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International Law

The Struggle for Power, Profits and Prestige in the International System

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In today’s world, great powers are the most influential members of the international system. The impression of great power plays a significant role in the theory of international politics as any changes in the great powers’ strategies or the emergence of new great powers normally alter the status quo. A numeral of scholars has attempted to come up with a definition of great power and throughout the years, the concept of great power has been employed by a number of theoretical schools of international relations including liberal internationalism, realism, and constructivism. For instance, Arnold Toynbee defines great power as ‘a political force exerting an effect corresponding with the widest range of the society in which it operates’ and Martin Wight refers to great powers as those ‘powers with general interests, meaning those whose interests are worldwide’.  Professor Hedley Bull from Oxford University articulates that great powers contribute to the international system ‘by maintaining their relations with one another and by using their preponderance in such a way as to impart a degree of central direction to the affairs of international society as a whole. 

According to Kenneth Waltz, great powers possess extraordinary influence in the international system, which enables them to assume tasks that other states cannot execute. In addition, other scholars debated that within the international system there is an irregularity of power and when power irregularities are high; the frequency of an intervention is likely to increase. Realist Krasner further purports that great powers usually intervene in the internal affairs of weaker states by using various norms, values, and principles to justify and legitimize their actions. Nonetheless, the same great powers sometimes violate those values and principles, while at the same time they stay free from external interference. This is what he refers to as organized insincerity. 

In order to be a great power in the international system, a nation has to possess not only economic prosperity and military might, but also strong soft power and strong identity as a leader. In other words, economic strength implies a soaring level of development of the country. On the other hand, the military strength of a country is usually measured by its military expenditure, defense spending, the number of military personnel and aircraft carriers, and the size of the navy, among other factors. For soft power, strong cultural ties with other countries, moral strength, and technological level are considered features of great importance. Identity as a leader refers to the ability to bargain as well as the capability to take action independently while at the same time, being able to play an active and co-operative role in the international system.

Conferring to Bridget Rodgers, among the top 10 powers of the world include the United States of America, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, and India with the United States is the number one superpower of the world, henceforth achieving its hegemonic status of the world. Not only does the United States possess the largest economy by a long bounce, but it also has the most powerful military by an even wider boundary. This gives the United States the self-assurance and bravery to stretch its military and diplomatic muscle whenever it feels like its interests have been jeopardized and this is something that has been both much-admired and denounced by the international community.

The end of the cold war witnessed a grate change in how great powers interact with each other. We are now in a world where there is little chance that major powers will engage each other in wars. This suggests that great powers no longer view each other as potential military rivals, but instead as members of a family of nations called the international community. In this promising new world, the possibility for cooperation is very high, with the likelihood of increased prosperity and peace to all the great powers. On the other hand, it is also argued that international politics has always been a cruel and unsafe business, and it is likely to remain that way. Although the level at which their competition keeps growing and declining, great powers fear each other and are always competing with each other for power. The superseding goal of states is to maximize their share of world power, which in turn implies gaining power at the expense of others. Much as the great powers embrace the outcome being the strongest powers of the world, their ultimate aim is to be the hegemon that is, the only great power in the system.

Great powers are hardly gratified with the current distribution of power; rather, they strive to face a constant incentive to change it in their favor. They almost always have heterodox intentions and endeavor to balance the stronger powers even to the extent of using force, if they think it is worth accomplishing their goals. In some circumstances, the costs and risks of trying to shift the balance of power could be too great, and this forces the great powers to wait for more favorable circumstances. However, this does not eradicate their mission for wanting more power, unless a state attains the eventual goal of hegemony. Ever since no state is likely to achieve global hegemony, hence, the world is destined for continuous great-power competition.

According to realists, great powers are in pursuit of power due to the structure of the international system, which forces states to seek security, nonetheless to act aggressively toward each other.  Henceforth, according to realists, three features of the international system combine to cause states to fear one another: the absence of a central authority that sits above all states (anarchy), the fact that states always have some offensive military capability, and the fact that states can never be certain about other states’ intentions (Security dilemma). Given this fear which can never be wholly eliminated states recognize that the more powerful they are relative to their rivals, the better their chances of survival.

The first feature implies that the international system is anarchic. This does not mean that the world is disordered or muddled. Slightly, it is an ordering principle which denotes that the system is made up of independent states that have no ultimate authority above them. In other words, autonomy is inherent in states because there is no higher ruling body in the international system. The second characteristic is that great powers inherently possess some offensive military capability, which gives them the means to hurt and possibly destroy each other. States are potentially dangerous to each other, although some states have more military might than others and are therefore more dangerous. A state’s military power is usually identified with the particular weaponry at its discarding, even though if there were no weapons, the individuals in those states could still use their feet and hands to attack the population of another state. The third attribute (security dilemma) is that states can never be certain about the intentions of other states. Explicitly, states are uncertain that another state will not use its offensive military capability to attack them. This does not infer that states unavoidably have bad intentions, but it is only necessary for them to be on the lookout because the intentions of others can never be judged with inevitability.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to measure how much relative power one state must have over its competitors before it feels that it is secure. In addition, determining how much power is enough becomes even more complex when great powers consider how power will be distributed among them ten or twenty years down the road. The competences of individual states also vary over time, sometimes decidedly, and it is often problematic to foresee the direction and scope of change as far as the balance of power is concerned. Given the difficulty of determining how much power is enough, great powers recognize that the best way to ensure their security is to achieve hegemony, thus eliminating any possibility of a challenge by another great power. It is very unusual for a state to pass out on an opportunity to be the hegemon in the system especially when it believes it already has sufficient power to survive. Conversely, even if a great power does not have the resources to aid it in becoming a hegemon, it will still act in a provoking manner towards other great powers with the aim of accumulating as much power as it can, because states are almost always better off with more rather than less power. In short, states do not become status quo powers until they completely dominate the system.

In terms of profits, states can cooperate with each other, although cooperation is sometimes difficult to achieve and almost always difficult to sustain.  There are two factors that hinder cooperation between states and they include considerations about relative gains and concerns about cheating. Ultimately, great powers are always in competition with each other and they view each other as real or at least potential enemies, and hence look to gain power at each other’s expense. In the event that two states are considering cooperating with each other, they first consider how profits or gains will be distributed between them. The states contemplate the divisions in terms of either absolute or relative gains. With absolute gains, each side is concerned with maximizing its own profits and cares little about how much the other side gains or losses in the course of their agreements. Each side cares about the other only if the other side’s behavior affects its own prospects for achieving maximum profits. With relative gains, on the other hand, each side considers not only its own individual gain but also how well it fares compared to the other side.

When great powers consider cooperating with other states, they normally focus on the balance of power and their choices are based on the relative gains. Evidently, each state tries to maximize its absolute gains; still, it is more important for a state to make sure that it does no worse, and perhaps better, than the other state in any agreement. Cooperation is more difficult to achieve, however, states are only accustomed to relative gains rather than absolute gains. This is because states concerned about absolute gains have to make sure that if the pie is expanding, they are getting at least some portion of the increase regardless of the amount, whereas states that worry about relative gains always pay careful attention to how the pie is divided, which complicates cooperative efforts.

Another drawback to the cooperation of states is the concern about cheating. Great powers are often reluctant to enter into cooperative agreements with each other for fear that the other side will cheat on the agreement and gain a significant advantage over them. This concern is especially critical in the field of military, causing a “special threat of defection,” because the nature of military weaponry allows for rapid shifts in the balance of power. This could eventually create a window of opportunity for the state that cheats to impose a decisive defeat on its victim.

Nonetheless these cooperation barriers, great powers do cooperate in a realist world. The balance-of-power logic often causes great powers to form alliances and cooperate with each other against common enemies.  The bottom line, however, is that cooperation takes place in a world where competition is the center of attention and where states have powerful incentives to take advantage of other states. No amount of cooperation can, therefore, eliminate the dominating logic of security competition. It is very unlikely that genuine peace or a world in which states do not compete for power and profits will prevail, as long as the state system remains anarchic.

With regard to prestige, Nicholson (1937) defines it as “power based on reputation. Morgenthau, on the other hand, articulates that prestige specifically represents a reputation for power, or the ability to pursue one’s own interests while forgoing the use of power and force. Some scholars have further argued that security concerns are a significant part of state behavior and are actually driven by competitions for prestige. As such, states often acquire territory or weapons or exert their independence in international affairs not out of concern for their security but out of a desire to be recognized and listened to by other states. According to the Social Identity Theory (SIT), groups seek prestige when the comparison of the prestigious achievements of their group with other groups is lacking. By this logic, all groups except the most prestigious one would have a continuous incentive to vie for prestige, at least until their group becomes the most prestigious. Conversely, though, not all states are competing for prestige at all times. Much of the literature combining SIT focuses predominantly on status-seeking and the peaceful accommodation of emerging powers. Prestige does not rise automatically as states rise in their military and economic capabilities. Unindustrialized states often actively invest in supplementing their prestige just as they invest in augmenting their power relative to others.

Prestige has sometimes been interchangeably used with the word status. In both concepts, there is recognition of some ranking or hierarchy within a group in which appointment in the higher positions of the hierarchy is accompanied by privileges that would not be experienced by those who are lower in the ranks. In addition, both concepts are also based on the subjective beliefs of others. Among states, however, the terms are sometimes conceived of differently. We normally speak of states having ‘great-power statuses or ‘regional-power statuses. These terms expound the strong connection between military or economic power and status in the international system. An actor can have great-power status, however, without having prestige, if they are able to exercise power effectively but lack the respect of others, as was true of the Soviet Union during the most period of the Cold War. Similarly, states can have prestige for a particular quality but not have a particularly high status or vice versa. In relation to powerful states, great powers seek prestige for the purpose of gaining recognition, having a good reputation and maintaining a high status in the international system and by doing so, they feel good and proud about themselves.

It is further pronounced that states which have experienced a publicly embarrassing experience such as China will be more likely to pay costs to seek prestige because they want to minimize the decline in the influence that might result from their demotion in the eyes of others. Also, if the humiliated state is near enough in influence to the dominant state in the system or region, the dominant state will match the humiliated state’s prestige investment, generating an international race for prestige. Prestigious states will be those most accustomed to wielding influence and often to control resources. They will have the incentive to invest in their prestige both in order to avoid the psychological stress of confronting a painful downgrade in self-concept as well as to avoid the potential downgrade in international respect and influence that accompanies high prestige.

Prestige is at times linked to nuclear weapons because of the particular properties that come with it. According to Barry O’Neill, nuclear weapons are natural bearers of prestige, in part because they are clearly bordered – an explosion is either nuclear or not.  In addition, nuclear weapons grab attention and testing them is always done discreetly as they are kept secret beforehand to avoid world pressure from stopping them or embarrassment in case they fail.  The nuclear explosions make sudden headlines and disagreement, so people are aware that others have gotten the news.  It is, on the other hand, tongue-in-cheek that just because the world worries about their spread they are better carriers of prestige. As evidence to support specific prestige, the possession of nuclear weapons is also related to the kinds of national skills that confer power. Nevertheless, the linking of the weapons and prestige depends on the behavior of all states, not just the potential proliferators.

In conclusion, over the centuries we have seen great powers competing for power, prestige, and profits. This is as a result of the insecurities that the great powers have towards each other. At the same time, great powers are always mindful of how others perceive them and so they are proactive in a number of ways to present a good reputation to the rest of the world, and in particular to the less powerful states with the hope of gaining their trust over the other powerful states. In order to succeed, however, the great powers need to maximize their profits by ensuring that they generate a lot of income. Nevertheless, they can only achieve this by cooperating with other states. In doing so, however, great powers give no room for trust towards each other as they are always concerned about cheating. In fact, over the past decade, we have seen a redeployment of economic power among the world’s great powers on a scale and rate that is probably unprecedented in history. In other words, power is now more evenly distributed in the international system as compared to the past. As a result, there is rising geopolitical competition among great powers. But the nature of the competition is limited by two significant factors: their domestic obsessions and their dependence on each other for economic growth. Conflict is, therefore, most critical along the periphery of great powers that are least integrated into the Western-led political order.

David Ceasar Wani Suliman is a Doctoral Fellow (Ph.D.) in the school of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University China, Majoring in International Politics. He worked as a Research assistant at Jilin University China; He Achieved Master’s degree in International Relations from Jilin University China, and correspondingly graduated with honors from Cavendish University Uganda with bachelor degree in international relations and diplomatic studies.

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International Law

A leader of the third world has to lead a movement for reformation of the International law

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It is by no means a hyper reality that China has accelerated its geo political influence around the world this year despite the criticism of the West on China’s negligence in concealing the COVID 19 at outset. China being one of the permanent members of security council has widely contributed to the UN system. In this single modern global market, the People’s Republic of China has arguably become the manufacturing hub of the world in producing a large number of goods than any other western country, besides that it has also become the world’s second largest importer of goods.  Today the realm of bargaining power in the positivistic international law is completely based in the idea of power politics and the US stands as its cradle beyond a doubt. I would mention America as leader of the first world and China as leader of the third world. As the leader of the western world, the United States relentlessly works for its political, economic and legal dominance, which it has been enjoyed for plenty of years. The third world, which is considered to be the group of states known for its extreme poverty, civil wars, unrest and unemployment, has realized that poverty would become an inevitable obstacle in the process of its development. Mohammed Bedjaoui , who had served as a judge on the International Court of Justice, clearly claimed in his great astonishing work “ Towards a New International Economic Order” that “ It is western exploitation that leads to the poverty of the third world. “The third world pays for the rest and leisure of the inhabitants of the developed world,” and that “Europe created, and the United States has appreciably aggravated, most of the problems which face the third world”.

International law governing the rights and duties of states is perpetually and predominantly being dominated by the first world and its embodiment that is the United States. In this research article, I am going to discuss two essential things which are: what China has to do to reform the west constructed International law and as well as why China should lead a movement of the third world for its reformation?

For knowing these queries, we have to note the origins of International law down and how it works in today’s world?

If we have a look at the brief history of International law, International law has its roots in diverse European civilizations. To say in simple terms, International law is Eurocentric. Natural law which is also considered as a part of International law was developed by ancient Christian thinkers whose ideas were rooted in the Greco Roman ideas on rights and justice, in the due course of time those ideas were imbued with the Catholic theological virtues. However, it was such a sense of sheer irony that ideas such as natural law venerated by the Catholic thinkers were later used to legitimize the colonial expansion in the 16th century. For instance Francesco Vittoria who has been regarded as one of pioneers of modern international law used the very concept of natural law as Spanish justification of its rights over Indian territories in America. Let us turn towards modern International law. Modern International law primarily developed based on two concepts that are the concept of State practice and International treaties.

On the one hand, most of the global scholars perceive the United Nations charter as a founding International treaty of International law that contains rights and duties of states. On the other hand, the third world scholars perceive the United Nations as a founding organization of colonial imperialistic powers. There is a general perception among third world International law scholars that the Security Council of the United Nations is completely dominated and run by the colonial turned imperial powers. Four members out of the five in the Security Council were purely colonial countries who had ruled and economically exploited the world for centuries. The Security Council has also arguably been Eurocentric which is consisted of more western states embodying their own interests. Security Council is the principal organ of the United Nations, which mostly enjoys veto power. Permanent members may use the veto to defend their national interests. Over the years, in history of the Security Council, the United States has used the veto power more than other permanent member for defending west interests including Israeli interests. Most importantly, the third world has no effective role to play and to defend its interests in this globalised world. The colonial super powers met in San Francisco, to establish a predecessor to the League of Nations, have not granted independence to a number of African and Asian countries. Most of the third world countries became independent after establishing the United Nations.

Finally, we reached to the end. I would conclude this article by answering questions that I have put above. The structure of the United Nations is based on the charter of the United Nations, which is considered as a founding document of modern International law.  In this way, the United Nations charter grants more absolute powers to the Security Council where third world countries do not have participation. The leader of the third world China must wage a movement for developing countries to reform the Security Council. China has to collaborate with a group of developing countries for removing global financial power that lies with the Bretton Woods Institutions. Obviously, most of the power lies with the Bretton Woods Institutions, where western nations exercise the power on the rest of the world. So far, third world was exploited. So, the rest of the world outside the west has to demand for new international economic order, which would work for developing states.

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UN at 75: The Necessity of Having a Stronger & More Effective United Nations

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October 24, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. In this context, this article investigates the necessity of having a stronger UN for the benefits of the world’s people. In fact, if one looks at the past, the UN came up in 1945 in response to the Second World War for a more stable, secured, and peaceful world. And the UN has been successful to a larger extent to that goals and objectives, many argue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General for instance, wrote that ‘The United Nations, with their rules and institutions, are at the heart of the international system. They encourage States to prevent or settle disputes peacefully. The United Nations speaks for the voiceless, feeds the hungry, protects the displaced, combats organized crime and terrorism, and fights disease across the globe’ (Annan 2015).

If one looks at the history, after the Second World War, there are not so many wars on a large scale or conflicts except some bilateral Wars like Vietnam War or Iraq invasion in Kuwait or US invasion in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syrian crisis or Rohingya crisis. One can claim that the present world is more stable and peaceful than the world before the Second World War. Against this backdrop, Ramesh Thakur rightly observes, ‘On balance, the world has been a better and safer place with the UN than would have been the case without it (Thakur 2009:2). And it will not be wrong to claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is playing a crucial role in this regard, focusing both on ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security issues. Hard security issues ranges from nuclear threat to international terrorism and soft security issues include human security issues to human rights to international criminal justice and international sanctions (For details see, Thakur, 2009).

The UN is not only concerned about international peace and security but also concerned about economic and social issues. There are several UN organizations e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which is involved in socio-economic issues that impact millions of people globally.

First, one can look at the role of the UN General Assembly to understand the necessity of having a more robust UN. It is the core organ of the UN. It is the only organ in which all the member countries are represented all of the time. The role of the UN includes to pass resolutions and to create subsidiary agencies to deal with particular issues (Barkin 2006: 58). UN General Assembly works as a forum where the world’s states meet and discuss the pressing global problems. In this context, Eleanor Albert, Leo Schwartz, and Alexandra Abell write that ‘Since its inception seventy-one years ago, the United Nations General Assembly has been a forum for lofty declarations, sometimes audacious rhetoric, and rigorous debate over the world’s most vexing issues, from poverty and development to peace and security’ (Albert et al. 2016). However, in September 2015, the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, contained in the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (resolution 70/1). Notably, the implementation of SDG goals will have broader implications for the world’s people.

In addition, the Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such instances, according to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of 3 November 1950, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its Members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Second, one should also look at the role of the Security Council to make the case of having a stronger United Nations. The UN Security Council is the most powerful security-related organization in contemporary world politics. As the Charter of the United Nations says: ‘the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Article 24). The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of the settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security’

In contemporary world politics, the UN Security Council is the most potent security-related organization because it is the only recognized and legitimate international organ which deals with international peace and security. In this regard, Justin Morris and Nicholas J. Wheeler claim that ‘The United Nations Security Council is at the heart of the world’s collective security system’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007: 214). The UNSC play role by passing Resolutions regarding maintaining international peace and security, determining threats to peace and security and finally undertaking peacekeeping operations.

Decisions made by the Security Council are known as the Security Council resolutions. Examples of Security Council resolutions include Resolution 794 (1992), which authorized military intervention in Somalia on humanitarian ground, or the resolution 1325 (2000), which called on states to recognize the role of women in peace, and security and post-conflict situations. In the UN Security Council Working method Handbook, it is noted that the UNSC has adopted over 2,000 resolutions relating to conflict and post-conflict situations around the globe. Another report, titled Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council noted that between 2008 and 2009, the Security Council adopted  35 out of 65 resolutions in 2008 (53.8 %), and 22 out of 47 resolutions in 2009 under Chapter VII (46. 8 %) concerning threats to the peace, breaches of the peace or acts of aggression. The report also notes about several UN resolutions authorizing United Nations peacekeeping missions. In connection with the mission deployed in the Central African Republic and Chad, the Council approved the deployment of a United Nations military component for the first time in 2009 to follow up operations by the European Union in Chad and Central African Republic (EUFORChad/CAR). The Council continued to authorize enforcement action for United Nations peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Darfur/Sudan (UNAMID), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Sudan (UNMIS). This increased number of UNSC Resolutions dealing with international peace and security reinforces its legitimacy and power as a security organization.

The critical question that comes into the forefront is how much UNSC can implement its mandates neutrally or independently in terms of maintaining world peace and security. The critiques bring the example of Iraq war (2003) where UNSC ‘faces a crisis of legitimacy because of its inability to constrain the unilaterally inclined hegemonic United States.’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007:214). Another critical question is the role of UNSC in resolving the long-standing Syrian crisis or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

It is undeniable the fact that UNSC cannot function with its full potentialities due to the challenges and limitations it faces because ‘in their pursuit of raisons d’état, states use whatever institutions are available to serve their interests’ (Weiss 2003: 151). And here comes the politics in the Security Council which is highly manifested in the past. Against this backdrop, Weiss correctly observes, ‘the politics of the UN system- not only the principal organs of UN like Security Council or General Assembly is highly politicized but even ‘technical’ organizations, for instance, World Health Organization or the Universal Postal Union continue to reflect the global division between the so-called wealthy, industrialized North and the less advantaged, developing South’ (Weiss 2009: 271).

It is, therefore, states and particularly the P5 want to use the Security Council as a means to uphold its interest. Gareth Evans rightly points out ‘for most of its history the Security Council has been a prisoner of great power manoeuvring…’ (Evans 2009:Xi).  Hence, using veto by the P5 remains a significant challenge for the UNSC to work in its fullest potentials. In the recent case of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the UNSC is unable to take adequate measures due to veto power used by China and Russia. However, the UNSC is responsible for maintaining world peace and security.

The bottomline is that there is no alternative to having a stronger and more effective UN because it is the only hope for millions of people around the world. The UN is an inevitable international organization in this turbulent world despite its criticism or limitations.Thus, it becomes essential for the P5 nations to think about the broader benefits of the world’s people instead of their narrowly defined interest in the case of using veto power. And the world also needs to acknowledge that the UN reform has been a reality to ensure the neutrality and objectivity of the United Nations for a more peaceful, stable, secured world.

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The United Nations and the Neglected Conflict of Kashmir

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The principle of ‘right of self-determination’ and its applicability to the 72-year-old Kashmir conflict needs to be considered during the 75th session of the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that is taking place between October 8 to November 10, 2020 at its headquarters in New York. The Committee will discuss and deliberate the issues related to international conflicts and decolonization. What I do hope to offer is an unstarry-eyed view of the fate of self-determination in Kashmir; and, the indispensability of convincing the United Nations that international peace and security would be strengthened, not weakened, by resolving the Kashmir conflict to the satisfaction of all parties concerned..

The self-determination of peoples is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter, which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle. Self-determination as conceived by Wilson was an imprecise amalgamation of several strands of thought, some long associated in his mind with the notion of “self-determination,” others hatched as a result or wartime developments, but all imbued with a general spirit of democracy.

Self- determination is a principle that has been developed in philosophic thought and practice for the last several hundred years. It is an idea that has caused people throughout the world to rise up and shed the chains of oppressive governments at great risk.

Finally, in 1945 the establishment of the UN gave a new dimension to the principle of self-determination.  It was made one of the objectives, which the UN would seek to achieve, along with equal rights of all nations. Article 1.2 of the Charter of the Untied Nations reads: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

From 1952 onwards, the General Assembly of the UN adopted a series of resolutions proclaiming the right to self-determination. The two most important of these are resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970. Resolution 1514 was seen almost exclusively as part of process of decolonization. 1514 is entitled: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”

International Court of Justice considered the several resolutions on decolonization process and noted:  “The subsequent development of International Law in regard to non-self governing territories as enshrined in the Charter of the UN made the principle of self-determination applicable to all of them.”  This opinion establishes the self-determination as the basic principle for the process of de-colonization.

The principle of self-determination in modern times can be defined as the right of peoples to determine their own political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural policies.  Self-determination in its literal meaning or at a terminological level also implies the right [of a people] to express itself to organize in whatever way it wants. A people must be free to express their will without interference or threat of interference from a controlling authority. This includes alien domination, foreign occupation and colonial rule.

Although, the applicability of the principle of the self-determination to the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations. It was upheld equally by India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council. Since, on the establishment of India and Pakistan as sovereign states, Jammu and Kashmir was not part of the territory of either, the two countries entered into an agreement to allow its people to exercise their right of self-determination under impartial auspices and in conditions free from coercion from either side. The agreement is embodied in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, explicitly accepted by both Governments. It is binding on both Governments and no allegation of non-performance of any of its provisions by either side can render it inoperative.

It is apparent from the record of the Security Council that India articulated the principle, accepted the practical shape the Security Council gave to it and freely participated in negotiations regarding the modalities involved. However, when developments inside Jammu & Kashmir made her doubt her chances of winning the plebiscite, she changed her stand and pleaded that she was no longer bound by the agreement. Of course, she deployed ample arguments to justify the somersault. But even though the arguments were of a legal or quasi-legal nature, she rejected a reference to the World Court to pronounce on their merits. This is how the dispute became frozen with calamitous consequences for Kashmir most of all, with heavy cost for Pakistan and with none too happy results for India itself.

By all customary moral and legal yardsticks, 23 million Kashmiris from both sides of the Ceasefire Line (CFL) enjoy a right to self-determination. Kashmir’s legal history entitles it to self-determination from Indian domination every bit as much as Eritrea’s historical independence entitled it to self-determination from Ethiopian domination.

India’s gruesome human rights violations in Kashmir also militate in favor of self-determination every bit as much as Yugoslavia’s human rights violations and ethnic cleansing created a right to self-determination in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kashmir’s history of social and religious tranquility further bolsters its claim to self-determination every bit as much as East Timor’s history of domestic peace before Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 entitled it to self-determination in 1999.                                   

If law and morality are overwhelmingly on the side of Kashmiri self-determination, then why has that quest been thwarted for 72 years? The answer is self-evident: the military might of India. India is too militarily powerful, including a nuclear arsenal, and too economically mesmerizing to expect the United States, the United Nations, NATO, or the European Union to intervene. The United States is reluctant to exert moral suasion or pressure to prod India because it covets more India’s alluring economic markets and collaboration in fighting global terrorism.  Further, the size and wealth of the Indian lobby in the United States dwarfs the corresponding lobbies supporting Kashmir.  

The world powers need to understand that there is no way the dispute can be settled once and for all except in harmony with the people’s will, and there is no way the people’s will can be ascertained except through an impartial vote. Secondly, there are no insuperable obstacles to the setting up of a plebiscite administration in Kashmir under the aegis of the United Nations. The world organization has proved its ability, even in the most forbidding circumstances, to institute an electoral process under its supervision and control and with the help of a neutral peace‑keeping force. The striking example of this is Namibia, which was peacefully brought to independence after seven decades of occupation and control by South Africa; East Timor and Southern Sudan, which got independence only through the intervention of the United Nations. Thirdly, as Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations Representative, envisaged seven decades ago, the plebiscite can be so regionalized that none of the different zones of the state will be forced to accept an outcome contrary to its wishes.

In conclusion, a sincere and serious effort towards a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute must squarely deal with the realities of the situation and fully respond to the people’s rights involved in it. Indeed, any process that ignores the wishes of the people of Kashmir and is designed to sidetrack the United Nations will not only prove to be an exercise in futility but can also cause incalculable human and political damage.

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