A few weeks ago I saw an interview on BBC that made me a bit angry. It was an interview with Erik Solheim, who is Norway’s Minister of International Development. I was very irritated at how the host of Hard Talk, Stephen Sackur, kept insinuating that Norway has been counter-productive by negotiating with leaders of rebel groups, such as the leader of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. During the whole interview I felt like Sackur kept attacking Solheim for Norway’s diplomatic, non-violent peace efforts. Sackur was continually condescending when he should have instead been applauding Norway. When it came to the Sri Lankan situation in specific, Sackur even stated that “it’s obvious that in the end, the solution was a military one…” Why such negativity towards diplomacy? If you’re interested you can watch a clip of the interview below and let me know if you agree with my assessment.
While I agree that it is important to be cautious in one’s approach towards diplomatic relations with rebel groups, I also think that it is imperative to engage in peace talks with them. If we had more discussion over disagreements than the violence we generally have today, there would be so much more peace in the world. Responding to violence with just more violence is not always the answer.
So over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the role of ethics in international relations. I have been trying to figure out if it is possible for a country to make ethical choices without giving up its success and without making itself vulnerable. Or even more simply, is it possible for a country to live ethically and survive in this harsh world? Must politics and ethics be mutually exclusive or can both co-exist?
The Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark etc. give me hope that it is possible to live ethically and with the best of intentions and to simultaneously avoid harm. But I think that part of why the Nordic countries have been successful in this area is because they’re not continually searching for greater power. I think it is a lot less feasible for a country like the United States, continually wanting to stay the number one superpower of the world, to always act ethically and still retain the same power. So I guess in this scenario the question comes down to what is more important – power or ethics? I’m sure you can guess what I personally think is more important, but unfortunately many others would probably disagree.
To make the issue further complex, it is often debatable what the ethical decision even is. For example, in 1999 when Serbia was at war with Kosovo, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched a bombing campaign against Serbia in order to stop the military action and repression that was taking place in Kosovo. I personally struggle with when someone should decide to take up arms in defense of others, or even in defense of themselves. While the NATO bombings in Serbia are controversial for many reasons, they still raise the general question of whether it is okay for other countries to use military force in order to stop mass atrocities that are taking place. Or have leaders resorted to using violence too quickly? Isn’t it possible that diplomacy, and diplomacy alone, can lead to peace in war-torn countries?
I really want to believe that diplomacy is enough but I’m still not sure if it is. Still, I have a lot of respect for peace mediators and countries such as Norway that make an impressive, non-violent effort to help other countries resolve their disagreements. If everyone would take the path of non-violence, then simple diplomacy could go a long way.
Posted By Simran Sachdev
Posted Jul 29th, 2009