Politics among Nations – The Struggle for Power and Peace
Friends to Foes, Foes to Friends
North Korea and South Korea each strived for dominance in the Korean Peninsula in 1940, which culminated in the Korean War of 1953. However, in 2018, both the countries signed the Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of Korean Peninsula. At the height of Cold War, bilateral relations between the United States of America (USA) and Cuba were filled with distrust and antagonism as they represented two conflicting ideologies. Both nations in the last decade, however, undertook extraordinary steps to normalise their relations. This culminated into restoration of diplomatic ties between them in 2015. USA and Pakistan shared cordial relations after 1947. USA viewed its partnership with Pakistan as way to counter the influence of India in the South Asian region. However, recently USA accused Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorist and threatened to withdraw to it.
These instances of from foes to friends in case of North Korea – South Korea and USA-Cuba, and from friends to foes in case of USA and Pakistan are not unusual but the norm in international politics. This is so because in international relations there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies but only permanent interests. The relations between countries are thus oriented according to their interests.
Power as the Guiding Principle
National interest is paramount in conduct of international affairs. This national interest, at times, compels nations to struggle for power to establish their dominance amongst each other. Colonialisation of countries is the manifestation of this struggle in its raw form. This struggle was so potent that the distribution of African colonies, in fact, became one of the crucial causes of World War II. Post-World War the nature of power struggle changed because the cost of war became too high for any country to bear. Instead of competing on military front, they competed on the ideological and economic front.
The ideological battle gave rise to the Cold War. During the Cold War era, the world was divided into two ideological camps headed by the USA on one side and the USSR on the other. After the Cold War, trade and economics have become the sites of battles, which represent the economic front. To further this, there have been attempts for fiscal imperialism by developed nations on other countries. This is done by imposing harsh conditions on countries in need of loans, capital and other forms of financial support via organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Peace as the End Goal
National interest in international arena can also encourage countries to smoothen their relation and work towards peace. The United Nations Organisation (UNO) was established for this very purpose. As mentioned earlier, trade and commerce have become crucial for nations and for it to flourish, peaceful relations among nations is required.
The Doklam Crisis provides an illustration of this changing international dynamics. It shows how pursuit of power and peace has changed over a period. If it was 1962, the Doklam issue would have escalated to a full-fledged war between India and China. However, both countries were mindful of geo-economics between them. The economic interests of the countries superseded the urge to display military power. The benefit of trade outweighed the cost of a war. Therefore, the issue was resolved through diplomatic channels and peace was restored.
Tides of Change: A Blend of Power and Peace in International Politics
Further, the world has become multipolar and therefore there is no space for a hegemony like in the past. The alliance system has ended and now countries believe only in having strategic partnerships. It allows space for independent foreign policy. There is no need for bandwagoning for nations. However, at the same time it puts responsibility on states not to degrade their relations below a threshold with any nation. This is so because now for any country to work its way up in the ladder of power is through cooperation. Invasions and wars are things of the past. Therefore, in order to cater to the requirements of the current era, the nations have aligned the conduct of their politics accordingly.
Multi-polarity and emergence of strategic partnerships also implies that a nation might continue to have some relations with another country and at same time condemning its actions. For instance, India has substantially improved its relations with Israel. At the same time, however, India refused to support USA motion in UN General Assembly (UNGA) to shift its embassy to Jerusalem. This decision of India has not marred it relations with Jerusalem and they continue to be healthy. This shows how the struggle for power and peace has changed.
The bottom line is that the politics among nations is essentially an act of balancing power. Globalisation and liberalisation have ushered an era when isolationism cannot be sustainable. Hard power or soft power alone cannot address reign international politics. A blend of both is required in international relations.
Cooperation over Combat
We also need to be mindful that despite the uniqueness of each country, prosperity, progress and development are common pursuits of each one of them. To fulfil this objective, the nations have to tread carefully. They need to be mindful of the realities of the present day. While focusing of accumulating power, countries must not be blind in their pursuit. Challenges like urban terrorism, climate change, spread of diseases, etc. can be tackled only if peace is ensured.
International politics runs on pragmatism and not on immutable principles. The international arena is an arena of anarchy and chaos. There is no sovereign authority and therefore each state must ensure that it protects itself from this chaos. This is possible when realism is adopted. Too much reliance of idealism can be a disaster. Realism seeks to focus on the reality as it is. It relies on the current situation and acting accordingly. Realism, today suggests that the struggle for power and peace in international politics must be done simultaneously. For instance, India not paid sufficient attention to its relations with Myanmar post-independence. This was so because India had an idealistic view. During the junta regime in Myanmar, India upheld the values of democracy and grant of civil liberties. This hiatus was filled by China. This costed India dearly.
In international politics, everything is a constant struggle. While power is essential for survival, Peace is needed for prosperity. Both are important and one loses its significance without the other. If a nation ignores accumulation of power, it will risk its sovereignty, as other nations will start dominating. This is a prisoner’s dilemma as even when a state completely follows the path of peace, it cannot be sure whether the other states will follow the same lead. Most often states do not.
On the other hand, if peace is ignored, then nations cannot be expected to progress. The emergence of human rights and its widening scope has made every nation obligated to focus on human development over everything else.