Security and Foreign Policy

The Demise Of Rationality

Post Cold War, rationality became the basis for pursuing liberal foreign policies, all of which changed with the rise of populist leaders like Donald Trump. Raosen Taj Raisani discusses the decline of rationality in the age of Trump.


International Relations, in its theoretical roots, finds a very positivist argument. This argument is often implicitly employed through a neo-realist paradigm arguing that a state deals with other states based on rationality. This means that in any situation involving crisis or cooperation, statesmen will always base their decision on choices that affect the overall national interest benevolently for the state. With time, this rationality in decision argument seeps into local affairs, too. This reliance on rationality in decisions became the basis for pursuing foreign policies that promoted liberalism. A choice for actors to behave rationally and beneficially for not only their states but also for the global common problems. The current withdrawal of liberal tradition from across the globe also involves the recession of rationality. This irrationality is now the hallmark of politicians of different countries who are wary of globalization and fearful of the liberal international order, especially the President of United States. It is now a concern for stability in international order, too.

Donald Trump is unique in his decision-making. He uses selfish interpretations that help his line of thinking, disavowing any constructive alternative. For an example, take his adamant instance on the border wall. He allowed people in his own country to suffer to achieve something that his country does not need but is only a means to personal gratification. The stubborn insistence on his egotistic approach to any problem is also evident in his foreign policy. Despite every calculation and procedure, he announced to leave Syria; he single-handedly scraped the Nuclear deal with Iran and he exacerbated the situation in the Middle East, ultimately dismantling the narrative of liberal US strategic policies since the end of cold war.

The case of Trump would have been a unique one if it was a singular instance but increasingly it is becoming the norm. Different leaders around the world are increasingly embracing an approach that is rooted in exceptionalism. The recent elections in a majority of European states have returned Eurosceptic and nationalistic leaders. As one of the symbols of regional homogeneity, the European Union is a global promoter of liberalistic values and tolerant governance. This wave of fissures in indigenous politics of almost every European country may lead to irrational foreign policies like Trump. The consequences of these policies should be a cause of concern for all the world. 

One of the prominent forethoughts of this consequential development is that without rationality, the global world order, determining considerate relationships and common initiatives between different tiers of international society, can become an instrument for furthering irrationality and instability. This order can become loud in the espousal of illiberal values around the world creating an environment in global politics that will be based on insulating local policies and confrontational foreign conventions. Additionally, these policies may intricately dismantle the generalized sensibility of the world impacting everyone especially the decision-makers.

It is often the thought in the background of every decision-maker that sanity should prevail in issues that impact the public. This sanity is equated with rationality in the decisions imparting a sense of predictability and replication in future cases. As this thinking recedes from the international order, irregular decisions and choices can very much become a reality. The world has witnessed several such choices in the previous year. The fact remains that if this irrationality becomes the norm of the international order, do we have an alternative? Do we as a collective species have any system better than rationality? The answer is still vague and speculative. The only hope is to find a cumulative understanding of this increasing irrationality and co-opting it into sustainable solutions for humanity. Because this is not a local problem for the US or Europe, but undoubtedly a global one.

Raosen Taj Raisani is currently pursuing independent research focusing on the issues of strategic stability and foreign policy challenges. He is a former research associate of LUMS and has a degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from QAU, Islamabad

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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