Political and Economic Factors in International Relations

Faculty of Economics and Management

“Which of the two suppose nowadays a greater danger for justice in IR: political or economic factors”

Justice in International Relations


This essay raises the question of which factors pose threat to Justice in International Relations at present. It is centered around idea that these factors, which are not only economic and political in nature, but also historical, derive from the domestic practices and ideas of various states. There are three study cases that show from various perspectives how in different ways the internal order spills into international and what set of ideas and methods influence justice in international relations.

The complex issue of Justice in International Relations presupposes that we pose and define, at least in this essay the view on the role and the nature of the Justice on the international arena. Whether this notion contradicts or not with the opinion of some major scholars on how just the international order is and can be, it is crucial for us to further follow the logical way of this essay. In my opinion, the international order, interstate relations since the start of the human history had very little space for the just approach: even the civilized nations were generally led by the right of the strongest to do what he wills. Correlated, perhaps, by the power of a free human though and technological advancement, still, the rule of sheer military power was something to be revered. And it has been recorder well in the Greek and Roman history through the famous Melian dialogue. This excerpt of it demonstrates clearly the ways of approaching the international business of the day by perhaps, the most civilized and humane people of the time: “Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist forever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do” (Strassler 1996). We see clearly how little space is given to the notion of justice. Even less was expected when the nations dealt with barbaric people or great empires of the East, despotic in the nature. The same is as well expressed in the Ancient Roman history: when faced with overwhelming forces of the Gauls in 390 BC, the famous “vae victis” (woe to the conquered ones) was coined. And this lesson of injustice, of what might happen to the ones that fail, was learned well by the Romans and later they would go on to establish their own rule on those weaker and less successful. Hardly there was any discussion on the actual righteousness of their actions. Yet, in the cruelty of the civilized ones, there is found a set of ideas that would later contribute so much to a completely differing set of ideas and notions, a whole new historical perspective of people living in completely different, just and fair conditions. These ideas, in my opinion were first the ideas of freedom and domination first coined by the Athenian political leader Pericles, and second – Greco-Roman stoicism and cynicism and the concepts coined within this philosophy (like cosmopolitanism). Both set of views, in part with many others, undoubtedly, served later as the cornerstone for the revived Western Civilization, which, at least by name, calls itself humane and adhering to the principles of justice, human rights, democracy and opposing despotism. The description of these ideas, undervalued in modern times, and the way they shaped the Western notion, is not a part of this essay, yet, it is important to say that they are the ones that called for a dialogue whenever the West acted oppressively towards the rest of the world, and even more – a tool for discussion and social change in the vey western countries themselves. So, we can clearly say that the historical experience of the countries is another important factor influencing their understanding of the domestic justice and hence, justice on the international arena. The more just, democratic, law abiding the society of the country is, the more it correlates with the demands for a fairer world on the international arena. This very important statement will be later developed in the essay. Those countries that did not undergo a certain process of inner development of the ideas on justice and more humane order, have little to contribute to the international system. Moreover, the higher the development of the country’s political and economic system, the deeply economic and political factors influencing the notion of justice both on the domestic and the international level are intertwined.

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Domestic policies and international order

And before looking at the perspective of justice in the international relations, it would be wise to consider several cases of how domestic ideas of justice, as well as practices of it, influence and shape the international approach. The first country to start with, the one that has been dominating international politics ever since the Second World War, is the United States. Being at some point a breakaway from the old and, as seemed obsolete European absolutist ideas, the new state brought the value of republicanism and democracy to the highest level. The very main document of the state was a drastic breakthrough from the Old World and in a way a revolutionized, the dream of many political thinkers of the time. The words of one the main document of the state started with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Virginia Declaration of Rights). And indeed, from the end of the 19th century up till nowadays for the many oppressed the USA remains the place of freedom, in a way a political ideal to be reached. Not only it is just in itself, but it as well actively engages in establishing freedom and democracy all around the world. Yet, what is important here is to take a closer look at the domestic stance with equality and justice in the USA. Despite the declared equality, economically the population is very diverse. The salary differentiation between the poorest and the richest may vary in 300 times, which is, of course unprecedented. As it was said, the economic fractionalization lead to the fact that different social strata and communities live C:UsersEnvydifferent lives, with ones striving to have a decent life, while the other many times more than enough then a human being can consume.

As the graph suggests, 80% of the American population own only 15.1% of the national wealth. To compare: 50% of the USA population owns 14.5 trillion dollars, the same amount of money could be gathered in 10 years if the tax on the rich would increase by 2%. Such economic inequality undoubtedly spurs political debates in the country. As well, we should take into account that financial diversification goes in hand with ethnic and cultural division of the households. Despite the fact that the just order is guaranteed by the law, existing social institutions, bureaucratic apparatus and the democratic tradition, the income inequality as well as other discrepancies the economic division raises stem into the political sphere and cause debate. And with certain economic groups tied up with the political decision makers, the inequality transforms into a vicious circle: rich and economically affluent influence the politics, thus preserving their positions and becoming more rich, while the ones receiving medium and below medium salary have little say in the decision making and instead are more and more occupied with the process o guaranteeing their financial prospects. Domestic inequality and the practices of economic exploitation clearly is receive continuation on the international arena. C:UsersEnvy

Changes in economic inequality over the last 30 years (The Economist)

On the international scale we see that in the countries where republican ideas, rule of law, democratic principles, respect to human rights, freedoms are of paramount importance, the economic practices and laws allow for inequality and exploitation in domestic relations, but even more on the international level. MNCs acting in accordance with the law and indeed bringing the change to some ‘third world countries’, in fact contribute to the implementation of practices that undermine the attempts to establish international justice through establishment of unfair practices. Thus, the stance of the United States on the international arena is ambiguous – on the one hand through establishing relations with the others states and participating in the work of the international organizations, it promotes the political principles established in the country, and are generally favourable for the fairer world, but on the other hand the economic policy through trade and actions of MNC’s have a controversial effect: exploitation of resources and population, cardinally unequal income distribution and often practice of dealing with corrupt politicians and non democratic political regimes. When the primary goal is only to maximize the profit, then the ways of making it in the ‘third world countries’ have little to do with the notions of promoting justice.

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Historical factors and views on global order

Another study case, this time a country that is not a part of the classical Westetn civilization, is China. Becoming in many ways a modern capitalist economy, its political views on the international arena and its place in it may not fully fall in line with the Western vision of China. Chinese foreign trade is strongly intertwined with the Chinese foreign economy policy. We can define five major principles, characterizing Chinese economy and demanding adherence to them. First, is keeping open world markets for its exports, more than half of which are produced by factories that are wholly or partly owned by foreigners. The second principle is about securing access to international supplies of energy resources and natural resources, which serve a determining factor to the Chinese industrial development. The third principle demands China is to insulate its economy and national wealth from potentially destabilizing international risks. The fourth principle demands that new technologies are acquired, together with knowhow and skills. The fifth principle presupposes promotion of global expansion of Chinese own industries through foreign investment. It is obvious that in the last decades China is on the rise, both economically and politically, but the question remains how the increase in Chinese domination will affect the global order (de Jonquieres, 2011). Will it be a US competitor? And can it propose a viable alternative to the existing world order? Until the late Qing, concepts of international order and justice were alien to China’s imperial rulers. Subsequently, however, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, China perceived itself to be the victim in an unjust world of aggressive, powerful, Western states. Contemporary Chinese perceptions of a just international order have been shaped by such past experiences and encompass a strong element of restitution. Its justice claims start with the Chinese state itself rather than with the needs of a broader global community. Its activity on the international arena can be explained by the need to return the prestige and honour that was presumably lost in the early 20-ies. During the Cold war era Chinese foreign policy was heavily built on the dichotomy of rivalry of the two world powers, using one of them to strengthen themselves. First it was the alliance with Moscow from 1972 – with the USA. It as well kept a positive image for the developing world. After the demise of the USSR there appeared a debate among the scholars whether a unipolar or multipolar world is appropriate. Globalisation was seen as a process beneficial for the USA, in which China had to find its place. The international relations had to be democratized.

Despite the bright declarations often made by the Chinese officials, the current approach is based around a strategy of bandwagoning and transcending. The first means China adapting to the US and serving as a partner, while the second emphasise the peaceful transition to a more democratic world order. Transcending includes democratizing international relations, promotion of state sovereignty, strong support of the UN. Chinese approach is generally compared with US on the international arena.(Foot 2008) The Chinese approach to Justice in IR during the communist era proposed an another vision of how the relations could be altered. The “Three World Theory” presupposed that non-aligned states, that want to adhere neither to the comunist, nor to the capitalist world, can work together. Yet, these ideas have never gained power and later Chinese leaders felt in line with a more common view on the international arena.


The “Three World Theory” map proposed by Mao Zedong

The increasing importance of China in the International Relations make us listen more attentively to what the leadership of the country says on world order. Yet, as it was demonstrated, the Chinese economic policies go in line with the world practices. And the political and ideological solutions center rather around China itself, then the care of a an alternative, more just order. So, it would not be a wrong generalization to say that many non-Western countries do not contribute to fairer practices and go in line with the general pattern.

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Spread of negative factors on the regional and international level

The last study case, however minor it is in comparison with the two previous ones, demonstrates how political factors influence on the economy and how certain processes taking place in one country, affect the whole region, leading to distribution of the unfair practices. The case here is the political and economic situation in Eastern Europe, and specifically the case of how political and economic practices of one country negatively affect the situation in the whole region. The destructive mechanism of Belarusian authoritarianism on other countries has not been well examined. Often dubbed as the “last dictatorship in Europe”, Lukashenka’s system has proven to remain far more stable than expected. Though not showing great economic progress, remaining politically and economically dependent on Russia, the regime was able to deal with Putin’s administration, withstand political protests after 2006 elections and 2008 economic crisis. Lukashenka himself built in his own way an effective state structure, with him virtually controlling every significant aspect in politics and economy. However undemocratic the regime may be, with all the violations and electoral fraud during the presidential, parliamentary and local elections, it has been able to remain politically relatively stable for 16 years so far. This, undoubtedly set an example for the governing elite of the neighboring countries, like Russia and Ukraine, Belarusian dictatorship political regime also has a significant economic influence on the economy of Lithuania and to a lesser extent, on the economy of Latvia. We can see how Lithuanian leaders, interested in further economic cooperation with Belarus, especially in the case of transit Belarusian potassium salt, stood as advocates of the Belarusian authoritarian regime and in sometimes gave support to the regime (Belarus: Background and U.S. Policy Concerns). Belarusian “contagion” spreads in both ways, affecting other states because of the profitable economic cooperation with Belarus and on personal level, tempting certain officials to breach the law, corrupting their own governmental system. Thus, their state system may become less accountant, transparent, responsive, equitable, legal frameworks become flawed. This is a clear example of how on the regional level political factors in one country spill to the other, making the whole region more corrupt. The bigger conclusion here is as follows: if we leave place for economic and political negotiation with countries with authoritarian or tyrannical regime, we must admit that it will influence. regional and international relations in the negative ways, further spreading contagious practices developed in their countries, that contradict the civilized norms, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

To conclude the essay, several main statements should be repeated. First, in my opinion historical experience and evolution is not less important when speaking about the contribution to the justice on the international arena. Secondly, the behavior of the state on the international arena is very correlated with its domestic policy. Third, political and economic factors in the complex systems are intertwined, often it is hard to say precisely, which factor stems from the other. Finally. even if the political factors contribute to international justice, economic factors, and the pursuit for profit contribute to inequality and undermine the notion of justice in international relations.


– Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Free Press, 1996, page 352-354

– Guy de Jonquieres What power shift to China? ECIPE. Policy briefs. No. 04/2012.ISSN 1653-899. Brussels http://www.ecipe.org/media/publication_pdfs/PB201103.pdf. Viewed on December 17, 2013

– Rosemary Foot. Chinese strategies in a US-hegemonic global order: accommodating and hedging. International Affairs 82, 1 http://www.cerium.ca/IMG/pdf/Foot_-_Chinese_Strategies_-_International_Affairs.pdf. Viewed on December 17, 2013

– CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html. Viewed on December 17, 2013

– The Most Important Chinese Trade Barriers. Derek Scissors. Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations July 19, 2012 http://www.heritage.org/research/testimony/2012/07/the-most-important-chinese-trade-barriers. Viewed on December 17, 2013

– Virginia Declaration of Rights http://www.gunstonhall.org/georgemason/human_rights/vdr_first_draft.html

– Zia Mian and M.V. Ramana, 2010. ‘Imbricated Regional Rivalries and Global Order: South Asia, China and the United States.‘

– Belarus: Background and U.S. Policy Concerns. CRS Report for Congress. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL32534.pdf

– The EU’s Limited Response to Belarus’ Pseudo ‘New Foreign Policy’. CEPS Policy Brief No. 151, 8 February 2008. http://aei.pitt.edu/7543/1/151.pdf

– European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. Country strategy paper 2007-2013.



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