The debate between Isolationism vs Internationalism as a foreign policy is not a new one. All countries have had to decide whether they would like to shut their doors to the outside world or welcome them into their lands and homes. Several countries, like USA, have shifted gears from one mode to the other with the changing demands of the time. However, isolationist approach has not entirely faded away from the political dictionary of the world. Here, we discuss some of the pros and cons of this policy of exclusivity.
Pro 1: Policies not affected by Neighbors
One of the major tenets of isolationism is that they steer clear from the internal affairs of other countries and likewise does not let others intervene in their business. This allows countries to form their policies based on the needs within the country, prioritizing their beliefs over global concerns.
Con 1: We live in a Global Village
While all countries would like to priorities their natives, it cannot be denied that the world today is interconnected like never before. With the arrival of internet, multitudes of opportunities have opened up and citizens of one country can avail facilities not found in their own country. This could be in relation to education, jobs or research facilities. The idea behind internationalism is that if an Indian scientist studies in Britain, does his research work in America, and discovers a new technology, it ultimately benefits the entire world and everyone progresses together.
Pro 2: Preservation of Culture
The second most important rationale behind isolationism is that the local cultures and traditions of the people remain untouched by external influences and therefore the heritage of the country and its people is not lost. People pass on the traditions from one generation to the next and limited exposure to other cultures prevent dilution or change from established norms. Moreover, sometimes cultural practices in one country can be offensive to the tastes of others.
Isolationist countries do not need to succumb to international pressures to change such customs. For e.g. in recent years, the practice of eating dog-meat in Chinese and several South east Asian countries was denounced by Western and European nations who view dogs as human’s best friend and treat them as household pets. While China and South Korea are slowly working towards a ban on eating dogs, the North Korean President apparently has asked all its citizens to give up their pet dogs to the state to mitigate the severe food crisis they are facing. North Korea does not need to care about the upturned noses of westerners and can freely continue eating what is considered a delicacy in their culture.
Con 2: Co-existence of Multiple Cultures
Countries that follow internationalist approach are not disinterested in the preservation of their culture. However, what they believe is that culture is a fluid concept and needs to adapt with time. As people are exposed to multiple cultures, they are in a better position to understand which of their customs are worth preserving and which can be erased and replaced by some better practice. No country supports the idea of complete erasure of their own language and heritage but they pick and choose the best from all over the world. Enjoying a pasta or pizza does not mean that you will blindly love every Italian tradition! However, there is always the fear that youngsters will be more inclined towards practices that allow them unrestrained freedom and they will easily give up their own tradition to belong to the ‘hip’ crowd.
Source: Global Village Space
Pro 3: Promotes Peace
Non-interference in the affairs of other countries means that in the event of a war, isolationist countries can choose not to participate and remain neutral. This has two benefits- it promotes peace within the country as there is no imminent danger of being attacked and less money is spent on the military. The money that would have been spent on buying high-tech military equipment can be diverted towards other concerns like alleviation of poverty, healthcare, and education. Additionally, soldiers have minimum chances of losing their lives as their only task is to protect its own borders and look into riots and protests within the country. Also, they believe that countries can fight their own internal battles to overthrow a system or regime they do not like and international interference through brute force in the name of establishing democracy is against humanitarian principles.
Con 3: Interference Might be Necessary for Peace
While no country enjoys losing its men in a battlefield, sometimes wars are fought on humanitarian grounds. When Hitler was gassing millions of Jews, if everybody would have taken an isolationist approach and said that it was not their business, we know what tragedy could have occurred. The interference by the Allied forces were primarily to protect themselves from Germany’s plans of expanding its territories but in the process, they ended up saving millions of Jewish lives and bringing an end to an autocratic regime. Often, smaller countries need help from larger forces to save themselves from attack by a powerful neighbor and timely intervention can bring about peaceful negotiations instead of bloody wars. A country that refused to help another during war cannot expect help during its own crisis.
Pro 4: Focus on the Needs of Country- Increased Productivity and Wealth
Isolationism is primarily built on the notion that the country is self-sufficient and can meet all its needs on its own. This encourages the country to find solutions to all problems within their own territory, thus increasing local wealth production. Use of indigenous goods promotes small businesses within the country and provides employment opportunities to millions of people.
Con 4: Trade necessary with other Countries & also Increases Wealth Generation
Internationalism is built on the notion that it is practically impossible for a country to have resources of all kinds within its own borders. Therefore, trade in the form of import and export of goods leads to wealth generation for all countries involved. This is a mutually beneficial agreement and both parties gain resources needed by their people. This creates harmony among nations as no one wants to offend a country from which it receives an essential commodity. Isolationist countries lose out on the opportunity to import goods their people need because they refuse to share the resources that they have.
While more and more countries are inclining towards building positive international relations, they are also becoming aware of the need to have complete control of their own affairs. Although many global leaders and thinkers believe that it is impossible to maintain an isolationist approach in the 21st century, countries like North Korea, Japan and Bhutan have stood firmly by their belief in this foreign policy.
The results are widely varied- North Korea is reeling under severe food crisis while Bhutan is considered the top performer in the happiness quotient of its citizens. The recent decision by Trump to pull troops out of Syria now begs the question- Is America going back to the policy of isolation that it held in the 19th century before the World Wars catapulted it into becoming the leader of Internationalism?