Acid test for post-Cold War world
An ASEAN meet has just ended in Cambodia, without a joint declaration
being issued at the end of it, reports said. Apparently, ASEAN could not
arrive at a consensus on some hotly-debated issues relating to China. As
is well known, China and some ASEAN members are making rival sovereignty
claims over the South China Sea and this had bedeviled the ASEAN
deliberations. In fact, commentators are now prone to describe the South
China Sea as a ‘flashpoint’ region of the world.
Meanwhile, reports also said that the US has deployed a fleet of
robot submarines in the Gulf to ‘prevent Iran from blocking the Strait
of Hormus with mines in the event of a crisis.’ US anxiety in the Gulf
is basically sourced by the consideration that she would be deprived of
a considerable proportion of her oil supplies in the event of an armed
confrontation between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear
enrichment-related issues which have had both sides on a collision
course over the past few months.
If there was some doubt among sections of world opinion on the role
perceived national interest plays in contemporary international
political conflicts, the above developments should help clear it. While
it is amply clear that we now live in a multi-polar world, as opposed to
the bipolar international political order which was dominant in the
first few decades after the Second World War, a rough gauge could be
arrived at of the degree to which perceived national interest
predominantly drives states in their relations with each other in
contemporary times, on scrutinizing the just mentioned developments.
China is reportedly claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea
which is rich in strategic and other resources but so are some other
states of South East Asia. A few weeks back, the Philippines, for
instance, confronted China somewhat dangerously in the South China Sea
but the Philippines is not alone in thus challenging China’s claim to
sovereignty. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise if ASEAN has
failed to arrive at a consensus on some of the issues facing it.
Likewise, in the case of the Gulf, it should be clear that the US is
not making regional and possibly world peace vital considerations when
it seeks to boost its military presence in the region. Oil and other
energy resources are of predominant interest to the US and it is plain
to see it would not be depending entirely on diplomacy in resolving its
issues with Iran.
Accordingly, the major powers, in particular, are increasingly prone
to side-step any collective thinking and multilateral approaches when
addressing and resolving issues that touch very closely on what are
considered their national interests. This tendency is increasingly on
the ascendant in these times when multi-polarity or the dominance of
international politics by a multiplicity of powers is very much to the
Flags of ASEAN member states. File photo
This is in stark contrast to former times when bipolarity was the
predominant hallmark of world politics. That is, when the confrontation
between the former rival superpowers, the US and the USSR, and the
consequent competition for global influence and power between them,
basically defined the essence of international politics. Under the
latter dispensation, there was less space and opportunity for interstate
conflicts driven by national interests because the ideological
confrontation between the superpowers determined the course and
complexion of international politics.
It is in consideration of these broad contemporary tendencies that
some commentators are compelled to observe that the present
international political order is ‘anarchic.’ That is, the proclivity is
on the increase for major powers in particular to act mainly in
accordance with their individual interests, with less consideration
being given to international collective undertakings and what have come
to be seen as the norms and values of consensual international conduct.
Logically, when states are driven predominantly self interest,
international security is threatened unprecedentedly and this is the
reason why ‘anarchy’ could be seen to be on the rise.
It does not follow that the bipolar times of the past are preferable
to the present. The Cold War brought its own ills but there was less
‘anarchy’ in the sense we define it here. The international community is
obliged, in view of these realities, to think afresh about ways of
forging consensual thinking, conduct and harmonious coexistence among
states. With more and more states in Asia, in particular, attaining big
power states, these undertakings become increasingly urgent.