The recent cancellation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that was supposed to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan and the natural corollary to the cancellation i.e. demand for isolating Pakistan calls for a serious theoretical understanding of the new world order. The Liberal approach to the study of foreign policy and world order that developed in the 17th century focussed on the liberty of the individuals to enter into a social contract for establishment of rule of law. John Locke’s understanding of the world order was based on this premise of cooperation. Liberals believe that human beings are perfectible and that Democracy is necessary for that perfectibility to develop. However the concept of Democracy has undergone significant paradigmatic changes in the recent years.
Liberals reject the Realist notion of war being a natural phenomenon. So any action from Pakistan according to the liberal approach is an outcome of economic inequalities, and failed bargaining between developed and developing nations for resource accessibility and economic development. An important aspect of Liberalism is the emphasis it lays on the possibilities for cooperation in all fields, military, economic and technological. Liberals identify multinational corporations, non state actors and terrorist groups as central actors on the international stage apart from sovereign nation states. Realists put nation states on the forefront. Liberals focus too much on human beings and their right to enter into contract for rule of law, which by modern definition means or refers to a democratic set up.
With the dragon raising its head and the United States trying to balance South Asia by taking India into confidence as a counterweight to China the entire balance of power is shifting inexorably towards the new bilateral equation between China and the U.S. The very idea of a liberal constitutional set up is to protect individual liberty. Let us replace individuals with states. So the very idea of an organisation like SAARC is to protect the interests of the member states and promote regional cooperation. However with Pakistan’s repeated acts of terror on Indian soil and its relentless proxy war against India the very notion of Liberal democratic set up has turned turtle. Several analysts and policy experts have called for total isolation of Pakistan declaring it a terrorist state. China continues to maintain a diplomatic distance from the issue while in the same instance vetoing Indian interests at various multinational fora. Several other nations have strongly condemned the attacks on Indian soil by Pakistani terrorists. Liberals argue that mutual interests can sustain cooperation in the new world order but proxy wars and terror attacks defeat the very purpose of mutual cooperation.
Neo liberals have no confidence in the logical reasoning of human mind and human progress. Zacher & Mathew opine that neo liberals have not wanted to be branded as idealists as were many inter war liberals, the international events in this (the 20th Century) century including the two world wars and the cold war have made them wary about being too optimistic.
Free trade and western democratic values are the focus points of Neo Liberalism. However given the rise in state sponsored terrorism many have questioned the tenets of Neo Liberalism today. Liberals argue that the world order does not depend on balance of power but on individual interactions between states which is forever in a state of dynamic flux. The concept of security plays a very crucial role here. All the military exercises and pacts we read about in the media emerge from this need to protect individual state interests. Institutions play a key role in establishing peace. Keohane opined that institutions are persistent and connected sets of rules and practices that prescribe roles constrain activity and shape the expectation of the actors. This is ideally what SAARC was crafted for.
David Mitrany argued that greater interdependence in the form of transnational ties between countries could lead to peace. But what do you do when all acts of terror are traced back to one notorious nation? Will Joseph Nye’s functionalism work here? Should we engage in constructive dialogue with a nation that is known for sponsoring terrorism all across the globe? The cancellation of the SAARC summit has given rise to a new set of debates. Liberals have tremendous faith in human reason and rationality of the human mind in resolving international disputes without resorting to coercive means. Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s theory of complex interdependence that focuses on transnational actors as important agents of peace and cooperation sidelining the military needs to be studied in great depths. This is especially true in the case of Pakistan, whether the government or the Deep State (a term coined for the stranglehold that its military and intelligence apparatus exerts on any form of government) should be engaged in dialogue; further whether such an engagement would result in any meaningful restoration of peace.
SAARC seems to be losing its relevance in the new liberal world order. Or maybe not. In either case, recent developments clearly lead to a different understanding of cooperation as well as the limits to which it should be extended. Will isolation of states that sponsor terrorism or engage in coercive means to promote their agenda restructure the definition of this cooperation? For all intents and purposes we are talking about India’s well known neighbour.
Nye Joseph, Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation: An Introduction to Theory and History