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Reciprocity in Nigeria : United States relations (1)

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politics-123rfTHE concept of reciprocity is very important in the discussion/study of international diplomacy. Nearly everybody agrees that it is a good idea that every nation should embrace. Well, in practice, one is confronted by the reality that ideals aside, certain concepts in international relations or international law are simply not observed or respected by many state actors, in fact many issues such as sovereign equality of nations, territorial integrity, and independence including reciprocity in international relations are not seriously observed or complied with by certain set of sovereign actors. To be precise, while small and weak nations insist on compliance to these principles, powerful nations violate them with impunity and nonchalance. For some students of international relations – the Realists – this is not surprising because international politics at its practical level is governed by a far more different principle and rules of engagement. Since ancient times, the central feature of these rules and principle is that the strong nations take what they want and the weak ones surrender what they must. It is power and expediency that determines the destiny of nations. Thus, the rise of modern nation states compelled some political theorists to recognise the imperative of power in politics in general and in international politics in particular. Consequently, there has been continuing debate over the correct definition of power. But suffice it to say that power exists, and makes a difference in every serious contest in life. It can be as abstract as time, but as real as a firing squad when the need to use it arises.

Indeed, international politics or international relations as a discipline is a game played predominantly by sovereign independent nations in their struggle for power and dominance of the international system.

Consequently, international politics deals precisely with the goals and demands states make on one another and on the international system itself. These demands are reflected in the foreign policy objectives of the respective sovereign state actors. Among the well-articulated national goals are national security. In fact, the primary goal of most governments in the state system is security. Which always includes safeguards against indirect, long run and contingent threats to a way of life as well as territory.

The other national goals or national interests or objectives which states pursue are economic or prosperity, prestige or honour, and peace. Basically, states seek ways to gain and expand these goals, and utilise other elements of international relations such as the game nations play on one another in pursuit of these various interests.

International politics is a serious business, and dangerous business. It involves the test of wills and favours the fittest.

Indeed, certain observations that highlight power in international politics; and emphasise the dilemma of Reciprocity principle are:

• That in spite of all the historic transformations of the international political system over years, there is no way to free international politics from its historical fluctuation between war and peace. Therefore, every actor must be alert, for if you fail to take advantage of your weakness, your friends surely will; when you become a nuisance.

• That in the final analysis the hegemony of the powerful has always had its way.

• That a transformation in the international system occurs as a result of changes in the power situation, either gains or losses, or even redistributions of power among the members of the system, such as through alliance system.

• That the uneven gains of power and consequent redistributions of power are the phenomena behind most international conflicts and behind the evident instability of the international system itself.

• Equally important is, that peaceful methods of solving major international problems have proven illusive, hence in the present international system, the potential for the disastrous rise of power exists and will persist for a long time to come. Consequently, international politics, no matter how defined, like all politics is nothing but a struggle for power. That a country’s power position in the world is the crucial factor in how it will behave or treated in any given international situation. Weak countries watch and complain; strong and powerful countries act and achieve results. This is the iron of international politics.

• That every government is preoccupied with the struggle for power and influence and every government is forced by its own given circumstances to adjust its actions to its known power potential and distribution of power within the international system. Indeed, this means that every nation has only a limited number of choices to make in its international relations.

Indeed, the basic principle of international politics, which is equally the basic reality of international politics, is that it is first and foremost a study of the conflict between power and principle. And that countries differ in their relative capacity to control their own destiny. That the more vulnerable countries are the weak ones while the powerful ones are less vulnerable within any prevailing international systems.

That just as religion is for all but particularly for the poor, international politics is for all sovereign and independent nations, but particularly for the powerful actors.

That to be celebrated, to be wealthy, to have power requires access to major institutions, for the institutional positions nations occupy demonstrate that the dominant nations and sub-ordinate nations exist side by side regardless of the theory of the legal equality of all sovereign state actors or reciprocity.

And that relations between the dominant states and sub-ordinate ones, even in our time have not passed the psychological boundaries that separate cautious acquaintance and confident friendship. Weak state still defers to the strong ones almost on every important topic of the international concern, just as it was among ancient Greek states, today and shall be tomorrow.

•To be continued tomorrow.
• Professor Obiozor is former Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America.



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