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International Relations: Choices or Concerns


A dichotomy of realists’ pessimism and liberalists’/idealists’ optimism, the debate in origin, growth and development of politics and public affairs are contested in a divisive manner. In the name of democracy, autocratic decisions are made and policies thrust into international relations. The democratic way of conducting diplomacy or taking leadership in international relations is risky or becomes noisy and chaotic. International relations are chiefly authoritarian meaning a wider scope of deliberations is excluded in implementing policies related to international and global affairs. A global consensus is still awaiting to include voices, concerns and choices to realize global governance based on the human and political will of the states of the world. It is a utopian dream, but directions toward achieving understanding, benefits and cooperation are on the horizon. It might be nonsensical, but an anthropocentric world is ushering and the world is becoming one’s oyster as human knowledge interface and political experiences and practices converge. Our choices and concerns are focused on existential rationality and saving the international society from the brink of human or natural catastrophe.

Politics around the world hints at two features: either countries engage in autocratic ways or indulge in democratic practices. The basics of politics start with human nature and the state of nature. Human nature is both positive and negative. A dichotomy of realists’ pessimism and liberalists’/idealists’ optimism, the debate in origin, growth and development of politics and public affairs are contested in a divisive manner. Even those who engage or fall in critical fields of practice are influenced by both camps of ‘isms’. A student of politics starts with political thinkers in international relations like Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau in the West while in the East they study readings of Kautilya, Confucius and Sun Tzu of ancient times. Liberalism and idealism are the penchant of many political thinkers and thought leaders who serve the state and society and make a difference in pursuing international relations. They become either autocratic in foreign policy or democratic in approach to finding solutions to international cases, problems and conflict. At the outset, this article purports to think of the salient feature or mindset that prevails in international relations. 

As the world is opening up and the political systems in the 21st century follow the trend and transformation in democracy, no country has perfect governance or government based on the legitimate aspirations of the people. It is imperfect and it is real in the sense of human nature and the state of nature. Sovereignty is practiced in the organs of the government based either on the people’s will or the party’s interests. Democracy is just not perfect nor is its ideals fruition in reality. As vectors of discourse and policy incubations portend, a really existing democracy has its aesthetics like an abstract painting or a canvas of plural and diverse ideas making presence or relevance. The West has ingenuity in the design of democracy whereas the Rest are adapting, adopting and adjusting the sail of a system that has no recent roots. Even the West’s claim to be the only voice of democracy or real conscience of humanity has not been purged from violence and coercion or surgical policy approaches in the Rest either in the colonial period or in contemporary imperial temptations. In the name of democracy, autocratic decisions are made and policies thrust into international relations.

Relations are also stratified in hierarchy amid an anarchic world. Both internal and external affairs are glaring. Democracies also differ while autocracies manipulate the state of affairs in its mold. The concern of democracy is becoming universal and the mission is continuing its trajectory, hopeful of bringing about checks and balances in human cum state affairs based on emotions and reasons. No country claiming to be a democracy is always correct in its international opinion. Leadership is shared so are discursive and deliberative practices of democracy in international relations. Leaders are not spotless characters and leaders sometimes make blunders in the name of democracy, let alone diktats of autocrats in the name of the people. Demos are used and abused in the sense of perception and misperception at the international level.

The world is a complex interplay of human and physical forces trying to figure out how to govern well and soundly. The democratic way of conducting diplomacy or taking leadership in international relations is risky or becomes noisy or chaotic. The stakes lie in mustering unanimity and an unequivocal stance based on balancing reasons and emotions. Autocracies do not command longevity to foreign and security policy. But democracies are no exception in this domain, too apprehensive of losing control and sense of the rule of international law or compromising its eternal national interests. Enlightened national interests are invoked to make just and sane decisions and resolutions in international relations.

Democracies can beg to differ as the terms and conditions vary, for example, diplomacy to put warring countries on the table or offering good offices to resolve violent conflicts or trade disputes. Autocracies prefer large autocrats to handle such affairs and mistrust the leadership of democratic countries. This is a loss to principles and practices of democracies over autocracies when power politics are real instead of spreading the power of democracy or liberty or freedom to exercise upon.

A community or society of democracy can assist in delivering the right ingredients of norms and values if they agree or disagree. It is not necessary to align positions of democracies within or among to use force or coercion, or influence or persuasion, in taming raw emotions and reasons emanating from the states and governments in the world. A crux is whether democracy exists in the international behavior of democracies notwithstanding autocracies who are devoid of such principles.

In conflict and war, democracies are the best form of governance for durable peace-making, keeping and promoting. While autocracies find paranoia and identity crisis and are without robust legitimacy. International relations are chiefly authoritarian meaning a wider scope of deliberations is excluded in implementing policies related to international and global affairs. Only after the creation of multilateral or continental or regional organizations, democratic ways of thinking and practices are undertaken for example in the United Nations or European Union or regional groupings. Strategic approaches also try to woo like-minded countries or to wean competitors or foes. A global consensus is still awaiting to include voices, concerns and choices to realize global governance based on the human and political will of the states of the world. It is a utopian dream, but directions toward achieving understanding, benefits and cooperation are on the horizon. One cannot do super forecasting on global government but hope that an open world and democratic aspirations would be the norm, not an exception in posterity. 

We are witnessing a world where it is getting closer and international interests and news are consumed by civil society – global and national, collective and individual. I believe a global civic culture is evolving despite the revolutionary spirit of the Enlightenment that has become a stuff of history but it is intrinsic to the conditions of humanity. The peoples of the world would pursue liberty, fraternity and justice as our perspectives open to the affairs without frontiers. It might be nonsensical, but an anthropocentric world is ushering and the world is becoming one’s oyster as human knowledge interface and political experiences and practices converge. Thus, our choices and concerns are focused on existential rationality and saving the international society from the brink of human or natural catastrophe. Either we live in a conviction of liberty or profess illiberal or radical or orthodox principles contradictory to an innate human nature amid the state of parochial forces. Current history would bend towards openness and progress based on reciprocal liberty, justice and truth.

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About the author

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.


Rajeev Kunwar

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.

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