Trust is a prerequisite for almost any fruitful enterprise; it is such a vital element in fostering good relations on a multitude of levels that even the common man can attest to its importance.
The levels on which this precious commodity operates begin from the most intimate, from individuals on an interpersonal level to subgroups within a nation and even the international stage among nations. Interestingly, whether it endures between a husband and wife or in the relations among states, the principle of trust remains the same, often challenging to attain and yet so easily lost.
Focusing within the framework of international relations, literature increasingly suggests that trust serves as a key variable in influencing attitude. On this stage, it may influence the nature of how states act toward other states and even illustrate the dynamics within international organizations.
Having such an important role, one may wonder what factors are necessary to build trust. Surprisingly, these factors remain similar on all levels, although they do differ in complexity and outcome. Akin to a bank providing a loan to a business owner on the condition of a sound financial record, states develop relations based on assessments of past engagement.
Assessments of historic relations are only one of many factors. Scholars interested in decision-making theories posit that cognitive factors and at times, the idiosyncratic aspects of leaders play as big of a role in laying the foundational attributes of trust-building.
Provided with these components, significant informationgathering and expertise, an avenue of measuring trust can very well be conceived. With the ability to predict and explain foreign policy outcomes, unwanted and tense situations can be avoided. With this in mind, recent developments in global affairs portray a somewhat daunting prospect.
The concerns raised by the United States about the World Health Organization amid this global pandemic has challenged the sense of trust and confidence of the organization. Not only has the US deferred its funding with calls for reform, it also alluded to the influence of a rising giant in the East.
As a consequence, the role of the WHO as a bastion for global health and humanity is being complicated by global-power politics. Bearing this in mind, on May 20, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi made clear that it is in “Indonesia’s interest and priority to continue strengthening the work of the WHO through our contributions in the formulation of policies and decisions of the WHO”.
She also emphasized that in today’s challenging time, “multilateralism must be the platform for international cooperation in the fight against COVID19”. By the same token, this is a call to have trust in the WHO.
Another concerning case of power politics at play can be seen at the UN Security Council (UNSC). The application of veto by the veto powers on some security issues, such as the IsraelPalestine conflict, raise a fundamental question of the efficacy of the UNSC.
The failure in upholding its mandate to bring international peace and security has caused growing distrust towards the UNSC. In the absence of a reliable and trustworthy platform for dialogue on security issues, countries will tend to resort to armed conflict to resolve differences. Such an example is the consequence of neglecting the importance of trust-building, therefore, a reform of the UN is continuously advanced.
While trust-building at a global level has recently been marred with some challenges, a different story is manifested on a regional level. Trust and confidence-building have been the key features in shaping and reshaping ASEAN as a regional organization.
ASEAN was created at the height of the Cold War, during a time when the world faced many uncertainties. The region itself was the theater for proxy wars seen within the Indochina conflicts. Not only that, member states prior to ASEAN happened to engage in cross-border hostilities.
An example of such hostilities was konfrontasi. This was when Indonesia was seen as harboring expansionist intentions following a campaign against Malaysia and Singapore. Yet through the establishment of ASEAN, the region came to know and share the desire for peace, pacifism and mutual development.
Moving into a more natural feature of international relations, relationships between nation states, the issue of trust is even more prominent. In the case of Indonesia, some measures to allay distrust are by engaging in partnerships, either strategic or comprehensive and by way of treaties. Despite these measures taken bilaterally, some realities question the coherence of what has been agreed upon.
One such example is China’s intention in the region. Indonesia has observed carefully China’s claims in the South China Sea through the nine-dash line. Indonesia is also curious regarding its growing activities in these waters. The 2019 incident of China’s fishing activities in Indonesia’s Economic Exclusive Zone have raised concerns to the spirit of bilateral partnership.
Similarly, the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia includes an article that prevents anybody from encouraging separatism toward Indonesia on Australian territory. This does not bode well with the activities of those who use Australia as a launching pad to promote the separatism of Papua from Indonesia.
In conclusion, a stable and predictable relation is needed to avoid suspicion that may lead to open conflict. This is where trust and trust-building efforts at all levels of international relations play a significant role.
We are living in a more complex global environment where events that take place in different parts of the world can be felt across the globe.
Hence, relations founded on trust can provide certainty in these uncertain times.
Political and security affairs advisor to Indonesian foreign minister and former Indonesian ambassador to Canada
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.