Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Conflict of interest

by Lydia Pfaff, DI columnist

In previous columns, I've often argued, to the bereavement of many, that the United States should follow its interests first and foremost. Pursuit of a moral agenda, while not always occurring at the expense of self-interest, should be a peripheral concern. On the surface, this may seen cold-hearted; yet, as recent events indicate, my position simply reflects the reality of world politics.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and China penned substantive agreements that sought to increase cooperation and facilitate more trade. Fostering this relationship are increasingly strained relations with the United States and a growing market for oil in China.

Prince Walid, quoted in the New York Times, sums up the situation nicely. He states, "It's clear Saudi Arabia is going where its interests are, and China is going where its interests are." What Walid articulates is a classic security dilemma. While many in the United States may want to follow moral agendas, we shouldn't, because if we don't follow our own interests, the other guys will follow theirs.

The law of unintended consequences is in effect here as well. An additional reason that China is a more attractive trade partner is because there aren't strings attached regarding political reform and democratization. If we were to maintain a hard line on moral issues, such as democracy and reform, trade partners could simply look to nations that lag just as far behind in these areas.

The increasing power of China creates a situation that is likely to get worse over the next several decades. Right now, China isn't seriously challenging U.S. hegemony, yet this could change relatively quickly. This is particularly disheartening, since, as noted in the Times article, China has provided weaponry to Saudi Arabia in the past and may be a likely source in the future.

From a humanistic standpoint, of course I would like to see more respect for democracy and human rights throughout the world. However, I also think we would have less bargaining power in moral realms if we were a less powerful state. This may seem austere, yet so long as states are sovereign over themselves, this is a reality of the international system.

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