Ancient Theory of International Relations

Ancient Theory of International Relations. Certain principles of interstate relations may also be found in ancient literature or may be deduced from the external dealings of early peoples. Although the modern idea of international law among sovereign and independent states did not develop until the rise of national monarchies at the close of the Middle Ages, yet ancient peoples carried on foreign relations according to certain customs and rules, usually under religious sanction.

The inter-group relations of antiquity were based on the main force. Ancient states were formed by constant conflict with neighboring states and with surrounding barbarians. Their idea of the normal condition of interstate relations would naturally differ from those of the modern world, which grew out of the Roman Empire with its Pax Romana. War was regarded as the natural condition of mankind; peace was an exceptional condition secured by special agreement.

Negotiation between states was Machiavellian in character and was employed as an aid to war or as a substitute for it; and the foreigner was regarded as an enemy, without legal rights or obligations. Certainties were acknowledged among those of the same race and religion, but states as such possessed no rights and were under no legal obligations one to another. The Hebrews recognized mutual rights in their inter-tribal dealings, considered other peoples as natural enemies, and were especially bitter against the original occupiers of the Promised Land.

War was waged ruthlessly. The persons and property of the conquered were at the mercy of the victors, and the religions of the period usually urged the extermination or enslavement of defeated peoples. The bodies of the slain were often mutilated, captives were subjected to horrible tortures, and the victors carved boasting records of their atrocities upon their monuments. Religion was conceived as an alliance of the gods and their worshipers against other peoples and their gods.

Let us go up against them, for our God is greater than their God, was a characteristic battle cry, Oriental states considered it one of their chief duties to extend the authority of their gods over as many peoples as possible, the method of its achievement being military force. Victory was ascribed to the gods, and the punishments inflicted upon the vanquished were declared to be commanded by divine authority.

However, the pressure of frequent life-and-death struggles among primitive peoples, together with the strong emphasis placed on the unity of kinship and religion, had a marked effect on the inner spirit of the group. Loyalty to comrades, self-sacrifice, and devotion to the common cause were called into constant activity. Nearly all early peoples attained ideals of closer brotherhood and unity within national bounds that have been obtained in Western countries.

Competition in primitive times was between groups, not between individuals. Within the group, communistic ideas prevailed. An injury to any member was considered an injury to the group, and the group was held responsible for the activities of its members.

Friendly relations among primitive peoples were not entirely lacking. Mutual aid was exchanged, even among savages. Early empires exchanged letters, presents, embassies; and alliances, cemented by intermarriages, Were sometimes concluded that bribery was also used to corrupt the officials of neighboring states. Hospitality to visitors and messengers was extended under certain conditions and according to rigid rules and formalities.

In the second half of the eighth century B.C., the Assyrian Empire, absorbing the smaller states of western Asia, became a world power. Political unity then, as later under Rome, suggested the idea of world law and peace. The Hebrew prophets of that period, convinced of the supremacy of their God and their religion, conceived of a worldwide kingdom in which all nations should acknowledge the suzerainty of Jehovah. They put forth the ideal of universal peace and spoke of the time when nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

The idea of arbitration was referred to by Herodotus, who relates that one of the Persian satraps compelled the cities of Ionia to make agreements among themselves so that they might give satisfaction for wrongs and not plunder one another’s land.

Early Hindu political philosophy, growing up under conditions of active inter-tribal life, worked out the concepts of external sovereignty, balance of power, and world organization, and urged humane methods of warfare. The Chinese philosopher Mencius maintained that the same rules of morality apply in the relations of nations as in those of individuals, and taught that differences between nations should be settled by arbitration and by considerations of justice, not by force.

Commerce, in its origin, was scarcely distinguished from war or robbery. Piracy was regarded as an honorable undertaking. The hope of plunder was a guiding motive in foreign policy; and commercial peoples like the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians organized trade as a government enterprise, carried on systematic commercial exploitation of weaker peoples, and waged relentless war against all rivals to secure 3 monopolies of trade.

Early commerce was largely the trade of civilized with less civilized or barbarous peoples. The latter distrusted and feared the former, and warfare ending in annihilation, slavery, or colonial dependence was generally the fate of the less civilized combatant. Ancient peoples usually extolled agriculture and looked upon commerce with distrust, permitting foreign trade only under stringent restrictions.

Friendly commercial relations were, however, sometimes carried on, especially by the Egyptians, and commercial treaties were occasionally made and observed. Under Solomon, Jewish trading vessels engaged in commerce with distant ports; later kings of Israel secured the right to establish trading quarters in foreign cities and granted similar privileges to alien merchants.

Read More Related Articles of Ancient Political Thought:

1. Primitive Political Ideas.
2. Oriental Political Thought.
3. Hindu Political Thought.
4. Chinese Political Thought.
5. Hebrew Political Thought.