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Nations Among Nations: Uneven Statehood, Hegemony and Instrumentalism in Int’l Relations

Book Review

There is a universal consensus among scholars that we live in a world order that is inherently asymmetric; a world order that is shaped, ruled, and to a large extent skewed against the interest of less powerful and underdeveloped nations. The low level of the domestic capacity of the developing nations makes them vulnerable to the manipulation and exploitation of the hegemonic powers.

Book: Nations Among Nations: Uneven Statehood, Hegemony and Instrumentalism in International Relations.
Author: Prof. Fred Aja Agwu
Publisher: Heinemann Books (Nigeria).
Page extent: 1, 102 pages.
Year of publication: 2016.
ISBN: 978-978-081-611-7.
Reviewer: Prof. Abolade Adeniji

The focus of Professor Fred Aja Agwu’s book of 24 chapters and a Postlude, is basically an examination of the ways, manner and strategies by which the hegemonic powers in the international system – especially the United States – have been able to successfully deploy their hegemonic might to instrumentalize, influence and indeed undermine the status and capacity of the weak and developing nations. In the words of the author, “instrumentalism is therefore, a manipulative and exploitative tool, be it by local elite or by their ‘accomplices’ in the metropolitan and hegemonic nations” (P.12)

One of the fundamental reasons for the subjection and instrumentalization of the weak and the underdeveloped nations is the leadership quagmire. Leadership, according to Fred Agwu, is key to whether or not a nation can successfully limit; if not totally prevent the exploitation by the global hegemons. The widely acknowledged success by Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore is a testimony to what a good leadership can do for an underdeveloped nation aspiring to self sufficiency and economic success, even in the face of limited resources and the manipulation of the hegemonic powers.

One narrative which any reader must find refreshing is the assertion in the book that, contrary to widespread belief, the United States of America was not always a believer in free trade. Before its successful war of independence in 1776, the British had encouraged Americans to – in the spirit of comparative advantage – limit themselves to the production of raw materials for the emerging British Industries. But following her successful war of independence, the incipient US government rejected the British advice and instead set up her own manufacturing industries which were protected by government regulations for the next 150 years! The United States totally refused to practice free trade in the 19th century; it was only when its industrial supremacy became unchallengeable that it liberalized its trade and became a champion of free trade. What the author failed to add is that even when in the late 1920’s free trade appeared to threaten the buoyancy of its economy, the US introduced the protectionist Smoot- Hawley tariff act. This disclosure is necessary information for our economic elites who tend to be unapologetic disciples of neo-liberalism.

It bears being restated here that instrumentalism refers to the process by which political actors seek to maximize their returns on the state of confusion, uncertainty and even chaos in particular settings. Thus, internationally, instrumentalism is a weapon made possible by imperialist domination of the client nation-state. The author has submitted that in the developing countries, the otherwise economically neutered comprador bourgeoisie acquired their fortunes and instruments of control, not through any economic prowess, but through collaborations with their masters in the centre. This assertion can hardly be challenged. The effect of this denial of reward for hard work, dedication, and creativity can be felt in the decaying level of education (through the employment of incompetent teachers in our public schools); the award of contracts to undeserving enterprises that results in shoddy executions of projects; the over-invoicing and inflation of contract sum; and the artificial prosperity by a large segment of the economic elite that is not backed by productivity etc.

An ingenious strategy of instrumentalism that has been identified by the author is globalization. Through globalization, the West – the hegemonic powers – has largely succeeded in dominating and oppressing other cultures by homogenizing and globalizing western values and cultures. Some of the results of this situation is that alcohol is now freely consumed in Muslim societies; the Chinese elite are now obsessed with MacDonald’s hamburger; while the hitherto pacifist India has decided to acquire nuclear capabilities. With the virulent assault of neo-liberalism on the world’s political economy, it is no wonder that even a country like Iran has at its international airport, a space dedicated to the consumption of alcohol. Indeed, the dream of the average Iranian middle class family is now to acquire as much dollar as possible, for the pursuit of its regular business. This is in spite of the much trumpeted disdain for the American way of life in Iran!

The instrumentalist disposition of the United States can be felt in no less a circle than that of International law and justice. Although the United States was part of the negotiations of Rome statue that established International Criminal Court (ICC), the US congress, as was the case in the formation of the League of Nations, refused to endorse the country’s membership of the Court. This thus creates the impression that the ICC is solely for the prosecution of the underdogs in the international system. Military domination is another identified sphere where the hegemonic powers, especially the United States, have routinely projected powers in the bid to instrumentalize others.

The US established the African Command (AFRICOM) ostensibly for the twin purposes of strengthening its cooperation with Africa and “promoting the development of health, education, democracy and economic growth” on the continent (P.683). In reality however, the major consideration for the formation of AFRICOM must be located in the need to secure America’s strategic interest on account of the increased production of oil and gas in the Gulf of Guinea. When Nigeria, one of the countries pencilled down to benefit from the implementation of AFRICOM, had a disagreement with the US on some military matters, the US not only cancelled the training of the Nigerian troops but also declined to sell arms to Nigeria at the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency. The lesson here is candid: the hegemonic powers abandon those nations that refuse to be instrumentalized.

This book insists that instrumentalism in international relations is basically exemplified in the exploitation and oppression of the weaker and under-developed nations. Indeed, the author posits that hegemonic powers sometimes deliberately foist chaos on hapless nations for their own selfish interests. However, the book recognizes that although the countries of the Global South are wont to point accusing fingers at countries of the Global North for their woes, these Global South countries also have blames for their woes.

Is the massive corruption and the haemorrhage in our economy caused by Germany? Is it true, as former President Goodluck Jonathan declared, that Africa’s lack of industrialization, inability to achieve economic growth, lack of energy, infrastructural deficit, instability in government, insecurity of lives and property are due to the external forces? (P.14). The truth is that even in this seemingly anarchic world order where the hegemonic powers perpetually seek to instrumentalize the weak nations, a focused nation can still successfully chart its own course. In 1997 there was a financial crisis in Asia. The IMF recommended the structural adjustment program. All the affected Asian nations accepted the IMF prescription. Malaysia alone rejected the offer. In the end, the Malaysian economy recovered swiftly while the economy of the other nations witnessed continual stagnation.

With a total of 1102 pages, one can only imagine the level of dedication and hard work that it must have entailed. The final production itself is a beauty to behold. Factual errors are almost non-existent. The synergy in chapterization is commendable.

  • Prof Abolade Adeniji is of the Department of History and International Studies, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Nigeria.




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