Nepal Expert French Scholar
The drivers in the realist school of international relations are national interest and security. Concerns related to ethics, social attributes, personal morality or philosophical ideals are secondary if not irrelevant. The nation- state, through the authority of its government and within a framework of international agreements, is ultimately responsible for its own security and survival. Such a basis of understanding justifies actions of defense (of citizens, national interests, territories) and can entail interventions by military force, if necessary.
In this mindset, peace is kept by deterrence, showing strength, determination and the capacity to act or retaliate if one’s security is endangered. If two opponents do this, a balance of mutual respect is created, which may be called peace. This equilibrium may be extended by allying with like-minded state partners and increasing collective strength (although such alliance is by nature utilitarian and often short-lived). To avoid tipping the balance and causing war, states are careful not to damage their relations with one another by not intruding on one another’s interests. Should the breaches be too severe, they do engage in a war to punish, reclaim and redress what they perceive as a wrong done unto them. This simple psychology of prevention and reaction is inscribed in a larger political logic that Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) explained in his masterpiece “vom Kriege,” in which he defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means.” War is “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. [...] Violence of physical force is the means. [...] The sum of available means and the strength of the will determine the success [of the efforts].
Clausewitz urged politicians to “control war” through political means such as negotiations and accords. Should this prove ineffective, then an unequivocal and masterful attack should attain the goals that the leaders were unable to reach. Military tactics, implementing a strategy to fulfill the goal of government, should never degenerate into a fight “with no clear objectives except the destruction of the enemy.” All efforts have the single aim to secure political victory.
Three centuries before, Machiavelli (1469- 1527), civil servant in the Republic of Florence and diplomat in Renaissance Europe, had rejected ideals in matters of politics. All analysis should be based on facts and occurred events. The political world is a conflictual and dangerous stage because of the competing interests of rulers and other actors in their struggles to gain and maintain power. In order to cope with such brutal realities, the skills needed are those of rational thinking, understanding dilemmas, calculating moves and counter-moves, showing strength and intelligence but also using deception and surprise. The injection of morality into international relations creates distortions, causes conflicts and destroys the otherwise cut-and-clear purpose of diplomacy, which is to maintain balance between interests.
Machiavelli wrote, among other books, The Art of War, a European version of Sun Tzu military classic, which put military competence at the apex of statecraft. Such a worldview with little space for morality justifies that “good political ends sometimes necessarily require bad means.”
We may conclude that peace in political realism is a state that occurs at the apex of an ultimately good timing when opposing forces are in equilibrium. Since this phenomenon is rare, the elites control and manipulate this balance so that it may hold. But, imperfect as human beings and their systems are, they themselves destroy such equilibrium, thus causing another round of conflict. We may also conclude that peace in political realism cannot and does not exist.
One widely accepted deduction is that relative intra-and interstate (social) peace is possible only when the elites explicitly govern in cooperation with one another (coalitions, conventions, common markets, common security) and when they keep the gap between themselves and their citizenry as small as possible (transparent governance, universal rule of law, free and fair elections, equal opportunities, mobility). Though this is not enough to experience positive peace, it seems to be the best bundle of means available today to address the political format of human relations. It may be the closest to peace we have to date, in a realist world.
Assumptions and Precepts of Realism:
The sovereign state is the core agent holding the realist paradigm. In this tradition, power is measured in terms of economic and military capability. Governments, in the pursuit of affirming their strength, exercise power and secure interests both within the country and in the international arena. Social systems are by nature anarchic: cohesion would be impossible without control and sanctions. The reason is that human beings are conflict-prone: unless restrained or educated, people will misbehave and think only of fulfilling their selfish desires. International social systems are all the more anarchic, which is why a superior entity above the states dictating to them what they should do is neither possible nor desired. The states must attend to these matters by themselves, laterally. This explains the non-binding nature of conventions at the United Nations General Assembly (a dilemma in itself). Because the struggle for power and security can never be eliminated, problems are sure to emerge, for which only a pragmatic approach can provide workable solutions.
English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), of the same era as Spinoza, adhered to the realist perspective and advocated for a social contract between parties, particularly between the state (monarch or government) and the citizens. Peace would be possible if parties kept to their observance of this contract. Hobbes work of political philosophy, Leviathan, which preceded his contemporary John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690), sought to answer the question: “Why do human beings need laws and government?” The answer was that, without these, people would do anything and everything they could to abusively benefit from others, including theft and murder.
Hobbes gives three main roots to the naturalness of conflicts: 1) desire (such as two hungry people desiring one apple); 2) fear (being afraid of the other’s bad intention and will to harm, and aggression being the best defense); and 3) power (controlling others because of the enjoyment of dominance). In view of the animal nature in human beings, the role of laws and government is to educate and foster such basic characteristics through societal systems that regulate desire, fear and dominance.
German legal philosopher Hans Morgenthau (1904-1980), another advocate of realism, founded his political theory on similar assumptions. A German Jew, Morgenthau fled to the United States in 1937, escaping from the Nazi regime. His experience of fascism influenced his thinking in international relations theory: he argued in favor of a more scientific approach to politics, in contrast to the nationalistic manner with which political parties can come to control a state and start a world war. International morality has no relevance in view of competing interests that are the true motives in world politics. He writes:
‘Writers have put forward moral precepts which statesmen and diplomats ought to take to heart in order to make relations between nations more peaceful and less anarchical (…) but they have rarely asked themselves whether and to what extent such precepts, however desirable in themselves, actually
determine the actions of men.
Political realism is found in all civilizations, cultures and eras. Chinese strategist and court counselor Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War in the 6th century BCE: it instructs on strategies and tactics to win battles, on a philosophical background intended to form the mind and character of future leaders. Sun Tzu’s teaching has been a source of inspiration to many war leaders throughout history, as well as the international business community in the last 60 years. The techniques are relevant to power struggles in any context.
Political Realism in Nepal:
The political landscape within Nepal adheres to the realist school in the fact that the contention for power is a wrestling act. The political parties are struggling for positions through righteousness in their debate, coverage of territory in their campaigns and influence on citizens’ thinking. This is of course true of all countries worldwide, with various degrees of hostility or cooperation.
Realism has been visible in Nepal in the post-conflict phase in the sense that when political debate cannot achieve the goals aspired to, the conflict parties have recourse to “war” in the Clausewitzean sense. If equilibrium is not obtained through dialogue and negotiation, then the unresolved issues are transferred to “agitations” in the street. Four of the major political parties are said to have militant youth wings that bash out of each other the resolutions that could not be made in the parliament. Debates have tended to be either offensive or defensive, wherein speakers demand apologies but seldom offer any. A security dilemma seems to rule the psychological frame of relations: “because you will probably hit me, I will prepare myself for retaliation”-if not in political debate, then in the streets of municipalities, on university campuses or villages.
Realism is omnipresent because Nepal is acutely aware of the external manipulation that a small country must endure if it is to maintain its sovereign independence. Within a utilitarian perspective, every move is a calculation of interests (which is all the more difficult when the means are few). By becoming legitimate leaders overnight, the success of the Maoists has reinforced the realist school of politics.
Realism in Nepal would benefit from a ZOP Declaration:
With a professional national peace army, well trained in operational law enforcement, the declaration of a Zone of Peace would give Nepal a boost of strength in its sovereignty and give it more muscle to secure its borders. If any social system is by nature anarchic and therefore must be controlled, then the Zone of Peace would provide the incentive and the instruments to have peaceful control- by government police -to maintain civil peace. Should interaction between social forces cause tension and conflict, then the Government of Nepal would indeed use force to maintain peace in the land. Parallel to this, political messaging and social programs may work together to dissuade groups from using violence. Benchmarking could be done in Singapore in this respect, where uncompromising police agents strictly enforce the laws, which leads to citizens very seldom transgressing them.
Peace in Political Idealism:
Idealism finds its roots in philosophy and, later, in psychology, particularly humanistic psychology. It defends the precept that the inner world of human beings (thoughts, feelings) is where the creation of reality takes place. Philosophically speaking, the ultimate nature of reality is constructed through ideas. Psychologically speaking, it is the gradually conscious selection of perception, the increasingly intelligent process of cognition and their interlinked neurological states that reveal (or create) experience and changing realities.
Douglas Clyde MacIntosh explains:
Epistemological realism [trying to define the scope and limit of knowledge through realism] is the doctrine that the real object can exist at other moments than the moments of perception, or of any other conscious experience, and independently of any such experience. Epistemological idealism is the doctrine that the real object cannot exist at other moments than the moment of perception, or of some other conscious experience, nor independently of such experience.
Materialism is based on the proof of tangible life and physical substance, while idealism considers matter a product of the mind. To explain the universe, idealists refer to a universal mind, a concept found in all philosophies and religions. Idealists generally believe in the “good” in humankind, as a natural state. The task of socialization is to make this “goodness” become a virtue, a value, and a cultural lever for social cohesion.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), a founding father of German idealism and a key figure in the Age of Enlightenment, developed a comprehensive framework of philosophy that gives contradictions and conflicts the aim of ultimate re-integration and unity-without negating the purpose and the rights of each contradicting aspect. He gave the principle of dialectic, a fundamental concept in conflict management, and the principles of immanence and transcendence, equally crucial enablers in conflict transformation. While adhering to Spinoza’s absolute idealism, he also gave the term Differenzschrft: “the difference between the subjective and the objective must be not only ideal but also real i.e., not only in perception and perspective but also] in the object itself. This leads to the conclusion that both subjective and objective are distinct appearances, embodiments or manifestations of the absolute.”
Richard Tarnas, in The Passion of the Western Mind, has captured Hegel’s legacy in shaping our world view today, and particularly that of the idealists: Hegel conceived of the primal being of the world, the universal Mind of Spirit, as unfolding itself through its creation, achieving its ultimate realization in the human spirit. In Hegel’s understanding, the Absolute first posits itself in the immediacy of its own inner consciousness, then negates this initial condition by expressing itself in the particularities of the finite world of space and time, and finally, by “negating the negation”, recovers itself in its infinite essence. Mind thereby overcomes its estrangement from the world, a world that Mind itself has constituted. Thus the movement of knowledge evolves from consciousness of the object separate from the subject, to absolute knowledge in which the knower and the known became one.
But it was only through a dialectical process of self-negation that the Absolute could achieve its fulfillment. Whereas for Plato the immanent and secular was ontologically dismissed in favor of the transcendent and spiritual, for Hegel this world was the very condition of the Absolute’s self-realization. In Hegel’s conception, both nature and history are ever progressing toward the Absolute. The universal Spirit expresses itself in space as nature, in time as history. All of nature’s processes and all of history, including man’s intellectual, cultural, and religious development, constitute the teleological plot of the Absolute’s quest for self-revelation.
Idealism, while contemptuously rejected by hardliner realists as delusion and a waste of intellectual resource, is not a matter brushed aside by thinkers entrusted with today’s strategic tasks. For the sheer fact that human unity is an earnest hope of most of the world population and that revolutions are waged in the name of human freedom, policy-makers should take note of the strengths of needs and aspirations that punctuate all social movements. Idealism does not equate with naivety. It may reveal itself to be a very practical view of understanding the systemic element of life’s mechanics, to the degree that one single person-simply by changing his or her perception- can change a large outcome. Idealism can be as utilitarian as realism.
This is the second part of the previously posted Nepal: ZoP in Realist-Idealist, Globalization, Decentralization Discourses. Some more to follow in the series.
With the permission of the author of the book Nepal Zone of Peace published by Bhrikuti Academic Publications, Kathmandu. Thanks Isabelle: Ed.