The best way to govern is to let the people decide. Do you agree?

Intro: When Thomas Hobbes first smoke of the liberties of man, he made it clear that our ability to act depends on our physical and mental limitations. His ideas were a precursor to the modern global movement on the human right to free will, choice and democracy.

YES

1Minority groups will have a platform to make themselves heard, reducing racial conflicts born from differences. Hence, leading to a more egalitarian state.

E.g. Minority groups like Tibetans have been sidelined and denied they right to practice their minority culture. This led to the branding of their leader, the Dalai Lama, as a terrorist to the Han Chinese and incited mass riots in Xin Jiang. By giving minority groups a say in their lives, we are able to work out a compromise with them, and thus cohabit and live alongside one another peacefully by accepting their cultural differences.

2.  Could lead to clashes due to conflicting interests, but while these skirmishes can be seen as a spark plug that ignites anti-government sentiments, it creates a vent for people to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to strengthen the nation.

E.g. In the 1980s, former Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, proposed a ‘Graduate Mothers Scheme’ which awards fresh graduates who married each other incentives to encourage the passing down of ‘superior genes’ to create a more smart and elite next generation. But, people said that it was flawed and a discriminatory policy. Thus, giving people a say ensures that policies are tempered with reason and moral ethics.

NO

  1. The inherent bias of the people will lead to the failure of governance.

The hoi polloi are not an enlightened class, noble in temperament and rational in thought. They are a squabbling pack of occasional bigots, comfortable in their foibles ad willing to embrace short term gains to the detriment of others because they lack the perspicuity to know an better. But they form the majority and vote in representatives on the belief that the said representatives will fulfil their promises.

E.g. Both Greece’s and Italy’s governments have run into bankruptcy as they have spent years flagrantly beyond their means, with profligacy ad their by-word. The populace only saw immediate benefits of the welfare system such as early retirement and free healthcare. When political parties dangled that as an election carrot, people fell for it hook, line and sinker not realising the costs of cold austerity and economic paralysis that were long presaged.

2.  Contrary to our over-romanticised view of democracy, the rule of the people can fail to achieve progress.

The majority-vote system is loaded with many friable assumptions, that if a party represents the majority, the diverse interests of that majority will be encapsulated within. However, in reality, pragmatics politicians merely need to fill parliament with enough of his seats regardless of how ruthlessly they were bribed or coerced into being given

E.g. Thaksin Shinawatra’s and Vladimir Putin’s governments have both, in their game plans, ingratiated themselves with the middle class to get elected, then forsaken them in favour of the huge majority of proletariats. The middle class’ interests were forgotten and the elected leaders couldn’t be trusted. The elected have putatively the people’s mandate and should represent everyone’s interest.

 

 

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MJC Prelim 2014: Do you agree the key to good governance is the courage to make unpopular decisions?

Niccolò Machiavelli famously promulgated in his landmark treatise, ‘The Prince’, that ‘a Prince (leader in our modern definitions) if made to choose between being feared or loved should choose the former. Politics has always been a game of winning the hearts of the vox populi. This quest, however, inevitably involves making game-changing decisions that could lead to a possible loss in subsequent elections. Then comes the question in the minds of political pundits – popular to unpopular, stability or fear? All decisions come with strings attached, and it is undeniable that good governance is characterised by one that can manage these costs so as to maximise benefits to the citizens. Therefore, I provisionally opine that the key to good governance is, indeed, the courage to make unpopular decisions.

Unpopular decisions, if used as a quick and effective way to salvage the country from conflict, is certainly the true mark of good governance. In times of conflict between the different factions of society, unpopular decisions that might spark fear among the masses would eventually lead to stability. This is best manifested when the First Emperor of China, Shi Huang Di, who was commonly knows as a tyrannical despot, brutally unified China through war, burning centuries of Chinese literature and killing erudite scholars. Before Shi Huang Di, China was made up of nothing but petty feudal states locked up in wars of stalemate. After Shi Huang Di, China had a common language and a basis for understanding, allowing China to flourish economically. Another pertinent example is that of Paul Kagame of Rwanda. His military movements attacked the Hutu element of the 1994 genocide and pushed them out of Kigali. Once the Hutu element was removed, he declared a total end to violence. To draw lessons from these episodes, it is conclusive that when unpopular decisions are made to persecute certain groups of people, the country could be actually bound for stability in the long run. This is essentially what good governance is – the astuteness to know when to turn to harsh measures to resolve a conflict for the overall benefit of society.

Upon further thought, it must also be noted that unpopular decisions could be the main sentiment of marginalised groups because they do not have the strength in numbers to make that decision ‘popular’. Thus, unpopular decisions can ensure that the needs of the minority groups are addressed, which is another true mark of good governance, for it reduces inequalities and thus there likelihood of war. For instance, Singapore’s decision to start the annual Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park was initially faced with much resistance from the majority of straight, conservative Singaporeans as some felt that this event, to support the freedom to love, would result in more homosexual marriages which deviates greatly from the traditional Asian values. Nonetheless, the decision to host Pink Dot was approved to ensure that the minority gay comnmunity inSingapore was not ostracised. This is surely a true sign of good governance because Singapore is able to build a more inclusive and harmonious society.

Unpopular decisions also have to be made in times of economic hardship for the overall benefit of the nation. The concept of opportunity cost comes to mind when talking about economics, for one person’s interests have to inevitably be sacrificed. For example, in the US, the Recovery Act, which cost Americans over $800 billion in spending in an 18-month period and the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act were met with great resistance because of the tax implications, but allowed America to transit from economic crisis to recovery. Additionally, the Recovery Act improved more than 6,000 miles of rail networks. Thus, during times of economic recession, governments have to, by the law of economics, raise taxes. Although this inevitably results in public discontentment, good governance is precisely about losing some popularity now in exchange for more popularity later, with the eventual success of that unpopular policy.

However, the natural corollary to the aforementioned arguments would be for apologists to contend that unpopular decisions could in fact lower the popularity of the government when the majority start to develop anti-government views. This is because the majority are perhaps the most influential stratum in society and can turn their backs on the political parties that they have initially supported if their needs are not met. For instance, China’s decision to heavily censor the Internet was highly unpopular as citizens felt that they wold be deprived of the happenings in the rest of the world. Any comments online that spread anti-government sentiments about the Chinese Communist Party are immediately deleted. Yet, this certainly goes against the very essence of good governance by infringing on the basic freedom of speech of the people. If the citizens do not have access anti-government material, how then can they be critical citizens who are politically active and participate in public discourse, for the overall benefit of the country? Having said that, it is undeniable that good governance is characterised by the ability to manage the feelings of the people and ensure that they do not get out of hand, which could then tarnish the credibility of the government on the global scale. (MARKER’S COMMENTS: But unpopular decisions do not necessarily means that it is poor governance. Link to the question.)

In conclusion, while I must concede that popular decisions are still, in some way, the key to good governance,  it is undoubtedly true that the most successful counties of today, like Singapore, the UK and the US, are characterised by the ability to make unpopular decisions to maximise society’s benefits in the long run.

Score: 34/50

Marker’s comments: Fairly well written. Your examples lack breadth/width. You can talk a lot more about Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Winston Churchill – leaders who made difficult and unpopular decisions at the risk of losing elections but for the collective national interests. Rebuttals need to be stronger for your counter-argument paragraph.

GCE A Level 2004: Can small countries have a significant role in world affairs?

A quick perusal of the happenings of the world today is testament to the nation that national boundaries are no longer sacrosanct. Globalisation has enabled for the integration of both large and small economies, allowing them to come to a consensus on global affairs. Small economies, such as Maldives, Denmark and Singapore are also plagued by their fair share of problems that are also international concerns and are therefore able to contribute significantly to world affairs, hence, I am of the opinion that small countries can indeed have a significant voice in world affairs.

Skeptics may laments that small nations are incapable of creating change on the global arena because they lack the strong legislatures and are dwarfed by larger nations. This is a dangers assumption because in the 21st century, we see that an increasing number of small countries are able to collaborate with other small countries to amplify their voice. This is best exemplified by the formation of blocs and coalitions. Through strategic alliances, the world is more likely to take the views of small countries seriously because of the greater credibility they attain by joining regional bodies. Furthermore, participation in regional bodies means that a consensus has already been made by small countries on the most pertinent problems that not only jeopardise national, but international interests. For instance, Denmark’s participation in the European Union (EU) allowed Denmark to take the lead in peace-building and tackling issues of the existing political and bureaucratic institutions’ incompetency in dealing with post-conflict building. Denmark, a country that is highly reputed for its efficient public safety and security, now enjoys a certain legitimacy related to peace-building. Another prominent example would be the Alliance of Small Island Staes (AOSIS), consisting of low-lying coastal islands like Maldives, Bahamas and Singapore. The AOSIS aims to consolidate the voices of small island states to address global warming – a pressing issue that has been in our radar for years. Small island states are able to voice their discontentment about how the burning of fossil fuels in larger nations is taking a toll on the environment of smaller island states. hence, it is highly evident that the formation of such alliances is an imperative catalyst in enabling the voices of smaller countries to be heard.

Cynics may also point to the fact that small nations cannot have a significant voice in world affairs because bigger nations have stronger labour forces and military strength , leading to stronger and wealthier economies. However, irrespective of size, every country has the capability of exploring into a niche area and developing a comparative advantage. This would give small countries a larger sphere off influence and hence a greater voice in world affairs. For example, Ivory Coast has a niche in producing cocoa beans and many large economies are highly dependant on Ivory Coast for their cocoa beans. This allows Ivory Coast to establish market power and control the demand and supply of the beans. Furthermore, small nations also have the ability to build up their military capacity , enabling them to rise in times of crisis in other countries. For example, the Republic of Singapore Armed Forces (RSAF) has a strong military capacity and has played a pivotal role in rescue efforts during calamities such as the Nepal earthquake. Therefore, it is conclusive that a country’s size is not proportional to the influence it can have on the world because so long as a country has an abundant of resources, like a strong labour and military capabilities, it will be able to contribute sigincaaly to world affairs.

Pragmatists also postulate that a small country can still have a significant voice on global affairs because they aid in policy diversity. Small countries have different perspectives from large countries on current policy debates. This allows small countries to participate actively in international discourses on issues such as the nature of banking regulation and tax competition (Ireland), limits to fiscal stimulus (most EU countries) and macro-prudential or exchange rate policies (Switzerland and Singapore) . The participation of small nations in debates also acts as a balance to the potentially dominating views of large countries that could translate to Bills being passed that only take into consideration the needs of large economies. For instance, policies on global warming or trade need to consider the views of small countries as well because larger countries like the US have the tendency of passing policies that only take into account the needs of large business that exploit every possible source of energy to the detriment of smaller counties. Policies must also ensure that large countries do not establish monopoly power in small countries to take advantage off their smaller workforce. Thus, small nations are critical players in the global arena.

However, while small countries are able to offer the aforementioned elements, apologists contend that the overpowering voices of some large counties completely silence out those of the smaller counties. This renders any international agreement as futile because larger economies will always have an inherent greed to have their concerns addressed and meet, leaving smaller economies helpless. An extremely relatable example would be China’s belligerence in the South China Sea. China has been claiming areas that are deemed to be the Philippines’ territory, as China has claimed that areas within the ‘nine-dash line’ belong to her. The United Nations Conventions on law off the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets regulations on the areas of seas which a country can claim, is practically pointless in this case because China’s aggression blatantly violates the UNCLOS, and the Philippines has no say in what should be done because of China’s abilities to threaten the Philippines using her military prowess. Therefore, I must concede that small countries still cannot have their voices heard if larger nations continue to myopically pursue their self-interests without giving smaller countries a say.

Moreover, small nations cannot have a significant voice in world affairs because when it comes to discussions of crucial issues, like war, as a big body is needed to stand up to get their job done. Larger countries like the US are more likely to command respect from the rest of the world, because as a large economy,it is undeniably true that the US has more resources, expertise and experience. For example, during the Iraq War in 2003 , it was the US who’s end her troops down. Smaller counties like Singapore were not heavily involved because the US had more experience in dealing with such a war, based on her past experiences such as the World War II and Vietnam War. Therefore, smaller countries do have a limited voice in certain affairs as they are less experienced in dealing with conflicts in geographically larger countries.

Nonetheless, while there is a degree of truth in the naysayers’ arguments, one who subscribes entirely to their view has yet to thoroughly examine the significant contribution smaller countries have in world affairs. While wars still prevail, they have definitely decreased as people today acknowledge that peaceful dialogues , and not violence, should be the way for conflict resolution. This enables even smaller countries to play a significant role in mediating the dialogues. Leaders in small countries today believe that they have the capacity to be a key player in world affairs by looking for ways to contribute to policy making. To sum it all up, national boundaries are indeed no longer sacred and small countries can definitely have a significant voice in world affairs.

Score: 40/50

To what extent does your country have a moral obligation to help others?

Singapore has established a prominent and reputable presence in regional and international affairs and has always been wary of the challenges that plague the world. her astute and shrewd government has enabled for the formation of bilateral ties, which are essential in ensuring long-term stability. Singapore has developed drastically since she gained independence in 1965, and has built a commendable degree of technological expertise and knowledge in the scientific, political, social and economic realms, However, it may be pretentious to argue that Singapore is always obliged to help other nations as the recipient countries may be unwilling to accept the aid, and sometimes, Singapore must prioritise the needs of her citizens first. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that Singapore is indeed obliged to help other nations to sustain diplomatic ties, maintain international security, leverage on her expertise and for the future benefit of Singapore.

Singapore has an obligation to help other nations to sustain the diplomatic ties she has established with her regional counterparts. Singapore has signed various treaties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of which is the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. Following the burgeoning tensions in the waters, Singapore’s failure to respond and assist China would only cast Singapore as oblivious and apathetic. Hence, during Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s visit to China in March 2016, he proposed a short-term interim solution to avoid accidental miscalculation that could lead to conflict art sea. Additionally, Singapore has to show concern in the plight of the South China Sea has a large percentage of trade passes through the sea, and should tensions escalate, Singapore’s trade could be adversely affected. This shows that it is only ethically correct for Singapore to assist China to not only uphold the treaties that she has signed, but to secure domestic and international interests. Should regional interests, like trade, be threatened, countries in the region like Thailand and Myanmar, who are not as rich in resources as Singapore is may experience further problem, causing more burden to Singapore. Hence it is only right for Singapore to provide aid in the South China Sea dispute.

Besides regional security, Singapore has an obligation to help other nations to maintain international security, and consequently, enhance her own security. This dynamo effect is only made possible due to the dynamics of this highly globalised world, where events in one country have a direct impact on the status of other countries. For example, between 1999 and 2003, as well as between 2008 and 2013, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), in support of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Timor-leste, contributed over 1000 personnel and equipment like Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) and UH-1H helicopters in the international effort to resort peace and security in Timor-Leste. To enhance her own security Singapore has prevented extremists from using Afghanistan to export terrorism to the rest of the world, including our region. Such assistance show Singapore’s commitment towards safeguarding global interests and hence the world would perceive Singapore as credible, and this would allow us to continue being respected in the global arena. Hence, Singapore has a moral obligation to help other nations.

Furthermore, it would only be right for Singapore to lend a hand to other nations so that we can put our rich technological expertise and lofty knowledge to good use, and in the process share our experiences to other less developed nations for their betterment. For example, Singapore has heaped more than 170 developing countries in South-east Asia to the Pacific Islands, and from Africa to Latin America on capacity building and addressing climate change issues. To date, Singapore has trained close to 11,000 officials from developing countries on climate change programmes alone. Furthermore, Singapore has herself undergone an arduous development journey, and thus would be more aware of the best approaches to assistance. Singapore is also capable of providing non-tangible assistance. For example, although we are geographically incapable of providing shelter to the displaced Rohingya refugees, we offered a US$200,000 contribution through ASEAN to support the efforts of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia who have been providing shelter to these refugees. Singapore is also blessed with a pool of intellectual ministers who can offer their suggestions to the three aforementioned countries. Hence, it is inarguably true that Singapore has a moral obligation to help other countries and would do whatever she can to alleviate any problems.

Lastly, Singapore realises that it is only right to help other countries for the future benefit of Singapore should we be in peril. To be completely objective, it must be acknowledged that Singapore is to some extent limited in her influence and there would be situations where we would need the aid of other nations. Helping other nations in the hope that they would reciprocate the same help back to Singapore is a worry investment. For example Singapore has helped the US by signing various trade agreements like the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and the US has in turn helped Singapore through foreign direct investments like Harely Davidson. Hence, Singapore is indeed morally obliged to help other nations for the purpose of long-term benefits.

The natural corollary to the aforementioned arguments is that Singapore does not have a moral obligation to help other countries when the recepient countries are resistant about receiving aid. This would only worsen relations between both countries, and Singapore might be construed as intrusive. An apt example would be the haze quagmire in Indonesia that has taken a drastic toll on Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia has expressed its discontentment towards Singapore, saying that Singapore should refrain from commenting on Indonesia’s efforts as the latter’s government was in the process of implementing policies. In such times, Singapore should not undermine Indonesia’s national sovereignty and perform that is ethically correct and accede to Indonesia’s demands to prevent any tension.

Moreover, detractors argue that Singapore should not be obliged to help other nations as she needs to protect he down citizens in times of economic hardship, hence Singapore should not be legally bound to any aid agreements. A pertinent case in point would be the 2008 global financial crisis. Only an inept politician would offer assistance to other countries in such a situation. During the crisis, Singapore had to resort to austerity measures, quickly bring the economy back to the full employment level and mend the depreciating exchange rate. Had Singapore helped other nations, Singaporeans would have been unhappy with the government’s unloyalw actions. Hence, Singapore should not be morally obliged to assist other nations, and only lend a hand when she has the capacity to do so.

In conclusion, while it is true that no country should be obliged to help other nations as this would disregard inevitable downfalls of the donor country, I firmly assert that Singapore is indeed morally obliged to help other nations as she has established such a reputable position worldwide. She is highly regarded for her rich expertise that would give her an edge over other economies. As long as Singapore can strike a balance between domestic and international needs, I remain hopeful that Singapore is obliged to help others.

Score: 40/50

SAJC Prelim 2016 – Does global aid really improve the lives of those who need it the most?

David Cameron aptly elucidated that long-term development through aid only happens if there is a ‘golden thread’ of stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law and transparent information. Inequalities in the world are rife and are mostly plagued by less developing countries like India and Africa. However, eradicating these problems ins search of a better life for the impoverished cannot be merely resolved through monetary aid. This is precisely why most of the poor are still trapped run poverty despite the billions of dollars of aid that have Africa. Thus, I provisionally opine that global aid does not entirely improve the lives of those who need it the most.

Firstly, global aid does not improve the lives of those who need it the most because political power tends to be exercised and monopolised by the narrow elite in some countries. Thus, any form of financial aid will only end up benefiting the rich, while the poor remain poor. This is best manifested in the large number of Syrians living in poverty. The richest man in Syria, Rami Makhlouf is the cousin of president Bashar-al-Assad and controls a series of government created monopolies. As such, victims of the ongoing Syrian war rarely receive aid from USAID and their lives remain bleak. Additionally, in some cases, there are inherent faults in governmental practices that render global aid futile. In Indonesia, the government confiscated subsistence farmers’ merger plots for aid-financed irrigation canals. In Mali, farmers were forced to sell their crops at low prices to a joint project of USAID and the Mali government. In these cases, it is structurally difficult for the poor to fully benefit from global aid because governments, being innately concerned about economic gains, may act in ways that impede the poor’s search for a better life.

Global aid does not improve the lives of those who need it the most because it creates an atmosphere of high dependancy which is not sustainable in the long run. If a country persistently depends on global aid to improve the lives of the impoverished, it is no doubt that the country will see an increase in education and income levels. However, all forms of aid only last for a limited period of time, and the recipient country must be self-sufficient in the long run to truly say that the lives of the poor have improved. For instance, in 2010, nearly $90 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) aid was given by member nations of the UN’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This has created highly dependant nations such as Kenya who believe that aid is the only way to lift themselves out of poverty. Despite being highly dependant on aid, Kenya is still ranked sixth on the extreme poverty index as of 2015. Thus, it is fair to say the global aid will only be deemed truly effective for the poor if the recipient countries develop ways to improve the lives of the poor and not be myopic short term utility maximisers.

Furthermore, global aid does not improve the lives of those who need it the most due to the intrinsically unstable and perilous environment in developing countries. Regardless of the amount of global aid to send children to school, these less developed countries are still plagued with terrorist groups that make the people’s quest for a better life futile. For instance, the UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID) is working with the Nigerian government to spend 126 million pounds in 2019 in eight northern Nigerian states for a 10-year state education plan. However, how effective can these truly be when terrorist groups like Boko Haram are kidnapping girls, depriving their right to education and search for a better life? Until the Nigerian government can eradicate such terrorist groups, I remain resolute in my belief that global aid fails to help those who need it the most.

Nonetheless, the natural corollary to the aforementioned arguments would be that while the global aid fiasco is prominent, there have been instances where global aid has improved the lives of the poor. This is possible when the government is also concerned about the plight of the impoverished. Death rates in many poor countries are falling sharply due to the aid-supported programmes for healthcare delivery. Kenya’s infant mortality has plummeted in recent years due to the massive uptake of anti-malaria bed nets. African leaders also took on the challenge of battling the continent’s epidemics. Nigeria hosted two landmark summits, on  malaria in 2000 and on Aids in 2001, which were crucial to spur action. Thus, when the government takes a genuine concern in the plight of the oppressed, global aid has a higher chance of improving their lives. However, one must concur that the politics of today is very much different and as governments get more profit-motivated, it is hard for global aid to always benefit victims, though there are some instances when it does. (MARKER’S COMMENTS: Explain & elaborate, any specific examples?)

All in all, global aid will merely be a monetary transaction between counties if governments cannot make full use of the aid to improve the lives of the poor.

Score: 34/50

Marker’s comments: Largely well-written but your rebuttal to counter argument needs clarity and specific examples to substantiate.

CJC Prelim 2016 – Can international peace and stability really be attained today?

The First World War was supposed to be the ‘war to end war’. One hundred years ago, millions were dying in one of the deadliest conflicts in history. Of course, 1918 did not bring the end of warfare. With the rapid advancement of technology, spread of questionable religious beliefs and growing inequalities, the world has witnessed even more bloody conflicts in the 21st century in Syria, Libya and Yemen. One must acknowledge that people and countries place self-interests first, and would result to whatever means to fight for their rights or gain dominance. Thus, as long as this continues to be the zeitgeist of the present epoch, I provisionally opine that international peace and stability is unattainable in this highly interconnected world of today.

Prima facie, one may naively presume that with more international cooperation, wars would ease. However, I believe that regardless of the fact that an interconnected world today translates into more cooperation to stop wars, the fact that some conflicts are driven by religious beliefs makes it all the more harder for international peace to be attained. For example, Islamic extremists believe that the Koran calls them to fight to establish a global Islamic regime and that they would be duly rewarded if they die fighting for such a cause – testament to the recent spate of violence ignited by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, that have been carrying out terrorists attacks all over the world, in France, parts of the Middle East and Africa, and Australia. The spread of such ideologies is further exacerbated by the Internet, a characteristic of the world today. The Internet has allowed for people all over the world to view terrorist-content and be radicalised, thus potentially increasing the number of terrorists worldwide, and consequently rendering the notion of international peace today and unattainable one.

Furthermore, countries always strive to show their dominance to the world and tend to employ violence to satire their selfish interests. In this Darwinian world that we live in today, all countries face a constant struggle to survive and will indiscriminately threaten others to pacify national interests. Territorial disputes are the best manifestation of conflicts due to self-interests. These disputes are still prevalent today, among two or more countries in a bid to preserve their sovereignty. A prominent example would be that of the South China Sea. China is relentlessly claiming territories in the sea that belong to neighbouring counties like The Philippines, by self-proclaiming that areas within the nine-dash line belong to China. China has placed surface-to-air missiles in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. As the South China Sea is a vital passage for trade between the US and Asia, this conflict has also resulted in the US expressing its discontentment by sending warships to the sea. To draw lessons from this episode, one can see how they very interconnectedness of the world today, coupled with the inward thinking by big countries like China have a drastic impact on international peace as many other countries get involved as well.

The quest for international peace and stability today is also a futile once because inequalities still prevail all over the world, and marginalised groups often take to violence to fight for their rights, or are in fact victims of violence why the majority. The truth of the matter is that, when countries came to a consensus on human rights, there was much ambiguity, and thus, we currently live in a world where international peace is practically impossible because governments themselves do not exactly know what rights to grant to their people, and as a result, there are factions who feel that they are deprived of their rights. For instance, in The Philippines, the harsh disparity between the haves and have-nots has led to extremists insurgents movements, ranging from the New People’s Army to Abu Sayyaf, a radical Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Guatemala has an ultra-rich minority that lives lavishly, but about 54% of Guatemalans live in poverty in 2011. In 2012, Guatemala, the second most unequal country in the world, had a homocide rate of 39.9 per 100,000 people. The sheer scale of inequalities in the world, from the racial discrimination in the US to the sexual discrimination in Nigeria to the vast income disparity plaguing both nascent and developed nations, conflicts are inevitable. Hence, international peace and stability is not totally attainable today.

However, the natural corollary to the aforementioned arguments would be for apologists to contend that while international peace is largely unattainable today, there is a hint of hope. This could be attributed to the fact that international cooperation has been happening at unprecedented levels, and hence countries might turn to negotiations instead of violence to settle disputes. Furthermore, the establishment of regional bodies could mean that countries will be less motivated to use force and instead settle their conflicts peacefully so that they can enjoy perennial benefits from that regional body. For instance, the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provides a blink of hope that countries would use non-military methods to solve crises. During the Arab Spring in 2011, NATO enforced the arms embargo against Libya. They also forced a no-fly zone over Libya except those for humanitarian aid purposes to avoid air attacks from Libyan authorities perpetrated on civilians inside the country. Given NATO’s large influence in the global arena, it would be possible for international conflicts to be resolved peacefully. In the realm of regional bodies, the European Union (EU) plays a pivotal role in preventing conflicts by facilitating dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Vis-a-vis the above examples, the notion of international peace may seem like a plausible one. However, one must also understand that these regional bodies are only effective insofar as the countries are wiling to accept aid and understand the significance of preserving peace in that region.

Nonetheless, one could still assert that with the rise in surveillance technology today, it would be easier for governments to spy on clandestine groups who are planning a war, thus making international peace possible. For instance, electronic surveillance led to the downfall of Osama Bin Laden. US intelligence agencies were able to tack his courier, Al-Kuwaiti, back to his house in Abbottabad. The Patriot Act in the US also makes it legal for the government to access electronic accounts such as email accounts of suspected terrorists. However, to presume that this could lead to the complete establishment of world peace would be highly ignorant, because terrorist groups, for example, have bases all over the world and it would be technically impossible for technology such as drones to track down these terrorists.

To sum it all up, the notion of international peace is a multi-faceted one. There have been numerous developments over the 21st century that proved hope for a better tomorrow. However, an indubitable fact of humanity is that we are all actually myopic individuals who only want to satisfy our own needs. Furthermore, there are still countries living in dystopia, where violence is rife. Their governments have too many issues on the plate to resolve, and so there are still factions in those societies who feel that they are deprived of rights and thus turn to violence. In 2011, Steven Pinker argued in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that wars were growing less common and violent. However, is it naive to believe that war may one day become a thing of the past?

AJC Prelim 2012 – Efforts to save the environment are no more than empty promises. To what extent is this true?

As climate change begins to rear its ugly head, the call for environmental conservation has grown louder. If everyone consumed as many resources as Americans did, we could need 4.1 Earths to sustain the population of seven billion. Thus,environmentalists have been relentlessly campaigning for companies and countries to switch to green technology to satiate their energy or financial needs. However, some pessimists still concur that these efforts are futile, but I remain optimistic that humanity has realized the implications of global warming and is taking small steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Hence, I provisionally opine that efforts to save the environment are certainly not merely empty promises.

Prima facie, it may seem obvious that the sheer number of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are empty promises – as evident in the major fiasco of the Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen Accord. However, while international cooperation may be hard, regional bodies have been taking steps to be environmentally friendly because regional cooperation is more effective due to the fewer number of countries involved in the treaty. This is best manifested in the European Union’s (EU’s) environmental policies. Having the world’s largest and wealthiest consumer base, the EU has rolled out regulations on efficiency of motor vehicles and their emissions. Car makers seeking to enter the market must meet these regulations. Toyota and Ford are forced to develop new technology to meet these regulations. Additionally, these regulations are applied to vehicles from the same manufacturers sold in other countries for product consistency, thus reducing worldwide emissions. Hence, it is conclusive that although international cooperation may come off as an ’empty promise’, pragmatic regional bodies like the EU have found ways to seize their opportunity to salvage this planet.

Besides regional cooperation, small communities in countries have come together to make changes in their ways of living to protect the environment, rendering the phrase ’empty promises’ fallacious. Benjamin Franklin once said,’when the well is dry, we will know the worth of water’. This quote has resonated well with many rural communities in developing countries that rely on agriculture or fishing for a living. In Thailand, depleting fish stocks in the Mekong River have severely affected the livelihoods of numerous Thai fishermen, driving home Franklin’s point about scarcity, prompting them to stop taking the environment for granted. Together with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), 14 villagers in Northern Thailand participated in the Thai Boon programme by setting up conservation zones around Mekong. Fishermen of villages like Ban Muang Choom observed that fishes were able to spawn inside the conservation zone, aiding in the historic protection of the ecosystem, resulting in significantly increased fish yields for fishermen. The economic benefits were a great incentive for the fishermen in Thailand, hence delivering promising benefits to the environment. It would thus be highly skewed for one to assume that humanity is completely incapable of saving the environment because of how multi-faceted this issue is, because even small communities like those in Thailand are doing their part to protect and conserve the environment.

More importantly, it is imperative for us to understand that the quest for environmental conservation has become even more possible in the present epoch because of the rapid advancement of technology. This has allowed us to turn to other green methods of satisfying our energy needs. For instance, Norway is investing billions in developing carbon capture and storage technology. Southern cities in France like Bordeaux and Marseilles use nuclear energy to fuel 40% of their daily energy needs. In comparison, traditional fuel sources like oil and coal produce carbon dioxide when burnt, a greenhouse gas that would further exacerbate global warming. The concepts of geothermal and wind energy are also gaining traction globally. Thus, one can see the correlation between the rapid advancement of technology and its unprecedented positive impact on the environment. Hence, it would be ignorant of one to claim that all efforts to save the environment are just ideas with no concrete action because governments have been actively trying their best to exploit whatever resources at their disposal to ensure that at least some of these promises made translate into action and not just blame it on the complexity of this global issue.

On a less hopeful note, some detractors think otherwise. Playing the role of the devil’s advocate, they believe that while efforts to save the environment are not largely empty promises because of the aforementioned points, there are some instances in which we have to concede that these efforts are in fact empty promises. This is because governments have many trade-offs to make when pursuing environmental policies. These trade-offs often conflict with their economic policies, and hence regardless of the number of treaties that they sign, both the people and the government are innately profit-oriented and would disregard the environmental damages that they inflict. In March 2015, then US President Obama submitted and Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations that would commit the US to reaching a 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. This led to the US Environmental Protection Agency passing the Clean Air Act. However, would factories actually be willing to cut emissions, by increasing their cost of production by employing green technology, albeit at the expense of their profits? The answer is a resounding no, because of the inherently selfish desires of people. Thus, insofar as the people are not willing to work with their governments to save the environment, any form of intervention by the government would be merely an empty promise. Nonetheless, as I have elucidated earlier, it would be unfair to generalize all efforts to save the environment as purely ‘talk with no action’ because we must concede that in this interconnected world of today, countries are starting to get less self-centered, albeit obvious exceptions from emerging countries like China, and are trying their best to contribute to environmental efforts. Though it would indubitably take time for environmental promises to be translated into action, I believe that humanity is on her way to a green planet ion the distant future.

To sum it all up, the threat that humanity is posing to the environment is certainly a worrying one. We are constantly plagued with a myriad of humanitarian problems, so it would be harsh for one to assume that all our environmental efforts are just empty promises because we are tirelessly trying to deliver some of these promises, in small ways. International and regional cooperation is a sine quo non to addressing our environmental woes. As long as we can cooperate in small ways, like Thailand and Europe, I remain optimistic that efforts to save the environment are largely not empty promises.

Score: 38/50