To Be or Not to Be: Hong Kong 2016

In the autumn of 2014, umbrellas instead of traffic filled the main streets of Hong Kong. The Occupy Central movement that lasted for 79 days[1] was a testimony to how much Hong Kong people, mostly youths, were growing frustrated with Beijing’s increasing bossiness. After Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been under the ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine and therefore enjoyed semi-autonomy; it had its own mini-constitution and legislative council, which was partially democratically elected. What’s more, Beijing even promised at the time that in 2017, it would allow Hong Kong to democratically elect its top leader, Hong Kong chief executive (HKCE).[2] But of course, until then, the HKCE was to be elected by a pro-Beijing committee.

If only it were true. In August 2014, Beijing severely restricted the democratic nature of the 2017 election by saying that only a select number of candidates approved by a special committee could run.[3] The news, unsurprisingly, was not met very well. The Occupy Central movement opposed this authoritarian behavior of the Beijing government and through peaceful protests and sit-ins the protestors demanded that Hong Kong is allowed a ‘truly’ democratic election. Despite all this, Beijing remained resolute and Occupy Central gradually dissolved without any real achievement.

However, the seeds of protest and radical political reform have already been sown. After Occupy Central, the core youth leaders of the movement became a new political force, namely the ‘localists.’ The results of 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) election on 4th of September reflected their growing popularity, with localists/radicals taking 8 seats, out of which three are from the youth localists political groups (Youngspirational and Demosisto) that stemmed from the Occupy Central movement. The youngest of the three, Nathan Law, is only 23 years old.[4]

140611050938-hong-kong-white-paper-horizontal-large-gallery.jpgFreedom and individuality are inseparable.”

Why did Hong Kong youths suddenly jump into the political arena? Is it simply an emerging ‘popular trend’ that youths have taken a temporary liking to? Or is it a genuine start of what some candidates call ‘revolution’?

To understand why Hong Kong youths have suddenly become a headache for the Beijing government, we first need to know the region’s identity. Despite its current status (as a part of mainland China), Hong Kong people have always differentiated themselves from the Mainland Chinese. For one, they speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, and they enjoy more political freedom than the Mainland Chinese people. After all, less than 20 years have passed since Hong Kong was officially returned to China- not enough time has yet passed for Chinese culture to tint the region completely red.

This is why a crackdown on Hawkers, cheap local restaurants unique to Hong Kong, has caused so much anger and violence from the youths. For them, an attack on Hawkers symbolizes an attack on Hong Kong’s local identity. In their eyes, Mainland China is a threat to their identity, because Beijing government wants to ‘absorb’ the region and assimilate it to the more mainstream Mainland culture. This angers the Hong Kong people because they do not in fact fully identify with Mainland culture; they do not want their own local culture to perish because they feel that they are not ‘Chinese,’ but ‘Hong Kong-ers.’

 

Freedom and individuality are inseparable. Without freedom, there can be no individuality; in the end, it is only when you can determine for yourself what you wish to be that you can confidently say that you are an ‘individual,’ not a pre-programmed android. What Hong Kong youths demand is not a nominal democracy, but the freedom to choose their identity. This is why when you look through their lens, Beijing is inevitably seen as an oppressor- it is taking away their liberty to be who they are. It is not a choice between democracy and communism; it is a choice between keeping and losing their unique identity.

 

*Photo Credit: CNN, (2014). Hong Kong Occupy Central. [image] Available at: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/140611050938-hong-kong-white-paper-horizontal-large-gallery.jpg [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016].

 

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/16/hong-kongs-occupy-central-protest-is-no-more/

[2] http://www.vox.com/2014/9/28/6856621/hong-kong-protests-clashes-china-explainer

[3] http://www.vox.com/2014/9/28/6856621/hong-kong-protests-clashes-china-explainer

[4] https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/09/05/legislative-legco-hong-kong-election-2016-triumph-for-pro-democracy-newcomers-as-opposition-camp-maintains-veto-power/

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Dissecting American Hegemony: Part II- Popular Peace

After witnessing the horrors of the two ‘World Wars,’ people have come to the conclusion that shooting guns at each other may not be the brightest idea. As states gradually came to favor the general people as the decision maker rather than a potentially despotic king or Fuhrer, the possibility of starting a war grew even dimmer. After all, people would never want to sacrifice their property and more importantly, their lives. Going to war isn’t popular, and in a democracy, politicians tend to distance themselves as far as possible from unpopular ideas.[1]

Such phenomenon is nicely summed up by what’s called Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT is a “proposition that democracies are more peaceful in their foreign relations.”[2] Of course, even within the theory there are disagreements on how to define “democracies” or “peaceful,” but in general the theory proposes that democratic states prefer less brutal ways (like starting a war or arguably supporting a war) to deal with its foreign affairs. Now, this theory now poses an interesting question: are democratic hegemonic powers also more likely to be peaceful?

 

Reasons Behind Peace

Although there exist various types of DPT, in this article we will only focus on the most widely accepted, dyadic DPT. Dyadic DPT limits the scope of DPT by saying that democracies are peaceful with other democracies (i.e. with each other) but not necessarily so when dealing with non-democratic countries. There exist various explanations for this, but to list a few:

 

  1. Human Rights:

War is not humane. That is a fact, and people fully well knows this. In an age when people are ever more sensitive about ‘human rights,’ it would be a political suicide to openly say, “Let’s ignore basic rights of humankind and kill people!” Of course, this is often not the case, especially when a state with strong nationalistic sentiment feels ‘challenged’. In that case, concerns for human rights may not do much to prevent politicians from declaring war, since people will be supportive of trampling the human rights of the opponents.[3]

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“War is not humane.”

  1. Kinship 

You are less likely to shoot your family members and friends. The closer your personal connection to the other is, the more uncomfortable you become of turning 180 on them and declaring their destruction. In the modern world where globalization connects people from different civilizations and culture, people are less likely to revert back to the ancient ‘us and them’ logic and decry people from other countries as ‘barbarians.’ With this sense of kinship, people are less likely to call for war as they come to understand better the other culture and identify with them as humans.

 

  1. Marketplace

Democracy is often (although by no means always) accompanied by capitalism. In a capitalist point of view, the ideal world is a place where people play by the rules rather than use brute force to simply get what they want. For these reasons, democracies with advanced capitalist economy prefer the rule of international law to the rule of military force- with peace grows prosperity, and nobody hates prosperity.

 

Fatal Flaw

According to this theory, one would expect the US to be unlike the previous hegemonic powers- after all, it is the birthplace of democracy. But the world we face today is far from ‘peaceful.’ So what is the fatal flaw in this theory?

The thing is, America’s preference for peace in foreign policy is only applied when the counterpart is also a democracy. When the state they are dealing with doesn’t fit the moral standard America’s democracy upholds, the hegemonic power often declares them as ‘rogue,’ and uses force to ‘correct’ them. So does this mean that the US, as a hegemonic power in the modern world, is just like any other previous hegemonic power despite all the rhetoric about Pax Americana? In the next article, the question of whether American hegemony has been a recipe for peace or possibly, a recipe for neo-imperialism.

*Photo Credit:

Photography by Jordy Meow, uploaded on 29 December 2014, provided by Unsplahs

Available at: https://hd.unsplash.com/photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2

 

[1] This is a sweeping generalization; for example, PM Tony Blair decided to go to war with Iraq despite the public’s grumbles against the decision. It may perhaps be better to add that even when politicians make unpopular decisions, they try to keep up their popularity as an individual.

[2]Oxfordbibliographies.com. (2016). Democratic Peace Theory – Political Science – Oxford Bibliographies – obo. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0014.xml [Accessed 5 Sep. 2016].

Frozen over THAAD

It can be a little intimidating (not to mention annoying) when your brother is constantly plotting to kill you and makes a no secret of it. After all, you’re living under the same roof, and you never know when he might actually carry out his ‘grand plans.’ If he occasionally makes a show of chasing you around with his knife, it would indeed be natural for you to seek some measure of self-defense.

Well, that’s what’s currently happening in the Korean peninsula. Only, while one parent insists that you should be allowed some ways to defend yourself, the other insists that such measures will destroy the family relationship.

On February 7th, United States and South Korea began official discussions on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean peninsula.[1] Talks about deploying THAAD has been ongoing in the background for some time, but South Korean military-political leaders have been very cautious about making the decision; it was only after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in early January and a long-range rocket test in February[2] that President Park finally decided enough was enough.

But what exactly is THAAD system? As you might guess from the name, its purpose is primarily defensive; it is a defense system designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles.[3] No harm in wanting to shoot down a missile coming to destroy your homeland, right?

Unfortunately, in the world of politics, the answer is no. When Korea and US jointly announced the official decision to deploy THAAD, China and Russia strongly criticized the act and blamed South Korea for “undermining regional stability and flagrantly damaging the security interests of neighboring powers.”[4] The reasoning behind it is that would “undermine strategic security” of China, as it would enable US to nullify the power of Chinese nuclear missiles, giving the US a significant military advantage over China. Of course, South Korean and US military tried to persuade that this won’t be the case- you can read further about why THAAD is not a security threat to China from here.

 

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, it is an unquestionable fact that THAAD has forced ROK-China relation to enter a new ice age. China has been imposing diplomatic and cultural pressures on South Korea; Chinese Foreign Minister (FM) Wang Yi expressed “firm opposition” in a meeting with South Korean FM Yun Byng-se on this Wednesday,[5] and Chinese television networks have deleted images of South Korean K-Pop stars in their programs.[6] In turn, South Korea’s presidential office rebuked China’s blames on South Korea “out of place.”[7]

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“THAAD has forced ROK-China relation to enter a new ice age.”

So why is China so angry with THAAD if it’s not a serious security threat? After all, China rejected the offers from the US and South Korea to provide a technical briefing regarding THAAD’s capabilities.[8] This could possibly mean that the reasons for Chinese opposition to THAAD may not be purely military, but political.

 

Possibility 1: Revival of Sino-centrism

One of the arguments runs, China may be trying to reestablish the traditional hierarchical international order in Asia. For a long time, the Sino-Korean relationship was dominated by China, and as the regional hegemony at the time China received tributes from its ‘younger brother,’ Korea. Not only that, China often intervened extensively in Korean politics and military issues. So it’s not a surprise that there are voices of concerns that China is now inclined to treat South Korea and its relatively weaker neighbors as tributary states[9]. They argue that the rising level of nationalism within Chinese population- a result of state-censored history education- has now inspired a revival of Sino-centrism; now that China is once again the regional hegemony, it wants more ‘show of respect’ from its neighbors.

 

Possibility 2: China’s Paranoia

Another possible source of explanation is the tense Sino-American relationship. Despite its extravagant spending in the military, China still lags significantly behind the US in terms of its military capacity. People were caught off-guard with China’s rise; they never expected China to achieve such prosperity and power in such a short span of time. Although impressive, this has resulted in a situation where its neighboring states have had too little time to become accustomed to the ‘new China’ and the idea of Chinese hegemony in the region. Surprise yields uncertainty, and uncertainty yields fear; fears about the consequences of China’s dominance in the region have compelled many of China’s neighbors to regard China as a “source of security threat,” according to Chinese Vice FM Fu Ying.[10] Being surrounded by hostile neighbors can make anybody nervous, especially when you have a world-boxing champion supporting them. In China’s eyes, THAAD, although not a physical security threat, is a psychological one- it is a symbol of US’s intention to contain China by strengthening US-Japan-ROK security cooperation.

 

Possibility 3: More Moderate Measures Wanted

A third possibility may be that China is genuinely concerned about the security of East Asia. The logic is this: if South Korea and the US keeps pushing for the “radical” measures against North Korea, it would do nothing more than to upset the Pyongyang regime and act as an incentive for them to quicken their development of nuclear weapons.[11] China’s argument is that deployment of THAAD could spur an arms race in the region, and with North Korea acting like a moody teenager, high tension may lead to armed conflict, leading to a potential war.

 

Whatever the actual reason is, the fact that South Korea is in a difficult situation does not change; it has a crazy, moody teen brother wanting to murder it, an unhappy father that dislikes you carrying around a shield to protect yourself, and an anxious mother who’s on your side, but is away on a foreign continent. The choice must now be made- as a traditional middle power, South Korea now needs to choose in whom it harbors its security.

*Photo Credit:

Photograph by Jared Erondu, uploaded on 9 June 2015, provided by Unsplash Available at: https://unsplash.com/search/ice?info_view=is_visible&photo=wVMBn5sPQt0

Available at: https://unsplash.com/search/ice?info_view=is_visible&photo=wVMBn5sPQt0

[1] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/why-china-fears-thaad-15637

[2] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/07/08/south-koreas-thaad-decision-neither-a-surprise-nor-a-provocation/

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/13/asia/what-is-thaad/

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-china-thaad-idUSKCN10I0BN

[5] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-08/24/c_135630713.htm

[6] http://www.voanews.com/a/china-ups-pressure-on-south-korea-over-missile-plan/3480077.html

[7] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-china-thaad-idUSKCN10I0BN

[8] http://www.voanews.com/a/china-ups-pressure-on-south-korea-over-missile-plan/3480077.html

[9] http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/thaad-in-south-korea-what-does-it-really-mean-for-china/

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fu-ying/china-global-order_b_8537918.html

[11] http://en.people.cn/n3/2016/0819/c90000-9102435.html

IR Theory-Part I(c): Different ‘Realities’

Although the last two articles made may have made you believe that ‘realism’ is a single set of ideas, the reality is that there exist different theories that branch off from this school of IR theory. Yes, realism isn’t a single theory; it’s more like a family name than a first name when likened to humans. While Jack Smith and Jill Smith are two different individuals, they share some common characteristics because they belong to the same family. Similarly, there are lots of different individuals within the realism family. In this article, some of the most vocal ones will be introduced.

 

  1. Classical Realism

As you can guess from its name, classical realism is the oldest one in the realism family. Realists argue that the theory originated from Thucydides’ classic account of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth-century B.C., so you get the sense of how old this theory is.[1]

Put simply, classical realism argues that states fight each other all the time (or are preparing to fight each other all the time) due to innate human nature. Since the law of politics originates from human nature, and because at the human core is the universal, insatiable lust for power, this greedy characteristic is similarly applied to the state (which is in a way, a collection of many human individuals). This explains why states fight each other all the time; for war is a way of exerting and increasing the ‘power’ of a state. Thus, Hans J. Morgenthau, who is arguably the most famous and influential modern theorist of classical realism stated, “international politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power.”[2] Due to this aggressive human nature, classical realism aims to explain and advise foreign affair by associating most issues with the politics of war (that is, all foreign affairs during peacetime is regarded only as an effort to prevent or win a war).

Another defining characteristic of classical realism is its differentiation between ‘status-quo’ and ‘revisionist’ powers. The ‘status-quo’ powers, as its name suggests, aims to maintain the ‘status-quo’; these states want the current favorable power structure to stay and resists possible rivals that may threaten the existing power system. These ‘rivals’ would be the revisionist states; these are states that want to change the current power structure so that it is more favorable to them. Revisionist states typically use aggressive and expansionary foreign policy to this end.

 

  1. Neorealism

While neorealism makes all the same assumptions as classical realism does, it places the primary cause for power struggles not in human/state nature but in the nature of the international system. The theory argues that it is the absence of a world government and the resulting anarchy that causes tension and rivalries; being forced to ensure its own safety, states have nothing to rely on other than their own military force. This leaves them no choice but to either build up their military capacity to be able to defend itself or attack their rival first to get rid of them.

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“In short, states are simply obeying the law of the jungle.”

The key concepts that we talked about in the last article, such as the balance of power and security dilemma derive from this neorealist focus on anarchy. States do not go to war with each other because they are naturally greedy, but because they are forced to in their attempt to secure their survival. In short, states are simply obeying the law of the jungle. It is the lack of trust that compels states to make an error of judgement out of fear, not out of ambition for world dominion. Hence why neorealism also does not make a distinction between ‘status-quo’ and ‘revisionist’ power, because the characteristics and aims of a state do not matter in the issue of survival; regardless of their position in the world order and the existing power structure, all states will choose what they deem best for their survival.

 

  1. Liberal Realism

Amongst the ever-pessimistic picture of an international system where war and tension are inevitably constant, liberal realism presents a slightly more positive view of the world. While it makes all the regular realist assumptions that international system is anarchic and that power struggles form the core of a state’s foreign policy. However, liberal realists argue that states can develop a certain set of ‘rules’ by sharing a set of common interests, which Hendley Bull thought was “fear of unrestricted violence.”[3]

It is this common factor that allows states to escape from their ever-present anxiety about being attacked; when a group of states agrees upon a common goal they can form an international society with norms that each member state follows to be a part of. While similarly to neorealist theories states are still governed by anarchy and driven by fear in their foreign policy, liberal realists argue that it is possible for them to achieve peace by founding and maintaining this international society because “it pays to make the system work.”[4]

Although there are other realist theories that I haven’t covered (such as neoclassical realism), just by looking at these three theories you can know how even within a single school of thought numerous different voices exist. Realism has been the dominant school of thought in IR theory discipline for a long time, and it (although it is debatable) continues to be. Next, you can at last cheer up a bit because we’re exploring a more optimisitic school of thought- Liberalism.

 

*Photo credit: Максим Лунгу, uploaded on 15 June 2016, provided via Unsplash. Available at https://unsplash.com/@maxymlunhu?photo=turoxWR1aEI

 

[1] Comparing and Contrasting Classical Realism and Neorealism (ARASH HEYDARIAN PASHAKHANLOU)

[2]Hans J. Morgenthau Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (1948)

[3] Bull, Hedley (1977). The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. London: Macmillan.

[4] Adam Watson, The Evolution of International Society, 1992, p. 14.

 

Dissecting American Hegemony: Part I-The Transition

As an extremely diverse global community, we tend to disagree rather than agree on various issues; it is incredibly difficult to find a truism that everyone agrees with. However, it would be very hard for one to argue against the fact that the United States of America has long held dominance in world politics. Its influence in diplomacy, economy, ideology and the society in general during the modern era is almost impossible to ignore. Often, people describe this as the ‘American hegemony.’

 

What is Hegemony?

Hegemony is defined as “the preponderant influence or authority over others.”[1] When put simply, it means that a decision or an action of a hegemonic power could cause a worldwide butterfly effect. Hegemonic states are at the very core of an international society, and often acts as the final decision maker. Its effects are not restricted to a single domain, but influence all aspects of the society including economy, politics, ideology, and culture.

 

From Europe to America

Although it has only been a century or so that nations from different parts of the world true became fully aware of each other’s presence, regional hegemony was not a rarity both in West and East. While the East had a single powerful nation called China dominating international politics, Western power was more devolved, shared between a handful of powerful European countries. It was only when the United States of America gained independence in 1789 that the power balance gradually started to shift.

In his book Paradise and Power, Kagan labels the argument that America had an ‘isolationist’ tradition as a myth, pointing out how since its birth America was viewed both by European nations and Americans themselves to be a “Hercules in the cradle,” destined to become an “empire of liberty.”[2] Despite such firm belief in destined greatness, in its initial years America was a relatively new and therefore weak state in the Western hemisphere. It lacked the great military and economic prowess that its former colonial master and its league of friends had; it therefore “both consciously and unconsciously…used the strategies of the weak to try to get their way in the world.”[3] By the “strategies of the weak,” Kagan refers to extolling of Enlightenment values when dealing with an international crisis, most notably the use of commerce over brute force. He argues that America advocated peace and international cooperation when it was weak, while Europe in its heyday flexed its military muscles when a crisis came its way.

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History thus provides us with an apparent rule of hegemony: if you are the strongest, you can use ‘brute force’ to have things your way.”

It is ironic therefore that Europe’s definite point of decline from its throne precisely due to such ‘strategy of the strong’; World War One was a significant turning point in Western if not world international politics, as America began to replace Europe as the regional hegemon. After the destructive war, Europe was no longer capable of pursuing the power politics it uses to pursue before, partly because public opinion at home was extremely hostile against militant policy but also because it did not have the economic and infrastructural resources. From this sentiment (and reality) that Europe could and would not endure another war came forth the notorious policy of appeasement in the 1930s. So when another war eventually did happen, Europe was no longer the superpower it used to be; America now held the key to international politics. This is how we ended up with the modern state of international affairs; America became the ‘new Europe,’ exercising its military power and effectively making use of power politics when needed, while Europe returned to the Enlightenment ideal of international cooperation and economic interdependence to maintain peace.

History thus provides us with an apparent rule of hegemony: if you are the strongest, you can use ‘brute force’ to have things your way. But does this statement remain true in today’s society where democracy significantly restrict what the government can and can’t do? After all, the majority of people in democratic countries desire peace over war. With these questions in mind, to what extent America is a living example of this supposed truism will be explored in Part II.

*Photo Credit: Sofia Sforza, uploaded on May 8, 2016, provided by Unsplash. Available at: https://unsplash.com/search/gun?photo=AEP4lyBafBs

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hegemony

[2] Kagan, R. (2003). Of paradise and power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[3] ibid. 

 

IR Theory- Part I(b): Realistic Worldview

 

In the last article, we looked at the very basic assumptions that a realist IR scholar would make. This time, we’re going to go a little further to find out how the actual painting looks within the realist frame(work).

Based on the three main assumptions (Quick recap- 1. States are most important units 2. The only goal of a state is survival because the world is anarchic 3. A state should be self-reliant), a few key concepts have emerged within this school of thought. I’ll introduce some of the most famous ones, but keep in mind that there are so many concepts that this article won’t be able to cover.

  1. State of War

In a realist world where no one central government exists (is in a state of anarchy), it is impossible for states to trust each other; after all, Sun Tzu says that to win a war, you should “appear where you are not expected.”[1] The anxiety and suspicion that “they” could be secretly plotting against “us” always instigated the leader to prepare for war even in times of peace.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who is essentially the founder of the Realist school of thought, linked this absence of trust within the international community with what he called the ‘state of war’ in his work Leviathan. In his work, he eloquently sums up this idea in a slightly more sophisticated language:

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man. [2]

Hobbes argued that it is the natural ‘state of men’ that we live in constant fear of someone else harming us, and this fear encourages nations to be suspicious and wary of each other, even if they are having a tea party after signing a free trade agreement.

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Suspicion and fear always give rise to insecurity and vulnerability

  1. Security Dilemma

Now, this one core ‘nature of men’ that makes us suspicious of each other leads to most ironical situations. Suspicion and fear always give rise to insecurity and vulnerability; hence why states would start building up their military, economic or technological strength just in case someone might start a war. The only problem is, often such a build-ups are hard to keep as a secret. The other states are bound to notice this change- and what would be the most rational choice for them? To build up such capabilities themselves.

It is from this simple (almost stupid) problem that the security dilemma occurs; although neither states wish to go to war with each other, while in the process of preparing for a potential war due to their insecurity they actually provoke the other state militarily. Which is kind of understandable- let’s be honest, if our neighbor one day buys a canon and sets it up in their front yard pointing towards our house, we’d feel threatened too.

 

  1. Balance of Power

Now, based on these two concepts we can easily formulate one question- how in the world did we manage to not wipe each other out yet? Fortunately, there’s such a thing called the balance of power.

The basic idea is that humans are very good at calculating risks. If the chance that you’ll win is 50:50, you’re less likely to go for an “ALL-IN,” and going to a war is almost like betting all your money plus your life. So states would only go to war if they believe that they will win by a certain percentage, and what balance of power does is it makes the outcome of war harder to predict.

Take, for example, if you have 7 tanks and 100 soldiers while your neighbor has 2 tanks and 20 soldiers, you’d be rational to assume that you’re more likely to be victorious if you were to go to war with her. However, what if your neighbor is an ally with another guy who has 4 tanks and 70 soldiers? You’re still superior to the two together, but now the chances of your victory have decreased significantly. Will you still take the risk?

This way, states with similar capabilities rarely go to war with each other, because they’re scared that they might lose.

 

Please note that the concepts introduced in this article are not facts; they are merely theories from a single school of thought in one discipline. However, it is surely interesting to see some real-life examples where this theory can be used to explain. If you can think of one, please leave in the comments below!

In the next article, we’ll try to be more ‘sophisticated’ and explore different theories within the realist school of thought; be prepared for some interesting contradictions!

*Photo Credit: Photo by Dmitry Ratushny, uploaded on 13 February, 2016 / provided by Unsplash, available at: https://unsplash.com/collections/263320?photo=xsGApcVbojU

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2014/05/23/sun-tzus-33-best-pieces-of-leadership-advice/#677c02083496

[2]Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan. 1st ed. [ebook] London: Green Dragon in St. Pauls Chuch-yard, p.77. Available at: http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/hobbes/Leviathan.pdf [Accessed 5 Aug. 2016].

BREXIT: Blame Game in a Divided Country

Yes, it happened.

Those who expected that a referendum would end with a sigh of relief were shocked to find out that rather, it ended with a gasp of shock. Now that some time and the initial shock of “EU without Britain” (or rather, “Britain without EU”) have passed, various media groups and journalists are trying find out why it happened. Of course, if we’re being truthful, it’s more about who than why; people are basically naming names, dividing Britain even further.

 

“If you’ve got money, you vote in. If you haven’t got money, you vote out.”[1]

The above statement has been a mantra for a majority of the British public; many believed that the Brexit campaign was a classic example of ‘class politics’, according to which your level of wealth would have either compelled you to vote leave or remain. It was mainly from this idea that your ‘class’ decides what you vote for rather than rational reasoning that caused the British society to be more divided than ever about a single issue. While a lot of working class people were vehement about the ‘elites’ based in London being the only ones benefitting from Britain’s relationship with EU, a majority of those ‘elites’ accused the working class people of being ignorant of economic consequences Britain’s exit from the EU will bring.

The Leave campaigners’ arguments were mostly based on the fact that the growth in the number of European migrants has sharply increased over the last three years, from 1.4 million to 2.1 million[2], and that they are ‘stealing’ the jobs that should have been originally taken by a British citizen. It is basically the idea that the immigration is so out of control that “Brits on low pay – and those out of work – are forced to compete with millions of people from abroad for jobs.”[3]

Of course, the extent to which this alleged ‘over-competition in the job market due to EU immigration’ phenomenon is actually true is debatable. After all, it is also true that these immigrants pay taxes; in fact, they pay more than they receive. According to HMRC figures, migrant workers in Britain paid £2.54bn more in income tax and national insurance than they received in tax credits or child benefit in 2013-14.[4]

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“Yes, it is much too easy for us to draw a line and build a wall dividing “us” and “them,” but division never solves any problems.”

However, what this article is trying to divine is not whether the claims made by either campaign was true or false; rather, it is trying to determine whether the divisive labels given to both sides of the Brexit issue is justifiable. Is it true that the ‘poor’ voted to ‘leave’ and the ‘rich’ voted to ‘remain’?

Well, the statistics tell us that it’s not that simple. The analysis of those who voted for Leave shows that 34% who opted out are in AB group (economically middle-high class). Furthermore, those who owned their homes voted to Leave by 55% to 45% while those with private rentals and with mortgages voted to Remain. (55% and 54%)[5] Therefore, it would be an oversimplification to simply state that just because 64% of C2DE category voted to Leave, all Leave voters are from a less fortunate economic background.

Yes, it is much too easy for us to draw a line and “build a wall” dividing “us” and “them,” but division never solves any problems. The need for vigorous campaign and name-calling has passed; now that the results are out and Britain has taken an irreversible step towards the exit door, it is crucial that we stop the blaming game. An intentionally pessimistic outlook due to bitterness will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Britain needs to move on from the election campaign rhetoric and come to terms with reality; it is now time for them to focus on how to turn a crisis into an opportunity, rather than pointing fingers at each other as the ashes of the disaster slowly sets into cover Britain.

 

 

 

*Photo Credit: Maria Stiehler, provided by Unsplash.com, uploaded on October 28, 2014. Available at: https://unsplash.com/search/divide?photo=O0XaLIX51PQ

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/divided-britain-brexit-money-class-inequality-westminster

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/20/reality-check-are-eu-migrants-really-taking-british-jobs

[3] Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tax-contribution-of-recently-arrived-eea-nationals-for-2013-to-2014

[5] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/who-voted-brexit-how-eu-8277077

IR Theory- Part I(a): Being ‘Realistic’

International Relations (IR) theory is not something you come by every day. In most countries, IR is not offered as a secondary school subject and so often are considered a somewhat less approachable; after all, those who use this area of study in real life are not easy to come by, other than perhaps in the news. However, in an increasingly globalizing society where interactions between states are almost perpetual, it would be absurd to know what kind of international ‘system’ we live by.

Theory of IR often “seeks both to explain past state behavior and to predict future state behavior.”[1] Of course, you must understand that IR is comparatively a new branch of academic research and therefore is a highly controversial subject; even the definition above is likely to be contested by many scholars. Nonetheless, to put simply, Theory of IR strives to provide the basic framework that the states operate in. It can be understood as the ‘rule of the game,’ by which all countries would abide by. This is why Theory of IR is often so controversial- these rules can’t necessarily be applied to every single situation or a country.

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“Theory of IR strives to provide the basic framework that the states operate in. It can be understood as the ‘rule of the game,’ by which all countries would abide by.”

In this trilogy series of introductory articles, I will (with my very limited knowledge) try to explain in simplest manner the three main branches of IR Theory: Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism.

As you can guess from the title, Part I of the trilogy is about Realism. Many people mistakenly assume that Realism is a single ‘theory,’ but it is not. Rather, it is an ‘approach’; it has a collection of conditions that the theories adopting Realist approach assumes. More specifically, this post will briefly outline the main assumptions that Realists make.

The most basic assumption that is often the most contested one is the one that states that states (nations) are most important units in International Relations. Although it may seem obvious that this is true considering the name itself (inter”national” relations), such assumption overlooks non-state actors, such as the United Nations or WHO that are increasingly becoming the important players in today’s International Relations.

The second assumption that Realism makes is that the only goal of the states is survival. Of course, this statement would mean a whole range of things depending on how “survival” is defined; nonetheless, the Realists view the world as a system governed by anarchy, meaning that there is no true central world government ruling over all states. Based upon this worldview, Realists assume that consequently all states ultimately aims to achieve and maintain power.

The final assumption that the Realists make is that a state cannot depend on other states; it emphasizes the inevitable self-reliance of the states, meaning that no state can rely on other states to guarantee its survival.

I’m sure that as you are reading this, you’ll be able to think of many examples and arguments that prove these assumptions wrong. However, bear in mind that this is only the assumptions of a single school of thought and that there are many sub-theories that try to make up for such flaws. In the next post, I’ll outline the key concepts and ideas that arise from these assumptions and brief introductions of different theories that use the Realist approach. That might help explain why Realism is still the dominant school of thought in International Relations.

 

 

 

 

[1] Cristol, J. (2011). International Relations Theory. Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0039.xml [Accessed 30 Jul. 2016].

*Photo Credit: Taken by Maarten van den Heuvel. Provided by Unsplash. Uploaded on 11 March, 2016. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/_pc8aMbI9UQ

Michelle Obama and Power of Words

chQuite often, the public resents the fact that politicians are all words and no actions. It is understandable since politicians have been historically infamous for having the two faces of Janus; one before the elections and one after the elections.

However, it is also true that the recent Democratic National Convention proved that words could indeed be used as a powerful torch of an idea, passing on the fire from a single mouth to the hearts of a thousand. As almost every single critic agreed, Michelle Obama gave a “pitch-perfect”[1] speech; it was powerful yet uplifting, signalling a clear break from the pessimistic and angry sentiments that the Republicans sought to fully exploit in the Republican National Convention.

Although I am no qualified speechwriter (nor a politician), as I read and heard Obama’s speech I noticed that there were some key aspects of the speech that made it so compelling. These are:

  1. Theme of Parenthood

Arguably, the main theme of Obama’s speech was the theme of parenthood. Obama gave recurring emphasis on the fact that the election was not about power politics and grand ideologies but rather about “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.” Aware of the current antipathy of the general public towards the traditional idea of politicians, Obama instead moved the Democratic election campaign away from its usual image of a ‘dogfight’ between politicians; instead, she adopted the persona of a ‘parent,’ thereby making the election campaign a much more individual and private issue. Such approach was particularly effective because it aroused empathy among the public, a ‘softer’ quality that the Clinton campaign often lacked.

  1. Language of Hope and Morality

One of the things Obama successfully did in her speech was drawing a clear line separating the Republican campaign and the Democratic campaign. The key reason for success lay in the optimistic language she employed, a characteristic that was absent in the Republican campaign. The Democrat’s motto that she declared, “when they go low, we go high,” is the best example of how Obama used her language to assert the superiority of ‘hope’ that Democrats represent claims to represent compared to ‘fear and hatred’ that the Republicans allegedly sow in people’s minds.

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“When they go low, we go high.”

It is human instinct to want ‘hope’ to triumph over the ‘evil,’ or more accurately described as ‘negative emotions.’ Obama used this human nature effectively to depict the Democrats as those who are resilient against hardships, while effectively depicting the attacks from the Republican Party as the “hateful language…from public figures on TV.” She didn’t stop here, however; she went on to appeal for restoration of morality on a national scale by saying that such hatred “does not represent the true spirit of this country.” Thus, Obama completed her picture, portraying the Democrats as those who are resilient, moral and hopeful (i.e. the ‘heroes’ of the Hollywood movies) while portraying the Republicans as those who are “cruel” and “acts like a bully.” (i.e. the ‘villains’ of the Hollywood movies.) This way, without even once mentioning Trump’s name, Michelle Obama crafted a political election campaign into a traditional battle between the ‘good and evil.’

I am by no means a complete partisan for either Democratic Party or for Republican Party. However, it is difficult to ignore how some speakers are undeniably eloquent and more elegant in their portrayal of themselves. We need to remind ourselves that politics, albeit however difficult, must be kept as a place not where emotion prevails but where intellect and rational decisions dominate.


 

[1] NBC’s Brokaw “It was about as pitch-perfect an endorsement as you can get,” Fox News’ Juan Williams “The framing of the speech in terms of her children was so pitch-perfect.”

*Transcript of Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech provided by http://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12282760/transcript-michelle-obama-dnc-speech

**Photo credit: Getty Images

Subway Memorial: Perception and Feminism in South Korea

On the 17th of May 2016, a young woman in her early 20s lost her life to a man.

When put this way, the news seems almost mundane- millions of people are murdered every day around the world after all. That doesn’t make murder ‘right’, but it is true that in today’s world we have grown quite callous to a premature death of an individual we don’t know that well. However, this one woman’s death ignited one of the fiercest feminist movements in South Korean history.

Before I go into the details of the actual event, let me give you an insight to women’s position in the history of South Korea. Since Chosun dynasty, the introduction of Confucianism constructed a patriarchal society where women were considered inferior to men by law, culture and politics. It was considered a socially appropriate and virtuous for women to be obedient to her father before marriage, to her husband during the marriage and to her son after the death of her husband. Although almost 50 years have passed since Korea modernized, it is true that such social perception is still deeply rooted in the Korean society. Furthermore, even after the modernization, women were treated unfairly in the workplace, at university, at government and even at home where they had to serve their husbands’ parents rather than their own. Such traditional oppression of women is gradually diluting, but the subtle discriminations and restrictions against women undoubtedly still exist; a most obvious example would be the OECD statistics that ranks South Korea last in gender pay equality, with women receiving almost 36.3% less on average than their male counterpart. (OECD, 2016)

However, it is not the wage inequality or discriminations in the workplace that triggered the recent feminist movement. It is a more fundamental problem, a problem from which all other gender inequality issues stem from: perception.

118H.jpg“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea.” – Inception, (2010)”

What shocked the South Korean public was the fact that the murderer killed a stranger simply because she was a woman. A cold-blooded murder was planned and carried out due to the murderer’s memory of being “belittled and ignored by women.” When the news came out people were vehement, and the death of one woman soon became a symbol that reflects oppression that Korea women suffers. It was the idea that one person killed another person simply due to his ‘hatred for women’ that was intolerable for many people. A public memorial was set up in Gangnam station to mourn this unfortunate woman.

I am probably not an expert in feminism. In fact, it has not been that long since I started to consider myself a feminist. But even to me, some facts are plain as daylight; the murderer killed a woman not simply because the women were mean to him, but because the murderer thought he was being “belittled and ignored” even by women. It is hard to think that the murderer was a popular figure between anyone regardless of gender, yet he targeted women. It is from this that we can see his perception of women; we can infer that he regarded women as inferior to men, and the fact that such ‘women’ belittled him was what fueled his anger.

Some say it still can’t be an issue for the society because it is simply that particular individual’s mental health problems that lead to this tragic event. But I disagree. A man in his 20s must have had the chance to experience the world enough to contact different people and different ideas. Even if he had mental health issue, it would be absurd to think that he fostered his hatred for women, strong enough to kill someone, on his own. We need to be aware that the society had a role in creating his distorted perception. What we need to remember is not that a single ‘crazy man’ hated women, but that the society that allowed such hatred was planted and nurtured.

I do not think that the death of one woman is an evidence enough to doubt all men for being a potential murder or rapist. But don’t we live in a world where an overwhelming majority of rape victims are women? Shouldn’t we first question why women feel more unsafe when walking down a dark alleyway than men? Why are we not first questioning society’s perception that all women are potential victims and so should be careful before questioning the idea that all men are potential perpetrator?

I know, women are generally and biologically weaker than men in physical terms. But we are not animals. I feel that as humans, we have the responsibility to protect those who are weaker and more vulnerable, not prey on them. I hope that this tragic death is not abused as a political ‘icon’ but as an unforgettable reminder that the world is still more hostile to women than to men. Let the memorial be a true ‘memory’-al.

 

Reference:

OECD (2016), Gender wage gap (indicator). doi: 10.1787/7cee77aa-en (Accessed on 01 July 2016)

Photo credit:

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