On February 20th of this year, US President Joseph Biden visited Ukraine’s capital for the first time since the invasion. The photos were typical of any high-level diplomatic visit, with Biden and Zelensky enjoying brotherly hugs and expressing words of solidarity. Nevertheless, as Biden posed for the cameras, on the other side of the world, in his home country, the largest environmental disaster in years was occurring.
Just three weeks prior to Biden’s trip to Kyiv, a train carrying hazardous chemicals – such as Butyl acrylate and Ethylene glycol monobutyl derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. While the government failed to provide a transparent description of the event, in the days following the derailment, information about its environmental impact began surfacing. Not only were 15,000 pounds of soil and 1.1 million gallons of water contaminated, but people also began questioning the consequences of the spillage in the area’s nearby air and water sources. But where was Biden?
The failure of the Democratic Administration to quickly address the environmental catastrophe that went down in Ohio, all while allocating their focus and resources to the international conflict between Russia and Ukraine angered many people. It appeared as if Biden was using international relations to shift focus away from the national crisis developing in East Palestine. Others also emphasized the comparison between the lack of financial aid allocated to Ohio and the substantial funds donated by the American government to Ukraine. Essentially, many – like me – wondered if Biden was, and continues to, emphasize his diplomatic activities in the international realm to deflect the media and public opinion away from national issues and concerns.
After all, one of the biggest criticisms against international relations is whether or not these truly exist to further globalization or rather serve to exaggerate the stability and achievement of countries. There are two sides to every coin, and in this case, it is the difference between the international and national reputation of a government. In other words, state governments are perceived differently nationally than they are globally. In the case of the United States, in the international arena, it stands as a hegemonic figure with the greatest influence on the global agenda. Through such international scope, the United States is commonly regarded as the symbol of leadership, democracy, a free economy, and diversity of identity.
Nonetheless, when the American government is perceived through the national eye, people’s opinion is more critical. It takes into account real results from actual policies and considers the true implications of the economic, political, and judicial decisions that the government takes. Through this scope, the government is not idolized, nor is public opinion satisfied by the signing of unrealistic climate agendas or by sending humanitarian aid to a foreign cause.
In such a globalized world, however, the priority of governments now lies in achieving the highest amount of international recognition and influence. As a result, many administrations allocate most of their resources and focus to polish their international standing instead of addressing local crises. Furthermore, the lack of clear record-keeping and accountability systems in international relations – and international law – grants politicians greater control over what is communicated to citizens than when making decisions at a national level. Consequently, sometimes it feels like most products of international relations, from the United Nations to the countless meetings between foreign ministers faking amiability and promising to strengthen cooperation, are mere devices that allow politicians to escape national responsibilities.
Is that what globalization is? A power tactic that fabricates an allusion of achievement and pushes aside national discontent? Is it the perfect excuse to quietly implement hidden agendas at a national level without raising alarm at a global level? Are we truly a globalized society if there are evident – yet secretive – disparities between international and national state behavior? How are we to trust the fantasy of a globalized world that governments are trying to sell us if most times, their diplomatic behavior serves as a tool to mask national unpopularity with international admiration?
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