The Application of the Concept of Grace in the Conduct of International Relations

Watching the recent escalation of tensions between South Sudan and Sudan and also in a different context between the USA and Iran, with both situations threatening to explode into full scale war, got me thinking about the world of International Diplomacy and the need for new theories to inform its practice, if we are going to have a more peaceful, united world in the 21st century.

For many, the conduct of international relations is not a matter of applying moral principles to the affairs of nations, but rather pursuing one’s own national interests. Many scholars are of the opinion that with globalisation has come a universalism of self-interest in international relations, hence many wars have been fought in pursuit of the self interests of certain countries. At a practical level, the international community’s differing responses to the situations in Libya and in Syria, have laid plain the simple fact that morality and the pursuit of the values of: justice, peace and freedom do not inform the conduct of international relations at all, but rather economic expediency and national self-interest. It reminded me of the words of the character Jean De Gue in Daphne Du Maurier’s great novel, The Scapegoat, “I have learnt one thing in life, which is that the only motive force in human nature is greed. It is not very pretty, but what of it? The thing to do is to minister to the greed and to give people what they want. The trouble is, they are never satisfied.”They are truly never satisfied. If it’s not Afghanistan, it’s Iraq and now that Iraq has been conquered, it seems that it’s Iran’s turn. The big question is: who’ll be next after Iran? Perhaps Venezuela?

With the idea that nations relate to each other in terms of self-interest, the implication is that there can never be solidarity at a global level and as such global institutions such as the UN, IMF etc can never be truly successful as they will always tend to serve the interests of some nations at the expense others. Some have tried to promote a sort of global consciousness which tries to transcend national self-interest and patriotism, however this has proven to be a very difficult concept to put into practice, because as Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “the collective self-regard of class, race and nation is more stubborn and persistent than the egoism of individuals.” Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the Biblical concept of grace and how it could be applied to the world of international relations in order to produce a more peaceful world in our times. Grace, in its biblical sense is defined as, “unmerited favour and/or courteous good will towards another.” Grace in its biblical sense, entails endowing goodwill and looking favourably upon someone, even when they don’t deserve it and have wronged you, and also withholding due punishment on someone when for all intents and purposes they’ve wronged you and justly deserve to be punished. As author, Phillip Yancey puts it, “grace is about not counting.” It’s about not counting how many historical injustices have been done to you. It’s about not seeking revenge when you are wronged but rather seeking to salvage and perhaps even improve a relationship that could have been damaged by something that was done to you which perhaps was unjust. It’s about reaching out to the other person and trying to help redeem them as opposed to just punishing them or fighting them, just because that’s what they deserve.

In fact, when it comes to the currency of grace, the word deserve, does not even apply. It then dawned on me: how different would the world look if the nations of the world decided to apply the principle of grace as the underlying principle informing the conduct of international relations? How different would the Middle East look, if both Arabs and Israeli’s stopped looking at each other through the eyes of historical injustice, but rather sought to extend grace towards each other? Do you think we would still not have a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian impasse if the principle of grace was applied by the two peoples in how they related to each other? How different would the world currently look if the United States had not sought to retaliate after September 11, but rather sought to reach out to the Arab and the Muslim world and sought to build a new relationship, based on mutual trust, honour and respect? Do you think that would have been a less effective deterrent against terrorism than going to war and invading some sovereign states? Would a gracious response from the USA to September 11 perhaps not have averted future terrorist acts and more unnecessary bloodshed? How different would the world look if the Arabs chose not to respond to perceived injustices perpetuated by Israel, the US and its allies, with violent conduct against innocent civilians, but rather chose to dispense grace and reach out peaceably to these nations? Would a bit of grace not help solve the conflict between the two Sudans?

Going into history, how different would the world have looked, post World War  one! if the victorious Allies had just been a bit more gracious towards Germany, instead of crippling its economy and embittering its people by placing a huge burden of war reparations upon them? For starters, Adolf Hitler may never have risen to power in Germany, because the conditions for his Nationalist Fascist populism to flourish, wouldn’t have been created. There may never have been a Second World War because Hitler would never have risen to power in Germany and as a result there may never have been a Holocaust. All this made possible, by the simple act of grace being applied in international relations. Does this sound too idealistic and impractical?

Well, it’s clear that the old paradigms are not working because we have just come off the bloodiest century ever in the history of humanity (in fact more people died in the last century alone through wars and revolutions than had died in the previous nineteen centuries combined), so we need to embrace new paradigms and explore different avenues if we are going to see a better world in our century, Maybe, just maybe, Grace could be the salvation of humanity. What do you think?

Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about