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'Exceptionalism' interferes with the process of int’l relations

(People's Daily Online)

13:52, June 19, 2013

Unless some powers learn to resist the temptations of "exceptionalism", their moral appeal will decline; moreover, the international community’s collective efforts to address shared problems will be affected too.

The fallout from the Prism program is not as simple as one country enmeshed in political turmoil triggered by leaks. It is also a vivid lesson in international politics.

The Prism program has once again exposed an age-old problem in contemporary international relations: many of the standards promoted by the major western powers carry significant worldwide influence, but they themselves do not exercise power in accordance with these standards. It was Reuters that once pointed out that in the past 15 years the whole world has been transformed; only American exceptionalism has remained largely unchanged.

As we all know, the United States likes to set the rules, and is always keen to apply a universal varnish to its rules. But the practical application of its rules always seems rather one-sided. They serve perfectly well for the purpose of criticizing or condemning other countries, but tend to be subject to exceptions when practiced at home. There is a structural contradiction in the special status enjoyed by the United States with regard to the system of international relations which does not always coincide with America’s political logic and its behavior in dealing with international affairs. Hence the Reuters observation.

Taking exceptionalism to extremes is likely to provoke a response from other countries. But its strength in technology has opened up a new "stealth exception" space for the United States.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks caused a sea change in the mindset of the United States, bringing international issues into the sharpest of focus. Counter-terrorism rose to the top of the priority list. The country’s intelligence-gathering services rapidly developed into an enormous, ubiquitous, and all-encompassing behemoth. They have expanded their activity into every aspect of domestic daily life, and as has become apparent they have extended their reach into every other corner of the world. Hacking has become accepted as a legitimate source of intelligence. The FBI will monitor whoever they want to monitor.

The Prism program helped the United States to use its technology to conceal the extent of its surveillance. It is now apparent that this surveillance goes to far greater lengths than in other countries.

Every country is entitled to manage the Internet on the basis of its own national circumstances. The United States certainly has the right to determine its domestic regulatory approach. A key problem is that many aspects of the Internet operate across international borders. And like the real world, the virtual world also needs rules. No matter the strength of its technology, no country should impose its own rules on others, and no country should grant itself an exemption from its own rules.

The U.S. military argues that its secret surveillance program has been effective in preventing dozens of terrorist attacks. This is an all too typical American "interpretation” of principles. It suggests that as long as things work out for America, the rest of the world has to accept the legitimacy of the U.S. approach. But there is international consensus on the need to combat terrorism, and every country is willing to lend the necessary support to America’s counterterrorist effort. This support should not be abused by America assigning itself the right to monitor others at will. This is the reason why America’s European allies have reacted so strongly, and have been so firm in their demands that the United States explain itself.

Some Western scholars worry that the rise of emerging powers might lead to international instability or even disorder. It might be timely for these people to put aside such concerns and address themselves to more immediate problems.

In a sense, the international system is in the process of establishing new rules to meet changing circumstances. This process, in particular, needs to function in an atmosphere of fairness and honesty. Any country that cannot resist the temptation to indulge in exceptionalism will see its moral appeal rapidly fall into decline.

Edited and translated by Ma Xi, People's Daily Online
Read the Chinese version: “例外论”有碍国际关系转型
Source: People's Daily

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