New guidelines for international relations

Developing Just Leadership

Bamidele Kogb

Muharram 27, 1435 2013-12-01

Book Review

by Bamidele Kogb (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 10, Muharram, 1435)

In his book, Hegemony and Sovereign Equality: The Interest Contiguity Theory in International Relations, M J Balogun argues for a new set of principles to guide international relations making a strong case for discarding the old discredit methods used so far.

Bamidele Kogb writes a review of M.J. Balogun’s book, Hegemony and Sovereign Equality: The Interest Contiguity Theory in International Relations (Publisher: Springer, New York, 2011; 161 pages).

The world is in turmoil and is likely to remain this way as long as relations between individuals, states and supranational institutions continue to be governed by lopsided policies. In his book, Hegemony and Sovereign Equality: the Interest Contiguity Theory in International Relations, Professor M.J. Balogun, a former UN diplomat, postulates some groundbreaking theories that will enable humankind to break out of the mold by abandoning old but untenable assumptions.

The world is in turmoil and is likely to remain this way as long as relations between individuals, states and supranational institutions continue to be governed by lopsided policies... At the very least, the dynamics of the post-9/11contestations explored in this book should be of interest to those baffled by the seismic changes occurring in the world today.

At the very least, the dynamics of the post-9/11contestations explored in this book should be of interest to those baffled by the seismic changes occurring in the world today. As outlined by Balogun, terrorism may be cynically pinned on Islam, but history clearly proves that terrorism knows no religious, ideological, racial, or geographical boundary. Focusing on post-9/11 realities and politics, the book highlights the tension between and among three parallel sovereigns — the individual that jealously guards his/her freedom, the state that lays claim to unquestioned obedience, and the superpowers that arrogate to themselves the authority to emasculate individual rights and to nullify the sovereignty of states deemed insubordinate.

Returning sovereignty to the people is at the heart of the thesis advanced in Hegemony and Sovereign Equality. The book poses a number of complex questions. First, why should the interests of powerful nations and supranational bureaucracies hold sway over states considered weak, especially, when citizens of these states have no way of holding the external sovereigns to account? Secondly, in whose interests do foreign powers act — theirs, the states that they overpower and subdue, or peoples in far-off places on whose behalf the powerful states claim to act? The book underscores the fact that powerful states act to maximize their own interests at the expense of others. This they do by opportunistically invoking international law when it suits them, parading themselves as the only accredited spokespersons of the “international community,” and relying on supranational bureaucracies and institutions to do their bidding.

The book is arranged in three parts and consists of eight chapters. Part I, titled “Internationalism: Philosophy and Theory,” contains four chapters, while part II addresses the issue of “International Relations: History and Contemporary Challenges” in three chapters. The last, part III, is titled “Future Directions” in which the author provides perspectives on a genuine New World Order.

In chapter one, Balogun identifies three types of sovereignties that exist in parallel: those of the individual over what concerns none but him/her-self, of the nation-state over its territory and people, and of the institutions established to give expression to the will of the “international community,” whatever that means. The frequent conflict between and among the various types of sovereignties raises several questions. First, against whose moral standards would the freedom claimed by each type be legitimized? Second, under what circumstances is it justified to subordinate one type of sovereignty to another? Third, how will the boundary between and among the various types of sovereignties be drawn to ensure that each performs only those functions for which it is best suited? Fourth, what checks and balances have been or can be devised to hold each sovereign to account?

In providing answers to these questions, the author interrogates three contending theories of international relations. These are (a) realism, which assumes the existence of power struggle as the harbinger of conflict; (b) idealism, which credits reason with the capacity to promote harmony; and (c) Kantian rationalism, which assumes the ability of reason not only to banish conflict but also to promote the emergence of an “international society” in place of parochial nation states.

Balogun, however, departs from these long-standing philosophical traditions. He contends the interests that get served at any given time are those that are tangible, organized, and, above all, easily reconcilable with their parallels. Thereafter, the author focuses, among others, on the individual, and interrogates society’s (i.e., the nation-state’s) claim to obedience as well as its autonomy from external control, particularly against the backdrop of the growing tendency toward the externalization (or internationalization) of domestic issues.

Subsequent chapters elaborate on the questions raised in chapter one. Thus, chapter two examines the individual as the origin and purpose of sovereignty. This is where the author argues that powerful nations and supranational institutions most frequently project themselves as the defenders if not the custodians, of lofty human ideals (e.g. democracy, justice, fairness, human rights, etc.) to justify interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states even when they themselves fail to live by these precepts.

According to Balogun, the notion of right or wrong inheres in every individual on the planet, not in the exclusive custody of external agents. The author even goes so far as to raise critical questions about what is meant by “Western values,” arguing that it is supremely arrogant to assume that Western rationalism is capable of producing values that are superior to, or override, universal and abiding values — especially, those of goodness, compassion, beauty, decency, truth, justice, equity, fairness or basic morality. Every conscious mind is capable of conceptualizing these values, but not a single mind has yet succeeded in producing an interpretation that does justice to the values’ meaning and intent. For better or worse, each interpretation is apt to be historically shaped and culture-bound. That is why what is morally defensible in the West may be amoral or even considered immoral in other societies.

In any case, there are many instances of rights violations by the “exporters of Western values and democracy.” Wiki-Leaks and Edward Snowden’s revelations highlight the challenges already anticipated and exhaustively treated in Hegemony and Sovereign Equality. Going back to history, Balogun refers to the horrendous consequences of Western intervention in Lumumba’s Congo, which over 50 years on is still wrestling with momentous challenges brought on by external do-gooders. He notes that it was external military force (not the votes of duly enfranchised citizens) that brought about change of government in Chile, Grenada, and Panama, to mention a few. He also mentions Iraq and Afghanistan. He might as well add Libya to the list of countries in which “regime change” issued from the barrel of the Western gun. The December 2011 report released by Russia on US human rights violations both at home and abroad is another good example of the hypocritical character of those who claim to occupy the high moral ground from where they pontificate on how weaker nations should behave.

...powerful states frequently impose monistic solutions even when the natural order is in favor of pluralism.

The author then examines the state’s claim to obedience. It recognizes, subject to certain conditions, the legitimacy of state power and the benefits of obedience by citizens. However, with respect to the relationship between powerful states and weaker ones, Balogun notes that powerful states frequently impose monistic solutions even when the natural order is in favor of pluralism. Advising states that are presumed weak, the author urges them to be determined to preserve their independence and the dignity of their people. In the absence of vigilance on their part, the world’s superpowers would, under various guises, continue to externalize and recreate/reshape the weaker nations’ domestic reality.

Chapter four titled “External Effects and the Supranational Sovereign” focuses precisely on the patterns and consequences of such externalization. In Africa for instance, externalization of the Angolan conflict (because of its vast mineral resources and strategic location) has inflicted immense suffering on the people. And as already noted, the Democratic Republic of Congo has not found peace after over half a century of independence. This is because its initial state building efforts were derailed, and are still being sabotaged by external forces.

The powerful states would certainly respond by saying that meeting contemporary challenges requires a New World Order. Balogun’s comments on the so-called New World Order — a world order guided by “Western values” and underpinned by unanimity in the UN Security Council — are so poignant that they need reproducing.

If the values, nay, precepts, of “justice,” “democracy,” and free trade are Western, will the non-Western world not feel colonized if required to learn and imbibe them? Second, if harmony rules within the Security Council, does this not portend grave risks for those who have legitimate questions about the new order? Or to rephrase the question, is the world not heading towards a “one-party” state — a supranational state that, in its demand for total obedience, equates dissent with, at best, resistance to “progress,” at worst, an open rebellion that must be suppressed with all available means? Where does this modern-day authoritarian idealism fit into the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights underpinning multilateralism? Third, and this flows directly from the first and the second questions, if a country or a group of countries holds a copyright on values, is there no danger of the values being opportunistically invoked (or repudiated) as occasion demands?

Supranational organizations and their bureaucracies are the focus of the next two chapters. The author notes the good intentions of the UN — as a former diplomat at the UN — which recognizes the principle of sovereign equality and of non-interference in the internal affairs of States Parties. However, while weaker states subscribe to the organization’s founding principles, the superpowers continue to impose their will on weaker states and even when dealing with one another. In the rush to dominate, the powerful most often shoot themselves in the foot. Ask the victims of the drone strikes what they think of America, or the Iraqis and Libyans who have known no peace since the end of the externally engineered “regime change.” Ask Angela Merkel, a US ally, whose phone was bugged by the US National Security Agency!

Issues of anarchy, terrorism and the war on terror are dealt with by tracing the link between the war on terror and the unending quest for hegemony.

Issues of anarchy, terrorism and the war on terror are dealt with by tracing the link between the war on terror and the unending quest for hegemony. The book also assesses the impact of the “war” on the rising tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia. As Balogun rightly observes, the overwhelming evidence suggests that international law and institutions have failed by themselves to check anarchy and to bring order in society. The author posits that the UN has a major role to play, but underscores the fact that the cause of peace can only be served if each state and its society has the space it needs to work out internal differences without external meddling.

The author rounds up his discourse by presenting the central thesis of his book: the “interest contiguity theory.” He argues that “to the extent that the sovereign state is as yet the only party capable of entering into fairly credible ‘social contracts’ with the individual, that it would be a more appropriate body (than distant external and supranational regimes) to be trusted with the mandate to dispose matters of direct concern to, but beyond the capacity of, the individual.”

The book is very relevant to the challenge of our time. Any statesperson, diplomat, or high-ranking official who wishes to make a difference in this turbulent world ought to read this book. It should also be compulsory reading for students of politics and international relations, as well as the faculties and students of foreign service academies worldwide. This is vital, for as the author says, it enables analysts and practitioners to see international politics from a new perspective.

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