Friday, 21 February 2020 15:29

The uneven field of international relations

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The uneven field of international relations NST

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad commented on the Kashmir issue and the Indian Citizenship Act, the response was swift. India deemed it an act of injustice to its interest, regardless of the moral, ethical and human rights questions. It went to the extent of applying a sanction on our palm oil exports to the country.

This puts our international relations in jeopardy and at the same time undermines the country’s economy. Such is the present interdependent world, where nations, especially the big and powerful ones, can inflict harm on the weak and poorer ones for speaking the truth.

Had it been one of the superpowers that commented on this injustice, India would be reluctant to affect any retaliation except to issue a diplomatic note of protest. In this interconnected world, no nation can stand alone for each is linked with the others

through bilateral or multilateral engagement of trade, commerce, defence and education.

In addition, there is the linkage through political alignment as equal or subservient partners. Such alignments are usually clustered around rich and powerful nations. Thus, countries need to manoeuvre through these forms of linkages without disrupting

the interests of other countries, especially the superpowers who dictate the terms of international relations.

These powerful countries dominate the world by imposing their brand of submissive democracy. International relations are based not so much on mutual respect and understanding, but on an uneven field of diplomacy of intimidation and coercion to favour the rich and powerful nations.

Thus, smaller nations must negotiate the labyrinthine hypocrisy and diplomatic rigmarole and submit to the concept of justice and injustice as determined by the superpowers, such as the United States, China, Russia and Britain.

But the US is most blatant in this respect. Its arbitrary stance in this matter is seen in its justification of Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinian people. It deems these as not acts of injustice but of self-defence, even though they involved the killing of innocent women and children.

Further, it supports Israel’s intention to annex parts of the West Bank and legitimises Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian lands, as well as recognises Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. All of these were done unilaterally without the involvement of the Palestinians. This is the highest level of hypocrisy in international relations.

The US uses its economic and military clout to bring in line countries that oppose its hegemonic agenda through regime change, such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, by way of covert and overt military intervention. It also employs sanctions against such countries, notwithstanding the sufferings inflicted on innocent citizens.

A case in point is the assassination of Iran’s military commander, General Qassem

Soleimani, by President Donald Trump on the pretext of curbing terrorism. And the circumspect Iranian response is an example of the intimidating factor of the big powers.

However, countries that match their economic and military might and do not subscribe to their hegemonic agenda will be subverted through proxies or covert operations as they cannot afford open confrontations with such countries for fear of retaliation.

For example, North Korea has been a thorn in their side. Despite sanctions, military threats and coercion, North Korea has remained undeterred as it has the military capability to respond to such threats. America will conduct open military confrontation only with countries that do not have the military capability to retaliate.

International relations are fraught with hypocrisy and deception. They will never be based on justice and fairness because powerful and rich nations will impose their values and norms to serve their interests. International bodies set up to ensure justice and fairness in international engagements are usually toothless, only good for rhetoric and often subservient to the powerful and rich nations.

Military might and economic power will reign supreme in determining the world order. Justice in international relations is a prismatic deception favouring the rich and powerful nations. Most leaders of small nations are reluctant to speak the truth for fear of incurring their ire.

Nevertheless, someone must stand up and point out the injustice and Dr Mahathir did just that.

The writer is a lecturer at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 20 February 2020

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