Internationalism has been an important part of our modern worldview. Behind Syria, Russia, North Korea and the fight against international terrorism is the belief that the basis for a successful solution to these problems is cooperation between nations.
The belief that the ‘international community’ should roll up their collective sleeves and sort these issues out is understandable. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR many people thought that things were going to get much better. Being born in the same year that the USSR crumbled. I grew up with a firm belief that there was this entity called the international community that could and would shape the world for the better.
Yet for the past decade, the trust that nations can come together and address the toughest problems we face has begun to disintegrate. The rise of China to great power status, the disaster of the Iraq War and Putin’s defiantly ‘east vs west’ stance have all contributed to the sense that the international community is now just a meaningless buzz word.
On the face of it this seems like a silly thing to say. The cooperation between different countries is perhaps greater now than it ever has been. Surely we should not let very public spats between the likes Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hide the fact that the world is more interconnected than at any time in human history?
Yet, in a more profound way the internationalist dream is decaying rapidly. The philosophical ideal that nations (particularly America) should nurture peace and cooperation amongst other countries rightly causes eyes to roll these days. Most people no longer seriously expect countries to act outside of their own self-interest. Let’s take Syria as an example. Since the Syrian Civil War has begun there have been repeated cries for the international community to get involved and stop the carnage. But nobody has. For the helpless families living amongst the rubble of Aleppo and Ghouta the international community must be a sick joke.
That we expect countries to act in their own self-interest and not out of devotion to some ‘international brotherhood’ ideal should perhaps be a cause for celebration. The current conception of worldwide cooperation is a toothless facade of empty words and meaningless agreements. Perhaps out of the decay of the current internationalism a less fawning, more practical and directed spirit of cooperation can emerge.
To do this our politicians will need to face up to the cold realities of global politics. Profit and self-interest drive people; not goodwill. Sometimes there are people who cannot be helped, regardless of what is happening to them. Lastly, dressing up naked aggression in the guise of international brotherhood should no longer be tolerated.
Internationalism based on these principles might form the basis for a more sustainable path.