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Why the World is Not Becoming Multipolar

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In Russia, the concept of multipolarity is usually associated with Yevgeny Primakov. Indeed, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation marked the start of the transition to multipolarity as a key trend in contemporary international life back in 1996[1]. During his visit to New Delhi as Prime Minister in late 1998, Primakov proposed a plan of trilateral cooperation between Russia, China, and India (RIC) as a practical mechanism for promoting global multipolarity. Sergey Lavrov has also stressed Primakov’s outstanding role in developing the concept of a multipolar world.

Western international relations experts will hardly agree to give priority to the Russian scholar and politician. As a rule, they trace the emergence of the concept of multipolarity to the mid-1970s. The roots of multipolarity are found in the rapid rise of the economies of Western Europe and Japan, in the United States’ defeat in Vietnam, in the energy crisis of 1973–1974, and in other trends of global politics that do not fit into the rigid framework of the bipolar world. The establishment in 1973 of the Trilateral Commission intended to encourage and improve relations between North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia also reflected the idea that multipolarity was coming into being, if not already fact[2].

Chinese historians, in turn, can claim their own version of multipolarity (duojihua) that emerged in the early 1990s and can be traced to the theoretical works of Mao Zedong. In China, the world was expected to transition from unipolar to multipolar via a “hybrid” global political structure that combines elements of both the past and future world systems.[3]

Regardless of how we date the birth of multipolarity as a concept and whom we hail as its pioneer, the concept clearly is not a recent invention, but an intellectual product of the 20th century. It would seem that over the decades that have passed since it was proposed, multipolarity should have evolved from a hypothesis into a full-fledged theory. As regards political practice, intuition suggests that, over the course of several decades, the multipolar world should have finally taken shape as a new global political system with relevant norms, institutions, and procedures.

Yet something clearly went wrong. The world is not behaving as the founders had predicted.

Elusive Multipolarity

In October 2016, twenty years after Yevgeny Primakov’ policy article was published in the journal International Affairs, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, during which he commented, “I certainly hope that… the world really will become more multipolar, and that the views of all actors in the international community will be taken into account.” Six months prior to that, Putin noted the role of the United States in international relations: “America is a great power, today perhaps the only superpower. We accept this.” That is, even though a multipolar world is the desirable world system, presently it is too early to say that the “unipolar moment” has been completely overcome.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, following the general logic and even the style of Yevgeny Primakov’s narrative of 20 years ago, also spoke about the start of a transition to multipolarity and the completion of the process in some indefinite future: “… A change of eras is always a lengthy process. It will continue for a long time.” As an additional complication, Lavrov emphasized the staunch resistance of the proponents of the old world order: “There are active attempts to hinder the process primarily on the part of those who used to dominate the world, who wish to preserve their domination in new conditions as well, and, generally speaking, to enshrine their domination forever.”

This logic is hard to dispute. Yet some questions remain.

First, the historical experience of the previous centuries offers no examples of an old world gradually transforming into a new one over time. The changes in the world order that took place in 1815, 1919, and 1945 were not evolutionary, but imposed by revolutionary (forcible) means and stemmed from large-scale armed conflicts that had preceded them. The new world order was always built by the victors in their own interests. Of course, we may suppose that humanity has become wiser and more humane over the last 100–200 years, though not everyone would agree. Yet even if that is true, surely all attempts to “gradually” transition to a multipolar world would be the same as trying to alleviate the pain of a beloved pet dog by cutting off its tail piece by piece.

Second, if we take as given that the transition to a multipolar world will become an extended process spread over, say, five decades (1995–2045), this leads to the depressing conclusion that humanity will remain in the “grey area” between the old and new world orders until the middle of the 21st century. This “grey area” is clearly not a particularly comfortable or safe place. It is easy to predict that it will lack clear rules of the game, understandable and generally recognized principles of the functioning of the international system, and numerous conflicts between the emerging “poles.” The system may even split into individual fragments and its “poles” will become self-isolated in their regional or continental subsystems. Can we afford several decades in the “grey zone” without subjecting humanity to extreme risks?

Third, do we even have sufficient grounds to say that the world is moving towards multipolarity, even if this movement is slow, inconsistent, and sporadic? Could we, for instance, conclude that today, the European Union is closer to being a full-fledged and independent global “pole” than it was ten years ago? Can we assert that, over the last decade, Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America have made significant progress towards the status of a collective “pole”? Is it possible to say that as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) expanded, the group increased its capability to act on a consolidated stance on the international stage? If we are not yet prepared to give an unequivocal “yes” to all these questions, then we do not have the right to say that the world is steadily moving towards multipolarity.

Over the years, multipolarity has become like a distant horizon that keeps receding as we move towards it. Could we not, therefore, apply Eduard Bernstein’s famous saying that “the movement is everything, the final goal is nothing” to multipolarity? That is, could we perceive multipolarity not as a full-fledged alternative to the existing world order, but as a mechanism for correcting the weakest and most vulnerable elements of this order?

“The Concert of Europe” 200 Years On

Adherents of multipolarity like to cite the “Concert of Europe,” the Vienna System of international relations established in Europe in the early 19th century after the Napoleonic wars. This system was truly multipolar; it did indeed help preserve peace in Europe for a long time. Historians debate the precise date at which the system collapsed: 1853 (the start of the Crimean War), 1871 (the Franco-Prussian War) or 1914 (the First World War). In any case, after 1815, the 19th century was relatively peaceful for Europe, particularly when compared to the disastrous 20th century.

Could the “Concert of Europe” be repeated 200 years later, this time in the global, rather than the European, context?

Let us start with the fact that the members of the “Concert of Europe,” despite being very different states, were still comparable in power and influence militarily, politically, and economically. The cosmopolitan European elites remained largely homogeneous (European monarchies in the 19th century were essentially one extended family), spoke the same language (French), professed the same faith (Christianity), and were in general part of the same cultural tradition (the European Enlightenment). Of even greater importance is the fact that the members of the “Concert of Europe” did not have radical, irreconcilable differences in their views on the desirable future of European politics, at least until the rapid rise of Prussia and the subsequent unification of Germany.

Today, the situation is drastically different. The potential members of a unipolar system have fundamentally different political weight. The United States has a greater weight in today’s international system than the British Empire had in European politics in the 19th century. The global elite is heterogeneous, and there are profound differences in their cultural archetypes and basic values. In the 19th century, the differences between the members of the “concert” pertained to specific issues in European politics, to the “manual tuning” of the complicated European mechanism. In the 21st century, the differences between the great powers pertain to the very foundations of the world order, the basic principles of international law, and even more important questions such as justice, legitimacy, and the “great meanings” of history.

On the other hand, the Concert of Europe was so successful largely due to its flexibility. Great European powers could afford the luxury of promptly changing the configuration of unions, coalitions, and alliances to maintain the overall balance of the system. For instance, France was one of Russia’s main adversaries in the Crimean War. Just a year later, after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1856, Russia and France embarked upon a phase of active rapprochement, which resulted in Russia’s final break with Austria and Austria’s defeat in its 1859 conflict with France.

Could we imagine such flexibility today? Could we suppose that over the course of two or three years, Russia would be capable of swapping its current partnership with China for an alliance with the United States? Or that the European Union, as it faces increasing pressure from the United States, would re-orient itself towards strategic cooperation with Moscow? Such scenarios look improbable at best and absurd at worst. Alas, the leaders of great powers today do not have the flexibility that is absolutely necessary to maintain a stable multipolar world order.

At the end of our short historical sketch, we can ask another curious question. Why did the 1814–1815 Congress of Vienna result in a stable European order, while the 1919 Treaty of Versailles became meaningless 15 years after it was signed? How is it possible that the members of the anti-France coalition were capable of magnanimity towards their former enemy, while members of the anti-German coalition were not? Was it because George Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson were more stupid or bloodthirsty than Alexander I, Klemens von Metternich, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand?

Of course not. It is just that the Concert of Europe was created by autocratic monarchs, while the Treaty of Versailles was designed by leaders of western democracies. The latter were far more dependent on national public sentiment than their predecessors were a century earlier. And the public sentiments of nations that had experienced four years of suffering, unprecedented privations, and losses demanded that the Germans be punished in the harshest and most uncompromising manner. And this is what the victors ultimately did, thus planting the seeds of the global carnage that was to come.

Clearly, over the last hundred years, politicians have grown even more dependent on the smallest fluctuations in public opinion. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing new examples of Alexander’s magnanimity and Metternich’s insight today are slim. To paraphrase Pushkin, we can say that “political populism and multipolarity are two things incompatible.”

The “Gangsters” and “Molls” of the Multipolar World

A famous cliché in international relations (attributed to a variety of authors, from Otto von Bismarck to Stanley Kubrick) states that on the global stage, large states act as gangsters and small states act as molls. The concept of a multipolar world is geared towards the “gangsters” and ignores the “molls.” Not every state and not even every coalition of states has the right to claim the status of a “pole” in the international system.

The adherents of multipolarity believe that most contemporary states are simply incapable of independently ensuring their own security and economic growth, not to mention making a significant contribution to shaping the new world order[4]. Thus, in both the current and future multipolar world, only a handful of countries have “true sovereignty,” while others sacrifice this sovereignty in the name of security, prosperity, or even plain survival.[5]

At the time of the Concert of Europe, the “gangsters” could successfully control the “molls” who depended on them, and the number of “molls” was relatively small. Two centuries later, the situation has changed drastically. Today, there are about 200 states that are members of the UN, and then there are unrecognized states and non-state actors. Therefore, the majority of members of international relations in the new multipolar world has been assigned the unenviable role of extras or observers.

Even if we ignore the moral and ethical deficiency of such a world order, there are grave doubts that such a project is feasible, especially given mounting problems in current military, political, and economic unions and the sharp rise of nationalism that affects both great powers and small and medium-sized countries.

The adherents of multipolarity probably think that the “poles” of the new world order will form naturally, that the “molls” will rush into the arms of neighbouring “gangsters” out of love rather than by coercion. That is, they will be driven by geographic proximity, economic expediency, common history, cultural similarities, etc. Unfortunately, historical experience would suggest the contrary. French-speaking Flanders has for centuries fended off the obtrusive patronage of Paris; Portugal has for an equally long time striven to distance itself from the geographically and culturally close Spain; and for some reason, Vietnam has failed to appreciate the advantages of belonging to China’s “pole.” It would be best to not even recall the state of relations between Russia and once “brotherly” Ukraine.

If the “molls” are forced to turn to the “gangsters” for protection, they clearly prefer “gangsters” from a remote neighbourhood rather than from their own street. Generally speaking, such preferences are sometimes somewhat logical. And if this is the case, then “poles” can only be formed “voluntarily under duress,” as the Russian saying goes – and in the 21st century, such foundations have dubious stability.

One gets the impression that the Russian discourse about the impending multipolar world confuses the notions of legal equality (“equal rights”) and actual equality (identity as the ultimate equality). States cannot actually be equal to each other: their size, resources, and capabilities, as well as their economic, military, and political potential, differ too greatly. Yet the apparent inequality of states does not necessarily mean that they should also have different basic rights. There is the principle of all citizens being equal before the law regardless of the differences in social status, property, education, and talents.

Old Bipolarity Billed as New Multipolarity

The differences in the current situation compared to that of the early 19th century are too obvious to attempt to restore the “classical” multipolarity. It would seem that, in one way or another, the adherents of multipolarity also realize this. If we take a closer, more careful look at the discourse in Russia today describing the “new” multipolarity of the 21st century, the magnificent multipolar façade often disguises the same steel-and-concrete bipolar structure of global politics, reflecting the Soviet mentality that has not been entirely overcome.

The “new bipolarity” manifests in all kinds of ways. Consider, for instance, the “East–West” dichotomy, a confrontation between “maritime” and “continental” powers, a clash between the “liberal” and “conservative” worlds, or even the opposition between the United States and the rest of the world. Whatever its external manifestation, the essence remains the same, like in the old Soviet joke about a worker from a factory manufacturing prams who complains, “Whenever I try to assemble a pram, I end up with a Kalashnikov.”

We cannot say with absolute certainty that the world will never go back to the bipolarity of the 20th century. In any case, the possible bipolarity that could result from the impending U.S.–China confrontation is more realistic than going back to the multipolarity of the 19th century. Nevertheless, attempts to combine elements of multipolarity and bipolarity in a single structure is a doomed enterprise. These two approaches to global politics are too different in their basic paradigms. Multipolarity and bipolarity are two radically different worldviews.

Classical multipolarity cannot have any rigid divisions between those who are right and those who are wrong, between friend and foe, between black and white. Foes may prove to be friends, those in the right and those in the wrong may swap places, and there is an entire range of shades of grey in the spectrum between black and white. A bipolar picture, on the contrary, always tends to be Manichean, when friends are always in the right and foes are invariably in the wrong. Friends are forgiven whatever they do, and foes are never forgiven. The notion of the collective West that is popular in Russia is also a vestige of the Soviet mentality. In no way does this fit in with the declared “multipolar” picture of the world, but it is very convenient for constructing the opposing notion of a “collective non-West.”

Familiar stereotypes of the Soviet mentality stubbornly bring us back to bipolar logic and deprive us of the opportunity to take advantage of managing a complex multipolar construction even in those instances when such opportunities present themselves. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Russian policies in the Middle East are one such exception, as it is the Donald Trump administration that has been caught in the trap of a bipolar worldview there, while Russia, having taken the preferred position of regional referee, has thus far succeeded in manoeuvring among the various regional players. Russia has been less successful in the Russia–China–India triangle that Yevgeny Primakov had once promoted as the foundation of a multipolar world: the equilateral Russia–China–India triangle is slowly but steadily evolving towards a military alliance between Russia and China.

Overcoming the remnants of bipolar logic is a necessary but insufficient condition for a successful foreign policy. It would seem that the successful use of multipolar approaches promises tactical successes at best. Strategic victories are possible if multipolarity is abandoned in favour of multilateralism.

Searching for a Balance in Open Systems

If we agree with the principle of states having equal rights in the international system, we should abandon the fundamentals of multipolarity. Directly or indirectly, multipolarity assumes that in the future world there will always be states or groups of states with special rights. That is, the privileges of force will be enshrined, just like the victors of World War II enshrined their privileges when establishing the UN system in 1945. However, the experience of 1945 cannot be repeated in 2018: today’s great powers have neither the authority nor the legitimacy nor the unanimity of the countries that had made the decisive contribution to victory in the bloodiest war in human history.

For the international system of the future to be stable and durable, there should be no radical differences between the victors and the vanquished, between “regular” and “privileged” members. Otherwise, any change in the global balance of power (and such changes will occur with increasing speed) will necessitate adjustments to the system, and we will thus go through crises over and over again.

How can we talk about consolidating the privilege of power in the new multipolar structure if this power is diffusing at breakneck pace before our very eyes? In the time of the Congress of Vienna, power was hierarchical and had a limited number of parameters. Today, traditional rigid hierarchies of power are rapidly losing the significance they once enjoyed, not because old components of national power no longer work, but because multiple new components are emerging in parallel.

For instance, South Korea cannot be considered a great power in the traditional sense, because it cannot ensure its own security without help from others. However, if we look at the wearable electronics sector, South Korea is more than a great power; in fact, it is one of two “super powers.” South Korea’s Samsung is the only company in the world that successfully competes with U.S. company Apple in the global smartphone market. From the point of view of the country’s global brand, its flagship Samsung Galaxy S9+ carries more weight than Russia’s flagship S-500 Prometey missile system.

Non-material measures of a state’s power are gaining ever greater importance. A country’s reputation, its “credit history” – which is so easy to undermine yet so hard to restore – is becoming progressively more valuable. Stalin’s famous phrase about the Pope (“The Pope? How many divisions does he have?”) looks more like political antiquity than political cynicism.

If the notion of a state’s power is becoming more equivocal and takes into account an increasing number of parameters, then we inevitably face the problem of determining the new balance of power in global politics. Determining a multipolar balance of power is in general an extremely difficult enterprise even when the number of parameters used is rigidly set. For instance, what is a stable multipolar nuclear balance? What is multilateral nuclear containment? When the number of power parameters tends to infinity, the task of building a stable multipolar balance becomes impossible to solve. Attempting to balance an open system with a permanently growing number of independent variables is the same as attempting to transform a living cell into a dead crystal.

Multilateralism Instead of Multipolarity

A stable system of global politics assumes it will not be entirely fair to more powerful players, as it limits the interests of those players in favour of weaker players and the stability of the system as a whole. Any federative state redistributes resources from prosperous regions to depressive ones: prosperous regions are forced to pay more to preserve the integrity and stability of the federation. Or consider, for instance, that traffic rules in cities are far more restrictive to cutting-edge Lamborghini supercars. Lamborghini drivers are forced to sacrifice most of their “automotive sovereignty” to ensure safety and order on the road.

The future of the world order (if we are talking about order and not a game without rules or a “war of all against all”) should be sought in multilateralism instead of multipolarity. The two terms sound similar, but they differ in meaning. Multipolarity involves building a new world order on the basis of power, while multilateralism is based on interests. Multipolarity consolidates the privileges of leaders, while multilateralism creates additional opportunities for underachievers. A multipolar world is built from blocs that balance each other, while a multilateral world is built from complementary regimes. A multipolar world develops by periodically adjusting the balance of power, while a multilateral world develops by accumulating elements of mutual dependency and creating new levels of integration.

Unlike the multipolar world model, the multilateral model cannot rely on past experience, and in that respect it might appear idealistic and virtually unfeasible. However, individual elements of the model have already been tried in the practice of international relations. For instance, the principles of multilateralism — placing the interests of small and medium-sized countries in primary focus, prioritizing the common regulatory legal balance over the situational interests of the participants in the system — formed the basis for the construction of the European Union. Even though the European Union is not in great shape today and individual parts of this complex machine are clearly malfunctioning, hardly anyone would deny that it remains the most successful integration project implemented in the modern world.

For those who do not like the experience of European integration, it is worth looking for sprouts of new multilateralism elsewhere. Examples include the BRICS+ project and the “Community of Common Destiny.” Both initiatives attempt to avoid the over-complication, exclusivity, and rigidity of the European project by offering potential participants more diverse cooperation options. However, should these projects be successful, they will not bring the world any closer to “classical” multipolarity; on the contrary, they will take the world farther away from it.

The international community will have to somehow restore the regulatory framework of global politics that has been gravely undermined over recent decades, search for complex balances of interests at the regional and global levels, and build flexible regimes that regulate individual dimensions of global communication. Powerful states will have to make major concessions so that multilateral arrangements will be attractive for weak actors. A clean break will have to be made with the centuries-old relics of outdated mentalities, dubious historical analogies, and attractive yet meaningless geopolitical constructions.

The world of the future will be far more complex and contradictory than we thought it would be just 20 years ago. It will have a place for a multitude of diverse participants in global politics interacting in various formats. Multipolarity should go down in history as a justified intellectual and political reaction to the arrogance, haughtiness, and various excesses of the hapless builders of a unipolar world — nothing more and nothing less. With the twilight of the unipolar world, its opposite – multipolarity – will inevitably face its twilight as well.

First published in our partner RIAC

  • [1] Primakov E. M. International Relations on the Eve of the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects. International Affairs. 1996 (10), pp. 3–13.
  • [2] Curiously, at the turn of the century, the idea of multipolarity gained such traction in both the United States and Europe that Assistant to President George W. Bush for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice found it necessary to publish a lengthy article with detailed criticism of multipolarity as a concept of rivalry and potential conflicts, a concept that distracts humanity from tackling common constructive objectives. See: http://globalaffairs.ru/number/n_1564.
  • [3] Seventh Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Qian Qichen stated that the world is still in a transitionary phase, and that the new model had not yet been completely shaped. However, an outline of international relations with one superpower and several great powers locked in relations of mutual dependency and strife has already emerged. This is the starting point of the system’s evolution to multipolarity. See Suisheng Zhao. Beijing’s Perceptions of the International System and Foreign Policy Adjustment after the Tiananmen Incident. / Suisheng Zhao (ed.), Chinese Foreign Policy. Pragmatism and Strategic Behavior. New York: East Gate Book, 2004, p. 142.
  • [4] Dugin A. G. Theory of a Multipolar World. Moscow, 2013, pp. 16–19.
  • [5] President Vladimir Putin quite eloquently expounded this view of the world in his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 2, 2017, “To reiterate, there are not so many countries that have sovereignty. Russia treasures its sovereignty, but not as a toy. We need sovereignty to protect our interests and to ensure our own development. India has sovereignty… However, there are not so many countries like India in the world. That is true. We should simply bear this in mind. India is one such country and so is China. I will not enumerate them all: There are other countries, too, but not many.”

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International Law

Separatism factor: How should the world community react on separatist sentiments?

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The notion of separatism is not new: ethnic minorities have been struggling to gain independence in various regions around the world for ages. As the majority of the modern states is not ethnically homogeneous, many have a potential of an arising struggle of independence of the minorities, especially taking into consideration the rise of nationalism. This issue is indeed of a global scale as the separatist movements persist concerns not only underdeveloped and developing countries but developed as well, again only proving that it can arise anywhere in the world.

The separatist movements might be considered as an internal and external threat to peace at the same time as it affects many actors. It is, of course, the state where the separatist movement emerged as the minority is willing to gain independence from it, violating the integrity of the state. However, the neighboring countries fall under the blow too. As a result, the separatist sentiments spread further, putting at risk international peace and security as the struggle for independence might escalate into an armed conflict.

The way the political and territorial landscape might change in the result of the separatism movements activity and states breakups has been already seen a couple decades earlier. The consequences of separatism sentiments are quite alarming and might lead not just to autonomy for the state: the events around 1990s show how drastically can the political landscape change not only of a state, but of a region or the world as a whole. The dissolution of Yugoslavia and Kosovo’s demands for autonomy, the split of Yugoslavia, separation of the satellite states of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the USSR – these brought a big change in a system of international relations, which was not made by peaceful means only (including violent conflict in certain cases).

However, despite the previous examples in history that show the struggle and negative impact for the civilians, the minorities demanding for autonomy might still use violent means. Since it is impossible to eliminate and fully control separatist movements, the issue indeed needs special attention as every case is special. However, there might be still certain common approach or a mechanism in an intergovernmental organization to deal with separatism developed as when it comes to acceptance of the newly emerged actors the opinions divide, which complicates the relations between the states that might have already been uneasy. Thus, the following questions arise: how should the world community react to the cases of separatism? Is it the state’s sole responsibility to deal with separatist movements or they should be regulated in the cooperation with other authorities such as international and intergovernmental organizations? Should there be a universal and unanimous approach to deal with cases of separatism?

In order to answer these questions, it is first important to define to what extent it is possible to give the green light for the separatist movements. Should they all be suppressed in order to save the integrity of a bigger state or should the people be actually given the right for the determination? Of course, it is hard to give a definite answer, however, in order to develop a certain strategy that would allow to tackle and handle the issue of separatism, these questions should be answered as well.

The bigger amount of actors there are in the system of international relations – the more complicated it might be to build dialogue, seek compromise to resolve the conflicts and overall maintain international stability. So, in order to try to decrease or at least regulate the amount of separatist sentiments, the factors that affect the minority’s decision to separate should be taken into considerations. Usually these factors include: discontentment with economy, political and cultural differences.

Most likely, talking about the fact whether these questions should be handled individually or collectively, the latter one seems to be more rational as in the time of globalization any instability can make a great impact on other actors in the system. Dealing with separatist cases has a lot to do with conflict resolution and conflict prevention, which are among the United Nations’ core responsibilities. However, the United Nations’ effectiveness in it is often questionable despite the successful cases. However, as intergovernmental organization that has enough instruments and mandates, it can contribute a lot to the regulation of issues concerned with separatist movements. It can also serve as a platform for discussion of these issues, contributing for building a dialogue for both conflicting parties and the concerned states. So, a greater emphasis on using the intergovernmental organizations might facilitate and manage the conflicts concerned with separatist sentiments, focusing on the use of peaceful means that would prevent from conflict escalation, contributing to international security.

Concerning the unanimous approach, as it was mentioned before, it is hard to develop a single template that would fit all the cases. However, focusing on negotiating in order to eliminate the possibility of escalating to a violent one would certainly contribute to a decrease of negative impact of separatist movements, not bringing it to the extreme. Also, monitoring the development of separatist sentiments would play a big role in a way that it allows to resolve the conflict peacefully. Together, monitoring and early response is probably the best approach to conflict management and resolution, and it has to do with separatist cases as well.

International stability and security is crucially important for the coherent development of the society. Without it maintenance and forehanded response to various threats to it, the international community will face disastrous challenges that potentially would cost human lives. As separatism might be considered as a threat as well, it must addressed and managed at the early stages. Cooperation of the local governments with such intergovernmental organization as the United Nations in these terms would probably be the best strategy in order to ensure a clear understanding of the situation (the demands and position of the parties involved in the conflicting satiation regarding the desire for autonomy), and as a result, take the measures necessary. Again, the early response is highly important as it allows to avoid violence, that is why monitoring of separatist sentiments should be regarded highly.

The current system of international relations is complex and relies a lot on interdependence. The actors in the system are tied up economically and politically, and despite all the benefits they get from it, the way the negative events might affect each of them can become a trigger or a cause for a crisis which would be difficult to resolve. Although separatism might be regarded more as a local threat meaning that the separatist movements can inspire the neighboring countries in the region, if it scales up and continues spreading further and further, it has a potential to result in a crisis of a world scale. So, before it potentially becomes a trend, the preventive measures should be integrated as soon as possible as it always take time to develop them. Managing the conflict when it has already escalated is feasible, but it is very likely that it will be difficult to avoid violence. Developing the grounds, platforms and mechanism that would allow to seek for the most peaceful ways for resolutions has to be done in advance. The cases of separatists sentiments are not so rare, and they are present even in the developed states. There can be listed numerous cases, including Catalonia, Scotland, Kashmir, Hong Kong and so on. These situations should not be left alone as they will not be resolved on their own and can escalate any time. They can grow in numbers, and before it happens, a more developed mechanism for its peaceful management should be created.

From our partner RIAC

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International Law

Seeking Power Over Death: Lethal Mainspring Of World Politics

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Consequences of War by Peter Paul Rubens

Abstract: At its core, history is the determinable record of humankind’s struggle for and against death. Though such a bold assertion might first appear self-contradictory, the corollary truths are clarifying. In general, we may learn, each nation-state does whatever it deems necessary to survive, but too often this “realistic” presumption requires the “death” of “others.”Now, by examining this zero-sum calculus more closely – a systematic assessment that would include certain primal expectations of the individual human being (the microcosm) – scholars may discover that this interminable struggle is also marked by an ironic reciprocity: Each state struggle for the “death” of designated others(in earlier millennia, before states, it was a struggle of empires)represents a fierce defense against its own potential annihilation. This perplexing simultaneity suggests that the underlying rationale of Realpolitik or power politics[1]is not acquisition of territory, wealth or “victory,”[2] but personal immortality. Once this bewildering rationale can be understood, therefore, such deeper insight could bestow upon our endangered planet variously enlightened opportunities for global survival. Grasped imaginatively, and with apt measures of urgency, these new modalities could become intellectual blueprints for world justice and world peace. In essence, these “blueprints” could offer humankind eleventh-hour reformist strategies of a once-inconceivable potency.[3]

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In such primal matters, history must be our starting point.[4] In Man and Crisis (1958), 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset observes accordingly: “History is an illustrious war against death.” Though this comment is captivating, and sets the stage for our sought-after answer, it represents only a partial piece of a much wider truth: Ultimately, power over death represents the greatest conceivable form of power here on earth;[5]but acquiring such optimal power in world politics can also “demand” the  killing of  “others.”[6]

To acquire a politically manageable “power over death,” individuals (microcosm)and states (macrocosm) must first make tangible preparations to bring fatality to identifiable “enemies.” At times, this belligerent thinking would involve variously seductive notions of “martyrdom.”  As we may learn from the evening news, these notions may call not “only” for war, but also for genocide.[7]

In both cases, the planned mass killing of other human beings is more-or-less comparable to religious sacrifice, a primal custom oriented toward the ritualistic deflection of death to “others.”[8]

There is more. Going forward, scholars and policy-makers must suitably re-examine vital underlying links between microcosm and macrocosm. In this regard, Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote imaginatively of not being dead as the principal exemplar of all power. Confronted with what Canetti had called “terror at the fact of death,” humankind – both individually, and collectively – seeks one particular advantage above all others.

This evident advantage is “to remain standing” while others must prepare to “lie down.” In the end, it is those who can remain upright, however temporarily, who are meaningfully “victorious.”[9] It is these fortunate ones, after all, who have managed to “divert” death to less-fortunate “others.”

By definition, of course, there can be no greater or more advantageous diversion.

               A key lesson obtains here for states as well as for individuals. For all “players,” microcosm and macrocosm, the situation of physical survival is the unambiguously central expression of all power. But as belligerent nationalism makes meaningful survival more and more problematic, Realpolitik or power politics effectively deprives states of their most genuine power lever.[10] Left unmodified, the “all against all” Westphalian Process[11] effectively creates or merely magnifies adversarial relations, and encourages state enemies to then enjoy “microcosmic” triumphs that will remain unrecognized or concealed. These triumphs are the deeply-satisfying human emotions experienced by persons when confronting powerless individuals who are preparing to “lie down.”[12]

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In world politics, the ultimate acquisition of power is never really about land or treasure or conquest or some other reassuring evidence of primacy. It is, rather, a presumed victory over death, ultimately a personal triumph, one described by Heinrich von Treitschke that is closely linked to the always-special prerogatives of sovereignty.[13]

Relevant reasoning here is straightforward. When my state is powerful, goes the argument, so too am I. At some point, when this state seems ready to prevail indefinitely, I too am granted a personal life that is gloriously unending. Stated somewhat succinctly: An “immortal” state creates (as either its citizen or subject) the “immortal” person.

Such abstract ideas can be bewildering.  Still, to actually feel such conceptual reasoning at a palpable level, one could intentionally recall the staggering images of mid-1930s Nazi party rallies at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental film celebration of Der Fuhrer, The Triumph of the Will, says it all best. Reminding the German people of Hegel’s famous aphorism, the legendary film underscores that a nation-state can actually become the “march of God in the world.”

Today, in 2021, neither the United States nor its enemies can seemingly understand this primal linkage. As a result, all states continue to be driven by policies that bring them neither personal satisfaction nor institutional safety. To the contrary, all they can continue to expect in a chaos-leaning Realpolitik world is a perpetual global landscape of war, terrorism and genocide. In the best of all possible worlds, however, humankind – recalling the ancient creed of Epicurus that death fear is foolish and irrational- would consider the one indispensable query:

What is death? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is: you see it does not bite. The stuff of the body was bound to be parted from the airy element, either now or hereafter, as it existed apart from it before. Why then are you vexed if they are parted now? For if not parted now, they will be hereafter. Why so? That the revolution of the universe may be accomplished, for it has need of things present, things future, and things past and done with.”[14]

There is more. All states fail to understand that death is generally identified by their enemies as a zero-sum event. Anything that is done to sustain one’s own national survival invariably represents, for these enemy states, an intolerable threat to their own “lives” and a diminution of their own power. Reciprocally, anything that is done to effectively eliminate hated enemies must expectedly enhance their collective life and augment their collective power. Ideally, these strategies will fare best whenever God is “on our side.”[15]

There is still more. Because of the deeply intimate associations between collectivities/macrocosm (states) and (microcosm) individuals, the reciprocal life advantages of death and dying can be enjoyed doubly.

“Normally,” even if only at a subconscious level, the living person never really considers himself more powerful than at the very moment when he faces the dying person. Here, as we may learn again from Elias Canetti, the living human being comes as close as he or she can to encountering genuine feelings of personal immortality. In roughly similar fashion, the “living” nation-state never really regards itself as more powerful than at that moment when it confronts the apparently impending “death” of a despised enemy state. Only slightly less power-granting are those reassuring sentiments that arise from confrontation with a “dying” enemy state; that is, the same sentiments experienced by a belligerent state that seeks some tangible “victory” over another.

 In both cases, personal and collective, convention, good taste and sometimes skilled statecraft require that zero-sum feelings about death and power be suppressed. Such polite feelings ought not to be flaunted; nonetheless, they do remain prospectively vital and determinative.

——————

               Oddly, perhaps, in all world politics, power is so closely attached to the presumed conquest of death(national and personal) that core connections have been overlooked. As a result, students and practitioners of international relations continue to focus mainly on epiphenomena, on easily recognizable ideologies, identifiable territories, tangible implements of warfare (arms control and disarmament) and so on. The problem is not that these conspicuous factors are unimportant to power, but rather that they are of a manifestly secondary or reflected importance.

There is more. During a war, any war, the individual soldier, a person who ordinarily cannot experience satisfyingly tangible power during peacetime, is offered an utterly unique opportunity to remedy such absence. Inter alia, the pervasive presence of dead bodies in war cannot be minimized. Actually and incontestably, it is a central fact of belligerency. To wit, the soldier who is surrounded by corpses and knows that he is not yet one of them is “normally” imbued with an absolute radiance of invulnerability, of immortality, of monumental and perhaps incomparable power.

Reciprocally, and in like fashion, the state that commands its soldiers to kill and not to die, “feels” similarly great power at the removal of a collective adversary. This surviving state, like the surviving individual warrior, is transformed, indisputably and correspondingly, into a potentially primal source of everlasting life. Such abstract observations are hardly fashionable among general populations; they may even appear barbarous and uncivilized. Yet, for now at least, scholars should be seeking not to prescribe more appropriate behavior for states, but rather to accurately describe such behavior. This means looking behind the daily news.

Always, truth must be exculpatory. True observations may sometimes be indecipherable or objectionable; but they are no less true.

               In an apparent paradox, some of America’s non-state enemies also seek to “remain standing” vis-a-vis the United States, to seek power in the life-or-death struggle against a despised “other.” One must say “apparent paradox” here because some of America’s terrorist enemies seem not only unconcerned about being able to remain standing, but actually seek to die themselves. In these cases, it would appear, quite literally, that the perpetrators do “love death.”[16]

               What is most important to understand here is that “to die for the sake of God” in these calculations is actually to not die at all. For example, by “dying” in a divinely commanded act of killing presumed enemies the Jihadist terrorist really does seek to conquer death, which he fears with a special terror, by “living forever.” Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

Paradoxically, the “love of death” described by Jihadist terrorists is the ironic consequent of an all-consuming wish to avoid death. Since the death that this enemy “loves” is temporary and temporal, leading “in fact” to a permanent reprieve from any real death, accepting it as a tactical expedient becomes an easy matter. If, for any reason, the normally welcome death of an individual engaged in “holy war” were not expected to ensure an authentic life ever-after, its immense attractions would immediately be reversed.

America’s non-state terrorist enemies, in the fashion of its state enemies, also seek to “remain standing,” and to believe that this critical objective can be realized only when America –  the hated individual person in macrocosm – has already become the dead man lying down. Whenever the civilized and decent human being watching evening news about the latest suicide bombing asks incredulously, “Why do they inflict such horror?” there is an ascertainably correct answer: “They do this,” goes this reply, “out of an unhindered passion for the ultimate form of power; that is, to acquire power over death.”

The greater the number of enemy corpses, the more powerful terrorists will feel. Real power, understood as an irremediably zero-sum commodity, is always to gain in “aliveness” through inflicting death upon enemies.

———————-

An enemy, whether state or non-state, cannot possibly kill as many foes as his primal passion for survival may demand. This means, among other intersecting considerations, that he may seek to induce or direct others to satisfy this particular passion. As a practical matter, this deflecting behavior points toward an undeniable impulse for genocide, an inclination that could be actualized, in the future, by adversarial resort to higher-order forms of terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear), and/or to crimes against humanity.[17]

The United States still has much to learn. But before its leaders can fully understand the true nature of enemy intentions and capabilities, they must first acknowledge the most primary connections between power and survival. Once it can be understood that enemy definitions of the former are contingent upon loss of the latter, these leaders will be positioned intellectually to take appropriate remedial action.

Always, the true goal of certain adversaries is as grotesque as it is unrecognized. This goal is to be left standing while assorted others are made to disappear. These relentless enemies must survive just so that their enemies do not. They cannot, by this zero-sum reasoning, survive together. So long as the enemy is “allowed” to exist, no matter how cooperative or congenial it has been, some states will not feel safe. They will not feel powerful. They will not feel power over death.

It is always a mistake to believe that Reason governs the world.[18] The true source of governance on this imperiled planet is power, and power is ultimately the conquest of personal death. This conquest, which displays a zero-sum quality among enemies, is not limited to conflicts in any one region. Rather, it is always a generic matter, a more or less universal effort that is made especially manifest between enemies. On this generic matter, one should consider the revealing remark of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in his Journal in 1966. Describing killing as a purposeful affirmation of one’s own survival, Ionesco observed:

I must kill my visible enemy, the one who is determined to take my life, to prevent him from killing me. Killing gives me a feeling of relief, because I am dimly aware that in killing him, I have killed death. My enemy’s death cannot be held against me, it is no longer a source of anguish, if I killed him with the approval of society; that is the purpose of war. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.[19]

There is more. While certain enemies accept the zero-sum linkages between power and survival, others do not. Although this may suggest that some states stand on an enviably higher moral plane than their enemies, it may also place the high-minded or virtuous state at a security disadvantage, one that will make it too difficult to “remain standing.” This disturbingly consequential asymmetry between state enemies may be addressed by reducing certain adversarial emphases on power-survival connections, and/or by increasing enemy emphases on power-survival connections.

Questions must be asked. Must a state ultimately become barbarous in order to endure? Must it “learn” to identify true power with survival over others, a predatory species survival that cannot abide the survival of enemies?[20]

Prima facie, what is required is not a replication of enemy leadership crimes,[21] but policies that finally recognize death-avoidance as the essential starting point fornational security and national defense. With such recognition, visceral hostility and existential threat[22]could be rejected in toto, and an altogether new ethos – one based on a firm commitment to “remain standing” at all costs[23]– could be implemented.[24]

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Core changes are necessary. All must finally rid themselves of the retrograde notion that killing another can confer immunity from personal mortality. In his Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the Other. Through the death of the Other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of being killed.” What is being described here is still the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death. Americans and other residents of a deeply interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States or major world leader would attempt to understand these complex linkages.

At a minimum, all of our national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual and scientific[25]sorts of understanding.

               Always, our “just wars,”[26] counter-terrorism conflicts and anti-genocide programs must be fought or conducted as intricate contests of mind over mind, and not just as narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer an accessible “medicine” against foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  Only this difficult awareness can we relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”[27]

               More than ever before, history deserves reasonable pride of place. The United States, America’s current president should recall, was founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. Nonetheless, this means something very different in 2021 than it did back in 1787.

               What should this particular history now signify for American foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon authentic learning, not (recalling the Trump presidency) on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. In this connection, individual human death fear has much to do with a better understanding of America’s national security prospects. Only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a broader global population will ever be able to decently embrace compassion, coexistence and empathy.

               In the end, a “triumph of death” in one form or another is irresistible and inevitable, and attempts to avoid death by killing certain “despised others” are both futile and inglorious. Going forward, therefore, it is high time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality. Instead of simply denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud labeled “wish fulfillment” in The Future of an Illusion(1927), we must finally acknowledge the obvious, and view it as a too-long-overlooked blessing. Ultimately, with such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this endangered planet could begin to think more insightfully about our immutably common destiny. In turn, this means using an always-overriding human commonality as the secure basis for expanding empathy and worldwide cooperation.

———————-

               This is a visionary and fanciful prescription, one rather unlikely to be grasped in time. But there is still a plausible way to begin. This way would require the leaders of all major states to recognize that they are not in any meaningful way “world powers” (all are equally “mortal;” none have any verifiable “power over death”) and that a coordinated retreat from Realpolitik or traditional geopolitical competition would now be self-interested.

               There are other considerations. The primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, but unprecedented human courage will also be needed. For the required national leadership initiatives, we could have no good reason to ever expect the arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king;[28] still, even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably prove themselves up to the extraordinary task at hand. For this to happen, enlightened citizens of all countries must first cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about world politics, and (per the specific insights of  twentieth-century  German thinker Karl Jaspers) do whatever possible to elevate empirical science and “mind” over blind faith and stultifying “mystery.”[29]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes philosopher George Santayana, “nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation, the truth of mortality[30]. The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; still, without really knowing it, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”

               The legacy of Westphalia (1648 treaty)[31] includes sacrilization of the state. Although we may discover such murderous sacrilization in the writings of Hegel, Fichte, von Treitschke and various others, there have also always been voices of a different sort. For Nietzsche, the state is “the coldest of all cold monsters.”  It is, he says in Zarathustra, “for the superfluous that the state was invented.” In a similar vein, we may consider the corroborating view of Jose Ortega y’Gasset in the Revolt of the Masses. Here, the Spanish philosopher identifies the state as “the greatest danger, always mustering its immense resources “to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it….”

In all global politics, it now warrants further repeating, there can be no greater form of presumed power than power over death.

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               For the most part, it is not for us to choose when we should die.  Instead, our words, our destinies, will lie far beyond any discernible considerations of conscious decision or individual selection. Still, we can choose to recognize our shared human fate and especially our derivative interdependence. This unbreakable intellectual recognition could carry with it significant global promise, one that remained distressingly distant and unacknowledged in the dissembling Trump White House years.

               Much as we might prefer to comfort ourselves with various qualitative presumptions of societal hierarchy and national differentiation – the stock in trade of Donald J. Trump’s administration – we humans are all pretty much the same.[32] Already, this incontestable sameness is plainly manifest to capable scientists and physicians. Our single most important human similarity, and the one least subject to any reasonable hint of counter-argument, is that we all die.

               It is from the universal terror of this common fate that Westphalian law invests nation-states with the singularly “sacred” attributes of sovereignty.

               And it is from the incontestable commonality of death that humankind can finally escape from the predatory embrace of power politics or Realpolitik in world politics.

               Ironically, whatever our more-or-less divergent views on what might actually happen to us after death, the basic mortality that we share could still represent the last best chance we have for viable global coexistence and governance. This is the case, however, only if we can first accomplish the astoundingly difficult leap from acknowledging a shared fate as mortal beings to “operationalizing” our species’ more expressly generalized feelings of empathy and cooperation.

               There is more. Across an entire planet, we can care for one another as humans, but only after we have first accepted that the judgment of a resolutely common fate will not be waived by any harms that we may choose to inflict upon “others,” that is, upon the “unworthy.” While markedly less than obvious, modern crimes of war, terror, and genocide are often “just” sanitized expressions of religious sacrifice. In the most starkly egregious instances, any corresponding violence could represent a consummate human hope of overcoming private mortality through the targeted mass killing or exclusion of certain specific “outsiders.”

               It’s a murderous calculus, and not a new thought. Consider psychologist Ernest Becker’s ironic paraphrase of Elias Canetti in Escape from Evil:  “…. each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”

There is a deeply insightful observation latent in this idea. It is the uniquely dangerous notion that killing can confer immunity from one’s own mortality. Similarly, inWill Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the Other. Through the death of the Other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of being killed.” What is being described here is plainly the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death.

——————-

               Americans and various other residents of our interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States should attempt to seriously understand such vital and complex linkages. Here, America’s national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual sorts of understanding.[33] Always, our just wars, counter-terrorism conflicts, and anti-genocide programs must be fought or conducted as fully intricate contests of mind over mind, and not just as narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer accessible “medicine” against North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, and assorted other more-or-less foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  This “natural” condition of anarchy was already well known to the Founding Fathers of the United States (most of whom had read Locke, Rousseau, Grotius, Hobbes, Vattel and Blackstone[34]). Now, only this difficult awareness can relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”

               More than ever before, history deserves a reasonable pride of place. America was expressly founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. But this means something quite different in 2021 than it did in 1787.

               What should this particular history signify for Biden White House foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon some serious measures of authentic learning, not on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. For the foreseeable future, however, this is not really a plausible presupposition.[35]

               Human death fear has much to do with acquiring a better understanding of America’s current enemies, both national and sub-national (terrorist).  Reciprocally, only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a much broader global population will ever be able to embrace compassion and “rationally” reject collective violence. To be sure, this new American president should prepare to understand what this implies, both with pointedly specific reference to the United States and to this country’s various (and still increasing) state and sub-state adversaries.

               Always, the existence of system in the world is obvious, immutable and pertinent.[36]During the Trump era, “America First” meant America Alone and America Last. America could never have been truly “first” so long as (1) its president insisted upon achieving such exalted status at the grievous expense of so many others; and (2) while failing to understand that international law remains part of the law of the United States. To once again seek to secure ourselves by diminishing others would merely be a retrograde playbook forever-recurrent instances of war, terror and genocide.

               In the end, of course, for all humankind, as an irremediable element of biology, the “triumph of death” is inevitable. Attempts to somehow avoid death by killing certain despised “others”[37] are feeble, futile and inglorious. Going forward, therefore, it is high time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality.

               Instead of denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud persuasively labeled “wish fulfillment” (see The Future of an Illusion, 1927), we must sincerely acknowledge the obvious, and as a long-overlooked blessing.  With just such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this imperiled planet could finally begin to draw purposefully from our immutably common destiny – that is, from our very plainly shared mortality. Among other things, this means using that always-overriding “oneness”[38] as the intellectual basis for expanding empathy and its closely-corresponding pattern of worldwide integration.[39]

               All this is, to be sure, a visionary and fanciful prescription, one unlikely to be grasped in time. But there is still a practical way to begin. It would require the leaders of major states to recognize that they can never in any genuinely meaningful way be “world powers” in a global “state of nature” (all here are equally “mortal;”none has any “power over death”) and that a coordinated retreat from Realpolitik and interminable geopolitical competition would be both self-interested and indispensable.

———————–

               It follows from all this that the primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, a disciplined matter of “mind,” but courage will also be needed, unprecedented courage. To meet required national leadership initiatives, we could have no defensible reason to expect the timely arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king,[40] but even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably be up to the herculean task, that is, to become extraordinary. For this to happen,  enlightened citizens of all countries would first have to cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about global survival, and do whatever deemed possible to elevate science over continuous blind faith and contrived “mystery.”[41]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes George Santayana, “nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation….the truth of mortality….The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; yet, without knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”[42]

               Though few will actually understand, such a “raising” is necessarily antecedent to human survival in world politics, though only if it is linked purposefully and self-consciously to global integration.“Is it an end that draws near,” inquired philosopher Karl Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The correct answer will depend, in large part, on what another major post-war philosopher had to say about the Jungian/Freudian “mass.”

                In his classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon certain earlier seminal insights of Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard as well as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Kierkegaard) that can quickly suffocate vital intellectual growth.  For Heidegger’s “The They,” the crowning untruth lies in its acceptance of immortality at both institutional and personal levels, and its encouragement of the falsely seductive notion that personal power over death is associated with (or derivative from) the “sacredness” of nation-states.

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               The arena of world politics (macrocosm) is endlessly violent because individual human beings(microcosm)compulsively fear death. Though widely unacknowledged and patently ironic, the murderous connections are longstanding and difficult to dispute. Already, back in the 19th century, Heinrich von Treitschke convincingly linked world politics and “earthly immortality.” And even before this author of Lectures on Politics, George F. Hegel had identified the state in The Philosophy of Right as the “march God in the world.”

               Ultimately, states battle against other states amid Westphalian anarchy not for geopolitical primacy, but for individual human salvation. While the predictable result of such battles has always been death and mega death, not eternal or even longer life, an overriding mythology still endures. This is the lethal conviction that it is in war, not perpetual peace, that humans are able to acquire power over death. Sometimes, this acquisition is intended to be direct – that is, an immediate consequence of killing on the side of God. More generally, however, such power over death devolves indirectly to general populations that are not actually involved in the business of killing.

               Even such de facto “bystanders” can have “God on their side.”

               None of this is to wholly deny the validity of more traditionally accepted explanations of Realpolitik or power politics, namely that these struggles are about tangible goods, geography or “national security.” These conspicuous and common explanations are not “wrong”; they are however, trivial and epiphenomenal. Such explanations are generally “correct,” but merely as secondary reflections of what is most fundamentally important.

               In William Goldings’ classic novel, Lord of the Flies, the marooned boys make grotesquely ritualistic war upon one another because they have been thrust into a netherworld of fear and chaos, but only because this dissembling exile from “civilization” threatens them with personal death. Indeed, it is only after they have settled upon an amorphous but ubiquitous horror(“the beast”)that they decide to wage a titanic struggle to survive, a struggle that bears uncanny resemblance to the “normal” dynamics of world politics. In what amounts to yet another irony of inflicting death to bring freedom from death, the suffering boys are rescued by an English military ship, a naval vessel that will now transport them from their literally primal state of nature on the island to the more “civilized” state of nature in world politics.

               In essence, readers learn, the rancorous and barbarous conditions that obtained on the deserted island were actually just a microcosm of the wider system of international relations. But who can now rescue this wider system of Realpolitik from itself? Before we can meaningfully answer this core question, scholars and policy-makers will need to probe more closely behind the visible events the day, beyond mere reflection. Above all, this probe will have to be suitably theoretical.

                Theoretic generality is a trait of all serious scientific meaning, and scientific inquiry in such matters is indispensable.[43]

               In the beginning, in that primal promiscuity in which the lethal swerve toward politics first arose, forerunners of modern nation-states established a system of perpetual struggle and violent conflict, a system absolutely destined to fail.  Captivated by this self-destroying system of international relations, states still allow the degrading spirit of Realpolitik to spread everywhere unchecked, like an ideological gangrene on the surface of the earth. Rejecting all pertinent standards of logic and correct reasoning, this inherently false consciousness of power politics imposes no reasonable standards upon itself. It continues to be rife, despite its endless rebuffs. Somehow, Realpolitik takes its long history of defeat as victory. Prima facie, it’s a-historical proponents have never learned anything.

               The vast majority of human beings are unable to accept the biological truth of mortality.[44] Understood in terms of world politics, this suggests, inter alia, that state sovereignty will likely continue to be viewed by many as a suitable  institutional antidote to personal death. To be sure, such a view may not be explicitly apparent even to Realpolitik adherents, and it would very likely disregard certain palpable benefits other than a presumed power over death (e.g., enhanced personal status of belonging to a “powerful” country). Nonetheless, it is a perspective that will not simply fade away graciously on its own.

               It is high time for candor. Whatever our in-principle preferences, the plain fact of having been born augurs badly for the promise of immortality. Accordingly, the primal human inclination to deny an apparently unbearable truth will continue to generate the same terrors from which we allegedly seek refuge. The irony is staggering, but incontestable.

               In its obvious desperation to live perpetually, humankind has embraces a cornucopia of faiths that offer life everlasting is exchange for unchallengeable loyalty. Such loyalty is then transferred from faith to State, which battles (or prepares to battle) with other states. Though historians, political scientists and pundits routinely describe such conflicts as a tangible struggle for secular influence (power politics), it is often something different altogether. This is a struggle between Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Decency and Indecency, even the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness.” In this last example, apocalyptic imagery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is invoked not because any or all of a combatant state’s rationale is necessarily religious, but because such imagery best portrays the enormity of ideological attachments.

               In the United States, ideas of prevailing apocalyptic contest obtained widely during the 1950s Eisenhower years, and also later during the Reagan Administration.[45] More recently, Donald Trump’s core message of “American First” was assuredly not without underlying or implicit references to righteous struggles in world politics with
“God on our Side.” Unambiguously, for several million Trump supporters, their leader’s slogan of “America First” was essentially an eschatological code term used to signal impending End Times.

               “Death,” says Norbert Elias, “is the absolute end of the person. So the greater resistance to its demythologization perhaps corresponds to the greater magnitude of danger experienced.”[46] Now, major state sin world politics must strive more vigorously to reduce the magnitude and likelihood of anticipated existential danger. In this connection, they must remain wary of planting new false hopes that offer only illusions of personal survival through perpetual international war or war-planning.

               Today, the world is still full of noise and gratuitous rancor, but it is still possible to listen for real “music.” For this to happen, leaders, citizens and subjects will first have to detach themselves from mythical promises of power over death. In the most promising of all possible worlds, the underlying human death fear could itself be made to disappear,[47] but this prospect seems very blatantly unreal. It follows, conspicuously, that vastly more “gentle” foundations will be required for world politics –foundations other than the conflictual dynamics of Realpolitik. Happily, such foundations have already been identified and crystallized in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s fruitful concept of “Planetization.”

               What does this really mean? At its core, planetization is not just one step further along the incremental continuum of authority from “civilization.” Rather, it represents the very opposite of civilization.[48] Looking ahead, moreover, a meaningful emphasis on global “oneness” or planetization represents humankind’s only real hope for survival. Both scholars and statesmen must expressly affirm that such survival is first and foremost an intellectual obligation, one that can be satisfied not by pre-scientific hopes for nation-state “victories” amid Realpolitik, but by concrete steps toward worldwide cooperation.

               It is time for candor, We are all mortal; we all die. The point of global survival is not to deny such an incontestably common fate, but to draw most productively upon it for planet-wide reconciliations.[49] What we need now most on this grievously imperiled planet is not a continuously mistaken focus on simplistic reflections of reality or epiphenomena[50]  (think here of America’s obsessive daily focus on transient political personalities and superficial news makers), but authentically durable archetypes of global restructuring.[51] Inevitably, such pie-in-the-sky recommendation will generally be dismissed as naïve or “visionary,” but – as we may still learn usefully from Italian film maker Federico Fellini – “The visionary is the only realist.”

———————


[1] Such politics define a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. For legal origins, se: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Also, in pertinent international law, there are certain core obligations that each state owes to every other state, individually and collectively.

[2]See, by this author: Louis René Bereshttps://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/reimagining-world-politics-longer-view-american-victory

[3]  “It must not be forgotten,” says Guilaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[4] All history has a subjective element.  In the words of Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West, 1918): “Every culture and every period has its own way of regarding history. There is no such thing as history in itself.”

[5]In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality is of “transcendent importance.”  Seehis Religion in the Making, 1927.

[6] While this connection is most obvious inmatters concerning Jihadist terrorism, it is also found in certainmore orthodox mass casualty behaviors of international war. See, on Jihadist terror and power over death, by this author: Louis René Beresfile:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Sacred%20Violence%20Religion%20and%20Terrorism.pdf

 and Louis René Beres, file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Religious%20Extremism%20and%20International%20Legal%20Norms%20Perfidy%20Preem.pdf

[7]See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277. Although the criminalizing aspect of inter­national law that proscribes genocidal conduct may derive from a source other than the Gen­ocide Convention (i.e. it may emerge from customary international law and be included in different international conventions), such conduct is dearly a crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, it becomes an inter­national crime whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto ius gentium. See M.C. Bassiouni, International Criminal Law: A Draft International Criminal Code 30‑44 (1980). See also Bassiouni, “The Penal Characteristics of Conventional International Criminal Law,” 15 Case W. Res. J. Int’l 27‑37 (1983).

[8] Still the best scholarly clarification of these connections are René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1977) and René Girard, The Scapegoat (1986).

[9]See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/03/08/iraq-afghanistan-and-the-end-of-winning-wars

[10] On the various meanings of Realpolitik, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984).

[11] See # 1, supra. This references a continuing process of threat, counter-threat and war.

[12]This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[13] See Louis René Beres, “Self-Determination, International Law and Survival on Planet Earth,”Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 11, No.1., pp. 1-26.

[14] See Epicurus, The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (Whitney H. Oates et al., 1940), p. 282.

[15] G.F.  Hegel goes even further, saying in Philosophy of Right(1821) that the state is nothing less than “the march of God in the world.” Through the ages, and with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved, but only at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in ca. 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with religious war and disease plague.  Already in the sixteenth century, he had understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” outcome exceeds the calculable sum of all constituent “parts.”

[16]See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Martyrdom and International Law,” Jurist, September 10, 2018; and Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.

[17]For definition of Crimes Against Humanity, see: Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Powers and Charter of the International Military Tribunal, done at London, August 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279 (entered into force, August 8, 1945).

[18]See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[19] This comment from Ionesco’s Journal appeared in British Magazine Encounter (May 1966). See also: Eugene Ionesco, Fragments of a Journal (Grove Press, 1968). Elsewhere, says Ionesco, “People kill and are killed in order to prove to themselves that life exists.” See the distinguished dramatist’s only novel, The Hermit 102 (1973).

[20]Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[21]Under international law, which is also law of the United States, responsibility of national leaders forinternational crimes is not limited by official position or by requirement of direct personal actions.  On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb) 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1, 71 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp. 1949); see: Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L.REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO.L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907) 10 (1970).  The direct individual responsibility of leaders for genocide and genocide-like crimes is unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the Act of State defense.  See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Strat.  1544, E.A.S.  No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S.  279, Art. 7.  Under traditional international law, violations were the responsibility of the state, as a corporate actor, and not of the individual human decision-makers in government and in the military.

[22]On the prospective lawfulness of such threats, including nuclear threats and even actual nuclear engagement, see: “Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion, 1996, I.C.J., 226 (Opinion of 8 July 1996). The key conclusion of this Opinion is as follows: “…in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[23]International law is part of US domestic law. In the precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[24]The precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[25]Says Jose Ortega y’Gassett about science (Man and Crisis, 1958): “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. The latter is not possible without the former.”

[26] See especially Hugo Grotius (The Law of War and Peace, 1625); Christian Wolff, The Law of Nations Treated According to the Scientific Method (1749) and Samuel Pufendorf, The Whole Duty of Man, According to the Law of Nature (1735). Worth noting here is that though the Founding Fathers of the United States were well familiar with Grotius, Wolff and Pufendorf, these names would go wholly unrecognized today by the US Congress.

[27] Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating and enduring vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” during chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,” it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[28] See by this author, at Oxford University Press, Louis RenéBeres:  https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[29] See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[30] See observation by philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (1993): “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” (p. 45).

[31]The condition of anarchy, which has its codified origins at the Peace of Westphalia,stands in marked contrast to the jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[32]We may also think here of an applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[33] Useful hereare the more deeply philosophical insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man (1955):”The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false, and against nature. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

[34] According to Blackstone, echoing Vattel, each state and nation is expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone, one need only point out that Commentaries are the original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[35] Anti-intellectualism has always been a large part of American political life. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145. See also the authoritative volume by Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (1959).

[36] In the precise words of philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature….”

[37] Such attempts may be more appealing during times of disease pandemic, when the “benefits” of scapegoating are especially palpable. During the medieval Black Death, for example, it was common to blame the Jews as well poisoners. In the twentieth century, Third Reich propaganda was often deliberately propped up on the foundations of such previously orchestrated irrationality.

[38]Concerning such commonality or “oneness,” we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully

justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[39]There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the best treatment of these thinkers and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s the City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a great visionary himself, one with whom I had the personal honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

[40] See, by this author, at Oxford University Press:  Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[41] “There is something inside all of us,” writes philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational.” (See Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 1952). Today, in the United States, the “mysteries” of QAnon should come readily to mind.

[42] See George Santayana, The Life of Reason or the Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Religion 260 (1905).

[43] “Theory is a net,” says the German poet Novalis in a quotation embraced by Karl Popper (The Logic of Scientific Discovery) “only those who cast, can catch.”

[44] This “truth” is perhaps best explained by the philosopher George Santayana in his Reason in Religion (1905).

[45] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987).

[46] See Norbert Elias, The Loneliness of the Dying 44 (1985).

[47]Fear of death, we have already seen in world politics, not only degrades normal life, it creates vast fieldsof premature corpses.

[48]In his Notes from Underground (1862): Dostoyevsky reminds us about civilization: “All it does, I’d say, is develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development man will yet learn how to better enjoy bloodshed.”

[49] Although he doesn’t ever approach these issues from the standpointof international relations or international law, the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno best explains the most imaginative and profound connections between the ineradicable universality of death and what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.” When I was still a “working professor” at Purdue University, I always advisedmy best students that Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (1921) was the single most important book I had ever read. I continue to stand by this far-reaching assessment.

[50] The classic source of elucidating such a mistaken focus is, of course, Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic, an allegory wherein human beings never see reality, but only vague “shadows” of reality.

[51] On the meaning of such useful frames of reference, see: Elemire Zolla, Archetypes: The Persistence of Unifying Patterns (1981).

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International Law

Ensuring Sustainable Development and Peace: Who in the UN is Against it?

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March 2021 marks a year since the World Health Organization announced that the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 had turned into a pandemic. Despite the highly negative socioeconomic consequences it had for the international community, the U.S.-led countries of the North did not alter their course to prevent the UN General Assembly from adopting resolutions (14 in total) aimed to ensure sustainable development and stable peace and to counter the use of unilateral financial measures, which remain intact and intended to curtail the international community’s efforts to guarantee the right to development and a decent life. Since resolutions are adopted by majority vote of all the UN member states (193), the efforts of the Global North prove futile, anyway. The article explores the stances of states when voting on the resolutions of the UN General Assembly pertinent to the issues discussed in this piece.

Promoting Sustainable Development and Stable Peace

In the context of global economic inequality, the North–South dichotomy is a conflict of interests between industrially developed and developing nations. The conflict has to do with the expanding gap in socioeconomic and cultural development between the “rich” countries of the North and the “poor” countries of the South. According to the UN, the number of people living in extreme poverty shrank from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the pace of the changes is slowing down and the world is running the risk of nullifying the decades-worth of progress in combating poverty.

The gap in capital distribution, income and quality of life brings about socioeconomic and political upheavals worldwide, which is a challenge to security and to the stability of the global economy.

Since the early 21st century, the international community has made serious efforts to counter the North–South dichotomy and eliminate the consequences of global inequality.

For instance, on September 8, 2000, the Millennium Summit adopted a Declaration that included a roadmap up to 2015. The document contained eight goals, 18 objectives, and 48 indicators for measuring the achievement of the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UN Sustainable Development Summit of September 25–27, 2015 unanimously approved the Sustainable Development Agenda. The document‒called “Transforming our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” and unofficially dubbed “Sustainable Development Goals”, or the SDGs‒contains a set of goals (17 in total) for international cooperation in global development. Part of the implementation of the Global Agenda, it went into effect on January 1, 2016.

However, from 2016 onwards, the United States, the European Union and their satellites, including Ukraine, started voting against the adoption of the resolution “Sustainable Development: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development”—something previously adopted without voting. In 2019, most opponents, with the exception of the United States and Israel, “abstained.”

The vote on the fundamental resolution “The Right to Development” showed a certain split among the countries of the North. However, the backbone of the “rich” Western European nations and the United States (as well as Ukraine, which sided with them) invariably cast their vote “against” the motion. Voting on such resolutions as “Implementation of the Recommendations Contained in the Report of the Secretary-General on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa” and “New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Progress in Implementation and International Support” showed differences in opinions as well.

The European Union member states and Ukraine support the United States in voting against the resolution “Promotion of Peace as a Vital Requirement for the Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights by All,” which, among other things, stresses that the ever-increasing gap between the developed and the developing worlds poses a major threat to global prosperity, peace and security, and stability. A similar situation happened with the resolution “Eradicating Rural Poverty to Implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

We should also note that the U.S. stance under the Trump Administration changed radically‒and this position was supported by Israel only, as well as by Libya in one instance‒when voting on the following UN General Assembly resolutions:

  1. “The Right to Food” (in 2009–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; the United States and Israel have voted against it since 2017).
  2. “Global Health and Foreign Policy: Strengthening Health System Resilience through Affordable Health Care for All” (in 2008–2017, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2018, the United States and Libya voted against it; in 2019, it was adopted without voting; in 2020, the United States alone voted against it).
  3. “International Financial System and Development” (in 2000–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018–2019, the United States alone voted against it).
  4. “International Trade and Development” (in 2011–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017 and 2020, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018 and 2019, the United States alone voted against it).
  5. “Commodities” (in 2004–2015, the resolution was adopted without voting every two years; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2019, the United States alone voted against it).

Use of Unilateral Financial and Economic Measures

Global economic inequality along the provisional “North–South” confrontation axis was particularly evident during the pandemic, when the effect of sanctions acquired the scale of an emergency (Venezuela, Iran).

In order to help the international community overcome the consequences of the coronavirus, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed the heads of the G20 member states at the very outset of the pandemic (March 25, 2020), calling for them to lift their sanctions so that states would have access to food, essential goods and medical aid in combating COVID-19. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for easing sanctions against states combating COVID-19. Restrictive measures can hinder the effective response to the pandemic, which will inevitably have a negative impact on other states. The United Nations and the international community have placed overcoming the pandemic and its consequences at the top of their agenda.

At an extraordinary G20 Summit on March 26, 2020, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin proposed introducing green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions and open primarily for essential goods, food, medicines, personal protection equipment needed precisely to combat the pandemic. On the same day, the eight states currently under restrictive measures, specifically Russia, Venezuela, Iran, China, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua and Syria, sent a letter to Antonio Guterres on the negative impact the sanctions were having on the human rights agenda and economic growth.

On April 3, 2020, Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, called for lifting or at least suspending sanctions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opinion, unilateral measures adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council affect economic, social and civil rights and, most importantly, the right to development. The pandemic has obviously resulted in unemployment, bankruptcy of some economic sectors and falling incomes, thus exacerbating the negative effect of unilateral economic restrictions. The sanctions policy hinders the recovery of markets and the global economy, which has a knock-on effect on the development of emerging markets.

Despite calls from the United Nations, the countries of the North do not deem it necessary to change their sanctions policies. In December 2020, the United States, the European Union and the few states that joined their ranks, including Ukraine, voted against the Human Rights and Unilateral Coercive Measures resolution that calls, among other things, for ceasing the use of essential goods as a tool of political coercion, especially in the context of global healthcare problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the United States and the European Union typically vote differently on the resolution “Unilateral Economic Measures as a Means of Political and Economic Coercion against Developing Countries” since 2001, the EU countries have abstained from voting, while the United States and Israel have voted against it. However, when voting on the resolution “Toward a New International Economic Order” (a supplement to the existing resolution on the “International Financial System and Development”), where the General Assembly calls for an international order based on the principles of “sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, cooperation, and solidarity among all States” and also recommends that states “refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures,” the EU and their satellite states, including Ukraine, support the United States and vote against such motions.

Russia and the Sustainable Development Goals

Russia supports the adoption of the above-listed resolutions of the UN General Assembly and actively promotes development goals, both by incorporating them in its national projects and strategic development planning and by giving other countries access to financial resources. Over the last two years, Russia has provided humanitarian aid to 21 states in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, over USD 25 million worth in total. Interest in providing international aid has only increased amid the pandemic: Russia provided anti-coronavirus aid in the form of medical equipment and products, personal protection equipment and medical ventilators to more than 20 states.

On March 17, 2020, the Government of the Russian Federation approved the Priority Action Plan for Ensuring Sustainable Economic Development in Conditions Exacerbated by the Spread of COVID-19, which is aimed at achieving the SDGs nationally. The anti-crisis plan provides for the following measures: provision of essential goods; support for economic sectors in the risk zone; support for small- and medium-sized enterprises; and general system-wide measures (establishing a guarantee fund for restructuring loans to companies affected by the worsening situation as a result of the spread of COVID‑19; compiling a list of backbone enterprises in the Russian economy; and operational monitoring of the financial and economic state of backbone organizations).

Currently, the SDGs in Russia are integrated into national projects and other strategic and program documents, such as the Food Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation, as well as state programmes, such as “Development of Education,” “Accessible Environment,” “Promoting Employment” and “Comprehensive Development of Rural Territories.” In 2020, twelve national projects as well as the Comprehensive Plan for Modernization and Expansion of the Trunk Infrastructure cover 107 out of 169 objectives set forth by the UN.

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