I fear that most people make the mistake of extrapolating the general friendliness with which we interact with others in our daily lives to the international political stage. We should remember that although we often complain about crime, rampant drug abuse, violence, littering and so on, most interpersonal relations are positive. At every single moment, thousands of people are interacting peacefully, for instance trading money for items at stores. Even the even more omnipresent neutrality with which we treat most strangers is also a positive, in that it isn’t overtly negative. You don’t punch the first stranger you come upon, you leave them alone. In doing so, you’re showing respect for their physical integrity, even though you couldn’t care less about that person. Neutrality and positivity are both beneficial in interpersonal relations.
When it comes to countries, and especially when politics becomes involved, this depiction of relations is inadequate. Countries are often exercising influence and power, even though they are physically leaving others alone. That perception of respecting other nations can be highly misleading. I think a number of examples of such control is in order. The influence the United States wields militarily all across the world is both overt and well-known. As the world’s strongest military power, the US is able to influence political and economic decisions and processes by having their words and actions backed up with raw might. Thus power and influence can be leveraged without violating the borders or governmental structures of independent nations overtly.
China is influencing others economically. Their strategic use of trade relationships, control over scarce resources (especially rare-earth minerals) and strategic pursuit of dominance in future oriented industries all speak to the desire of the Chinese leadership for China to ascend to the top of the throne. If the Russia related conspiracy theories are to be believed, Russia is waging an informational war against other countries, particularly the US. I’ve argued numerous times in other posts that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it became incontrovertibly known that Putin’s Russia was behind the Russia conspiracies. The rationale? Spreading dissent and discord amongst your political, economic and military rival power. Whether the allegations pan out or not, informational warfare (memetic warfare) is real and a tool for countries to exert raw Machiavellian power on the world stage.
Similarly, there are allegations about the role Israel plays in stealthily influencing world affairs. Although it is publicly acknowledged that Israel maintains close relationships with other powerful nations, and is able to “punch above its weight class” in the international arena, the degree and nefariousness of this influence is in dispute. Israel is allegedly the mastermind behind the demographic changes that have befallen Europe. If this is true, then Israel is affecting Europe through demographic influence, undermining societal cohesion, deepening societal fractures and fault-lines, and psychologically by playing to the historical guilt of Europeans tied to the misdeeds committed against Jews.
The Western Establishment has and continues to exert control over poor countries, especially Africa. Though development “loans”, aid and so on, European politicians, corporations and other international actors can basically dictate political and economic decisions to African leaders. The withdrawal of aid can be devastating for these impoverished countries. Just like domestic welfare programs, the international foreign aid regime stunts natural economic growth and independence.
Another illuminating example is the debate surrounding illegal immigration in the US from Mexico. Mexico is able to use emotional manipulation in order to affect the domestic debate in the US. For Mexico having Mexican citizens working in the US and sending home remittances to their families boosts the Mexican economy and helps relieve societal pressures by allowing people to leave for work elsewhere, thus helping the unemployment figures in Mexico proper.
These are just some examples of how countries control other countries in a variety of different ways. The important point to remember is that we often get caught up in a single dimension or a single aspect of bilateral or multilateral relations, all of the arenas for exercising and wielding influence and control mentioned here are at work. All the time, year-round. In order to properly understand and in order to have a meaningful debate surrounding international politics, it is necessary to understand these aspects of “the game”. In order to change something, you dislike or wish to see unfold differently, you must first understand it.