Silos In International Relations

As a freshman in college, studying political science, I took a class in international relations. Right off the bat, in the first class, the professor told us all: “Do not apply ethical standards that pertain to human interaction to international relations. In international relations what counts is self-interest. First and above all.”

In the business world, it is called the “silo syndrome.” Each department or business unit takes care of its own interests. Companies that follow this logic, however, eventually become ineffective and one day close up shop. While each department by itself was doing well, no one was apparently taking care of the “in-between “areas and the totality suffered. And when the totality suffers, the components that comprise the totality will eventually suffer too.

The “silo syndrome” is what is happening to the globe we inhabit. Each country is maximizing its own interests and the ”in-between"—the open sea—is being neglected. The ocean is becoming increasingly more polluted, as is the air. As no one owns the oceans or the air, each country exports its pollution there. We are all hurting each other by ignoring the “in-between” and taking care only of ourselves although we are part of a totality and are interdependent. Some of the air pollution in California comes from China. Some of the smoke from the Northern California fires has found its way to Sweden. And the same applies to public health. Like water and air, Covid knows no political boundaries. It continues to mutate and spread as each country is taking care of itself.

True, there are well-intended agreements between the nations, and there is the World Health Organization, but there is no parent that could clean fast and well and catch up with the mess children can make if they only take care of their interests and ignore family interests.

I predict that nothing real or critical will happen to stop the destruction of our environment—not until the culture of self-interest changes and is replaced by a pursuit of the common interest.

It is time to at least change the curriculum in political science.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes