41. Reciprocity in international relations

19 Aug

Reciprocity in international relations

1. Reciprocity is considered a universally accepted principle of international law applies in international relations under which a State adopts a given behaviour symmetrical in response to that adopted by another State.

2. In matters of diplomacy, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that, subject to the provisions of the Convention, a State may apply a restrictive interpretation to another in response to a similar action of the latter.  However, the principle cannot be interpreted to mean that a nation, by virtue of following a certain behaviour to another, is entitled to demand a parallel treatment. The interpretation is that a State may refuse a particular treatment to another if the latter refuses to take an attitude similar to that of the former.

3. Reciprocity is a principle deeply rooted in the international arena and it allows to a large extent the advance of diplomatic relations. This principle has formed the basis for the application of diplomatic privileges and immunities to the laws of the defence, and also for non-compliance mechanisms of provisions in international treaties.

4. Politically, a historical event of application of reciprocity was the conclusion of the Basic Principles Agreement between the then U.S. president, Richard Nixon and President of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev, which took place in May 1972. The Agreement stated that discussions and negotiations regarding outstanding issues between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be carried out taking into account the principle of reciprocity and that the parties would try to provide satisfaction to each other with the aim of obtaining mutual benefits.

5. Reciprocity is undoubtedly a practical concept in international relations. In that sense it is equivalent action depends on an action or reaction of another State. The equivalence does not require absolute reciprocity since, in some cases, it is impossible to determine whether an action is exactly equivalent to the other. For instance, it is difficult to measure the equivalence between the promise of a State to defend another against a third State and the authorisation of the allied State where the troops will be stationed.

6. It is also difficult in some cases, whether the action is reciprocated with exact equivalence to each other. The requirement of reciprocity equivalence illustrates the fact that many in the international relations are not reciprocal. In this regard, historically there have been reciprocal claims or demands deemed fraudulent and actually hiding methods of domination or exploitation.

7. It must be emphasised that the theory of international relations of reciprocity is considered an instrument for achieving the development of relations of mutual trust and long-term mutual obligations and an incentive for compliance with international standards. Likewise, it is considered a fundamental principle for the interaction of states to effectively manage crises.

8. Reciprocity has played an important role in generating cooperation and conflict resolution between states. But it can also play a role in the dynamics of conflict and may lead to a reciprocal cycle of violence depending on the nature of the action that is regarded as reciprocal.

9. Cooperation must respect the principle of sovereignty of States. Reciprocity is considered an appropriate form of behaviour that creates cooperation between sovereign states. It can take place both between two states, i.e., either bilaterally or between more than two States, or multilaterally. It implies a conditional action that depends on the actions of others.

10. Reciprocity cannot in any way be interpreted as retaliation, although a State that is inexperienced in handling the application of the principle could interpret and apply it in that way. Retaliation, unlike reciprocity, is a limited reaction of a State against a certain behaviour that harms another state, which is contrary to international law, but which presumably is justified by the previous violation of that right by the other State. Retaliation is undoubtedly a reaction against the spirit and essence of reciprocity.

© by Odeen Ishmael


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