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Morality’s Paradox: Unmasking the Contrast Between Professed Values and Practical Diplomacy in International Relations

This subjectivity in international relations will not only compromise the democratic values but also give impetus to further polarization of international relations based on alliances and counter alliances

Muhammad Muzammil Shaikh

In the realm of international relations, the pragmatic applications of fundamental elements of morality such as human rights and democracy, are generally found contradicting and even antithetical – in some cases – to their outlined definitions, such as in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a common plan for the strengthening of human rights work around the world. This article delves into the idea of subjective morality in international relations, looking at how developed countries, which are usually seen as bastions of democracy, often take the measures which go against or undermine the basic principles of morality as they confront the complex dilemma of prioritizing national and personal interests over others. To illustrate this, examining three different examples of developed countries can be examined to highlight their negligence and the disconnection between their claims and their practices.

Modi’s Visit To The US

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, once denied a U.S. visa due to human rights concerns stemming from his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, recently visited the United States. Surprisingly, he was not only granted a ceremonial welcome and a state dinner but was also specially invited to address the U.S. Congress.

Prior to his visit, when Modi’s tour to the US was announced, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, along with dozens of lawyers and journalists planned protests against his arrival due to his government’s discriminatory policies against minorities. Apart from bigotry, the crackdown on press freedom was another bone of contention. There have been serious concerns about the repression of press freedom in India since Modi’s administration assumed power.

Notably, in February 2023, BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai were raided by income tax officials on the pretext of a tax evasion investigation after the broadcaster aired a documentary questioning Modi’s role in handling the communal riots in Gujarat. The documentary unveiled previously unknown facts, including a confidential report from the U.K. government that held PM Narendra Modi responsible for the violence and suggested that the riots had “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.” As per the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, released by Reported Without Borders (RSF), India’s press freedom ranking dropped to 161, 11 places down from the previous year’s position.

Despite India’s deteriorating record concerning its minorities and press freedom, the United States, which always claims to support human rights and democracy, failed to raise any concerns at the state level during Modi’s visit. Rather, he was given standing ovation for fifteen times while addressing the Congress and received promises of cooperation in the defense, technology, energy, and automobile sectors.

The reason behind the U.S.’s approach lies in its pursuit of personal interests. The U.S. views India as a potential regional player and seeks to maintain relations with the country to contain China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In doing so, the democratic state compromised its commitment to protect and uphold morality while demanding accountability for human rights violations in India.

Syria’s Re-admission To The Arab League

After 12 years of deadly war, Syria was re-admitted to the Arab League on May 7th, 2023 as members of the league voted in favor of the Bashar-al-Assad’s government.

In 2011, Syria was expelled from the group following a brutal crackdown on anti-government protestors who were demanding the immediate withdrawal of Assad’s regime. The protests escalated into a brutal civil war, resulting in the deaths of nearly half a million people and the displacement of half the country’s pre-war population. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and several other Arab countries supported the anti-government protestors in their efforts to overthrow Assad’s regime, while Russia and Iran supported Assad regime.

Interestingly, those who once fought against Assad’s regime have now reestablished their relations and expressed willingness to cooperate in the future. The reason for which Syria was barred from the organization seems to have lost relevance.

Although the acquisition of membership in the Arab League isn’t much powerful as the league itself hasn’t emerged as a successful organization in terms of strengthening cooperation and resolving conflicts such as in Yemen, Libya and Syria. Nonetheless, the return signals the beginning of Syria’s acceptance on a collective level without any sign of resolution to its 13 years long civil war.

Some calls were made to resolve the crisis resulting from Syria’s war after the decision to re-admit Syria was taken. But the re-admission wasn’t accompanied by any preconditions or promises from Syria to rehabilitate those affected by the war.

The Arab League secretariat clarified that there are no preconditions on the regime, and there are only understandings of the challenges that must be addressed, with no agreement on what the roadmap for resolution would entail. However, regardless of the reasons for Syria’s acceptance into the league, nothing can justify the suffering of the Syrian people. For the millions who endured and survived the deadly war, this normalization may feel like a betrayal. Without any preconditions or demands attached to alleviate the suffering of the people, it is unlikely that many would consider returning and living under Assad’s rule.

US Rejoins UNESCO:

On July 11th, 2023, the United States formally rejoined the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The return of the US, as claimed by US officials, is solely based on the concern that China has been filling the leadership gap in policymaking since the US withdrew its membership from UNESCO in 2017 under the Trump administration, attributing it to anti-Israel bias. In 2011, the U.S. and Israel also halted their funding after the organization voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a member state.

The organization, which strives to preserve heritage sites, fund literacy projects and promotes world peace and security through international cooperation in education and culture, seems to have become a battleground for political conflicts among a few developed democratic nations. Apart from traditional warfare, numerous non-traditional forms, such as cyber, information, and economic warfare, exist. Nevertheless, even these unconventional means seem insufficient for powerful countries that prefer to play their war games under organizations meant to foster peace.

The U.S.’s decision to halt its funding due to anti-Israel bias and its subsequent decision to rejoin UNESCO to counter China’s leading role within the organization demonstrate that U.S. decisions are solely driven by national and geopolitical interests, with strong lobbying from Israel influencing the U.S. policymaking process.


Given the cited cases it appears that, prioritization of socially beneficial outcomes and achieving global peace no longer appears to be part of contemporary international relations. The U.S.’s reluctance to hold India accountable for its discriminating policies, Syria’s unconditional readmission to Arab League without any promises and commitments attached for the rehabilitation of war affectees, and the U.S.’s pro-Israel stance within an organization that works for unity and global cooperation, all point to the subjective moral behavior of countries claiming to uphold the banner of equality and human rights defence in the world. This subjectivity in international relations will not only compromise the democratic values but also give impetus to further polarization of international relations based on alliances and counter alliances. The situation demands a comprehensive revisit of state policies to limit realist approach and preserve democratic norms to preserve global peace and prosperity.

Author is member of Youth Access Program of the Pakistan Council on Foreign Relations (PCFR) and can be reached at muzammil.mw@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance

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