Shaping foreign policies- a historical perspective


Rashid A Mughal

FRANKLIN Roosevelt, the 32nd President of USA (1933-45) described the American foreign policy in following words “We must do more than end wars. We must end the beginnings of all wars. I am not interested in perpetuating the reckless foolishness of the military-industrial-complex, and as President I will not. With the establishment of a United States Department of Peace, I will make peace-building my highest priority for just that reason. I will transform the culture of the State Department, re-aligning its mission with what I see to be the most important items on a peace-building agenda: diplomacy, mediation, support for democratic institutions and expansion of economic opportunities for women, providing educational opportunities for children, reducing violence against women, and ameliorating unnecessary human suffering. For when those factors are present, the statistical incidence of peace increases and conflict decreases. In a Williamson Administration, desperate people will be seen as a national security risk. For desperate people are more vulnerable to ideological capture by genuinely psychotic forces. Those kinds of things are not a matter of corporate profits, but they can well become a matter of life or death for millions of people”. Beautiful description indeed. FDR has been a towering figure in US history because of his statesmanship, vision, diplomacy and above all embracing peace as his number one priority and denouncing wars.
What we are witnessing today is completely opposite to the policy framework and parameters visualized by those leaders. This is a time in history unlike any other. A post-WW2 order that was built with great care and which mainly held for most of the last 75 years, now appears to be eroding. Heroic attempts are being made to shore it up, particularly in the light of the present American President’s failure to appreciate the role of a European Alliance in maintaining such an order.
But be that as it may, and for whatever reasons, the templates have shifted underneath our feet and nothing is at all the way it was.
The 20th Century is no more, and with it have gone not only the conditions that defined it but the attitudes that prevailed within it. A sophisticated observer of the world today is dealing with a much different set of questions than that which leaders in the last half of that Century faced. Leaders then were trying to discern what kind of world they wanted to create; leaders today must discern what kind of world will be habitable and survivable in another 50 to a 100 years.
20th Century leaders had nuclear bombs yes, but not many of them-while leaders today are dealing with a plethora of nuclear bombs, and criminals around the world who are working around the clock to get one into their hands.
Both of those things represent historically different kinds of challenges. They also bring with them the necessity that we find new ways of dealing with those challenges, a new kind of problem-solving as different from 20th century problem-solving as are the problems themselves .Power in the 20th Century, and thus problem-solving in the 20th Century, was primarily an expression of brute force. In the 21st Century, it is not brute force that will save us, but rather soul force. It will not be our ability to kill one another but rather our ability to relate to one another that will save our species from extinction. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
According to Marianne Williamson, an author of 12 books, “in the 21st Century, the people who are the most dangerous to the world order are those who have stripped the foreign policy of the United States of any real commitment to moral values. Since WW2, nothing has been a more stabilizing factor in world affairs than that. With notable exceptions, America at least tried to be the good guy. God knows we often failed – even spectacularly – yet until very recently people still gave us high marks for at least trying. There was always a sense that we were prone to goodness and would somehow get back to it. Yet not any more. In one of the most tragic reversals of the modern era, America has become known more for flirting with imperialism than for championing democracy, and less a champion of peace than a champion of war”.
She goes on to say, “one can only imagine what Dwight Eisenhower would be thinking today. His warning us of the “military-industrial complex” seemed, at the very least, not to have stuck. And for those of us who bemoan the role of the military-industrial-complex in turning our national defense strategy into a multi-billion-dollar piggy bank for the defense industry more than a force for democracy and peace around the world, another president’s injunction is equally relevant.”
The basic principle on which foreign policies are made these days is the element of exigency. New friends are made and old one’s are sometimes ditched due to exigencies. Often foreign policies are dictated by superpowers and the weaker and poor countries which relay on aid from those super powers have no option but to take the dictation.
Presently Northeast Asia is encountering turbulences. The present US President is running the foreign policy via twitter leaving the State Department to do the damage control. China and Japan are still grappling with historical and territorial disputes. The relationship between China and South Korea is chilled over the deployment of Terminal High Attitude Area Defence System. The North Korean nuclear issue is mired in a deadlock. The once manageable geopolitical situation seems quite vulnerable in the face of external influences.
But, as more people desire to have better life in the times of globalization and regional integration, positive signs are emerging in relationship between China and its neighbours. If China, Japan and South Korea can speed up negotiations on the trilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and finalize it in the near future, it will help form strong regional community in Northeast Asia.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.

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