Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Philosophy and/of International Relations

Nations are governed by people who prefer another term to canonization.

Which is why, the field of international relations is unapologetically pragmatic.In such a scenario, it flows that their is only a choice between the temporariness of policies and friendships and the temporariness of the nation itself. Is it fair, then, to expect state actors to adhere to a code of ethics in the long-run? And if it is not, then by intrapolation (based on the premise that such state actors act in the name of the people they derive their legitimacy from), do we not have a licence to follow this 'pragmatism' in our own lives? But ethics can obviously not be reduced to being a mere function of enforcement- where such enforcement in the international arena is frought with a multitude of complexities and is therefore, more difficult than within a state's boundaries.

Philosophy, on the other hand, is treated as something removed from the rough and tumble of everyday questions. But one area of applied philosophy- the universalistic/particularistic debate in ethics- is of special resonance to the field of international relations (IR). If on of the aims of human progress is to reduce uncertainty- to bring under the umbrella of 'knowledge' as many things as possible- then a greater degree of understanding of the area where action meets belief will tell us why nations behave the way they do. Many related areas could derive from this one investigation- are we structurally condemned to this supremacy of pragmatism because of something 'inherent' in the nature of the field of IR, could it have evolved any other way, is there a global 'moral hierarchy' to which nations can lay a claim and pass judgements based on how 'un-pragmatic' they have been in the past, will there be a paradigm shift in the case of a natural or anthropogenic survival-threatening event of global magnitude and, have nations tacitly reconciled themselves to an unsaid covenant that anything that can be justified through a mesh of now-available tools will atleast be extended sympathy in scrutiny?

Two other areas where philopsophy and IR can have mutual interests are those of 'knowledge' and 'reality'. Africa, for example, is almost always treated as a monolith in IR. Elsewhere, it is at the level of countries. It is as if we 'know' the similarities that bind Africa and that perhaps the whole idea of nationhood is an inconvenient detail for that continent. This is of course, Edward Said's Orientalist perspective that can now be extended to any area (Latin American socialist countires, for example) which must be homogenised to facilitate easy foreign policy. When developed nations chose to give aid (or attack militarily) the developing nations, they presume that they also know what is in the best interests of the target people and how best it can be delivered. 'Reality' has to do with the perceptions of common experiences that are interpreted differently by the parties concerned. A cassic case of investigation is the 'special' character of the trans-Atlantic relationship that is viewed differently by the US and UK. While the former is accused of not regarding it enough, the latter is pitied on (mis)perceiving a dependecy relationship as true equality.

On a micro level, the moral and ethical ground of IR tools like international organizations (where the majoritarian view may not be the adopted), bilateral agreements (with the more establibshed partner expected to dole out more), coercive actions like sanctions, embargos and even warfare (which I shall outline presently), rewarding actions like increased trade and technological access (with the implicit extraction of a 'beacome like us' promise), and humanitarian aid (which might have to do less with humans or aid and more with resetting power balance) and the international justice delivery systems (which have been up against the immunity of the 'majority') are some of the interesting areas that need further deliberation. More philosophical scrutiny. Until then, the case cannot be allowed to rest.

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