The expression “international relations” can be the name of a field of study or research. It can also refer – unsurprisingly – to “international relations”.
I see that experts of “international relations” tend to be qualified as either “realist” or “liberal”. You will have to do your own research, but I have done mine and have reached the conclusion that the “liberal” school is at best pitifully naive. “At best,” I insist, and I mean “at best”.
Most nation states will prefer diplomacy (polite coercion) and cooperation to armed conflict, if for no other reason because the latter is costly. Just as most people don’t take each other to court, even if they have “a good case”, because no matter how sure they are of the legal basis for their claims, they can never be sure that “justice will prevail”.
Some “nation states” call the shots more than others in international organisations. Take even the Security Council with its “permanent members”, who have veto powers: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; three Western countries against two non-western. Almost like the sharply bipartisan US Supreme Court. Except that the veto power means that the Security Council is pretty well paralysed. Were it not for the veto, the West would have its way in every case. You might think that would be a good thing, but if you are not a reasonably wealthy person in a reasonably wealthy state, you might not.
We are human, after all. Our species has many lovely traits, but also some that are less loveable. Take for instance our tendency to abominate those who are different (colour, religion, outlook, sex, whatever.) When I went to upper secondary school, the school’s very best student was kicked out because he refused to cut his hair. “Quite a few years ago”, you may say, and you may think we have changed since then. Changed, yes, but at all times, and in every place, there will always be abomination. India, a country I learned to revere as the home of Ghandi, as the cradle, as it were, of non-violence, has turned into an extremely violent place. Even Sri Lanka …
When people are desperately hungry, they don’t always act nobly. When people are desperate, period, goodness knows what they will do.
I’m sure you are familiar with “group dynamics”, in workplaces, for instance. Maybe you are a student. Maybe you have a child at school. Whoever you are, I’m sure that you know, in your heart of hearts, of people who were not included, not invited, not welcome. Maybe you yourself were excluded, treated overbearingly or even hectored. Or maybe you yourself were a bully. In the US, they are so ahead of us that they even have school shootings, more often than not perpetrated by people who have not been included, invited or welcomed.
That’s us, you see. Homo sapiens. We can be very kind. We can also be anything but.
“But,” you say, “cooperating nation states will not stoop to the level of vile individuals!”
- What did the West do with its Covid vaccines? Did we or did we not share them with, say Africa?
- There is a terrible famine in Africa now. Far worse than ever before. And it’s due to climate change! What are we doing about that? Huh?
And by the way, a resolution to combat “glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” was adopted by the UN in 2021 against two votes. Guess whose votes they were. See for yourself, finding the N preceding the names of only two countries.
Now all this was just an introduction. My real agenda is to suggest a lecture held in 2015 by John Mearsheimer. John Mearsheimer is currently a favourite hate object for the press. He was and is still however, a prominent expert on international relations, a so-called “realist”. I think that we should have paid more attention to what he said back then.
Seven years after he held that lecture, we have a war on our hands and it’s too late to prevent it and probably also too late to stop it (because wars follow their own perverse dynamic. Remember, we’re humans, i.e. not entirely rational.)
- A lot of people on both sides have died and will continue to die. Died! Like lost their lives (sometimes slowly and painfully) – leaving broken hearts, widows and orphans…
- Innumerable homes and livelihoods in Ukraine will be gone.
- Innumerable people in the US and Europe will sink into poverty or deeper poverty.
- A handful of people will grow fantastically much richer, and I bet that you and I won’t be among them.
- We are told that the war will lead to food shortages over the entire planet.
- Meanwhile, the entire planet is facing a monumental existential challenge: Climate change.
Mind you, this war is not going to end any time soon. Will it have been worth it? If so, why?
- Because we hate Putin?
- Because we believe in “freedom”?
What is freedom? For whom? From whom? How and at what cost?
Now that I think about it, though, ultimate freedom is death, so I guess, yes, this war is a step in the direction of ultimate freedom for all.