Friday, July 21, 2017

Thucydides and Hegemony

All day at work and while leisurely reading online and catching up on news, Thucydides keeps turning up. Poor chap. He's suddenly become superbly relevant and highly quotable in the 21st century, like 2350 years after his death.

There's Qatar's diplomatic crisis with the blockade led by the Saudi-coalition. This White House keeps raising the points of 'Thucydides Trap', and our side of the world keeps using it as a stern warning, or to highlight risks over the delicate issues of South China Sea. We also have our own largely academic debate on foreign policy ignited over the past month, no thanks to our thought leaders' war of words.

Well, we are not Sparta. We also can't live in our own happy bubble. At this rate we're going, we'll probably let (have to, rather) the political ruling elites lead the way, instead of getting populist opinions or movements across. Sometimes, I'm not sure which is better, or even if there's a right or wrong to either position. As a citizen of a tiny nation-state, all I want is for our political leaders not to lead us into any sort of war or allow hubris in any form to ignite a tiff with a neighbor.

Some people have suggested that Singapore lay low and “suffer what we must” as a small state. 
On the contrary, it is precisely because we are a small state that we have to stand up and be counted when we need to do so. 
There is no contradiction between a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and doing whatever it takes to protect our sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and to create political and economic space for ourselves. 
~ said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Singapore, in a speech at a MFA Townhall on 17 July 2017.

I lost it at a work meeting when a work associate likened our positions to said Trap. Let me clarify, I didn't lose my temper; I simply laughed out loud. Like couldn't stop giggling. I refused to let the meeting turn into a book review, critique or debate. Said work associate brought out eminent Harvard scholar Professor Graham Allison's explanation in 'In Destined for War' (2017) on why 'Thucydides Trap' is the best scenario to understanding current foreign policies. The Harvard scholar is also the one who popularized the concept of 'Thucydides Trap' in 2014 and 2015 till world leaders and academics alike are all talking about it.

Since we're on this subject of history, philosophy and political science, let's also not forget the Melian Dialogue and the ensuing siege of Melos in 416 BC. There are the theories on a hegemonic war, which will characterize a potential World War III, if the hegemonic stability status is upset. I'm going to lean towards the optimistic view of finding a balance between neoliberalism to help to balance out the hegemon, and not have that as a synecdoche against liberalism or the center left. 

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