The badass or the victim?

Hostility fuels despair... and the other way around.  UN Photo/AFP.

Hostility fuels despair… and the other way around. UN Photo/AFP.

There are some problems, more or less recognized, with regard to the withdrawal clause of the article X of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, exemplified by the one case where a state has ever tried to use it. While, presumably, the state acted to protect its rights, it encountered major international opposition in the aftermath of this decision[1]. I see as the most fundamental problem the question of why would anyone agree to include such a clause in an agreement if in the ends its use is nonetheless condemned?[2] Further, why would anyone try to withdraw from the treaty by the use of this clause if the response they get is comparable to them just leaving with no justification attempts at all?

I like to play a mind game where I imagine states as individuals. Most of us have been in sticky situations where we put ourselves because of something we promised in the past. Sometimes, it is simply impossible to live up to these expectations, is it not? We have argued with people without knowing how to solve an impasse, and as a result, decided to take the easy way out and cut off the individual from our lives hoping to never see them again. We have caused harm to others because of our own unresolved issues. In a world of over 7 billion individuals, such a disappearing act is relatively easy. In a world of less than 200 states, it’s less so. What would you do in a situation where disappearing and ignoring the issue is not an option, yet you were forced to somehow save your face? There are as many strategies as there are as many as individuals – or states.

Based on which parameters do we choose our strategy then? I started thinking about childhood events – not even traumas, just any events – and the behavioral models they create in the individual as an adult. For example, when a child feels neglected and ignored, not getting his side of the story heard or unable to express his arguments and views, and instead gets punished and looked down on based on someone else’s values or authority, he learns a certain model of communicating with others. A baby treated in this way grows up to be an adult with a one-sided sense of justice, and on the way, learns to defend his honor in less socially acceptable ways – for example through lies, manipulation or violence. Later on in life, when they need to engage with others operating within a more socially accepted framework of justice, this individual fails to trust their judgment. The mistreated individual doesn’t understand and cannot adapt to these new social rules of gaining the acceptance of the others by means of honesty, openness, cooperation and some compromising. Would you call the mistreated child the badass or the victim?

Imagining a state that wants to save its face in front of the rest of the world as the mistreated child provides a new perspective through which we can understand why they chose a certain strategy, for example a withdrawal from a very important treaty. It is a powerful statement, interpreted even as aggressive by those operating within the accepted social norms. It is a strategy that not many other actors would choose, and certainly not without an extremely weighty reason. But to a certain state feeling cornered it might seem like the best, or even the only, option. After all, every rational actor chooses the best alternative – from its own point of view, based on past experience and the means of survival it has picked up on the way to the situation in question.

I am not saying that “bad behavior” or self-isolation is acceptable from a state, as neither is it acceptable from the mistreated individual. I am saying that the issue may not be as black and white as some actors want to make us believe.

Admittedly, a unilateral withdrawal from an international treaty concerning nuclear arms deserves attention. However, states making use of their right to withdraw deserve fair treatment afterwards. In other words, if you won’t allow any state to withdraw from a treaty without massive, disproportionate consequences, don’t put a withdrawal clause in the agreement.

This said, let me continue for a bit more in order to inspire further thoughts related to the issue. What would you do if you desperately needed a story in which to play the part of the hero? Would you create a villain by trying to strengthen the already budding disrespect towards someone? Would you pick someone who has been put down all his life, enjoys little support from the public and is bound to respond in a socially inept manner? Is your target then, honestly, the badass or the victim?



[1] Applies to many other its decisions too, which however, doesn’t automatically justify disapproving all its decisions from now until the eternity.

[2] I am aware of the debate on whether the clause was properly used or not, but in my opinion, it bears little practical value when talking about accepting the withdrawal decision as a whole.

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Honna Marttila

Ms. Honna Marttila is the PR Officer of UNYANET 2012-2013 and a former President of UNYA Finland. She was a trainee at the Finnish Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva during the spring 2013. Previously, she has worked at the Finnish Embassy in Abuja and interned at UNDP Jamaica and Crisis Management Initiative.

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