in politics as happened in Chile when ITT attempted to block Salvador Allende of Chile from seeking the presidency. One major problem MNCs pose in foreign soils besides political, environmental, cultural, social, and traditional degradations is the effect of monopoly they have on the people and nations they have business dealings with. MNCs have been accused of exploiting the cheap labor of poor nations.
Another negative argument by some writers or scholars is that MNCs drastically changes the infrastructure of host countries and at the same time alter the culture and tradition of the locals they encounter. Besides the cultural and environmental erosion created by these foreign-based international institutions, a global effort can be effected to put a cap on further degradation of cultures, traditions, and the environment not only for the present but for posterity.
The world Trade Organization (WTO) was superseded by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) founded in 1947. The purpose of the World Trade Organization in the international arena is to liberalize international trade or in other words the regulation of trade between member states. Its central pillar is the multilateral trading system which is in regard to disputes settlements. Critics contend that the rich get richer and the poor poorer in what they refer to as convergence and divergence.
The World Bank (WB) was formerly established for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II ended. However, the bank’s working strategy changed to that of economic development once reconstruction was finalized. Generally, the bank is there to serve and protect the interests of the great powers. With the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Assistance (IDA), the World Bank gives loans and grants to countries that have no access to international credit markets. Some critics argue that the World Bank harms southern nations; some perceive it as practicing what they call “NGO imperialism”. Despite having 186 members, the World Bank is run by a few economically powerful countries whose interests dominate the bank composition and management; it has been blamed for running policies that are both practical and political in structure.
Founded in July 1944 in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire with originally 45 members, the purpose of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as an international organization is to keep an eye on the global financial system with the goal of stabilizing exchange rates and the modernization of the international payment system. The IMF provides loans to poor countries; it helps in surveillance and monitors economic and financial progress of nations that borrow from it; it provides statistics, research and technical assistance where applicable and is there to fight money-laundering and terrorism related activities in its spheres of influence global wise. As contended by critics, it is the conditions on the loans dished out by the IMF that make democratization and privatization a hurdle for member states.
Terrorism has changed dramatically since it has become more global in nature, more fatal; it is waged by civilians who rely on military technology to advance their aims and objectives. The use of the internet has enhanced their communication strategies; borders have become easier for them to encroach without being detected.