Reflections on Interventions and its Global Themes


The book provides thought and provocation on the theme of unilateralism, which one feels is more significant today, than even within the context of the Cold War, which some of Dr. Jayatilleka’s writings explore


I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion for the book launch of ‘Interventions’, alongside its author, political scientist and renowned diplomat, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka. The day’s happenings and the countless political interventions that took place on the day can be viewed on Dr. Jayatilleka’s YouTube Channel (@dayanjayatilleka5878), but I’d like to use this space to explore some of the themes that I found particularly drawn to in the book; specifically the second half of the book that deals with global themes, of which, this article will focus on the following,

 

  • The danger of unilateralism and the tools it utilises, including subject matter relating to Xenophobia and Ultranationalism
  • The paradox of the ‘One Model’ and,
  • On the need for core-state counterweights (Russia & China) and the Re-organisation of NAM


Unilateralism 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka


 

The book provides thought and provocation on the theme of unilateralism, which one feels is more significant today, than even within the context of the Cold War, which some of Dr. Jayatilleka’s writings explore. Here, the author details how the Global North and its key players (or more accurately, player), expect a zero outcome of predominance and unipolarity, over any stabilizing power-balance. The varying writings also look at the state of affairs in terms of how Russia and China fit in to this equation, but more importantly how the two countries are perceived because of this. To quote a section of the book:

 “The implications are twofold: the United States and its allies cannot and will not permit a truly multi-polar world order, and the minimum role in world affairs that is commensurate with Russia and China’s interests will fall short of the maximum role that the United States and its allies will be willing to concede. 
In another section the author Dr. Jayatilleka notes,

“A strong Russian state will never be viewed as anything but a threat by the U.S., just as they will never view a strong China as anything but a threat. The West will always try to keep both Russia and China contained and encircled, and will attempt to encourage their internal political evolution, while it will never countenance anything that remotely resembles containment of its own ambitions.” 

The quotes I use here are pieced together via writings published at different corridors of time, but the book’s relevance is perhaps viewed in conjunction with global happenings that took place about a week before the book’s launch. When Chinese President Xi Jinping met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken; making note for the nth time that China hoped it would be considered a partner (by the US) and not a rival. 

Both China’s expressed hope, and the institutional memories encapsulated in the book, deal with a sort of South-striving; to be seen as an equal by the United States and the Global North at large, and thereby deconstruct the imbalance of perception within the global system when it comes to measurements of the North and South. But moreover, the different sections of the book also dissects how this imbalance is entrenched, implemented and accepted, including through the discourse related to Xenophobia, and with regard to a perpetuation of the idea of the ‘one Model’. 

A section of the book penned in 2019 for instance, explores the necessitation of instability and the rise of Islamophobia to meet a specific political agenda. The following quote taken from this 2019 section of the book can very well be read and understood more deeply within the context of here and now:


“But I want to emphasize that we are about to see a powerful factor that will help the radicalization of terrorists. And that is the talk of, and perhaps action against Iran…” and in another section “…. Now if Iran is attacked, damaged, diverted, then two things happen. You weaken one side which for whatever reason has chosen to fight against the IS terrorists physically. Therefore, an attack on Iran will automatically strengthen, empower and enable the other side within the Islamic space– that is, the side of the jihadist terrorists. You also give a message to every young Muslim, that it doesn’t really matter if there is an attack or a threat against you, if you belong to an Islamic country and it doesn’t matter which side or which type it is. That is a powerful motivator for radicalization of young people including, lone-wolf terrorists…” 


Ultranationalism & Reimagining what we bring to the table

This exploration of the creation of xenophobia, also provides the reader with questions pertaining to the rise of ultranationalism in Global South countries, and whose purpose it serves at the end of the day. The book further explores themes of strict religious identities at the end of the 20th century, alongside ‘dominatory politics’ which the author places in reference to ‘exchanges that result in the intentional or unintentional subordination of others and the development of persistent hierarchies based on age, race, gender or class.” This can perhaps be viewed in relation to the current tendency of polarizing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ states, where hegemonic states perpetuate the ideation of shared values and them-us narratives. 

If the reader ponders the many strategic inter-governmental military and naval entities now in existence, and what the cliquey-ness they emulate means, perhaps this quote from the book becomes clearer;  

“…hegemonic social layers always attempt to portray their particular interests as that of the entire nation and that this constitutes a central element of the dominant ideology prevailing in society.” 

And the book breaks this down in relation to what it calls the paradox of this idea of democracy, in so much as this ability to ‘other’ parts of the world that don’t look, think, behave or make enemies like the hegemon.  Ardent observers of Global North-South relations will be able to draw from these themes of the book and use it as a lens through which to view certain multilateral happenings within the present-day context. The author explains it like this:

“The greatest paradox–in today’s world is that the Western powers which regard themselves, and in essence are indeed, democratic are vehemently opposed to a democratic world order, or even one that is relatively more democratic, than it is now….The same West that praises cultural diversity and political pluralism within their societies, opposes the notion that the world order should be characterized by a diversity of values, norms and choices...”

And this is not a point that the book explicitly asks the reader to make, but I felt that this section beckoned the abandonment of polarity traps; For countries from the Global South to be able to fluidly move or transform without constantly being in this fear of being assimilated into Western-hyphened categories. The book proposes a new path – beckoning the reader to understand that there is a space, and moreover a necessity, for an understanding of Russian-centric values, or perhaps even Sri Lankan-centric, if we would allow ourselves the creativity and freedom to reimagine what that looks like. 


Non Aligned Movement

And within that reimagination, varying articles found in the book come back to one crucial multilateral requisite, that of the NAM, with Dr. Jayatilleka penning down what he believes to be an important factor for its survival and growth; the need for a Eurasian (namely China-Russia) core-state counterweight to the West. Whether or not the book intended to do so, it causes the reader to question whether countries including Sri Lanka shouldn’t be helping in this sort of re-organisation of NAM, or in the creation of a stronger or more impassioned Eurasian core state counterweight. And whether it was the lethargy and geopolitical handcuffs on our part, that had occasioned NAM to thrive as it once did during the decolonization and Cold War periods? Wasn’t the fractured nature of the Global South somehow feeding into the imperialist unipolar creature, that a lot of the ideas in the book dealt with?

The book explains that Fundamental international political issues are thought to revolve almost exclusively around relations between big players. And I really think there is a danger of smaller/or emerging powers falling into this trap of thinking, and perhaps in a way, checking out. Instead what the book was calling to action, was a reformation of the collective. Entities like the NAM or Like-Minded States in Human Rights or the DAG in intellectual property are so vital because there is power in numbers, and in an amplified unified Global South voice.


(The writer holds a double Masters in International Law & Human Rights from the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, and in Political Science with a major in Global Governance from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. She has worked as a specialist in public diplomacy for Sri Lanka and US governments and has been responsible for creating initiatives toward building South-South cooperation between Global South entities. She is the Founder and convener of Perspective South an international platform for public accessibility to geopolitics, international law terminology, and perspectives of the Global South. She works part-time as a post-grad lecturer in International Law. In the past, she has operated as a fixer and researcher for the NY Times, Swedish Public Media (SVT) and the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). She is currently based in Colombo.)



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