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Orthodox Social Teaching

International Relations

Problems of globalisation and secularism

XVI. 1. Nations and states enter into economic, political, military and other relations with one another. As a result, states emerge or disappear, change their borders, unite or break up, create or abolish various unions. In Holy Scriptures, there is much historical evidence about the building of international relations.

One of the first example of an inter-tribal treaty concluded between a master of a land, Abemelech, and a stranger, Abraham, is given in the Book of Genesis: “Abemelech spake into Abraham, saying: Now swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. And Abraham said, I will swear and both of them made a covenant” (Gen. 21:22-24, 27). Treaties reduced the danger of war and confrontation (Gen. 26:26-31; Jos. 9:3-27). Sometimes negotiations and demonstrations of good will prevented bloodshed (1 Sam. 25:18-35; 2 Sam. 21:15-22). Treaties ended wars (1 King 20:26-34). The Bible mentions military unions (Gen. 14:13; Judg. 3:12-13; 1 Kings 22:2-29; Jer. 37:5-7). Sometimes the military aid was bought for money or other material goods (2 Kings 16:7-9; 1 Kings 15:17-20). The agreement between Hiram and Solomon was actually an economic union: “My servants shall be with thy servants: and unto thee will I give hire for thy servants according to all that thou shalt appoint: for thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians and they two made a league together” (1 Kings 5:6, 12). Negotiations through envoys was used to settle such matters as the passing of armed people through others’ land (Num. 20:14-17; 21:21-22) and territorial disputes (Judg. 11:12-28). Treaties could include the transfer of a land from one people to another (1 Kings 9:10-12; 1 Kings 20:34).

The Bible also contains descriptions of diplomatic ruses resorted to in order to be protected from a powerful enemy (Jos. 9:3-27; 2 Sam. 15:32-37; 16:16-19; 17:1-16). Sometimes peace was bought (2 Kings 12:18) or paid for by tribute. Certainly, one of the means for settling disputes and conflicts was war and the Old Testament books abound in references to it. However, in Holy Scriptures there are examples of negotiations aimed to avoid war immediately before it threatens to begin (2 Kings 14:9-10). The practice of reaching agreement in the Old Testament times was based on religious and moral principles. Thus, even a treaty with the Gibeonites, who used deception to reach it, was recognised as valid by virtue of its sacred formula: “We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them” (Jos. 9:19). The Bible contains a prohibition on concluding union with vicious pagan tribes (Ex. 34:15). However, the Hebrews occasionally swerved from this commandment. Various treaties and unions were also often broken.

The Christian ideal of a nation’s and government’s behaviour in international relations lies in the Golden Rule: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Mt. 7:12). Applying this principle not only to personal but also social life, Orthodox Christians should remember that “God is not in power but in truth”. At the same time, if justice is violated, restrictive and even forceful actions are often needed towards other nations and states to rectify it. The human nature being distorted by sin, nations and states inevitably have differing interests dictated by the desire to possess land, to enjoy political and military dominion, to derive maximum possible profit from production and trade. Arising for this reason, the need to defend fellow countrymen places certain restrictions on the readiness of the individual to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of other people. Nevertheless, Orthodox Christians and their communities are called to strive for such international relations which would promote in the greatest possible degree the welfare and legitimate interests of their own people, neighbouring nations and the entire human family.

Relationships among nations and states should be directed to peace, mutual aid and co-operation. St. Paul enjoins the Christians: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). St. Philaret of Moscow, in his speech on the occasion of the 1856 peace treaty, says: “Let us remember the law and fulfil the will of the Divine Prince of Peace not to remember evil, to forgive offences and to be in peace even with ‘him that hateth peace’ (Ps. 120:6), and the more so with those who offer an end of enmity and a hand of peace”. Conscious that international disputes and contradictions are inevitable in a fallen world, the Church calls the powers that be to settle any conflicts through search for mutually acceptable decision. She identifies with the victims of aggression and illegitimate and morally unjustifiable political pressure from outside. The use of military force is believed by the Church to be the last resort in defence against armed aggression from other states. This defence can also be carried out on the basis of assistance by a state which is not an immediate object of attack at the one attacked.

States base their relations with the outside world on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. These principles are viewed by the Church as basic for the defence by a people of their legitimate interests and as the corner stone of international treaties and, therefore, of entire international law. At the same time, it is evident to the Christian consciousness that any human ordinance, including the sovereign power of a state, is relative before Almighty God. History has shown that the life, borders and forms of states are changeable as created not only on the territorial and ethnic, but also economic, political, military and other suchlike grounds. Without denying the historical significance of the mono-ethnic state, the Orthodox Church at the same time welcomes the voluntary unification of nations into one entity and the creation of multinational states if the rights of any people are not violated in them. At the same time, it should be admitted that in today’s world there is a certain contradiction between the universally accepted principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity on the one hand, and the search by a people or part of them for state independence, on the other. Disputes and conflicts arising from this contradiction should be settled by peaceful means, on the basis of dialogue, with the greatest possible agreement between the parties. Remembering that unity is good and disunity is bad, the Church welcomes the tendencies for unification of countries and nations, especially those with common history and culture, provided that this unification is not directed against a third party. The Church grieves when with the division of a multiethnic state the historical community of people is destroyed, their rights are violated and suffering comes to their life. The division of a multinational state can be justified only if one of the peoples is clearly oppressed or the majority of a country do not show a definite will to preserve unity.

Recent history has shown that the separation of several states in Eurasia has brought an artificial rupture between peoples, families and business communities and led to the forced resettling and ousting of various ethnic, religious and social groups, in which they have also lost their shrines. The attempt to create mono-national states on the ruins of unions have led to bloody inter-ethnic conflicts which shook Eastern Europe.

In view of the above-mentioned, it is necessary to recognise the benefit of inter-state unions which have as their goals to unite efforts in political and economic spheres, to create common defence against external threats and to help the victims of aggression. The inter-state co-operation in economy and trade should fall under the same ethical rules as the individual economic and entrepreneurial activity. Interaction of nations and states in this field should be based on honesty, justice and desire to make the fruits of common labour acceptable to all participants in it (see XVI. 3). International co-operation in cultural, scientific, educational and informational fields is welcome if it is built on the basis of equability and mutual respect and is aimed to enrich the experience, knowledge and creativity of every participating nation.

XVI. 2. In the 20th century, multilateral inter-state agreements resulted in the establishment of a comprehensive system of international law obligatory for signatories of its conventions. There are also international organisations whose resolutions are obligatory for their member states. Some of these organisations have powers delegated to them by governments to be exercised in economic, political and military activities and applied not only in international relations but also the internal life of nations. Legal and political regionalisation and globalisation are becoming a reality.

On the one hand, the development of inter-state relations in this direction helps to intensify commercial, industrial, military, political and other co-operation the necessity dictated by the natural intensification of international relations and the need for a common response to the global challenges of time. In the history of Orthodoxy, there are examples of the positive influence made by the Church on the development of regional inter-state relations. International organisations help to settle various disputes and conflicts. On the other hand, the danger of differences that may emerge between people’s will and international organisations’ decisions should not be underestimated. These organisations may become instruments for the unfair domination of strong over weak countries, rich over poor, the technologically and informationally developed over the rest. They also may practice double standards by applying international law in the interests of more influential states.

All this compels the Orthodox Church to take a critical and careful approach to the legal and political internalisation, calling the powers that be, both on national and international levels, to utter responsibility. Any decision involved in concluding a fateful international treaty and defining the country’s stand within an international organisation should be made in accordance of the will of the people fully and objectively informed of the nature and consequences of the decisions planned. In implementing a policy obligatory by an international agreement or action of an international organisation, governments should maintain the spiritual, cultural and other identity of their countries and nations and the legitimate interests of their states. Within international organisations themselves, it is necessary to ensure the equality of sovereign states in access to decision-making and in the right of casting vote, especially in defining basic international standards. Conflict situations and disputes should be resolved only with the participation and consent of all the parties whose vital interests are involved in every particular case. The adoption of compulsory decisions without consent of a state to be directly affected appears possible only in case of an aggression or massacre within this country.

Keeping in mind the need to exert spiritual and moral influence on the actions of political leaders, to co-operate with them, to show concern for the needs of people and individuals, the Church inters into dialogue and co-operation with international organisations. Within this process, she invariably shows her conviction in the absolute importance of faith and spirituality for human work, decisions and laws.

XVI. 3. The globalisation has not only political and legal, but also economic and cultural-informational dimensions. In economy, it is manifested in the emergence of transnational corporations which have accumulated considerable material and financial resources and have employed an enormous number of people in various countries. Those standing at the head of international economic and financial structures have concentrated in their hands a great power beyond the control of nations and even governments and beyond any limit, be it a national border, an ethnic and cultural identity or the need for ecological and demographical sustainability. Sometimes they refuse to reckon with the customs and religious traditions of the nations involved in the implementation of their plans. The Church cannot but be concerned also for the practice of financial speculations obliterating the dependence of income on the effort spent. Among various forms of this speculation are “financial pyramids” the collapse of which causes large-scale upheaval. In general, such changes in economy result in the loss of priority that labour and man have over capital and means of production.

In the field of culture and information, the globalisation has been conditioned by the development of technologies facilitating the movement of people and objects and the acquisition and distribution of information. Societies, which were separated earlier by distances and borders and therefore predominantly homogeneous, now come in touch easily and become multicultural. This process, however, has been accompanied by attempts to establish the dominion of the rich elite over the rest of the people and of some cultures and worldveiws over others, which is especially intolerable in the religious field. As a result, there is a tendency to present as the only possible a universal culture devoid of any spirituality and based on the freedom of the fallen man unrestricted in anything as the absolute value and measure-stick of the truth. The globalisation developing in this way is compared by many in Christendom to the construction of the Tower of Babel.

While recognising the globalisation as inevitable and natural and in many ways facilitating people’s communication, dissemination of information and more effective production and enterprise, the Church points to the internal contradictions of these process and to their threats. Firstly, the globalisation begins to change, along with the conventional ways of organising production, the conventional ways of organise society and exercising power. Secondly, many positive fruits of the globalisation are available only to nations comprising a smaller part of humanity, but having a similar economic and political system. Other nations to whom five sixths of the global population belong have found themselves on the margins of the world civilisation. They have been caught in debt dependence on financiers in a few industrial countries and cannot create dignified living conditions for themselves. Discontent and disillusionment are growing among them.

The Church raises the question concerning the need to establish comprehensive control over transnational corporations and the processes taking place in the financial sector of economy. This control, aimed to subject any entrepreneurial and financial activity to the interests of man and people, should be exercised through all mechanisms available in society and state.

The spiritual and cultural expansion fraught with total unification should be opposed through the joint efforts of the Church, state structures, civil society and international organisations for the sake of asserting in the world a truly equitable and mutually enriching cultural and informational exchange combined with efforts to protect the identity of nations and other human communities. One of the ways to do it is to ensure for countries and nations an access to basic technological resources which will enable them to disseminate and receive information on the global scale. The Church reminds that many national cultures have Christian roots. The followers of Christ therefore are called to promote the interconnectedness of the faith and the cultural heritage of nations, opposing resolutely any manifestations of anti-culture and commercialisation of the space allocated to information and arts.

Generally, the challenge of globalisation demands that contemporary society should give an appropriate response based on concern for the peaceful and dignified life for all people and combined with efforts for their spiritual perfection. In addition, efforts should be made to achieve such a world order which would be based on the principles of justice and the equality of people before God and exclude any suppression of their will by the centres of political, economic and informational influence.

XVI. 4. The contemporary international legal system is based on the priority given to the interests of the earthly life of man and human communities over religious values (especially in those cases when the former and the latter come into conflict). This priority is sealed in the national legislation of many countries. It is often built in the principles regulating various activities of the governmental bodies, public educational system, etc. Many influential public mechanisms use the same principle in their open confrontation with faith and the Church, aimed to oust them from public life. These manifestations create a general picture of the secularisation of public and social life.

While respecting the worldview of non-religious people and their right to influence social processes, the Church cannot favour a world order that puts in the centre of everything the human personality darkened by sin. This is why, invariably open to co-operation with people of non-religious convictions, the Church seeks to assert Christian values in the process of decision-making on the most important public issues both on national and international levels. She strives for the recognition of the legality of religious worldview as a basis for socially significant action (including those taken by state) and as an essential factor which should influence the development (amendment) of international law and the work of international organisations.

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