State of Trying

Using the ideas of Thomas Hobbes as a reference point, Hedley Bull in his article “Society and Anarchy in International Relations” tries to explain how individual states work together in an international community/society. The feeling I got from the reading was that you can essentially treat each state as an individual within the community, being the international community. We are in a “sate of nature” because there is no government/organization that sets out laws, norms, morals to protect our natural rights and freedoms. Each state-“individual” must defend their life, liberty, and property in any way they see fit in order to survive.

If we were to look more closely at the principles of Thomas Moore, man is moved by passions and people are cunning and crafting. To put in the context of the reading that states can be the so-called individual then states are moved by passions and are cunning. They have a fear of being dominated and a desire to dominate and thus deceive other states and don’t trust the political words of others. There would constantly be fighting and war and life would be indeed be “nasty, poor, solitary, brutish, short.”

I see that nations are trying to come together in this so-called international state of nature. There are international institutions like the EU, UN, ICC, alliance of South Asian states. But I will note these countries come together because they have shared sense of regional community or values. The sate of nature which develops into a sate of war is not as present because the nations understand that war will not solve their issues, and only damage themselves in the process. (That was the point of the EU to prevent war between France and Germany, and hasn’t that been successful? There has been no continental war since WWII.)

But even within these “social contracts” like the EU, there are state of nature issues. While the states have a general norms background, they have different interests. Sometimes these interests get in the way of the rules of law and morality set out by the laws of the EU. The nation doesn’t want to comply because it doesn’t want to give up its sovereignty to the international society. Take the ICC. They are having problems arresting/detaining those involved in the situation in the DRC because certain member states and non-members don’t turn in the suspects because they have personal interests with the suspect’s political party or country.

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International Ethics Should not be a Game of National Me, Myself, and I

In my view, international politics was developed as a way for a nation/country/city-state, to further their economic well-being. The Phoenicians needed to be on good terms with the Egyptians to get papyrus, the Italians needed to work with the Mongols to trade along the Silk Road, and the Dutch needed to have relations to trade with the Japanese. The only way for these relationships to work out there needed to be a discussion of polices and agreements internationally, thus international politics.

Today, international politics ranges over a various number of topics not just economics. The latest to be added to this list is Human Rights. Obviously, this topic is directly based off of the principle of ethics and morals, individually, societally, and politically.

When organizations, committees, projects are set up, the values it will protect and how they will be protected are determined by the norms of those actors who developed this organization. Let’s look at the EU Parliamentary Subcommittee for Human Rights. As an institution of the EU, this subcommittee follows the norms of the EU member countries. The European nations have similar values because they have conquered each, exchanged philosophes, artists, and royal families for decades. Determining how to fix an issue or choose which one to focus on is not a big issue. Yes, individual interests will get in the way and individual political thoughts will make discussions heated. That’s normal and expected for the idea of politics in general.

However, look at the Council of Europe (CoE), an international institution for the protection of Human Rights world-wide. Technically, members can only be of the European Continent, but that includes Russia and Turkey (and as we know they have been up to no good lately). CoE has world-wide partner and observer states that contribute financially to missions and can attend intergovernmental meetings. To be a member, partner, or observer the state must commit to a set of “ethical ideas” and “entrench them in core political, social, and economic institutions… all levels must be upheld, and be delimited by a commitment to the values” an idea tha David Held writes in his “Towards a Global Covenant: Global Social Democracy” article. For the CoE these values are associated with democracies and countries transitions to democracies. The CoE is trying to spread the ideas of Human Rights in a democratic point of view, the same that Held discusses in his idea of global social democracy.

The problem arises when these countries come from different historical backgrounds, which influence their values and ideas of human rights. Take Turkey for example. It is a member of the CoE, but it doesn’t come from a common, shared ethical European norm past. It has been historical a Muslim controlled nation. It may not put the same value on a topic that its fellow members do. Also, Turkey causes direct human right violations vis-a vis Greece: not recognizing its water spaces, sending over illegal immigrants, creating violence in Greek owned Cyprus (which the Turks don’t recognize as Greek). They blatantly disregard the values they say they hold for personal political advancement.

This characterizes International Politics in general. Countries will say they will do such and such, but they don’t hold up their end. Interests drive international politics in a negative manner. Its all me, me, me. Another example, the U.S. will never be a partner of CoE because of American interests. The U.S. will not revoke the death penalty, but is willing to follow all the other norms, and expects to be allowed to be a partner member. You can’t just ignore part of the value system and call yourself a member. It decreases your legitimacy as a nation as a whole and as an up holder of protecting Human Right norms.