Humanising International Relations amidst Realpolitik

Jayantha Dhanapala, in The Island, 7 August 2012 **

My subject has been given to me by the Fulbright Commission but I tweaked it by adding the bit about ‘Realpolitik’ because I do feel, as Chris Teal, the Chairman of the Fulbright Commission has told you, that the humanist aspect in international relations has gradually encroached upon realpolitik but the hard core of realpolitik remains there.

Let me begin by saying that 2012 appears to be the Year of Diamond Jubilees. We had the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen of England which has, of course, been highly publicised. We had the Diamond Jubilee of the University of Peradeniya where Tissa and I went to University and many of us have very nostalgic memories of that university and, of course, today we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Fulbright Commission in Sri Lanka. I have not been so academically gifted as to be a Fulbright grantee or recipient, but as a diplomatic representative of the Sri Lanka Government in Washington twice – as the First Secretary in the 70s and, subsequently, as an Ambassador in the 90s – I do recall the important role that the Fulbright Commission and Fulbright scholars, both Sri Lankan scholars in the U.S. and the U.S. scholars here, have played in enriching the U.S.–Sri Lanka relationship.

I would like to take this opportunity of beginning with a tribute to Senator William Fulbright, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was the First Secretary and whose funeral I attended when I was Ambassador. Fulbright, I think is very definitely amongst the great internationalists in U.S. politics in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As you know, there are broadly speaking two strands in U.S. foreign policy. There is the isolationist ‘fortress America’ strand and there are the internationalists/idealists like Woodrow Wilson – a dichotomy that has led to vast changes in international politics. Fulbright was among the greats of the internationalists and although he had a chequered career being a segregationist coming from the Southern State of Arkansas, he completely altered the face of American foreign policy because of his powerful resistance to the Vietnam War and his role as Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His book titled “The Arrogance of Power”has remained a seminal contribution to U.S. foreign policy. I think he was, in many ways, a man ahead of his time. And, I like to quote something that he said in the “The Arrogance of Power’. He wrote, “Throughout our history, two strands have co-existed uneasily- a dominant strand of democratic humanism and a lesser but durable strand of intolerant Puritanism….The great challenge in our foreign relations is to make certain that the major strand in our heritage, the strand of humanism, tolerance, and accommodation, remains the dominant one.” I think the “humanism” part of that quotation is probably what led to the selection of this topic, `Humanizing International Relations amidst Realpolitik’.

Realpolitik and national interest: And it’s a logical segue into my theme which looks at international relations as of course the saga of the rise and fall of empires although multi-polarism has now replaced uni-polarism today. But in the past we have had several super powers from time to time going back to ancient times. And, war and peace have alternated in many ways reflecting the contending aspects of the nature of humankind. There has been violence, both explicit and structural, and there has also been of course the fact that realpolitik and the pursuit of national interest, which the Chairman of the Fulbright Commission, Chris Teal, talked about, will remain an essential part as long as the nation state remains an important component in the structure of international relations. Now, I don’t want to convert this into a 101 course in the theory of international relations, but it is a fact that there has been, from very old times, a clash between realist theories of international relations and the more liberal, moralist theories of international relations. Though we have Machiavelli, Hobbes, Morgenthau and others talking about an anarchical society where the state and the power factor of states is the most important deterministic aspect, you have the other liberalists and the moralists who think more along the lines of Hedley Bull, E. H. Carr and others talking about the world as a society of states with common norms, with ethical democratic practices and international law governing international relations. It is important for us to try to examine the relative importance of these two strands in international relations. My own view, of course, accords with those of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of London which was issued on the 9th of July, 1955, especially since that manifesto forms the bedrock of the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead at the moment. And what the Manifesto said, inter alia, and I quote –“We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves: is what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?”

And it concludes, “We appeal as human beings to human beings. Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.

That clearly emphasizes the people-centred nature of the humanistic approach to international relations. And if you look at what has happened since World War II — where we saw a colossal loss of over 60 million lives and a reordering of the world after World War II on the same lines as what happened in post Napoleonic Europe with the Congress of Vienna, except that it was on a much vaster global scale — you will see that the advent of the United Nations was a key factor in the humanizing of international relations. So what I propose to do this evening is to discuss the Charter of the United Nations and what impact the birth of the United Nations has had in humanizing international relations. I would like then to go on to talking about human rights, the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the human rights mechanisms in international relations, which have contributed enormously to the humanizing of international relations. Then go on to talk about the laws of war and international humanitarian law and in particular the role of the ICRC. The next step would of course be a discussion of economic development and the humanizing of that and to talk about humanizing cultural relations, the human security concept and yet, despite all of this, the persistence of realpolitik, and perhaps, then to conclude by bringing some of these strands together.

To begin with, the watershed event in 1945: the formation of the United Nations, especially through the vision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Charter, I think, is an important document because in many ways it is a fusion of the idealistic aspirations of humankind with a pragmatic acceptance of the realities of power politics. For while the Preamble and Chapter 1 on the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations upholds noble objectives such as the prevention of war, the use of force, the equality of all nations and the importance of human rights and international law the Charter does make allowance for realpolitik, through the structure of the Security Council and in the way in which five permanent members have the veto. So you have this unique combination of the humanizing of international relations with the persistence of realpolitik in the Charter itself, which forms the basic constitution of global society. And if you look at some of the preamble with all its rhetoric about saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of a human person; to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties can be maintained; and to practice tolerance and to live together in peace – all these are extremely important. But what is crucial is Article 2.4 where there is a specific rejection of the use of force.

Rejection of war as arbiter: All members must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. And that rejection of war, as an arbiter of disagreements in the international community is a fundamental way in which international relations has been humanized. So we are declaring the illegitimacy of war. Of course, in addition to that, we have seen that in the Charter there is in Article 51 a provision for the use of self-defence on the part of sovereign states and there is under Chapter 7 permission for the collective use of force in the collective interests of international peace and security but it has to be sanctioned by the Security Council. So there is the fact that the UN is not a pacifist organisation. It is a very pragmatic organisation combining elements of realpolitik with this soaring idealism, which gives the people and civilians in particular a special place and a special protection.

Now together with this is the fact that there was this very important resolution on decolonization in 1960. Resolution 1514(XV) of December 14, 1960 – as it is referred to – which has represented a milestone event because it denounced colonialism and the enslavement of one group of people by another. And no colonialism, no imperialism, therefore, is countenanced under the UN Charter as a consequence of this resolution. It resulted in a massive political re-shaping of the world with more than 80 former colonies being emancipated over a period of time and the growth of the membership of the United Nations to its present number of 193. And still there are 16 non-self governing territories in the world but they have to report to the UN and they have to be under a UN mandate of trusteeship. So this is one of the great humanizing aspects of the United Nations as a result of a resolution passed in the General Assembly.

We then come to international law. I think it is very clear that international law has become increasingly valid in its application to all countries, whether they are big or small, rich or poor. The importance of international law of course, was signalled in 1948 itself with the establishment of the International Court of Justice and the fact that countries can take their disputes to the International Court of Justice, as indeed they have, in order to resolve disputes through peaceful means. But in addition to that, of course, international law has given an importance to the legitimacy of one’s actions. You can no longer talk about having illegal actions accepted in the international community. And as my friend and former colleague, Dr. Rohan Perera said at the Romesh Jayasinghe Memorial Oration the other day, countries still try to justify their position by citing international law, however wrong they may be. Clearly one of the most serious and egregious violations of international law was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 where without the sanction of the Security Council we had the U.S., the U.K. and their allies invade Iraq in order to have regime change of Saddam Hussain.

Apart from this issue of international law, let me move on to human rights and talk about the fact that the Declaration of Human Rights, which was a adopted in 1948, was another milestone which I think helped to place people at the centre of international relations and gave an importance to the individual and the rights of the individual in many, many aspects. I think, it’s a document that is well worth re-reading because of its vastness and comprehensiveness in covering every aspect of human rights. Now clearly, of course, flowing from the Declaration there have been other conventions that have been formulated. There have been 9 treaties and Sri Lanka belongs to all of them. There are also treaty bodies that have been established under those treaties to ensure that countries who have ratified the treaties have fulfilled their obligations. Another aspect of human rights, and I don’t need to dwell on this subject because I think most of you are aware of the various conventions, the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council which has been very much in the news in Sri Lanka recently, and of course the Universal Periodic Review which every country whether it is the United States or whether it is Sri Lanka is subject to. The opportunity is there through the ICCPR for even individuals to make complaints about their governments’ violations of human rights to Geneva. These are very important rights that have been conferred on private citizens of any country and which applies to whoever the country is and which has, I think, stretched the scope of international relations to include private citizens.

And you have, as a consequence of this, the ending of apartheid which has been one of those strong planks of the United Nations. There was for a long time a committee against apartheid and the flow of international public opinion was very much influenced by the debates in the United Nations until we finally saw what seemed immutable at that time, the collapse of the structures of apartheid. And so again, this led to a great humanizing of international relations. There are also other specialized agencies like the ILO and the WHO which have also contributed to the humanizing of international relations. Standards of work have been established by the ILO with ensures no exploitation of labour. And there has also been of course a very strong element within the UN about violence against women and children. There is the Security Council resolution 1325 which talks about women and security and all these aspects and now, there is a creation of a UN women’s organisation led by the former president of Chile all of which has been a major thrust in the humanizing of international relations.

To go on to the laws of war, I think very clearly after World War II – even though we had the Hague Conventions before that -we had the Nuremberg and the Tokyo trials, which helped to advance the frontiers of the laws of war. And finally the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols of 1977 drew very important distinctions between combatants and civilians. Now of course, realpolitik will persist and there will continue to be problems with regard to implementation of these Geneva Conventions, but having been associated with the ICRC in Geneva, I would like to pay a sincere tribute to that organisation, for having acted selflessly, independently, and on behalf of humanism in international relations, by pressing forward the implementation of the Geneva Conventions not just in Sri Lanka but all over the world including in the United States – visiting prisoners, monitoring civilian conflicts, and ensuring that decent civilised behaviour continues to prevail under the most painful and impossible conditions. We have had, more recently, the painful episodes in Rwanda and in Srebrenica and special tribunals have been established in order to try those who are guilty of violations of international humanitarian law. But another great advance has been the Rome Statute and the creation of the International Criminal Court where for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity we now see even leaders of countries being arraigned in that court and being punished. And so there is culpability for crimes committed. Accountability is achieved and impunity has ended with the way in which the Rome Statue has worked.

And then in my own areas of work, that is disarmament, we have seen a steady progression of international conventions to ban weapon of mass destruction. We have had a Biological Weapons Convention and a Chemical Weapons Convention. We still don’t have a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for obvious reasons, but we have also had the banning of inhumane weapons. We have had a Mine Ban Convention, thanks to a remarkable combination of civil society groups and certain countries. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has still not ratified the Mine Ban Convention but that is, I think, part of the unfinished business in our own humanizing of our international relations. That is where another quote from Fulbright is relevant. He wrote, again in “The Arrogance of Power” – “I believe that man’s principal business, in foreign policy as in domestic policy and in his daily life, is to keep his own house in order, to make life a little more civilized, a little more satisfying and a little more serene in the brief time that is allotted him”.

There has also been progress in other areas like cluster weapons and so on, a lot of progress being made in order to try to ban specific weapons that are obviously inhumane. And there are weapons of the future, kinetic weapons, weapons like the drones, weapons like the autonomous weapons where you send in a robot into a battle field and it acts on its own probably killing school children and women in pursuit of a war or an attack that has been launched. So you have this aspect that has, of course, helped to a large extent in humanizing international relations.

Let me very quickly talk about economic development. We know that following the Industrial Revolution and the birth of capitalism, particularly in the West, there has been a deification of the market economy and market forces by Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, the Chicago School and others, and the GNP became the only tool of measuring economic development until we had new concepts emerge through the World Bank institutions and Mahbub ul Haq. But more especially through the UNDP, where the annual Human Development Report acquired special emphasis, where investment in the human condition, in health, education and the distribution of the incomes more equitably were regarded as being the criteria for assessing true human development. And of course, in the Human Development Index, we in Sri Lanka have been placed very high and it is something that we should continue to treasure and consolidate. And now, we have the effort to help the global South in the North South divide, we have the Millennium Development Goals which we hope to achieve by 2015. We have a Global Compact which brings in the private sector to assist in the achievement of some of the objectives of human development. And we have new concepts like sustainable development which came out of the Brundtland Commission Report and which is today, being consolidated with the Rio Plus 20 Conference that will meet next week in Rio. Climate change is another way in which we are trying to extend the frontiers of humanizing international relations by trying to talk about a collective identity of human beings on this planet and arrest the pollution of the ozone layer and other dangers caused by climate change. The IPCC reports that were done under the aegis of the UN has contributed to that. And essentially, therefore, the sustainable development motto of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to realize their needs, I think, is one of the important contributions that have been made.

To move to cultural relations, there is, I think a recognition today, increasingly, of the diversity in the international community. The fact that each culture, whether it is an indigenous culture or whether it is a culture of the countries that constitute the United Nations, has to be treated with respect. And so, instead of having the thesis of a ‘clash of civilisations’, which came out of the Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, we have the concept of an ‘alliance of civilisations ‘which is led by Spain and Turkey, two countries which in fact experienced an alliance of civilisations when the Ottoman Turks went to Spain and left behind rich cultural treasures in the South of Spain. So this is, I think, a specially important way in which the equality of cultures and the mutual benefit of having an interchange of cultures is recognised. We also have seen the development as referred to earlier in ICT, the way in which computer technology and telecommunications has shrunk the world and made it a much more inter-dependent and globalised world. And there is, of course, the work of UNESCO which has not only heightened our awareness of other cultures and which has designated a series of sites as world heritage sites including sites in Sri Lanka, but which has made us appreciate the common heritage of human kind.

Let me go on to the human security concept which evolved through this idea of sustainable development through human rights. It’s really a freedom from violence and fear of violence because while we talk about national security in the post Westphalian (1648) world where the State is the primary unit in international relations, there is also the individual and the question of the security of the individual as heightened by the human security concept which ensures that although you can have national security with a country’s sovereignty well protected, you can at the same time have insecurity of the individual. What we need therefore is to move into an ideal situation, where there is both national security and the individual security of the citizens of that country. So the idea of human security has been main-streamed. There was a report, again under the aegis of the United Nations, which was led by two co-chairpersons, Sadako Ogata, a remarkable woman from Japan, and Amartya Sen, the famous economist from India, which came out with a more detailed description of this concept. The fact that is important for us, in the words of Kofi Annan, is to ensure that there is development with security and with human rights as well.

There is a lot of work being done on human security in Vancouver in the Simon Fraser University by Professor Andrew Mack and others and I would like to quote from their report which said “We have argued that the demise of colonialism and the Cold War, removed two important causes of war from the international system and the impact of growing levels of economic interdependence, the fourfold increase in the number of democracies in an emerging norm of war averseness have reduced the risks of war still further.” So we have, remarkably, come to a situation where there is a declining number of civilian deaths in conflicts, a declining number of conflicts in the world today, and in fact, military expenditure, which reached $1.7 trillion last year, has remained relatively static, probably caused by the great recession. Nevertheless there is a levelling off of conflicts. And that augurs well for the future.

Now of course, in spite of all this, in spite of the fact that we have the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept which is aimed at humanizing international relations further, we have in its application elements of realpolitik. Why talk about responsibility to protect in Libya and not in Bahrain and Yemen? Why talk about it in Syria and not in other countries? So there clearly are gaps. Just as much as the Charter of the UN had this combination of realpolitik and the idealistic aspect of humanizing international relations, in the practice of international relations we still have this dissonance that takes place. We have the persistence of the realist school. You have the protection given to Israel by some of these great powers in the Security Council which ensures that it has the protection of a veto; you still have nuclear weapons that are held especially by the U.S. and Russia – 95% of the nineteen thousand nuclear warheads are held by them – and we have about US $ 100 billion being spent on nuclear warheads and their modernisation by about nine countries. We still have big banks being supported by multilateral institutions like the IMF and the IBRD and in many ways neglecting the real needs of the people and we still have a situations where might prevails over right.

To come to a conclusion, what do we understand by all this? Let me identify two events. One is that on the 16th of May, five small countries known as the S-5 (Costa Rica,
Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) attempted to float a resolution in the General Assembly in order to ensure that certain rules apply in the way in which the veto was used in the Security Council. And they were shot down. They were shot down not only by the great powers who, of course, had their vested interests to protect but they were also shot down by many others who didn’t want too much reform in the Security Council because they were afraid that their regional rivals might get in to the UN. So there was this curious combination of forces and when the Legal Adviser of the UN said that it was necessary for a two thirds majority to approve this resolution and they didn’t have a two thirds majority, the S-5, the Small 5, had to withdraw that resolution. That is an indication of the limitations of the humanizing of the international relations in a big bad world where realpolitik still exists.

Secondly, next week, the nations of the world go to Rio, 20 years after the 1st Rio conference. Now it is very evident from all the reports of the International Panel for Climate Change that the problem is a very serious one. This serious problem affects everybody – not just the Maldives because they are likely to go under in a few decades hence, or Bangladesh, where again large parts of that country will be flooded. But it affects all Brazil, United States etc. There will be a gradual warming in the Arctic which will result in all manner of changes, good and bad. And it is therefore in our collective self interest to do something about it. But there are some countries so determined to stick to their lifestyles that they will not make the necessary adjustments; they will not make the investment in solar power, in wind power and other renewable forms of energy in order to help us collectively to get out of this situation. History has shown us that environmental reasons, environmental factors have led to the decline of civilisations and unless we therefore take heed we will not be able to get out of these situations ourselves. There may be band-aid solutions like the Kyoto Protocol some years ago, which was again not ratified by the United States, and there may be other temporary changes but a determined effort to humanize our approach to the climate change problem is unlikely to succeed next week when the nations of the world meet.

And so, let me say that although we face situations of a gradual progress in the humanizing of international relations, elements of hard realpolitik remain holding us back and holding back our progress. Now this can of course be argued by some as a protection of national interests. But can national interest be divorced from the human interests of individuals in nation states? That is a very important question. Let me end with a quotation from my favourite Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld, who once said, “Everything will be all right – you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”

Thank you.


** The address by Jayantha Dhanapala, President, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, on the 14th of June 2012, at an event to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Sri Lanka


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