18 April, 2024


“A World In Disarray”

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I have borrowed the title from a new book by Richard Haass published this year with the subtitle “American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” It is undoubtedly a fitting description of the present uncertain and volatile situation, particularly in America, irrespective of the fact the book was completed before the end of the presidential elections. The value of the book enhances because of this fact. Its last chapter is titled “A Country in Disarray’ to mean the American situation, and its foreign policy. In Haass’ own words in the Forward, the presidential elections “…underscored this judgment by highlighting multiple divisions within American society that are both long-standing and deep.” Donald Trump’s U-turns and brinkmanship in foreign policy have further highlighted this reasoning in multiple ways in recent weeks.

British Elections   

Just few minutes before starting this article, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced her decision to call for a snap election on 8 June, which requires a two thirds majority in Parliament tomorrow, given the fixed parliamentary term laws. In her speech, she lamented about the divisions and lack of unity in Westminster, at a time most crucial for the country’s future. She further said,

Divisions in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and cause damaging instability and uncertainty. We need an election and we need one now.”

It should be noted that when the then PM, David Cameron, of the same (Conservative) party called for a referendum in June 2016, he didn’t anticipate the Brexit outcome. Similarly, there can be a risk that the coming election might turn into another ‘referendum’ against her type of Brexit, which is called a ‘hard or clean Brexit,’ although her popularity is well ahead of Jeremy Corbin and the Labour Party. There are others who anticipate her victory, anticipated as overwhelming, to lead a ‘soft-Brexit’ instead of the present hard approach. There are more confusions. Another consequence could be the strengthening of the separatist drive of Scottish nationalism, even risking the unity of the Kingdom. 

At least there is one silver lining in the dark cloud. Given the coming elections in Britain, it is quite unlikely that America would go for a risky war with North Korea (or in the Middle East), without its close partner and ally (Britain), although it could count on Australia’s (though reluctant) support. Australian policy seems to be to support America in the Asia-Pacific region, but not to the extent of a direct war, with North Korea or any other. South Korea is also going for presidential elections in May. When the American Vice President, Michael Pence, was in Tokyo the day before, the main Japanese interests were mainly to talk trade and economic relations and not war. Therefore, America may have to retreat from war rhetoric in a decent manner in the near future. 

The downside of all these would be the unpleasant predicament of the world to repeatedly listen to North Korea’s military rhetoric in the coming future. This may be tolerable, if Kim Jong-un would not try a missile or a nuclear misadventure or strike. The tensions at present at the border between the North and the South are dangerous, irrespective of the so-called demilitarized zone.

End of An Era?      

As Richard Haass has summarized:

What we are witnessing is a widespread rejection of globalization and international involvement and, as a result, a questioning of long-standing postures and policies, from openness to trade and immigrants to a willingness to maintain alliances and overseas commitments.”

The above refers to more profound, general and other issues in the international scene. As I write this, I hear the Australian PM, Malcolm Turnbull’s voice, repeatedly broadcasted over the TV in his announcement of scrapping of the Visa 457 early this evening, restricting overseas skilled labour taking up of Australian jobs. As he says: “Australian jobs for Australians, our policy is Australia First.” This is the equivalent of Donald Trump’s intended order banning H-1B Visas in the USA. As Paulin Hansen of the One Nation party claims, Turnbull’s policy is ‘plagiarised’ from her policy! It appears even the Labor (this is how Australia spells it without an unnecessary ‘u’) under Bill Shorten is towing a similar line. In Australia, unlike in the UK, there is quite a close symmetry between political parties on these issues and policies.   

There is no question that the fall of the Berlin Wall (a previous 11/9) in 1989 and the apparent end of the Cold War ignited a hope for a new ear. Even after the containment of Saddam Hussein initially in 1990, there was much hope that a New World Order would emerge. Because there was much cooperation in the world for peace and justice. Against Saddam, when he invaded Kuwait, there was unanimity in the Security Council. But that is not there now.

However, there was another international undercurrent becoming predominant. That was triumphalism (neo-conservatism) and the trends of extreme globalization and neo-liberalism misusing innovations in IT and related technologies. Here I am not necessarily reporting Haass’ views, but my own. This is what has now led to disarray, betraying the hopes for a New World Order. This is not to deny any progress during this period. But the progress has been contradictory or lopsided even jeopardizing even our common environment through climate change. Haass has highlighted the tragedy in Syria, and in his words, “hundreds of thousands of Syrians had lost their lives and more than half of the population had become internally displaced or refugees, in the process threatening to overwhelm not just Syria’s neighbours but Europe as well.” I would add, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan also to the equation. As part of this fiasco, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in the world have increased to around sixty million. The purpose here is not to document all the symptoms of the current disarray, but to make a sense out of the main direction.      

Bizarre Developments

When Donald Trump came to power in America there was some hope, whatever his other weaknesses, that he would somewhat change some of the previous ‘globalist’ policies. The ‘Pivot to Asia’ was one. Trump did call China ‘a currency manipulator’ but it was understood in terms of protecting the American economy. He and Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, appeared the best of international pals. Not long before, he even criticised Obama’s Syrian policy as interference. 

In a dramatic U-Turn, however, Trump has now become the most belligerent American President that we have seen in ‘relative peace’ times. Within a span of a week or so, he ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles strikes at al Shayrat air force base in Syria. Then came the dropping of the ‘mother of all bombs’ (GBU-43) at Nangarhar in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. He also ordered the Carl Vinson (an Armada) to sail towards North Korea. 

There are questions on how to explain this bizarre turn of events. As quoted by Rajeewa Jayaweera (“One Global Policeman is Not Enough,” The Island, 19 April) Kathleen Nicks has explained the situation based on Trump’s ‘unpredictability, instincts and indiscipline.’ Another explanation came through the ‘News Republic’ news service, referring to John McCain’s interview with Chuk Todd, when the former appeared on ‘Meet the Press.’ To introduce briefly, John McCain is a senior Senator and a senior Republican. The relevant interview portion goes as follows.

Todd: “I want to talk about the overall changes. You’ve said he’s growing in office. There are some that will say, ‘no the Washington establishment sucked him in.”

McCain: “I hope so [awkward laughter]. On national security, I do believe he has assembled a strong team and I think, very appropriately, he is listening to them.”      

What is this Washington establishment? There are several interpretations. Greg Rushford once gave the following.

The real Washington establishment, however, consists of the people under the radar who spend decades there. They hold various titles — federal bureaucrat, lobbyist, lawyer, journalist, consultant, think-tank fellow — but they are alike in being inextricably linked to the policymaking process. They’re the ones who make the trains run on time.”

In other words, they are about the ‘deep state.’ They not only ‘make the trains run on time,’ as Rushford has said, but also ‘make the bombs drop on other people’s countries! Even there is a book titled, “How Washington Actually Works for Dummies”!    

What is to be Done?

It sounds like Lenin! But there is a chapter on that title in Richard Haass’ book. Haass has been a professional diplomat and was an advisor to President George W. Bush, to say the least. Whatever his past views, he has come to some senses on the present situation. I have listen to him speaking on the book, the other day, and he is advocating in my view ‘a middle-path’ in many of the matters. He even said we need ‘a bit of humility’ in world affairs. I would say ‘not a bit, but a lot’! He doesn’t prophesy ‘disarray’ as a future perspective, but offers a way out. He says,

A big part of how the future unfolds will depend on whether the principal powers of this era can develop a common approach, or at least overlapping approaches, for what constitutes [international] legitimacy.”

For this to happen, he also says that ‘sovereignty between and among states needs to remain at the centre of the global order.’ He does not consider sovereignty to be obsolete. Most interesting might be to a Sri Lankan audience is his departure or dissent from what is known as R2P (Responsibility to Protect). The usual argument is that if the protection fails, the states lose their sovereignty in that sphere or to that extent. Haass has suggested something fundamentally different. His premise is to start with ‘sovereign obligation’ of states. 

As there is a right to sovereignty in the state, there is also a concomitant obligation for the state. This obligation is for or towards the other states, the governments, the peoples and for the agreed international principles (or laws). This is to have a better international order, preventing disarray. To state it again, the notion is ‘sovereign obligation.’ He believes this is different to ‘sovereign responsibility.’ Under the notion of R2P, when the ‘responsibility’ is breached or ‘deem’ to be breached, the so-called international community gets a legitimacy to intervene or interfere. In contrast, ‘sovereign obligation’ is almost a voluntary/natural obligation. It should come within and not outside.

Since mid-1990s, I have been grappling with the concept of ‘international factor/dynamic’ in human rights as well as democratic development. My understanding has always been that the ‘international factor/dynamic or influence’ could be persuasive but not domineering or intervening. There are of course responsibilities on the part of the states and governments to promote and protect human rights of the citizens, but any deviation or violation should best be settled within the countries. Haass does not refer to human rights or democratic developments as such. His primary concern is international order or better international order/relations without disarray.

However, the two concerns are intrinsically linked, as many of the fissures or chaotic conditions are due to the internal violations and/or undue international interferences; in the latter case, going against the very same objectives that those interventions are supposed to achieve. If a set of ‘sovereign obligations’ can be accepted as a ‘common approach or at least overlapping approaches,’ then the present world might be a better place to live. That is the way to get rid of ‘disarray’ according to Richard Haass.  

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    In fact, yesterday, Trump signed an executive order which says “Buy American; Hire American” for Federal contracts. The rank hypocrisy of the man whose Trump line of apparel is still made in China is a different issue and for his supporters it does not matter.

    He will also tear apart NAFTA while your Sri Lankan leaders will rush to ECTA and get flooded by Indians.

    There is a global trend and Xenophobia is growing as well. Nations like Sweden which have been the most accepting of refugees from the Middle East are also being tested. If France goes the way of Marine LePenn then you better all start taking notice. A lot of elitists in laughed when a Trump win was declared quite possible last year.

    Trump ordered a full review of the country’s high-skilled immigration visa program tomorrow, part of a continued push to clamp down on companies — including, potentially, some in the tech industry — that hire foreigners instead of Americans : H-1B, and this affects a lot of Indians.

    Tens of thousands of Indians have come into the US under this scheme. Indians and Chinese are the 2 largest pools of legal migrants to the US. Indians who out of their dislike for Muslims who supported Trump may get egg on their faces.

    Trump’s new directive — a push to “buy American, hire American,” does not change the immediate day-to-day working of the H-1B system, which many companies in Silicon Valley support. Instead, for now, it only opens a formal review of the program.

    Trump’s move leaves many in the tech industry wary, as it’s the latest in a line of restrictions and changes the administration has introduced to the high-skilled foreign worker visa in recent weeks. Indians stand to lose a lot.

    A lot of foreign students who get hired by companies here for their technical skills may turn out to be losers. But lots of companies have misused the H-1B visa program to bring in people to this country as well.

    • 2

      Dear Dr Fernando,

      All the very best for you for the dawned sinhala hindu new year.

      I would kindly like to ask you to bring an analysis on the current political stagnation in our home country. If they came from you, many would get it easily than the pieces being added by most abusive – self proclaimed political analyst -Dayana Jayathilaka
      In following areas, we are helpless not being able to see why current Duo as they started of, failed to fulfil yet. Masses are becoming very dissapointed by today.
      a)One of the main pledges made by current DUO before 8th Jan 2015 was to bring all the high profile perpetrators regardless of their status
      Even if FCID and CID men have worked on them, not much have worked on advancing them to be charged by prevailing laws in the country even after 2.25 years This is a painful issue

      b)Incumbent govt proved to have some prima facie evidences claiming the truth of the few billions of dollars that Rajaakshes alleged to have buried in their pockets but louding that was development projects in the country. Not a single move is done towards even filing a trial on this – and do you think if evidences are available, one has to wait that long to get this move forward ?

      c)And very important the facts related to Rugby Player murder and the allegations levelled at Rajapakshe offsprings- have not been called for investigation yet, why ? That Yoshita or other men to have been the key MEDIATORS of the murder is becoming nearer .. day to another but nothing seems to achieve by the investigators yet why ?
      Very same manner Lasanathas and Ekanaligodas are not moved an inch further why ? Can you please explain theCT readhership -why these men behave so – is lanken law and order bodies have that much of pot holes to delay the processes this much, even in today s context ?

      • 3

        Simon De Silva

        “All the very best for you for the dawned sinhala hindu new year.”

        Please note it’s always been Sinhala-Tamil new year.

        • 0

          The world was always already in disarray for most of the people of the world who live in the global South.

          Today 8 individuals own more than half the world’s wealth. It is silly to follow the white Washington DC interpretation of the world!

          We need deep structural and politician economic analysis and expose of the CORRUPTION that is embedded in the Global Governance System that works fro the Global 1 percent.

          It is a distraction to blame Trump for the rot and economic inequality that Obama deepened.

      • 0

        Dear Mr. De Silva,

        Happy Sinhala-Tamil New Year to you and all others.

        Yes, I would write on general lines that you have suggested. But on some specific incidents, I might be reluctant, given my lack of information or expertise. Recently, there was a killing of a journalist, Kem Ley, quite similar to Eknaligoda or Lasantha, in Cambodia (July 2016). The perpetrators are already convicted although not completely satisfactory to some people’s opinion. One obstacle in Sri Lanka might be that many of those incidents happened under a different political set up (regime) and specific evidence might not be available. However, this should not be an excuse. As you have hinted, there can be some solidarity between all key politicians to scratch each-others’ backs.

        In terms of investigating past perpetrators or incidents, I think what happened during the war also should take priority. As the time passes, it would be difficult to establish facts or figure out the gravity. The ‘unnecessary’ controversies over the type of investigations (i.e. international vs domestic etc.) delay or give excuses for the delays.

        I would be in Sri Lanka in two months’ time. Although my mobility would be limited, I might be able to make an assessment of the situation or to look into some reasons behind what you call the current ‘political stagnation.’ I am also inclined to look into more economic matters currently and believe that most of the reasons of the ‘stagnation’ are located there. When I write on international matters, I try to get the bigger picture. Sri Lanka is only a small part of a bigger whole. This is a good exercise for us all, which makes our local outlooks more objective and detached. This could be part of internal conflict resolution. I am not saying this is the ‘truth.’ This is my opinion.

  • 0

    It’s all about new forms of colonization and materialism..do not expect charities from people who live on interest and who drink on interest and who is suckling money of people in form of interest ? All migration is to take benefits from your skills …nothing else

  • 0

    Need to destabile the enitire countries in the world to “sell American.”

    Yahapalanaya is in the process of this destabilising the country to “help america”.

  • 1

    “Uurukku Thaanedi Upadhesam, Unakkum Enaakumillaiyadi” (Darling, my preaching are for the villagers (world), it is not for you and me.)It is the Old King first went to UNCHR. When murderers destroyed Sinhala youths, UNCHR a needed one, but if they do that to Tamils, UNHRC in unwanted, because it is interfering. What the learned Professors notion is, let do our lib service on the international matters, but please don’t put your hand on our pet Lankawe. Didn’t these same guys criticize the private initiations of on EU and its GSP+? Then how would they easily let go the common UN initiations without questioning?

    As there is a right to sovereignty in the state, May I know who vested them with that sovereignty? Is there a need for these states to exist? Is that form is good to protect the Human being? How much ahead or before time are these predictions of “rejection of globalization and international involvement”. How much the current trend is affected by OIC – America’s turmoil – an area related phenomena? How many times Canada, Japan, India or other South American democracies are in included into these analyses? What are mathematical or statistical correlations and a perfectly fitting wave curve or a liner line? Is there a need for every event in the world to come under control to the world as a whole to move towards globalization? Is this something new the British Leaders resign? (Theresa, Cameron, Tony, Major, Gordon, Thatcher… they all are in practice, resigned and went.) Further how many times Australia changed the PMs in the last decade? How US presidents leave office? Why Old King the PhD, still refusing to go? It can be because states have sovereignty? Can Lankawe or Old King be middle path example to IC because of Lankawe’s sovereignty?

  • 1

    What is a middle path? Let’s look at middle path, a bit, before we go beyond.

    Middle path fits only to certain circumstances. When the Old King wanted to kill 150,000 innocents Tamils and then they all wanted to escape, the middle path cannot prescribe to allow killing 75,000 and allowing 75,000 to escape. They all escape or otherwise killer has to be punished by ICC for war crime. When a thief cannot be found, no innocent can be punished to satisfy the victim with name middle path. When a thief is caught and if the victim demands to abolish him, proving the victim a security and for loss and providing path for a new life for the thief is the middle path. Neither what a defense lawyer arguing is nor what a prosecution arguing is middle path. What the judge and jury decide is the middle path. If a scientist finds out a medicine or a patient refuses to swallow it, it is not middle path. The professional judgement, what a doctor prescribes to the patient, is the middle path. The learned Professor’s witness, Haass, who invented medicine, is not the one to prescribe the middle path. Established dose and the long education and experience of the doctor tell the middle path. We, the people know what the middle path is, but the author who displayed substantial judgmental deficiency in awarding PhD for a war criminal doesn’t. Author should stay out of prescribing a solution for Tamils’ problem or commenting on international community’s right to investigate war crimes of Old King. He can be in the defense of Old King, but not in job of advising what should be the middle path for the International body supposed to investigate it.

  • 1

    Author’s witness, Haass, like the author, who conferred PhD to Old King but says rehabilitated, Haass too claim he is rehabilitated but still in the job of protecting President Bush from the accusation of international crimes. That is thief is witnessing for the thief.

    The book was written before the current turmoil set in. But the author is claiming the book is more relevant, as the situation evolved now is in favor for the solution prescribed. But in reality, the book was apparently an exaggeration of situation of that time. Pendulum may swing both ways, but author is attempting to argue it’s in a circular movement, for the reason of it was spotted at certain spots repeatedly at same intervals. The events Haass citing are of the nature of come and go. Further, how much weight has to be given to these individual incidents to affect the general correlation?

    General expectation of the result of 2016, American election was on opposite side. Why is that President Trump won the election was interpreted by opportunistic theorist as major policy shift of America. The same way they view David Cameron 2nd election victory and his eventual fall. These writers have already discounted the effect of Murders committed by terrorist in Paris in the coming election. They are adding these to their economics theories. They are imposing a cultural revolution in French people’s civilization to interpret the results jet to come. Because they are only good in interpreters in events, but very bad in understanding, so they are so nervous to predict anything, especially after the demise of Hillary Clinton is her election. These utter cowards are attempting to convince us that they are ahead of time in analyzing the political data.

  • 1

    Let’s us go to back to our question of “Is there a real need for the States to exist?” Are those duties cannot be performed to world without those so called states? What are the matters protected by states? Regan’s team used to claim the existence of government is only to provide military protection. Is that this world cannot be guided to go without war? Then still we need a Regan’s’ type government anyway? Is that form is good to protect the Human being, and his vested interest on nature and environment? What the UNP or SLFP did to Meethotamulla people. Are these states are a techniques to provide jobs for politicians like the old King proposed upper house? Why shouldn’t the world, which evolved away from Monarchs, evolve to non-state structure? When there is a body named UN, a foundation that has been imagined by some novel idea thinkers, thinking of a world’s central government and 200 federal states is ahead of time? How big is this planet to divide into pieces to the over grown human population?

    If the states are there to protect majorities hegemonies with the name of sovereignty, at this time, are there any real “States “exist or only 200 Dutugemunu Kingdoms exit?

    If the fingers are going to be sacrificed for the shake of having the hand, aren’t that hand is an additional burden like a tail, for the body? If the individual sovereignty is going to be ignored and state sovereignty is only going to be upheld, are those states democratic?

    If the individual sovereignty is not protected, can the democracy in these states be protected? Isn’t the result of Lankawe is being sold into piece by piece like, Colombo Pong Cing, Hangbangtota, Trinco Aashray Dena are the result of this approach?

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.