Developing nations often remain neutral in world affairs out of self interest. With few resources to dedicate to foreign affairs, countries like Malaysia stayed out of the cold war, and even established the non-aligned movement, NAM, to cement the fact that they would not take sides. By being neutral, these developing countries didn't have to participate in economic sanctions, and by being friends with everybody, could grow their economies quicker. While this remains the practical approach to foreign policy for developing nations, it cannot be the approach of developed nations. Because of more integrated relationships with the rest of the world, developed countries are much more prone to feel the consequences of other nations' actions. Additionally, a more philosophical opinion is that developed nations are wealthy and influential enough that they bear moral responsibility to uphold universal principles of fairness, equality, and freedom.
As the MH17 tragedy demonstrates, Malaysia has entered the phase where it can no longer ignore the actions of other nations without cost. Though MH17 is not the first event to testify to the fact, it is the most shocking, and should serve as the moment we pivot to be more involved.
While Russia remains committed to denying any involvement in the shooting down of the plane, its following actions have not been sufficiently cooperative. Efforts to secure the crash site have been plagued by uncooperative and armed pro-Russian separatists. Though Russia may not hold any direct authority over these groups, they do hold influence over them. Why hasn't Vladimir Putin denounced the disruptions by these separatists and used his influence to urge order and respect for the international teams that have arrived at the crash site? Malaysia needs to begin to display forcefulness, urgency and dissatisfaction over the way the crisis is being handled by those who have power to resolve the situation.
Beyond this, Malaysia needs to take a more engaged and controversial stand concerning the Ukrainian crisis. While the world laments the ineffectiveness of the United Nations to address the wars in Eastern Ukraine, Gaza and other territories of dispute, the decision by countries like Malaysia to remain benign to such wars only reinforces the UN's impotency. (Malaysia's response to Gaza is it's one foreign policy exception, driven by religious and political considerations.)
As a nation, we are no longer small, poor and inconsequential that we can ignore the conflicts that plague humanity. With growing economic and social connected-ness to the rest of the world, we must be more engaged. As MH17 shows, we are no longer bystanders. We have not only an interest in what occurs in other nations, but also a moral compass that we must not ignore. If we choose not to rise to be a global voice, not only will we see ourselves trampled and victimized by irresponsible powers, we will tragicly be silent and ignorant when the truth needs to be heard.
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." Martin Luther King Jr.