This essay addresses the following historical question: Is it possible for states to have a foreign policy with an ethical dimension? First of all, it is important to note that the nation-state at the international level is the most important entity. Each nation-state is most concerned with gunning as much power from the international system. Therefore, from a realist perspective security is the most important objective of each nation-state. The second important driving force of states within the international system is relative gain in terms of economics, politics, and social values in comparison with other players within the international system. The third important concern of the nation-state especially in the current globalizing world is the preservation of sovereignty. States are concerned with the fact that more openness especially in term of markets brings about a sense of deterritorization which poses the threat of reducing the influence of domestic governance on territorial control. The fourth important element that the nation-state is more concerned is the stability of its domestic population. If a nation-state cherishes democracy as a form of governance, then democratic accountability among political leaders is highly advocated. In case, of aristocratic governance, stability and progress is enhanced through institutions like the military. Internal stability determines how any given nation-state relates with the external world. For example, trade and other bilateral interactions between nations is determined by the political stability of a given country. Based on the four factors above, this paper takes the stand that it is not possible for states to make foreign policies that have an ethical dimension in that self- interest and self-preservation is the major objective of the nation state.
First, the realization of security within the nation-state reduces the likelihood of the creation of foreign policies that has an ethical dimension. For example, in 2003, the United States decided to invade Iraq of because the United States believed that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was in possession of nuclear weapons that had the capacity of causing global harm (Smith, 2005, p.35). The possession of nuclear weapons was against the non-proliferation treaty in which Iraq was a member state. However, the use of force against Iraq by the United States caused a great split within the United Nations Security Council. The United States and United Kingdom highly advocated for the use of force in Iraq while Russia, France, China, and, the temporary member at the time, Germany highly opposed the use of force. Due to this split, it took a long time for the UN Security Council to attain a consensus on the issue. Though the UN inspectors had at first described Iraq as being “clean” of the possession of nuclear weapons, the United States and Great Britain still doubted the results from the UN inspectors (Plappert, 2007, p. 67). The two states, which proved to be in reality hegemons in the UN Security Council, were very impatient that they could not wait for a solid and comprehensive decision to be made by all the other members of the United Nations Security Council.
The United States, with the support of Great Britain, embarked on the invasion of Iraq even without a clear approval of its second resolution by the other members of the United Nations Security Council. The action of the United States to invade was clearly disrespectful of the authority of the United Nations Security Council. This posed a great historical question: Did the United States have power over the United Nations Security Council? Researchers and scholars have argued that the main reason that the United States invaded Iraq was not to look for nuclear weapons but to fulfill the country’s selfish needs. Notably, Rattray explains that,” some people believe that President George. W. Bush had personal vendetta against President Hussein who he claimed tried to kill his dad”(Hybel, 2006, p.13). According to Mingst, “The first military objective of the United States was the seizure of Rumalia oil fields in southern Iraqoil fields all over the country were protected by U.S. troops “This was a clear indication that the United States was also interested in controlling Iraq’s oil. This example of the United States shows a situation where a foreign policy, security threats, is used to fulfill self-interests of the nation-state. This brings the idea that the strategies towards realizing security with the nation-state are not structured on an ethical dimension.
Looking at self-preservation as a factor that affect the ethicality of the foreign policies realized by nations, it is important to note that nations may not support ethical decisions because it might reduce their chances of benefiting from a given nation. For example, countries like Russia did not support the idea of US involvement in Iraq war because they believed that the United States was driven by self-interests in using force on Iraq can be viewed as being the theoretical lens through which countries like Russia viewed the actions of the United States. According to realists like John Mearsheimer, states in the anarchic system are always competing for power and resources. Their major objectives are the satisfaction of self-interest, and self-preservation (Mingst, 2008, p.61). The action of the United States to invade Iraq could be best described using the realist theory in that the objective of the United States was self-preservation.
The United States would be able to attain self preservation by reducing the threat of insecurity that was being posed on the country by the fact that Iraq allegedly possessed nuclear weapons. Bearing in mind that countries like Russia and Iraq were allies who shared economic ties and considerable proportions of Muslims in their populations and also the fact that the United States had displayed its hegemonic claws within the United Nations Security Council, Russia had no choice other than taking a standpoint that was in favor of Iraq. Russia's decision to oppose the invasion of Iraq reflects a realist approach in that its aim was to protect its own national interests especially economic ties such as the oil trade. The question of ethicality is a secondary question that is superseded by the idea of self-preservation and relative gain.
The struggle for power is also a factor the limits the ethicality of foreign policies realized by nations. For example one might wonder for example the reason as to why a country like Russia would not support the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These reasons are Russia’s relationship with the United States “hegemon”, and the protection of Russia's economic interests in Iraq. Looking at the relationship between Russia and the United States, it has always been clear that the relationship between the two states has always been characterized by competition and suspicion. This can be traced back to the Cold War era when the two states engaged in hegemonic struggles with each state wanting to become the global hegemon. Any good relationship that has existed between Russia and the United States has been motivated by the fact that the two countries are reaping mutual benefit from each other without affecting their relative powers. When any of the two countries finds a chance to gain more power than the other they utilize it to the maximum. Belton defines the relationship between the two countries as being a “carefully crafted relationship” in that the relationship between the United States and Russia only comes when the two countries are reaping mutual gain from each other.
During this time when the United States was intending to embark on using force on Iraq, writes Belton, the good relationship that was prevailing between the United States and Russia was beginning to bear fruits in that Russia was beginning to stabilize economically after the economic crisis that hit the country in 2001. The United States was helping the country by encouraging foreign investors into the country(Egor, 2003, p.25). Due to this relationship, the United States hoped that Russia would back them up in the use of force in Iraq. However, Russia had another alternative that seemed to outweigh their support for the United States. Though the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, writes Catherine Belton, and has always been referred to as being a fallen former superpower, Russia has been trying its best to see to it that it can influence global decisions once more. The decision, whether the United States would use force or not, was an opportunity for Russia to influence a global decision. Hence Russia had to utilize this opportunity to the maximum. Russia made a very calculated move to back up France and Germany in order to reduce the influence of the United States in the global decisions. Catherine Belton explains that this was a way to try to “combat United States' growing strength as the only super power” (Belton, 2003, p.21). This is clearly a realist approach in that Russia’s aim in this case was not to just protect Iraq from the United States but to also amerce more power for itself by being able to influence global decisions while at the same time reducing the influence of the United States.
Looking at economic strength of a country as a factor that limits the ethicality of the foreign policies that are made, it is important to note that nation-states that are experiencing economic would rather compromise ethical policies in order to protect their economic well-being. For example, Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq by the United States was to the protect Russia’s economic interests. Belton explains that, at the time when the United States was planning to wage war on Iraq, Iraq owed Russia more than 8 billion dollars (Belton, 2003, p.4). If Russia invaded Iraq, there was a great likelihood that Iraq would not be in a position to settle the debt. This is because the war would ruin the Iraqi’s economy, meaning that Iraq would first embark on reconstruction after the war rather than paying off its debts. Failure of Iraq to pay off the debt that it owed Russia would put Russia into further economic constraints. In addition, if Russia supported the use of force on Iraq, Russia would risk losing all the contracts that the country had in Iraq especially in the oil fields. In this case, Russia was trying to save its survival by making sure that Iraq was not facing wars so that the economic ties between the two countries would remain. This would ensure that Russia would not collapse economically. This is also a realist approach in that Russia, in this case, was protecting its economic power and interests which would be greatly altered if the country supported war in Iraq. From the two arguments above it is clear that realism is the best international relations theory to describe the action of Russia at the system level.
At the state level there are three important reasons why Russia opposed the war on Iraq. First, if Russia supported the use of force on Iraq, it could lead to oil sanctions by Iraq on Russia which would lead to the cause the price of oil to rise. This would lead to a budget crisis in the country. To avoid this economic pressure, Russia had to oppose the use of force on Iraq bearing in mind that Russia was just recovering from an economic crisis that had hit the country in 1998(Annesley, 2005, p.274). It was reasonable for Russia to save its economic wellbeing other than just supporting United Sates in the use of force just to maintain a good relationship. The United States did not have enough oil even for its own use and hence it was not even worth relying on. It was hence worthwhile to protect Iraq where Russia was assured that they would benefit from oil and save themselves from a budget crisis.
Looking at how domestic stability limits the ethicality of foreign policies, it is important to note that nation-states respect the will of its people. Therefore, leaders are forced to put into consideration the ideas of the people of they are going to be re-elected in subsequent elections. For example one of the reason as to why Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq by the United States was because 8-15 percent of the Russian population is Muslim (Hunter, 2007, p79). Islam in Russia: the politics of identity and security. The Muslim masses in Russia opposed and demonstrated in the streets against the use of force on Iraq by the United States. Daniel McLaughlin,explains that “about 20 million Muslims were deeply alarmed by the prospect of conflict in Iraq causing the Russian president Vladimir Putin to point out that he could not afford not to consider their opinions(McLaughlin, 2003, p.31).In order to demonstrate the democratic accountability of the Russian government to its people, Russia had to stay away from the war in order to respect the interest of its Muslim population so as to attain social stability in country.
The third reason why Russia's domestic politics influenced the position of Russia in opposing the use of force in Iraq was because the legislators in Russia’s lower house believed that the United States was manipulating them by encouraging them to work toward realizing global peace by signing the arms control treaty whereas the United States was working towards “setting the stage for a world war by invading Iraq” (LeFraniere, 2004, p.64). LeFraniere explains that the legislators were upset by the efforts of the United States to use force in Iraq because they felt that the United States was not only disrespecting the authority of the United Nations but was also interfering with the internal affairs of Iraq, yet Iraq was a sovereign state. This could create a catalyst for enmity between the Middle East and the West which could eventually lead to a world war. Due to this, the Russian legislators were not willing to vote for the ratification of the arms control treaty in that in their view, the United States was just using them like puppets.
Therefore, Russia would not back up the United States in the invasion of Iraq because according to international laws like the Geneva conventions, it was illegal to trespass into another country’s internal affairs when there is no enough proof that there is any reason for self defense, aid of an ally or humanitarian intervention. United States did not have any substantial evidence that could create grounds for a just war. From the above arguments at the state level, realism is the best international theory to best explain the action of Russia in opposing the use of force on Iraq in that Russia was aiming to protect its own economic interests and the interests of its own population as well as avoid being taken advantage of by the United States. Domestic politics in Russia at this time aimed at safeguarding these national interests.
In conclusion, it is clear that the realist theory is the best international relations theory to describe the reason as to why it is not possible for states to make foreign policies that have an ethical dimension. As it is evident in the case of Russia to opposing the use of force in Iraq in those at all levels, Russia aimed at safeguarding its own interests first. At the system level, Russia was interested in being able to have an opportunity to influence global decisions by taking a position that was contrary to the one taken by the United States, safeguarding its own economic interests by making sure that it did not lose contracts in the oil fields in Iraq, and making sure that Iraq was in a position to pay back the 8billion dollar debt that it owed Russia. At the state level, Russia was interested in making sure that it there was no oil sanctions from Iraq in that they would cause a budget deficit in the country. Russia also wanted to make sure that social stability prevailed within its borders by making sure that the interest of the Muslim population was met. Finally, Russia wanted to make sure that they did not turn to be puppets of the United States who urged Russia to work towards making sure that they reduce arms in order to enhance global peace yet the United States was working towards creating enmity between the Middle East and the West by invading Iraq. At the Individual level, the Russian government officials were seeking re-election in the elections that were coming up in the following year, 2004, and hence democratic accountability had to be the Russian government top priority. Conventionally, the general public elects leaders to power expecting that they will be accountable to them in return. Leaders must therefore fulfill the social contract that is given to them by the voters.
For the Russian government to have had happy voters who were willing to elect the Russian governmental officials including the president to power they had to take two things into consideration. The first thing was to make sure that the interest of the domestic population especially the Muslim community was met. This would be achieved by Russia as a country taking a standpoint that opposed the use of force on Iraq. This is because this was in line with what the majority of the Muslim population in Russia wanted. Secondly, Putin’s government had to make sure that it did not end its term while the country was in a budget crisis. This is because the general public would describe Putin’s government as having failed to attain economic stability in the country. This would lead to the loss of votes which would mean that Putin’s government would no longer be in power. Therefore it is reasonable, from all the arguments made in the system, state and local level, to conclude that realism theory is the best international relations theory that could be used to describe the position that Russia took in opposing the use of force in Iraq.
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