As Kim Jong un, the North Korean president tested and fired missiles, apparently more powerful and potent than previous ones, Rohingyas in the Rakhine state of Myanmar bore the brunt of the state’s persecution, which amounts to a pogrom. Much ink has been spilt on the nature of the conflict in Myanmar and the Rohingyas and the North Korean regime and it would constitute belaboring the obvious to dwell on either. What is significant to note is the response to the twin crises. While Donald Trump’s impulsive and visceral tweets were blunted by more sober voices in his administration, the Rohingya crisis has not elicited much of a response other than coverage in some sections of the media. On the face of it, it would appear that the North Korean provocations , their implications and consequences matter more to the world than the persecution and pogrom of an “ inconsequential” ethnic(albeit Muslim) group . The question is why?
The answer might actually lie in the nature of the International system and international politics thereof. The state is the main and perhaps the most important unit of the international system and International politics revolves around the state(s). This assertion is not an insight; it has been dwelt upon copiously and constitutes the grist to the mill of the realist tradition of international relations. In the realist schema, states are the ultima ratio of international relations; these entities operate in a Hobbesian world where survival and security of the state(s) is paramount. There is also a neat distinction between the domestic and the foreign(international) in the realist understanding and practice. In the world of states, what goes on within states , is not a matter of import or concern. What actually matters is or are state interests and from this raison d’etat flow notions and paradigms of national security. The focus of realism then is narrow and detached from humanitarian concerns and even ethics. Realism is strictly amoral.
Given this, the crisis induced and created by North Korea has more salience than the persecution of Rohingyas. Kim Jong un, is neither crazy nor irrational; his provocations through missile testing appears to be a calculated ploy designed to rejigg regional equations and throw a spanner into the works of America in the region. The United States, as is well known, is an ally of Japan and South Korea and guarantees their security through extended deterrence and other means. Kim Jong’s provocations are meant to throw these into a tizzy and given the nature of the contemporary American president, he might even succeed. If , for example, Trump opts for pre-emptive war, Kim could very well destroy Seoul in a matter of minutes. Moreover, the world is still recovering from the Gulf War II; if war does take place on the Korean peninsula, the global economy which is in the midst of a recovery, could very well go into a deep recession. Or, if Trump opts for “smart sanctions”, other key players of the region like China will have to play along. This would require a clear and present threat by North Korea and its recognition by the Chinese and some deft diplomacy. Trump’s options , despite his bluster, are in reality, limited. In the final analysis, Kim Jong is seeking regime survival and he may actually achieve this aim precisely through the posturing that he has taken recourse to. All this then is a game of posturing, gamesmanship, overlain by diplomatic activism, informed by and with the major players being states.
But, alas, the same does not hold true for the Rohingyas. They are a stateless people who have neither powerful patrons nor protectors. Moreover, regardless of the scale of atrocities perpetrated against them, the Myanmar state operates under the shield of sovereignty. The world of states then has no interest in the plight of Rohingyas. They will, unfortunately have to suffer precisely because of the nature of the international system and the politics that this system generates. The question is that do the Rohingyas or people caught in a similar condition, permutation and combination have to perpetually suffer?
Admittedly a tautological question, the answer will remain a yes until and unless the nature and form of the international system changes- drastically so. While, after the genocide in Rwanda, a concept called the Responsibility to Protect(R2P), was formulated and enunciated, but the concept , in really, is a closet concept. That is, it has not been translated into reality. If it were, the Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria or what remains of the country would have gone long ago. Yet, again, state interests and geopolitical understandings made regime survival of Assad possible.
The world, in the ultimate analysis, is a bleak, gloomy and a cynical, Hobbesian place. No amount of theoretical innovations can change this fundamental reality. The tragedy of the Rohhingyas validates this assertion and even the prognostication that the world will remain a gloomy and a foreboding place. As long as this remains the reality of the world and politics that accrues from it, the state will be the fundamental unit of international relations and people will remain secondary or even unimportant. The inference, that can be made from this, in terms of the Rohingyas, is that they are alone and on their own. They might count if and when they have a state of their own. Will this ever happen? The answer lies in the realm of the “unknown unknown”.
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org