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Discourse on Ethics-Divorced Policy

Paper No. 5466                                       Dated 20-April-2013

By Kazi Anwarul Masud

Margaret Thatcher is dead. While her departure from this earth was not universally mourned in England which the Iron Lady ruled for eleven years some have credited her along with her friend Ronald Reagan for initiating the beginning of the end of the cold war.

One of her admirers Professor Schrezade S Rehman (George Washington University) has written: “If there was no Thatcher, there would have been no Reagan-Gorbachev deal (in 1987) to destroy all of the new Soviet and NATO missiles, a deal that ended the Cold War and paved the way for the collapse of communism (which required the Cold war to stay in play).Thatcher's close friendship with Ronald Reagan was a grand legacy, as was their shared wariness of communism”. It would be oversimplification to ascribe the credit for  the end of the cold war to these two as there were many players and economic reasons that led to the demise of the Soviet Union which could not have survived in the face of Western assault of prosperity on a decrepit, inefficient, behemoth that could not deliver political and economic goods to the people. Invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia simply could not have been repeated nor could Nicolae Ceausescu’s hold on to Rumania be sustained. Berlin Wall had to fall, though its fall took the Germans and the world by surprise, because the East Germans could see the  life style of their compatriots on the other side of the  border. Eric Honecker simply gave up in the face of surging people walking across the Berlin Wall.

An invariant factor that fuelled  bloody French Revolution to mass upsurge of the Arab Spring has been uneven distribution of national wealth resulting in inequality that the present day economist’s fear has become a permanent feature of modern life. Writing on Margaret Thatcher Owen Smith, Labor’s Shadow  Secretary for Wales,   observes “deeper than debt and deficit  is a fundamental issue of economic injustice, the debilitating condition of gross income inequality and the yawning social, class and cultural divisions that are calcifying in modern Britain. And though reducing the deficit is a vital step towards creating the circumstances in which a more holistic cure might be administered, it alone is not enough to bring about the fundamental fairness in our economy that would mark its sustainable return to health”.

Perhaps, one of the reasons Margaret Thatcher is not remembered fondly is because the British people embracing today’s free and private enterprise believe that it is the government's job to redistribute income across the spectrum and guarantee a decent minimum income for all. But then both the Conservative Party in Britain and the Republicans in the US held political philosophy that was similar in essence—tax cut for the rich in the expectation that they will invest the surplus capital that in turn will lead to more employment and hence greater national wealth. Basically they believe in trickledown economics which meant that the riches will eventually trickle down to the poor. This concept has been found wanting because of the basic nature of man. Thomas Hobbes believed in the characterization of human nature as egoistic. One of the most widely known Hobbesian concepts is that of the anarchic state of nature, seen as entailing a state of war—and “such a war as is of every man against every man”. In Hobbes’   state of nature there is no government and everyone enjoys equal status, every individual has a right to everything; that is, there are no constraints on an individual's behavior. Anyone may at any time use force, and all must constantly be ready to counter such force with force. Hence, driven by acquisitiveness, having no moral restraints, and motivated to compete for scarce goods, individuals are apt to “invade” one another for gain. Being suspicious of one another and driven by fear, they are also likely to engage in preemptive actions and invade one another to ensure their own safety. Finally, individuals are also driven by pride and a desire for glory. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The world, of course, has progressed beyond Hobbes’ philosophy and ethics has entered the arena of international relations.

The very concept of law be it domestic or international, is meant to arrest the aggressive behavior of the strong. The institution such as the United Nations, for example, with all its defects remains the preferred destination of all nations. It is true that super powers, particularly during the Cold War, on several occasions resorted to military intervention in countries they felt were within their sphere of influence. Indeed the invocation of article 51 of the UN Charter which provided for “ the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against member of the United Nations” as a justification of the establishment of NATO notwithstanding; the real cause behind NATO’s birth was the protection of “our cherished freedoms” (in the words of John Foster Dulles) with military defense, religious faith and demonstration of western political and social system as counter-attraction to Communism. Inherent in this Western move was their belief in the inadequacy of the UN security system and the paralysis of the Security Council caused by the use of veto powers by the USSR. In the 1946-89 period out of 232 vetoes cast 113 were cast by the USSR as against 68 by the US, 29 by Britain, and 18 by France. Most of the Soviet vetoes were cast at the initial period of the UN. This led Canada’s Lester Pearson to conclude that “development within the UN itself and partly because of the menacing state of affairs which has developed in the world” the UN clearly was not capable of meeting the threat to international peace and security which the Western powers felt was gathering at that time (1949). John Foster Dulles’ wish to protect “our cherished freedom” remains valid in the Western eyes though the “evil empire” dreaded by Ronald Reagan has vanished and the Warsaw Pact as a counter to NATO does not exist anymore.

Why is it then that the international community is cautioned when China wants to protect its core interests and Vladimir Putin wants to get back some of the old grandeur of the Soviet Union? Albeit China’s moves in the in the disputed area of the South China Sea has been seen as “aggressive” by the other claimants like Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. The area is supposedly rich in oil and gas. Oil deposit alone is estimated to be more than that of Kuwait. The US apart from declaring its intention to remain a Pacific power fully supported the Vietnamese claim in the dispute during Hillary Clinton’s visit to Hanoi as Secretary of State. US position to remain a Pacific power stated by Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton has not changed with the change of guards at the Pentagon and the State Department. Though the international community would prefer that Bush Jr’s gung –ho policies should not be repeated and the emerging economies would like seats at the conference table of the rich and the powerful influential intellectuals like Robert Kagan whose book The World America Made found its way to the study table of Barak Obama are doubtful about multipolarity sought by nations who feel ignored despite the assurances given by the US. Kagan observes “There is little reason to believe that a return to multipolarity in the 21st century would bring greater peace and stability than it has in the past.

The era of American predominance has shown that there is no better recipe for great-power peace than certainty about who holds the upper hand. President Bill Clinton left office believing that the key task for America was to "create the world we would like to live in when we are no longer the world's only superpower," to prepare for "a time when we would have to share the stage." It is an eminently sensible-sounding proposal. But can it be done?”(Why world needs America). Robert Kagan who had earlier written off Europe because of its loss of centrality with the demise of cold war and called decolonization as the greatest cessation of power in world history does not think much of China either. Kagan writes: “China remains relatively poor. The U.S., Germany and Japan have a per capita GDP of over $40,000. China's is a little over $4,000, putting it at the same level as Angola, Algeria and Belize. Even if optimistic forecasts are correct, China's per capita GDP by 2030 would still only be half that of the U.S., putting it roughly where Slovenia and Greece are today.

 A unipolar system has historically been neither particularly stable nor particularly peaceful”. Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezeznski advises cooperation. In his words: “Wisely, both Washington and Beijing have embraced the concept of a "constructive partnership" in global affairs, and the United States, although critical of China's violations of human rights, has been careful not to stigmatize the Chinese socioeconomic system as a whole. But if an anxious United States and an overconfident China were to slide into increasing political hostility, it is more than likely that both countries would face off in a mutually destructive ideological conflict. Such a scenario would be damaging and counterproductive for both countries. Hence, intelligent self-interest should prompt the United States and China to exercise ideological self-restraint, resisting the temptation to universalize the distinctive features of their respective socioeconomic systems and to demonize each other.

The U.S. role in Asia should be that of regional balancer, replicating the role played by the United Kingdom in intra-European politics during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”( Foreign Affairs-Jan/Feb 2012). But the question that arises is whether China is anxious to repair its damaged reputation. Despite official portrayal by Chinese authorities that it’s growing wealth notwithstanding it is a developing country and has no hegemonic ambition and certainly would not get into a conflict with the US unless her core interests are threatened. Professor David Shambaugh (George Washington University) would differ with this point of view.

David Shambaugh is of the opinion that “While pockets of positive views regarding China can be found around the world, public opinion surveys from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project and the BBC reveal that China’s image ranges between mixed and poor. And the negative view is expanding: for almost a decade, European public opinion toward China has been the most negative in the world, but that is now matched in America and Asia. There are likewise increasing signs of strain with Russia: on the surface, there is considerable harmony of worldviews and interests, but underneath lie lingering historical suspicions, growing trade frictions, problems stemming from Russia’s military sales to China, immigration controversies and nascent strategic competition in Central Asia. China’s reputation has also deteriorated in the Middle East and among the Arab League due to the country’s support for the Syrian and Iranian regimes as well as its persecution of Muslim minorities in far western China, a policy that has also sullied its image in Central Asia. Even in Africa — where relations remain positive on the whole” (Falling out of love with China-NYT). But then is it not natural that nations-big and small- dictated by their national interests are bound to have conflicting views? It is more natural in cases of big and powerful nations. The days of a single super power imposing its will through smart power-combination of both soft and hard power- on the entire global community are gone. International law and institutions can and do put reins on the unfettered ambition of big powers.

Negotiations are always preferable to dictated conclusions. That is why the international community has to remain engaged with a “ferocious, weak and crazy” Kin Jong-un of North Korea whose psychological profile by the US military establishment assesses him as an   uncertain and inexperienced young man who feels compelled to prove how tough he is. Then there is Iran with its theocracy, ally to Bashar al-Assad and Hezbullah, and a constant threat to the Sunni rulers of the Arab world.

Amidst this complexity a new world order has emerged taking into account that  for the first time in recent history, observed Helen Clark’s 2013 UNDP report,  that the South as a whole was driving economic growth and societal change for the first time in centuries. By 2020, she added,  according to projections developed for this Human Development Report, the combined economic output in 1990 purchasing power parity dollars, of three key emerging economies alone– China, India, and Brazil – will surpass that of the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada combined.  How can an emerging global construct notwithstanding the disparate per capita income between the developed and the emerging economies ignore the influence that these countries will wield in global affairs? How can the US withdrawing from Afghanistan and having non-NATO military alliance with Pakistan and strategic relations with India (both having nuclear weapons and assailed by terrorism from religious extremists) be not involved in a possible regional conflict?

Indians are unlikely to forget the Mumbai massacre, assault on Indian Parliament, beheading of Indian soldiers in border incident along the line of control on Kashmir. Equally Pakistan cannot desist from state-sponsored terrorism (always denied by Pakistan) and more importantly prevent a myriad of terrorist groups assisted by Pak intelligence agencies from committing economic and armed terrorism by infiltrating into India. The saving factor is democracy in India and for the first time the possibility of civilian change of power in Pakistan’s history. Bin Laden killing by the US special forces well inside Pakistani territory without the knowledge of Pak military and causing immense embarrassment to the “invincible” army has for the time being reined in the generals and thus has given the civilians a chance to rule the country without direct army interference. One hopes that the coming Parliamentary elections will be followed by others without interruptions from unconstitutional forces.

One of the earliest examples of the irrelevance of morality in international politics can be found in the Melian Dialogue when Athens invaded the Islands of Melos in the 5th century BC offering the Melians surrender or destruction. The Melians argued for justice and idealism while the Athenians took the realistic view of strength and subjugation of the weak. The world has changed from the ancient time to a modern one which is supposedly rule bound and institutions exist where the poorest can complain against the rich and the powerful. Whether they get justice at the end of the day is a different matter. It is, however, certain that rule of the jungle, sometime practiced by “invincible” military rulers committing genocide and crimes against humanity, have to face the International Criminal Court at The Hague to account for their misdeeds. Equally people responsible for deepening the chasm between the rich and the poor through deliberate actions should held to account.

The argument proffered   that inequality exists not because of unequal opportunities but due to unequal ability of different sections of the society to take advantage of the opportunities given. Naturally the half-fed children suffering from malnutrition armed with rudimentary knowledge cannot compete with the children from the privileged class. In the ultimate analysis if nations want to develop then ethics-divorced policies have to be abandoned and an egalitarian socio-political system has to be followed. The alternative can only lead to chaos as chronicled in Shock Doctrine: Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein and continued exploitation of the poor.

(The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh)