Quandaries for world community from Mid-East tangle



The UN General Assembly in session

The recent UN General Assembly resolution relating to the on-going ‘Hamas-Israel’ war should prove thought-provoking for the earnest international politics researcher and student. The resolution posed multiple dilemmas for the world community, or UN member states, and probing why that was so would prove enormously revealing for both the specialist and student of international relations.

Among other things, the opportunity would offer itself to the above personnel to investigate afresh, the role the national interest of countries play in the shaping of their foreign policies. Besides, they would also begin to recognize more fully the significance of Political Realism in international politics theorization. For instance, does Political Idealism, or normative politics, as opposed to Political Realism, exercise a decisively shaping influence on a country’s foreign policy?

The researcher and student should also feel compelled to examine the validity and viability of Non-alignment as a seminal foreign policy principle for the South. In fact, they are obliged to confront the poser once again: ‘Whither Non-alignment?’

Equally crucially, the question prompts itself: How effectively is the UN system meeting its principal founding ideals? Main among these is the fostering and maintenance of international peace.

More fundamentally, the UNGA resolution and issues growing out of it pose the question of how deeply the countries and cultures of the world are committed to the promotion of violence-free and peaceful politics.

The resolution’s call for an ‘Immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities’ is a recommendable proposition and, given the ground realities, a relatively realistic one. However, what is immediately needed is a ceasefire between the warring sides; which is more substantive, long-lasting and sparing of lives than a truce, which is a notable temporary arrangement, if correctly understood.

Ideally, the international community should have highly prioritized the saving of lives over a substantive time duration, but a truce may not exactly meet this aim, although any pause in the fighting is highly welcome at this juncture. Nor could the lives of the inhabitants of Gaza be further destabilized by relocating them in specified locations which are distant from their homes.

What the people of both sides of the divide need very urgently is security and protection, in the first instance, followed by food, medicines and shelter. A mere ‘pause’ in the fighting is unlikely to meet these requirements. However, a ceasefire could make some provision to meet these needs over a period of time.

In the longer term, though, what is needed is enduring peace which a negotiated settlement to the conflict could lead to. As matters stand, the best opportunity for durable peace could only come from the ‘Two State Solution’; the most democratic of propositions in this context. The fact that the ‘Two State Solution’ has come to nothing so far is not to the point.

However, what could have prompted the majority of UNGA member states to opt for a truce rather than a ceasefire that could possibly lead to a cessation of hostilities in the Gaza?

Admittedly, no easy generalizations could be made on the possible reasons for this choice, but the humanist, nurturing the best interests of ordinary people at heart would have unhesitatingly opted for a ceasefire, followed by a cessation hostilities, since the saving of lives is of cardinal importance to her and a mere ‘pause’ in the fighting does not serve this purpose fully.

However, the commentator could not take up the utterly cynical view that the majority of humans are of basically inhuman proclivities, if he goes by a simplistic reading of the final vote at the UNGA. Rather, the inference needs to be drawn that the majority of states opted not to fall foul of the big powers of the West by calling for a ceasefire, since a ‘humanitarian truce’ is the next best thing to a ‘humanitarian pause’ and the latter is the preference of the US.

The US continues to hold the world’s ‘purse strings’ in the main and it stands to reason that the majority of states would not have wanted to offend the US by markedly veering away from its policy positions on the Gaza.

In other words, in the case of the majority of states, Political Realism has won over value-based politics or politics of the normative kind. This is particularly true of the global South. In fact, among the 14 states that voted against the resolution, side-by-side with the US, are the following developing countries: Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay and Tonga.

Besides the question of Political Realism and its implications, we need to perceive the principal importance of a country’s national interest in the shaping of its foreign policy.

What could also be seen in these instances is how a country’s national interest figures in its foreign policy formulation. Currently, the majority of Southern states have no choice but to be of a pragmatic orientation in foreign policy making. For them, economic survival is of primary importance and they have no choice but to be on the most amicable terms with the foremost powers of the West and East. Bankrupt Sri Lanka too is forced to make foreign policy choices of this kind. Given the principal standing of the US in the international system, the majority of Southern states have no choice but to vote along with it in the UN on crucial question.

This amounts to taking Political Realism to its logical conclusion. Since it is of prime importance for any country to survive materially, in the first instance, its economic survival becomes a principal component of its national interest. The latter will, in turn, shapes its relations with the rest of the world or its foreign policy.

Sections of the world are looking askance at India for abstaining from voting for the UNGA’s Gaza-war linked resolution. This stance is even being construed as ‘pro-Israeli’. This is a simplistic reading of India’s policy on this question. It is quite some time since India began to normalize its relations with Israel but it does not follow from this develpment that India would be blindly loyal, as it were, to Israel.

India would naturally want to perpetuate its trade, commercial and other economic links with Israel but there is also the question of identity-related violence to consider. One major drawback in the resolution is that it does not condemn Hamaz and Israel for their spilling of civilian blood. An unconditional endorsement by India of the resolution would have projected it as supporting ‘terrorrism’, which is, of course, one of the thorniest issues in world politics.

Accordingly, the UNGA resolution in question proves to be of utmost importance in our understanding of a country’s foreign policy formulation. A complex awareness of the bases of foreign policy making is, thus, of the utmost importance.