By Martin M. Lwanga
The collapse of realpolitik and pursuit of interventionism created a vacuum filled by terrorists and anarchists
What we are witnessing today in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Eritrea with masses of hapless human beings abandoning their nations in search of safe pastures in the West is a culmination of decades of miscalculation by Western nations. In many ways it leads us to reflect on a school of foreign policy once championed by political scientists Henry Kissinger, George Kennan, and Hans Morgenthau referred to as realpolitik. The realpolitik school essentially advocates for a balance of power amongst contending forces and respect for non-interference into foreign states. Taking a pessimistic view of human nature, realpolitik holds a realist view that achieving visions of morality and justice amongst nations is best realised through strong states respecting each other.
It is this philosophy that dominated post World War II diplomatic thinking and enabled war-torn Europe to rebuild without experiencing war for the longest period of time. For the first half of the twentieth century, a weak Europe without a supreme power had witnessed two devastating world wars. But after two dominant world powers emerged after WWII, the U.S. and the USSR, it was virtually impossible to wage war without causing a nuclear catastrophe. After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. emerged as the supreme power of our times. Today we are reeling from some of the effects of when one world power unquestionably wields unchecked global influence.
At issue here is that in spite of the isolationism that permeates U.S. politics, there has always been a strong interventionist streak emboldened by her role in the liberation of Europe from the Nazis in 1945.
Interventionists believe the U.S. has a moral destiny to free the world from evils of communisms and totalitarianism; essentially from states that violate human rights. Although the U.S. has a chequered history concerning protecting human rights of minorities in her own borders, globally it is on an evangelical crusade to spread the U.S. version of democracy. Phrased in the words of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who committed US troops to the liberation of Europe during World War I, America has a “duty and, where feasible, to advance democratic principles in the world at large.”
After the fall of the USSR, the interventionists pursued this idealist vision of realising a free world. Unfortunately the collapse of USSR created a power vacuum that soon saw one of the worst genocide since World War II in the former Yugoslavia. Elsewhere former republics of USSR splintered precipitating civil wars that rage on to this day. The breakout of the Arab spring revolution provided idealists with a template to free the world from callous dictators. But now, as can be seen by all, the fall of authoritarian regimes from Iraq, Libya, to Yemen never brought the grand vision of justice. Instead, the once stable states are spiralling into anarchy. The suffering and deaths experienced far outweigh all the evils these regimes were once accused of. Since the outbreak out of war in Syria 220,000 deaths have been recorded. More disturbing are the terrorist organisations like Al Quaeda and ISIS that have found fertile ground for further threatening global security and stability.
Indeed, aware of the contradictions within this policy, the US has never supported the toppling of the governments of her erstwhile ally, Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record particularly towards women and homosexuals is ever wanting. President Sisi of Egypt’s overthrow of a democratically elected government of President Morsi has never brought out the condemnation common to Western policy makers in the name of defending democracy. Yet when it came to Syria it was found convenient to side with liberators against the government of President Assad who is accused of violating human rights. In truth, the decision to abandon President Assad was pursued apparently because of his link to Iran and Russia, whom US were at odds with, without recognising the crucial role of a stable Syria in the balance of power in the Middle East.
Strong developmental states often (and unfortunately) led by authoritarian regimes can offer a balance of power and prevent nations subsiding into anarchy. Since the fall of strong man Siad Bare in Somalia, the Horn of Africa has been an epicentre of terrorism for lack of a strong uniting force. Indeed, in East Africa, as one ponders events in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and Democratic Republic Congo, the rush to force western prototype democracy by Western nations on these nations must be tempered with the cold reality that strong states, often led by unfortunately authoritarian regimes, are at times the only inconvenient check to a far worse scenario of failed states.
The writer is the Dean of the Faculty of Business & Administration at Uganda Christian University, Mukono. E-mail: [email protected]