Why Nationalism is a threat to Multilateralism

Cover photo: Politicians continue to lie and distort history to create an illusion of superiority among “their” peopleImage Credit: ©Gulf News

 

OPINION

GULF NEWS

5th April 2021

 

Ashok Swain

 

Collective intelligence and astute leadership is required to counter isolationist forces.

 

The article below published in the Gulf News has been recommended by Mr Varghese Pamplanil for the enlightenment of our esteemed readers of Church Citizens' Voice.  It is hoped the article will expand our understanding of the world, in particular the current political situation. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor. 

 

Loving your country is considered a virtue, and for a patriot, love for the country should not have any limit. Blind love has its own pitfalls, and there is no convincing argument except emotional ones to justify that. However, patriotism has been in the past and still continues to be used by political and social entrepreneurs to build nation-states.

 

In regular intervals in recent history, the ‘patriotic’ passive love by countrymen is not even seen as enough. There are calls for the love for the country to be enthusiastically displayed, That sometimes is accompanied by hatred towards the country’s perceived enemy, both outside and within.

 

There is a very thin line between being a patriot and displaying love and pride for your land and becoming a nationalist and carrying the notion of your country’s pre-eminence and its culture over others. Though commentators try to give a positive pitch to patriotism compared to nationalism, there is only a subtle difference. It is easy to interchange depending upon the whims and expediency of someone at the top.

 

By creating false pride and a notion of superiority, nationalist leaders often claim to unify their nations, but the creation of “us” vs. “them” attitude also leads to prejudices and intolerances against not only other countries but also people and political parties opposing them. People and groups who oppose these nationalist leaders are not seen as policy critics or political opposition but as antinational forces.

 

Nationalists take pride in hurting others, people of other countries, and also anyone who is branded as “them’. Politicians continue to lie and distort history to create an illusion of superiority among “their” people. The ambition of nationalist forces to regain that illusory glory of the past results in justifying the control of media, dominating the judiciary and dismantling the rule of law.

 

Facts lose relevance, and emotions take the pre-eminent position. Any opposition at home is crushed, and the ego of a powerful majority group that is pro-one party gets regularly massaged. Nationalists believe they have the right to dominate others as they are superior. Thus, nationalism often leads to militarism and conflicts with other countries, and in its crude form, it can also lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide inside the country.

 

With the idea of being unique and superior to others, nationalists don’t see themselves as responsible members of the community of nations. Short-term selfish gains and show of power become the main driver of the foreign policy. Moral obligations, long-term stability, and commitment to international agreements are easily superseded by the so-called national interest seen through narrow lenses. Nationalism as a political strategy goes against the idea of globalism and multilateralism.

 

Rise of Populism

Populists have been rising to power advocating economic nationalism, which asks for protectionist policies and promoting political nationalism through xenophobic rhetoric. They frame the national interest outside global peace and inclusive development in this interconnected interdependent world. The nationalistic view looks at international institutions with scepticism and rejects the importance of global cooperation. With its ‘superiority’ mindset, nationalists advocate isolationism as the best and safest way of achieving lost glory.

 

Unfortunately, the world is now swamped with nationalist forces. Particularly, when confronted with challenges like a once-in-a-century pandemic, it has lost its way for survival against an unprecedented climate change, passing through the third wave of large-scale human migration and facing the worse economic recession since World War II. There is a need for multilateralism more than ever, but unfortunately, it has lost its way.

 

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on November 9, 2018 told the Security Council that the world needs to strengthen international relations and join hands to combat complex global threats. He stressed that the rising nationalism has put multilateralism under severe stress and threatened its seven decades of achievements in saving lives and generating economic and social progress.

 

Even there has been a defeat of nationalist administration in the US, the threat of nationalism to multilateralism is still severe. Vaccine nationalism has almost been a norm. Nationalism has also stopped the Security Council from taking a distinct position on the coup in Myanmar, civil war in Tigray, and considering global climate change as a security threat.

 

The rise of nationalism has pushed the countries to take unilateral positions and actions, and it has also guided them not to adhere to rules and norms of multilateralism. While the world is coming under increasing pressure from a lingering pandemic, climate change, economic recession, and migration issues, an effective multilateralism only, not unilateral or bilateral approach, can provide a powerful platform to tackle global and local challenges that appear to grow in scale and complexity.

 

Multilateralism is critical to maintaining international legal order, and a “go-alone” approach of nationalists is not sustainable to global peace and security. Multilateralism is not an end in itself, but it is a necessary means to collective peace and collaborative progress. Collective intelligence and astute leadership needs to be developed to counter isolationist, nationalist forces.

 

The world must reconfirm multilateralism’s primacy to steer the global idea of commons.

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