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Idealism is a Better Option Than Realism

BY: Prateek Chakraverty | Category: Politics | Submitted: 2012-03-26 07:58:09
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Article Summary: "This paper analyzes the speech by Tibetan leader, Lobsang Sangay at OP Jindal Global University on 12 January 2012, International Relations concepts pertaining to Realism, Idealism, the Melian Dialogue and a general political scenario to contend that Idealism is a better option than Realism for the purpose of overall harmony bet.."


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This paper analyzes the speech by Tibetan leader, Lobsang Sangay at OP Jindal Global University on 12 January 2012, International Relations concepts pertaining to Realism, Idealism, the Melian Dialogue and a general political scenario to contend that Idealism is a better option than Realism for the purpose of overall harmony between world states.

My paper is divided into three sections. The first section deals with my insights on the speech by Lobsang Sangay. The second section describes my views on Idealism as a positive force in International Affairs. The third section is the conclusion

PART 1

I. Lobsang Sangay's speech

I found Dr. Lobsang Sangay's speech highly inspirational. I took notes as he spoke. I appreciated the efforts of a dedicated fighter who's courage is fueling a government is exile to fight against one of the most powerful nations in the world.

Sangay's first part of his speech dealt with his childhood, education and struggles in his political career. His second part was on a more theoretical front as he explained the political ideologies and the rationale behind the Tibetan diplomacy in world affairs.

Sangay described the geopolitical challenges which his government faces (due to China). The "internal" challenge is due to the conflict between a democracy which requires diverse opinions, and a freedom struggle, which requires spontaneity and a "single voice".

He compared the Tibetan struggle to other exiles and noted that it is the only efficient government in exile which has "invested in democracy and non-violence". He noted that violent struggles usually end in bloodshed and destruction. The Tibetan administration is inspired by the democratic ideals of India and the nonviolent struggle led by Gandhi.

A. Geopolitical Importance of Tibet
He highlighted the importance of a Tibet without the control of China. He claimed that:
1) 10 major rivers of Asia emerge from Tibet. Thus Tibet's water reserves provide water to about 50 % of the world's population if China, its neighboring countries and some others are included.
2) Tibet is home to world's 3rd largest reserves of ice
3) Tibetan people have preserved the ancient "Nalanda Buddhist" tradition. Tibetan civilization is one of the oldest in the world.
4) Its location on the world map, particularly Asia, is strategic.

He implied that if China is allowed a free reign over Tibet, this would lead to destruction of Tibet's ancient traditions (by mentioning that Tibet could not be made into a museum). He claimed that China builds sea ports, rails, airports and "dam after dam after dam" in Tibet. This leads to destruction of natural resources in Tibet. He implied that China uses Tibet's abundant freshwater reserves to meet the water requirements of its huge population. In the age when water security is rapidly becoming a major issue, Tibet's freshwater reserves need to be preserved and used sustainability. Sangay claimed that Tibet, if free, would commit itself to preserving these resources.

PART 2

B. Irresponsibility of Realist China
Sangay's concluding lines reflect the fact that China is behaving as an irresponsible state. It is exploiting natural resources in an era when most nations are making concerted efforts to preserve resources by sustainable development. Tibet, if independent, would help in a more equitable utilization of its resources. This is inevitable from three observations:

1. Tibet has a relatively small population and thus, will not indiscriminately exploit its own resources, as is done by China for its huge population.

2. Tibet does not have the resources to undertake major developmental projects that could potentially degrade its resources. For this, it has to depend on countries like India, Pakistan, China and other countries. These countries would make agreements that would be finalized only after ratification by both countries, which in turn, would help in meaningful utilization of resources by more countries apart from China, on a more sustainable basis than the present scenario due to China's exploitative nature on Tibet's resources.

3. Assuming that Tibet would become a part of international institutions such as the UN, UNESCO , environment-specific organizations such as Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol (as is probable, should Tibet become an independent state), these institutions would necessarily take steps to safeguard Tibet's natural and cultural resources for the interest of the world community. These organizations are currently restricted in making any efforts in Tibet because of China's irresponsible control over Tibet.
China's human rights record shows that it is disrespectful of human rights. While it has been able to promote strong economic growth, it is neglecting the basic rights of individuals. China itself recognizes that its legal system is underdeveloped. China's censorship regime is largely repressive.

Moreover, Tibet is behaving like a rational (and not irrational) entity, by using a non-violent approach towards dealing with a superpower like China. It is for this reason, that it is able to sustain itself. In this way, it is providing a platform/opportunity for the larger international community to put pressure on China for giving up Tibet.

II: The Force of Idealism
Idealism is generally portrayed to be the "weapon of the weak". However, I believe that it is actually a great balancing force, which attempts to balance the predominant Realists' agenda of "might is right". One of the criticisms of Realism is that its policies tend to lead to cruelty and conflicts. Idealism, by bringing moral arguments, ultimately finds itself defeated. However, in the long run, it acts as a sustaining force for the nation which uses its arguments, as it attempts to arouse the conscience of the powerful states. The recognition of the moral force of Idealism comes only when there is widespread destruction, and when nations are bound to cooperate with each other due to an emergency.

In the context of Sangay's speech, I found myself viewing the relation between Realism and Idealism in a new light. To substantiate my views, I will first write a brief background of some aspects of the debate between Idealism and Realism.

PART 3

A. The Melian Dialogue

Realism has been recognized as the founding stone of IR. This school of thought believes that the "powerful has the right to rule over the weak". It does not consider moral or social factors. It prioritizes national interest and security. Idealism is considered to be the argument of weak states. It believes in the moral nature of political actions..

The characteristics of these contrasting ideas are reflected in the Melian Dialogue, which was a dialogue between two nations, Melos and Athens. The Athenians wished to conquer the Melians to intimidate their rivals, the Spartans. However, they offered the Melians two alternatives: to surrender or perish at their hands. The Melians argued that the Athenians should not conquer them because otherwise, they would get a bad reputation. Moreover, Gods would come to their rescue. They believed that the Spartans, being their kin, would support them. These are typically moral arguments. In response, the Athenians argued that this moral line would be suicidal for the Melians. They believed that the Gods would come to their rescue as well. They contended that even though the Spartans propagated moral arguments, they were hypocritical as they were also followed Realist policies. Thus they would not come to the Melians' rescue. Thus, Melians were Idealists and Athenians, the Realists.

Putting the Melian Dialogue in the context of present international politics, Melos is comparable to Tibet, Athens to China, the Melian Dialogue to the relation between Tibet and China and Sparta to America. This is explained in the following paragraph.

Melos and Tibet share the common view that their powerful opponent should not resort to coercion as it is immoral. Athens and China share the Realist ideology of intimidating their rivals by conquering weaker nations. It logically follows that the nature of the Dialogue is similar to the interactions between Tibet and China. Sparta is similar to America as they both make moral arguments as a cover up for their devious designs, which are characteristic of Realist ideology. For example, the American president George W. Bush, claimed Peace among nations as a priority in his campaigns. However his regime saw the Realist-motivated war on Iraq, planned attacks on Iran and unsolicited attacks on the Middle East while making moral arguments justifying these attacks. For example, he justified a planned attack on Iran by claiming that its nuclear program posed a threat to world peace. Its Realist agenda can be discerned from the fact that it doesn't want weaker states to rise in world power, or threaten its national security.

A rational IR thinker would recognize Sangay's speech as similar to the idealist arguments of the Melians in the Melian Dialogue. However, I contend that Sangay's speech did not merely consist of moral arguments; rather it gave me new insights into the practical reasons for Tibet's liberation.

B. Irresponsibility of Realist China
Sangay's concluding lines reflect the fact that China is behaving as an irresponsible state. It is exploiting natural resources in an era when most nations are making concerted efforts to preserve resources by sustainable development. Tibet, if independent, would help in a more equitable utilization of its resources. This is inevitable from three observations:

1. Tibet has a relatively small population and thus, will not indiscriminately exploit its own resources, as is done by China for its huge population.

2. Tibet does not have the resources to undertake major developmental projects that could potentially degrade its resources. For this, it has to depend on countries like India, Pakistan, China and other countries. These countries would make agreements that would be finalized only after ratification by both countries, which in turn, would help in meaningful utilization of resources by more countries apart from China, on a more sustainable basis than the present scenario due to China's exploitative nature on Tibet's resources.

3. Assuming that Tibet would become a part of international institutions such as the UN, UNESCO , environment-specific organizations such as Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol (as is probable, should Tibet become an independent state), these institutions would necessarily take steps to safeguard Tibet's natural and cultural resources for the interest of the world community. These organizations are currently restricted in making any efforts in Tibet because of China's irresponsible control over Tibet.
China's human rights record shows that it is disrespectful of human rights. While it has been able to promote strong economic growth, it is neglecting the basic rights of individuals. China itself recognizes that its legal system is underdeveloped. China's censorship regime is largely repressive.

Moreover, Tibet is behaving like a rational (and not irrational) entity, by using a non-violent approach towards dealing with a superpower like China. It is for this reason, that it is able to sustain itself. In this way, it is providing a platform/opportunity for the larger international community to put pressure on China for giving up Tibet.

PART 4

C. Turning of Tables

Reverting to the Melian Dialogue, we find that, after the conquest of Melos, Athens started declining and the Melian justifications turned out to be true. The surviving Melians were resettled by their kindred, the Spartans. War broke out and the Melians successfully collected funds for the Spartans, who ultimately vanquished their rivals, the Athenians.

Thus, inferring from the Melian Dialogue, we conclude that the Realist approach is rash and too present-minded. China is looking at short term political gains like intimidating its rivals by oppressing the Tibetans. However, as noted above, the world, including China, stands to lose if a potentially wonderful country like Tibet is allowed to be oppressed for long.

Moreover, there has been widespread criticism of Realism. These criticisms include the fact that Realism tends to oversimplify politics. This simplicity is sheer immaturity in modern politics, given the complexity of diplomacy with which nations of the world engage with each other. Realism tends to focus on individual aspects of world politics. In reality, the scope of modern international politics is quite wide. Furthur, the provisions of international laws make Realist tendencies restricted. Realist countries like China adopt self-centric policies which seek to fulfill short-term gains and dominate weaker countries. However, at a later stage, this may prove to be detrimental for the world at large and for the Realist country itself when it may become weaker and would require cooperation from other countries.

D. The case of the United States of America
In this context, it is interesting to consider the case of the United States of America. Its Realist strategies led it to interfere in other nations' affairs so as to suit its own interests. It supported the tyrannical Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, to protect Israel, its ally. It aided Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi leader, so that Iraq could turn against Iran, US' foe. Later, it turned against Hussain when Iraq restricted its oil reserves. It supported the Taliban, which is now dubbed as a terrorist organization by the US, because it believed that the Taliban was pro-American.
Thus, America abused its super-power status to dominate weak countries and followed rash policies to suit its short-term interests. Its hypocrisy was exposed time and again as America shifted stances in its foreign policies. As a result, the world suffered. Egypt suffered under Mubarak's tyrannical rule for 30 years until his ouster succeeding the 2011-12 Egyptian Revolution. Iraq suffered under Hussain's dictatorship until he was hanged in a public execution. The Taliban wreaked havoc in Afghanistan. The Taliban viewed the US as its enemy when the US dubbed it as a terrorist organization. It joined hands with the Al Queda, which was responsible for the terrible 9/11 attacks.

America was considered to be the most powerful nation on Earth. However, it abused its power over weak countries such as those of Middle East. The 9/11 attacks is the greatest testimony of the fact that cruelty breeds more cruelty, which becomes counterproductive for the powerful nation which exercises cruelty over weaker nations. Today, America is submerged in an economic crisis and its economy is, to a significant extent, dependent on countries like China and India, which were considered one of the weakest economies on Earth, about six decades back. Clearly, the reverses of Realism have made itself felt in world politics and the balance of power is shifting. Therefore, the tendency to view Realism as a world-view in the polarized world of Realists and Idealists by theorists must change.

III. Conclusion
I firmly believe that the Realist approach is destructive in the long run. If we consider the Realist maxim of "might is right" as true, then the superior nations would occupy the weaker nations indiscriminately, and the world would revert to the "State of Nature" as described by the great political thinker, Thomas Hobbes. In the age of globalization, it is becoming clearer by the day that the world stands to win and live longer, only through mutual understanding and a policy of inclusiveness. This would ensure international harmony and meaningful social, cultural and political progress. For this, the powerful nations need to regard Idealist statements and open their eyes to the moral force in them, instead of thinking of destructive, short-term goals.

In light of the above arguments, I believe that China must rethink its policies towards Tibet, for its own and world's security. This can be done by allowing Tibet autonomy, and thus stop the rage of pointless destruction of priceless life and property, which is currently witnessed due to clashes arising out of the Tibetan's legitimate struggle for independence from China.

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