Religion and International Affairs
Hehir, J. Bryan, Nieman Reports
The old question of religion and politics, the relationship of spiritual and temporal power, has a new and sharper edge to it in the 1990's. During the last decade the role of religion as a catalyst for change--at times destructive, at other times constructive--was evident in Central America and Central Europe, in South Africa and South Korea, in the Philippines and in the Middle East. Each of these situations had its own causes and complexity, but the pervasive role of religious ideas and leaders was evident to the most casual observer. In the 1990's the pattern continues, most dramatically in the Balkans but also in Haiti, as well as in the new states emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In reporting and analyzing the changing pattern of international affairs, the press faces today a challenge that also confronts academic specialists, policy advisors in governments and the staffs of international corporations. The challenge is how to assess the deeper forces of change in world politics, which have swept away the Cold War configuration of states and ideologies, and left all of us--specialists and citizens alike--with very different issues of foreign policy than we have faced for the last 50 years. From Somalia to Sarajevo the most difficult questions today are strikingly different from the dangers of superpower confrontation, nuclear deterrence and endless negotiation about arms control, which consistently absorbed the headlines and the attention of senior policy officials for the last four decades.
The role that religion plays today within societies and across the international spectrum of states should be understood as one piece of the broader pattern of an altered agenda of world politics. This article attempts to locate the religion and politics question within this wider framework, and to suggest perspectives for integrating the role of religion into the analysis of international relations.
I. World Politics: Dimensions of Change
The global politics of the 1990's are the product of two major shifts in the life of states and nations. The first has been a change in the structure of power in the world; the second, a change in principles of international order. The alteration of the structure of power was a revolutionary process, occurring as it did in a very brief period of time, with relatively little violence and affecting the entire pattern of world affairs. The structure of power that defined the post-World War II era was bipolar in character and nuclear in its content. The two superpowers dominated world politics, and the nuclear threat they posed to each other and to the world was the defining reality of statecraft. Between 1989 and 1991 the bipolar structure of power collapsed, and analysts since then have been trying to make sense of what structure of power will fill the void. Proposals abound: Charles Krauthammer is confident that a unipolar world, with the United States as the remaining superpower, is our fate and our future.
Henry Kissinger has advised us that we should watch for the emergence of a multipolar world encompassing the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and China. Joseph Nye finds neither of these views convincing, and sees the emerging structure of power as militarily unipolar (the United States), economically tripolar (the U.S., the European Community and Japan) and at a third level of relationships, multipolar, with corporations and international institutions competing and cooperating in the shadow of the unipolar and tripolar configurations of power.
The debate about what the structure of power will be is the topic that attracts the most attention in the scholarly and policy communities. It is the other major change, in the principles of international order, which needs more attention. Its implications are potentially as significant as the changing structure of power and it is precisely the combination of both changes--the structure of power and the substance of international relations--that creates the challenge of world politics in the 1990's. …