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The Russia/Ukraine war has pushed the age-old, but important concept of ‘national interest’ on to the center stage of world politics. The national/security interests of both countries have been festering for a number of years.
Long before the war, the term ‘national interest’ was so frequently bandied about, it became a political football used by some governments for their political and ideological interests while for others, it was used in a narrow nationalistic sense as a means to a selfish and destructive ends.
The national interest of a country is inextricably bound up with its security interest. The two are indivisible, and If separated, can result in a national, humanitarian disaster.
A country’s national interest would include its political, security, economic and cultural interests as well it’s other vital interests.
The most fundamental of all national interests, is a country’s security interest. That particular interest, should be part and parcel of a country’s strategic thinking. It is in that context that a country’s national interest can evolve to play a transformative role at a particular historical juncture of a country’s development.
Guyana is a case in point.
Justifying its launch of a ‘limited military operation’ that turned out to be a conventional war against Ukraine, Russia declared that it did so because its security interest was threatened and, more so, would be severely jeopardized were Ukraine to become a member of the European Union and by extension, a member of NATO.
This appears to be a stark reminder of Thucydides’ contention that nations are moved to go to war for one of three reasons; ‘honour, fear and interest.’ Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be viewed through the prism of Thucydides’ contention.
At the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, and within the meaning of the UN Charter, Russia was condemned for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Ironically, in seeking to protect and uphold its own security interest, Russia not only violated the UN Charter, it put paid to its Eastern neighbor’s security interest.
At the 15-member Security Council, eleven countries voted in favour of the resolution, one of the P5 voted against while three abstained. At the General Assembly of the 193 members, 141 countries voted in favour of another resolution with five against while thirty-five abstained.
There was much jubilation when it was announced that 141 of the 193 members voted in favour of the resolution; ‘deploring in the strongest possible terms Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the UN Charter’ and calling for Russia to ‘immediately, completely and unconditional withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.’ All joined in the chorus declaring that henceforth, Russia is isolated internationally.
But as if in an ironic twist in the history of who stands isolated or not because of votes at the emergency session of the UNGA, is apposite to recall that at the 2021 UNGA, 184 of the UN’s 193 members voted in favour of a resolution demanding an end to the 60 year-old US imposed economic, commercial and financial blockade plus 243 recent sanctions against Cuba. It is interesting to note that Colombia, Ukraine and Brazil abstained when the vote on that resolution was taken.
About a week after Colombia had co-sponsored the resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Colombia was promised ‘Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status.
Colombia joins Argentina and Brazil who already enjoy MNNA status. The potential ABC MMNA alliance’s vote in favour of the resolution demonstrated how their national interests coincided.
MNNA is a designation given by the US government to close allies that have strategic working relationships with US armed forces but are not members of NATO. Countries so designated enjoy military and economic privileges in areas of research, training, placement of US reserve stockpiles on their territory and receipt of excess defense articles but no security commitment.
Will the realization of MNNA status promised to Colombia pose an existential threat to Venezuela’s national security?
An examination of the voting patterns on the Russia/ Ukraine and Cuba/US resolutions and the promise to grant MNNA status to Colombia will show how the national interest of countries can either converge or diverge when it comes to defining their respective security interests.
History shows that not too long ago, Russia’s and America’s interests coincided in a number of areas. It was the US that sponsored Russia’s admission into the G7 (1997) bringing it to the G8; Russia entered into a Partnership for Peace with NATO (1994) despite its objection to NATO’s expansion to Eastern Europe (1999-2004). And for the first time since World War ll, Russian and American troops served side by side in both Bosnia (1992-‘95) and Kosovo (1998-‘99)The national interests of two nuclear powers merged to serve a common goal.
But when it came to nuclear disarmament and European security the two countries’ security interests at one time diverged and at another converged.
Britain’s and France’s interests coincided when they sought to work together to slow the re-unification of Germany fearing the rise of a ‘Wehrmacht’ once again. And the US’ and it’s European Allies interests coincided to weaken the USSR, bring about the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (1989)and hasten the unification of Germany (1990).
The UK’s and China’s interests coincided with respect to the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China (1997) as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the Peoples Republic of China’s. But the US’ and China’s interests do not coincide with respect to the future of Taiwan notwithstanding the US’ assurances of not supporting ‘Taiwan Independence.’
The UK’s and the Soviet Union’s interests did not coincide as regards ending the outpouring and settling the million plus refugees or ‘Boat People’ who fled Vietnam (1979) following the fall of Saigon (1975).
China has been consistent on questions such as respect for each country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference their internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes and strict adherence to the UN Charter.
China has not forgotten the turmoil at Tiananmen Square (1989), the aggressive campaign waged by the western media concerning alleged human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the recent attempts to destabilize Hong Kong and the boycott of the Winter Olympics by western governments. China is currently laboring under 765 trade sanctions and restrictions yet it is being asked to join in the sanctions against Russia or else!
On the home front, protecting and upholding Guyana’s national interest is reflected in the Constitution of Guyana.
Our Constitution proclaims in favour of safeguarding and building on ‘Guyana’s rich heritage, won through tireless struggle, bequeathed us by our forebears.’
It affirms ‘our sovereignty, our independence and indissolubility’ as a Nation.
Our Constitution proclaims that the State of Guyana ‘supports the legitimate aspirations of other peoples for freedom and independence and will establish relations with all states on the basis of sovereign equality; mutual respect, inviolability of frontiers, territorial integrity of states, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-intervention in internal affairs, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and cooperation among States.’
Guyana’s national interest is captured within the meaning of these concepts and precepts
and it is precisely what Guyana is defending on the world stage.
Clement J. Rohee
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs