Why Nations Behave Differently: The Five Rules of Foreign Policy

As a former diplomat, I have had the opportunity to observe the behavior of nations up close and from a commanding perspective.

The complexities and challenges facing the United States and other countries in today’s multipolar, interdependent, tumultuous, and fast-paced world are staggering. But statecraft hasn’t changed since the birth of nation-states and can be reduced to five basic rules or principles, all of which are closely related.

Together, these rules constitute the playbook by which the world’s leaders operate to achieve their goals in the dangerous arena of foreign affairs.

Rule No. 1: The first duty of a state is to survive.

Survival is paramount. Everything else is secondary. Values ​​and morals are dispensable on the altar of survival. All the important acts of a state, here defined simply as an organized political community operating under a government, are aimed at preserving itself, its system, and way of life.

This rule was invoked by the United States when President Truman ordered atomic bombs to level the civilian centers of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was a carnage of unprecedented magnitude on non-military targets, but it was justified because it was necessary to force Japan to surrender without further delay. In fact, nuclear bombs did just that and saved perhaps as many as a million American lives.

The end (the survival of an inordinate number of American lives) justified the means (the massive destruction of two Japanese cities).

Rule No.2: Foreign Policy is an extension of a country’s domestic interests.

When world leaders sit at the negotiating table, they bring with them the hopes, fears and dreams of their people. Specifically, what each leader is willing to give up (in exchange for what the other side wants) depends on how each item on the table impacts their country’s domestic politics and interests. In a very real sense, every leader is a host to this reality.

Take the war in Afghanistan, for example, where the United States and its ally Pakistan cannot see eye to eye on the issue of Taliban insurgents operating from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. For US military leaders, the Taliban continue to survive and mount targeted attacks on US targets because Pakistan is coddling the insurgents.

Why is Pakistan, an ally that has received billions in US aid in recent years, protecting the Taliban? Because their biggest security fear is their big neighbor, India. Pakistan needs a friendly buffer for Afghanistan to act as a counterbalance to India’s growing power. This fear overrides his discomfort with displeasing Washington.

Both have been allies for many years, but due to divergent and conflicting national interests,

Pakistan and the United States see the Taliban problem through different lenses.

Rule No. 3: We cannot escape geography.

Geography is the nurturing mother of nations and their first line of defense against invaders. Woe to a nation that neglects this reality!

The United States is not called “fortress America” ​​for nothing. Fortunate to have a continental-sized country bounded on its eastern and western flanks by two of the world’s largest oceans, the US is geographically endowed with protective barriers against the great land wars that raged across continental Europe during two world wars.

The foreign policy of a nation, being a continuation of its internal policy, must never lose sight of its geographical interests: the wealth of its coasts or the lack of it, and the same calculation of its neighbors. This accounting and inventory of the assets and liabilities of a nation, from its military force, manpower, land, internal waters, natural resources, intellectual infrastructure, etc. is consistent with the saying, “know yourself, your friends and your enemies.”

A leader who goes into negotiations without a firm understanding of his country’s strengths and weaknesses is an unprepared leader with a weak and shaky hand.

Rule No. 4: Size (power) matters.

Powerful and triumphant states write (or rewrite) history. In war and in peace, size matters. From the Roman Empire to the postwar Pax Americana, power (military, ideological, political, psychological, and economic) dictated the course of history.

But while large states most of the time get what they want, directly or indirectly, smaller states that know how to play the power game can sometimes make up for their smaller size. One easy way is to have strong relationships and alliances with powerful states, such as the US, Russia, or China, an alliance that protects weak states from the predatory machinations of stronger ones.

Apart from war, more often than not, powerful states achieve their foreign policy objectives through a combination of quiet diplomacy, persuasive influence, and rewards and punishments (carrot and stick).

A rare example of a small state exercising respect and power far beyond its shores is Singapore. This tiny island city-state, devoid of natural resources, gained its momentum by replacing its underdeveloped state with a high-end economic powerhouse that is the envy of many nations. In international forums, the voice of Singapore is always respected.

Rule No. 5: There Are No Permanent Friends, Only Permanent Interests.

Foreign policy is governed by the morality of hard pragmatism. To paraphrase strategic thinker Leslie H. Gelb, idealism, reason, and values ​​are fine “but it’s just foreplay.”

Today’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa. Consider the following:

1). China and Russia, once America’s ugly Cold War foes, could now be seen as relatively viable partners in international relations.

two). Germany, a formidable and hated American enemy during the last two world wars, is now a trusted ally of the United States.

3). Similarly, Japan, the country that inflicted a near fatal blow on US naval forces in the Pacific theater, has been a close US ally.

Once again, the end (economic and security partnerships) justifies the means (sleeping with a once hated enemy).

Statecraft recognizes that the world is neither black nor white, but a combination of both. A wise leader quickly learns that it is best to be as self-sufficient as possible and not expect too much from other nations.

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *