Trouble normally begins when ideals clash with national interests

There exists conflict between ‘ideals’ and ‘national interests’ as policymakers understand them. Since its policymakers who determine the ideals and the actual national interests the level of their competence matters. This makes ideals and national interests, as perceived, contrived, or collectively accepted, relative to individuals holding power. The ability to flex geopolitical muscles, whether military or those of influence and persuading others, empowers countries to ignore agreements and stated ideals if they contradict perceived national interests. This conflict is apparent in Ukraine and Gaza which expose domestic and global hypocrisy of supposedly honest men and women in power. These people negate stated ideals as they watch, encourage, and give excuses for the destruction of Gaza and Ukraine.

Ideals are considered part of ‘national interests’ as long as they do not collide with other interests which leaders consider vital. The other interests could be racialised, ethnised, religionised, and personalised. When personalised, especially tyrannical leaders, treat countries as personal property to do as they wish. Irrespective of the environment, when the stated ideals collide with perceived national interests, therefore, the ideals give way because no external ideal should be allowed to undercut vital interests, particularly the survival of the state.

The noisiest advocates of ideals tend to lead in violating those ideals and examples are scattered across time and space. The common thread in critical national security strategy documents for the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Israel, and France, for instance, is the irrelevance of ideals. All of them are good at ignoring ‘international’ ideals when those ideals are in conflict with perceived national interests. They all declare that ‘international laws’, ideals, and purported expectations would not deter them from pursuing what each considers vital to its critical interests, whether security or commercially related.

The Anglo-Americans excel in violating the ideals they trumpet. Britain reneged on the post-Napoleonic Congress of Vienna agreement to restore pre-French Revolutionary order. Considering the restoration of Spanish mercantilism in Latin America contrary to its national interests, it approached the United States for a joint effort to block other powers from helping Spain. In 2000, Britain also reneged on the 1980 Zimbabwe independence deal on account of a change of government in London. On its part, the United States habitually pushes for ‘international laws’ only to back out once others agree. It did it after the 1884-5 Berlin Conference on the Partition of Africa because there was change of administration. After the Great War, it helped form the League of Nations and then backed out because the League could not guarantee sense of security. It assisted in creating the International Criminal Court, ICC, only to un-sign because it did not want to be bound by what it wanted for others. Instead, it declared readiness to bomb ‘The Hague’ at the thought of indicting Americans. The Anglo-Americans ignored international law and ideals as they invaded Iraq. With their NATO instrument, they destroyed Libya.

The negation of ideals is apparent in other happenings. France bends rules to suit perceived national interests. Other than bankrupting Haiti with indemnity demands to compensate slave masters in 1825, it invaded Algeria in 1830 to avoid paying its wheat debt. When Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised the issue of returning the indemnity loot, France connived with the United States to overthrow Aristide in 2004 probably to avoid Algeria demanding the same. Vladimir Putin is clear that international ideals cannot be allowed to undermine real or perceived Russian security. The NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, itself a violation of ideals, emboldened Putin to re-acquire Crimea and try to turn parts of Eastern Ukraine into security buffer zone. While the Conceptual West pressured the ICC to indict the Russians, it excuses and approvingly watches as Israel destroys Gaza.

Crises tend to expose the hypocrisy over stated ideals. They show that ideals are always subordinate to perceived national interests. Ideals are relative, not sacrosanct.