- Advertisement -
By Pamz Da Mastermind
Diplomacy is an evolving practice in terms of historical circumstance and changing national interests. History and interests do not always coincide.
I think the world we live in today is far more unpredictable than what has come before. To be sure, the long cycle of human history has witnessed disruptions before, but probably not on the scope or the speed that we are confronted with today. I am increasingly concerned whether we have the analytical frameworks and knowledge to make sense of a lot of these new disruptions.
How do we access Barrow’s administration foreign policy strategy in the world of diplomacy? In the first place I’m not even sure it has a “strategy”. And if there is one, the corridors of power in state house seem to be concealing it very well or certainly there is not a strategy in the manner we are familiar with! We also have to bear in mind that in this administration, the differences between what the President says (or does) and what other departments, their officials, or indeed, the Cabinet, says (or does) are more stark than we have ever witnessed in recent history. Obviously, this makes foreign policy formulation and implementation challenging; but it also makes it difficult to contextualize and comprehend statements made by the Gambian leadership. Some more hopeful observers argue that shorn of rhetoric, Gambian policy has mostly been a tale of continuity. I think this is true up to a point. Enough of that for now…
Foreign policy analysis allows us to better understand how political actors make policy decisions and how they relate to other foreign government and non-government entities. Foreign policy is a complex discipline wherein numerous actors work within structures both inside and outside the state to have an impact on the decision-making process. The view of the world is changing as the world itself is transmuting and the major players evolving. lncontrovertibly, in the world of international relations, there is no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interest. Globally, world leaders have spasmodically used this pragmatism to vindicate their policies and actions of governance. The pursuit of interest is the motive of all states. ln the words of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, there are no personal sympathies in politics. A typical example of this pragmatism can be seen to have happened during the World War ll. Germany and Japan who were the enemies of the United States and Western Europe during World War II are now their allies and their current rivals, China and Russia, were their comrades-in-arms during the same war. This is the game of international politics. lt is more like a spider web.
In international relations and politics there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. These theories have different colour lenses in the ways they perceive the international society. For example, realism is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side. It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. The negative side of the realists’ emphasis on power and self-interest is often their skepticism regarding the relevance of ethical norms to relations among states. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states.
Wars have stimulated the development of international organization, international relations, and international politics. Classical realists have argued that the international relations is all about conflicting interest among states. The British IR scholar in his book titled “The Twenty Years’ Crisis, argued that there are profound conflicts of interest both between countries and between people. He further argued that relations of states could not be based on a harmony of interests. International relations is basically about the stuggle of conflicting interest and desires. Kenneth Waltz, the father of neo-realism argued that the international system is anarchy and anarchy is likely to occur because states want to perserve their autonomy. Morgenthau (1948), emphasized the importance of power in the attainment of national objectives. Arguing largely against those who deprecated “power politics,” Morgenthau asserted that the struggle for power occurs in all social relations and that international politics is not excepted from this general proposition. Although Morgenthau had defined power as the “ability to influence the minds and actions of men” exercised by political, psychological, and military means, there was a tendency for realists to emphasize the importance of military power.
The promotion of national interest is the aim of states in the political game. ln Morgenthau second principle, the main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power. This concept provides the link between reason trying to understand international politics and the facts to be understood. It sets politics as an autonomous sphere of action and understanding apart from other spheres, such as economics (understood in terms of interest defined as wealth), ethics, aesthetics, or religion. Without such a concept a theory of politics, international or domestic, would be altogether impossible, for without it we could not distinguish between political and nonpolitical facts, nor could we bring at least a measure of systematic order to the political sphere. We assume that statesmen think and act in terms of interest defined as power, and the evidence of history bears that assumption out. That assumption allows us to retrace and anticipate, as it were, the steps a statesman–past, present, or future–has taken or will take on the political scene. We look over his shoulder when he writes his dispatches; we listen in on his conversation with other statesmen; we read and anticipate his very thoughts.
Thinking in terms of interest defined as power, we think as he does, and as disinterested observers we understand his thoughts and actions perhaps better than he, the actor on the political scene, does himself. The concept of interest defined as power imposes intellectual discipline upon the observer, infuses rational order into the subject matter of politics, and thus makes the theoretical understanding of politics possible. On the side of the actor, it provides for rational discipline in action and creates that astounding continuity in foreign policy which makes American, British, or Russian foreign policy appear as an intelligible, rational continuum, by and large consistent within itself, regardless of the different motives, preferences, and intellectual and moral qualities of successive statesmen. A realist theory of international politics, then, will guard against two popular fallacies: the concern with motives and the concern with ideological preferences. To search for the clue to foreign policy exclusively in the motives of statesmen is both futile and deceptive.
It is futile because motives are the most illusive of psychological data, distorted as they are, frequently beyond recognition, by the interests and emotions of actor and observer alike. Do we really know what our own motives are? And what do we know of the motives of others?
Yet even if we had access to the real motives of statesmen, that knowledge would help us little in understanding foreign policies, and might well lead us astray. It is true that the knowledge of the statesman’s motives may give us one among many clues as to what the direction of his foreign policy might be. It cannot give us, however, the one clue by which to predict his foreign policies. History shows no exact and necessary correlation between the quality of motives and the quality of foreign policy. This is true in both moral and political terms.
We cannot conclude from the good intentions of a statesman that his foreign policies will be either morally praiseworthy or politically successful. Judging his motives, we can say that he will not intentionally pursue policies that are morally wrong, but we can say nothing about the probability of their success. If we want to know the moral and political qualities of his actions, we must know them, not his motives. How often have statesmen been motivated by the desire to improve the world, and ended by making it worse? And how often have they sought one goal, and ended by achieving something they neither expected nor desired? Neville Chamberlain’s politics of appeasement were, as far as we can judge, inspired by good motives; he was probably less motivated by considerations of personal power than were many other British prime ministers, and he sought to preserve peace and to assure the happiness of all concerned. Yet his policies helped to make the Second World War inevitable, and to bring untold miseries to millions of men.
Sir Winston Churchill’s motives, on the other hand, were much less universal in scope and much more narrowly directed toward personal and national power, yet the foreign policies that sprang from these inferior motives were certainly superior in moral and political quality to those pursued by his predecessor. Judged by his motives, Robespierre was one of the most virtuous men who ever lived. Yet it was the utopian radicalism of that very virtue that made him kill those less virtuous than himself, brought him to the scaffold, and destroyed the revolution of which he was a leader.
Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the policies they inspire. What is important to know, if one wants to understand foreign policy, is not primarily the motives of a statesman, but his intellectual ability to comprehend the essentials of foreign policy, as well as his political ability to translate what he has comprehended into successful political action. It follows that while ethics in the abstract judges the moral qualities of motives, political theory must judge the political qualities of intellect, will, and action. We should avoid the other popular fallacy of equating the foreign policies of a statesman with his philosophic or political sympathies, and of deducing the former from the latter. Statesmen, especially under contemporary conditions, may well make a habit of presenting their foreign policies in terms of their philosophic and political sympathies in order to gain popular support for them. Yet they will distinguish with Lincoln between their “official duty,” which is to think and act in terms of the national interest, and their “personal wish,” which is to see their own moral values and political principles realized throughout the world. Good policy makers do not require, nor do they condone, indifference to political ideals and moral principles, but they require indeed a sharp distinction between the desirable and the possible-between what is desirable everywhere and at all times and what is possible under the concrete circumstances of time and place.
l stand to reason that not all foreign policies have always followed so rational, objective, and unemotional a course. The contingent elements of personality, prejudice, and subjective preference, and of all the weaknesses of intellect and will which flesh is heir to, are bound to deflect foreign policies from their rational course. Especially where foreign policy is conducted under the conditions of democratic control, the need to marshal popular emotions to the support of foreign policy cannot fail to impair the rationality of foreign policy itself. Yet a theory of foreign policy which aims at rationality must for the time being, as it were, abstract from these irrational elements and seek to paint a picture of foreign policy which presents the rational essence to be found in experience, without the contingent deviations from rationality which are also found in experience. Deviations from rationality which are not the result of the personal whim or the personal psychopathology of the policy maker may appear contingent only from the vantage point of rationality, but may themselves be elements in a coherent system of irrationality.
The difference between international politics as it actually is and a rational theory derived from it is like the difference between a photograph and a painted portrait. The photograph shows everything that can be seen by the naked eye; the painted portrait does not show everything that can be seen by the naked eye, but it shows, or at least seeks to show, one thing that the naked eye cannot see: the human essence of the person portrayed. The character of a foreign policy can be ascertained only through the examination of the political acts performed and of the foreseeable consequences of these acts.
Thus we can find out what statesmen have actually done, and from the foreseeable consequences of their acts we can surmise what their objectives might have been. Yet examination of the facts is not enough. To give meaning to the factual raw material of foreign policy, we must approach political reality with a kind of rational outline, a map that suggests to us the possible meanings of foreign policy. In other words, we put ourselves in the position of a statesman who must meet a certain problem of foreign policy under certain circumstances, and we ask ourselves what the rational alternatives are from which a statesman may choose who must meet this problem under these circumstances (presuming always that he acts in a rational manner), and which of these rational alternatives this particular statesman, acting under these circumstances, is likely to choose. It is the testing of this rational hypothesis against the actual facts and their consequences that gives theoretical meaning to the facts of international politics. Politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature. In order to improve society it is first necessary to understand the laws by which society lives. The operation of these laws being impervious to our preferences, men will challenge them only at the risk of failure. l believe in the possibility of distinguishing in politics between truth and opinion-between what is true objectively and rationally, supported by evidence and illuminated by reason, and what is only a subjective judgment, divorced from the facts as they are and informed by prejudice and wishful thinking.
Yet the kind of interest determining political action in a particular period of history depends upon the political and cultural context within which foreign policy is formulated. The goals that might be pursued by nations in their foreign policy can run the whole gamut of objectives any nation has ever pursued or might possibly pursue. l do not assume that the contemporary conditions under which foreign policy operates, with their extreme instability and the ever present threat of large-scale violence, cannot be changed. The balance of power, for instance, is indeed a perennial element of all pluralistic societies, as the authors of The Federalist papers well knew; yet it is capable of operating, as it does in the United States, under the conditions of relative stability and peaceful conflict. If the factors that have given rise to these conditions can be duplicated on the international scene, similar conditions of stability and peace will then prevail there, as they have over long stretches of history among certain nations. What is true of the general character of international relations is also true of the nation state as the ultimate point of reference of contemporary foreign policy. Both individual and state must judge political action by universal moral principles, such as that of liberty.
Yet while the individual has a moral right to sacrifice himself in defense of such a moral principle, the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival. There can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action. l, then, consider prudence-the weighing of the consequences of alternative political actions-to be the supreme virtue in politics. Ethics in the abstract judges action by its conformity with the moral law; political ethics judges action by its political consequences.
Intellectually, l maintain the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintain theirs. l thinks in terms of interest defined as power, as the economist thinks in terms of interest defined as wealth; the lawyer, of the conformity of action with legal rules; the moralist, of the conformity of action with moral principles. The economist asks: “How does this policy affect the wealth of society, or a segment of it?” The lawyer asks: “Is this policy in accord with the rules of law?” The moralist asks: “Is this policy in accord with moral principles?” And l ask: “How does this policy affect the power of the nation?” There should be the existence and relevance of standards of thought other than political ones.