21 April 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: International Relations

Dear friends,

Hope you had a good holiday. This Sunday, we are discussing:
International Relations (Relationships)

In today's world of the internet, low cost flights, international
cuisine and cultural mix we might be forgiven in thinking that
international relations are the norm; but what keeps all this together?
And what are the philosophical issues or principles that keep all this

International relations

This is an important topic that features in political philosophy since
nothing has more influence on our lives than politics. Politics at the
state or national level is the exercise of coercive power over people
within the boundaries of influence of this power. This power may or may
not have legitimacy but it might certainly affect the people within its

A number of questions are relevant for our discussion. Are international
relations the same dynamic as personal relationships with others? Is
there a difference between citizens of one state or nation and other
citizens from other countries? What legitimises international
relationships and how are commitments undertaken from international
relations enforceable?

We can safely say that international relations are no different from
relations among tribes and gatherings of people at the dawn of humanity.
The idea of "us" and "them" is probably one of the early concepts human
beings developed about self awareness and self consciousness. This,
indeed, could have only been derived from that equally primitive sense
of the "I" and personal identity. Today we represent these fundamental
ideas with such expressions as "birds of a feather flock together,"
"blood is thicker than water" or even "as thick as thieves".

On the other hand, these ideas and concepts must have given rise to sets
of unintended consequences that today resonate within the world of
politics. From the idea of us and them we have developed the idea of
cooperation to achieve objectives which wouldn't be possible if we tried
alone. But we also have the opposite ideology of xenophobia and racism.

There is no question that the separation of the "I" from the "them" is a
key condition for survival. It is important that we are able to
distinguish between "I am in pain" from "they are in pain." It is also
useful, as I said, to distinguish between "us" or "I" and other people
who I/we are cooperating with.

But where does the idea springs from when we think that we are civilized
or superior beings and the others are inferior beings or, worse, not
human beings at all? Racism and xenophobia makes it easy for groups of
people to be aggressive and belligerent towards others. And there is no
doubt that this also applies in international relations: cooperating is
always hard work even if the rewards are better and the best we'll ever
come at guaranteeing an objective.

International relations based on cooperation also involve a degree of
trust and risk; and although these are necessary conditions to create
stability we also know from history that stability in the long term is
not always certain. But stability does create an environment for
relations to develop and prosper.

The problem with the cooperation model of international relations is
that it assumes that all the parties are equal economically and in
population. But as we know there are very few countries in the world
that meet this assumption. Moreover, looking at the present world
situation, Russia, China and the USA are not the best examples of
international relations. Having said that, these three super powers do
realise that world stability and stable relations amongst them is for
their best interest. This is why conflicts between these three powers
are settled in war amongst their surrogates: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan
(Part 1) and today Syria to mention the obvious examples.

Relations based on cooperation amongst unequal countries tend to be more
the norm. No doubt the more powerful the country, and sometimes
countries, the more it has the means to provide economic stability and
sometimes security to other countries. The European Union is a case in
point; Germany with France and until last year the UK have provided
leadership to the rest of Europe by providing political and economic
stability. The United Kingdom itself is a historical example of close
international relationships based on security: i.e. Scotland, England
and Wales. Some might argue that this Union was more based on coercion
than a union based on free will for mutual benefit; the UK might have
more in common with the unification of historical Germany (Prussia
against the other small states), than today's NATO defence organisation.

Despite the ethnic divergence one might find within a country, citizens
who are identifiable and the nature of the state defines the
relationship between the state and the citizens. In international
relations this is not that clear even though today we have such complex
organisations as the EU and the United Nations. International treaties
also help create unified interests between states, but these are as
strong as the signatories are prepared to honour these treaties.

Indeed international treaties do tend to create a strong sense of
stability, especially on neutral matters such as shipping, trade, and
standards. But it still remains a fact that nations can leave
international treaties, but individual citizens do not have real options
to leave the hold of the state on them. Notwithstanding the fact that
individuals have recognised rights as refugees escaping from oppressive

International relations are, more often than not, means to establish
trade relations. After all is said and done, life is about exploiting
resources and the environment for our existence. So what really brings
order to international relations is self interest. But even self
interest is a relative term since the operating condition of self
interest is the ability to defend and protect these interests.

Trade has made and broken empires. Venice is a good example of a rich
city founded on trade; and although Venice is a medieval city, that
model still brings decent riches today based on tourism exclusive
experiences such as the theatre. The classical example of trade making
an empire is the British Empire. Before there was a British Empire there
was a very huge and successful company called the East India Company,
that grew so wealthy and powerful trading between India and Britain,
that it became a direct threat to the very existence of the British
state itself that the crown. The government of the time decided they
have no choice but to nationalise the company and take over its
activities. The East India Company might very well be the first empire
to be born from a nationalised company.

Today, empires are not nationalised international conglomerates. Today
empires are built through sovereign funds, state owned oil companies or
natural resources, and dumping of cheap goods made by state labour.
Today, empires are not made by occupying other people's land; it's
enough that they own their means of production such as power stations,
car factories, airline companies, free hold properties and so on.

Money has, therefore, always been a source of enforcing international
commitments. And in its own way money, or, rather, the owners of money,
have always called the shots regarding international relations and
stability. But this brings us back to where we started from; there is
always a fundamental problem with stability: everyone gets rich and
prosperous when there is economic and political stability. So why should
those few who control most of the wealth want to share it with other
people? Don't forget, charity is a gift; sharing wealth is an act of

And this is a fundamental philosophical problem in political philosophy:
why should someone who has most of the wealth want to share it with
anyone else?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: International Relations

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