As a growing global community made up of multi-cultural nations, the world today may still consist of separate and distinct nations; however, with globalization and transnational relations spearheading common interests among nations in certain regions in the globe, such as APEC, foreign policy seems to be rapidly evolving toward creating a multi-national (as opposed to foreign) policy which at times may run in conflict with a particular nation’s vested interests.
Ordinarily, the idea of foreign policy is to protect and advance the self-interest of a nation vis-a-vis other nations. Cooperation and bi-lateral and multi-lateral accords are entered into with the end in view of promoting those interests while giving in to those of other nations’ interests as much as possible. The delicate balance that many nations have to maintain within the volatile political, social and economic milieu of the real world cannot be sacrificed in favour of one or two nation’s imposing their will upon others.
Foreign relations, when they fail through diplomacy, may lead to violent conflicts and wars. Here are basic concepts for nations to bear in mind when they come together to discuss foreign policy matters:
1. Decision-making in terms of foreign policy must always arise from the people’s will
A nation’s constitution contains the will of a people. How leaders interpret and implement those laws will vary according to their self-interests and political orientation. No leader or nation is ever totally independent of other nation’s political and economic influence. This reality already makes foreign policy an exercise in futility, especially among small nations that are beholden to the developed nations in terms of market-dependence and indebtedness.
What the people can do is be vigilant about how their foreign policy-makers and implementors pursue their nation’s interests in the global scene. A big part of the challenges of making foreign policy is satisfying the people’s needs and expectations in global relations who are the final beneficiaries or victims of foreign policy.
2. Complete world order is not foreseeable in a globe that has nations possessing conflicting and self-oriented foreign policies
It is almost close to impossible to expect even in the far future that a world peace under a so-called New World Order that will be under a unified international government will ever arise. The United Nations may come as the one great crusader for this taunted World Order; however, with the hundreds of nations that compose it, and its inability to readily resolve violent conflicts throughout the world in recent years, we see how it will continue to fail to referee the varying policies and behaviors of so many nations.
Some nations, including the UN, may take the initiative to act as the world’s policeman in resolving violent confrontations now and then. But as long as there are nations whose foreign policies are totally unilateral and even xenophobic and myopic, world order will not be easily established.
3. Regional cooperation is an effective tool for uniting nations with common cultural, social, political and economic interests.
ASEAN has shown part of its role in establishing political, economic and cultural cooperation in Southeast Asia. Eventually, when a common currency will have been set up as it had been done in Europe, it will enhance the region’s ability to act a dynamic player in global affairs. This is also an effective way to counteract the overtly unilateral moves of China in connection with their claims on certain islands which are clearly beyond its territorial limits.
Striking a delicate balance between maintaining trade relations with the economic giant, ASEAN nations continue to voice out their protest against the apparent hegemonic tendencies of China, providing another challenge to US, Japan, South Korea and other developed nations affected by the issue.
4. Systematizing foreign policy through a theoretical framework is like dressing up a tiger as a harmless kitten
Foreign policy academics and researchers tend to believe that providing a scientific framework or theory to describe and systematize foreign policy will provide a clearer model for analyzing how nations behave in terms of international relations. But that is like bringing the sun into the laboratory in order to study how it really works. Or dressing up a tiger like a tame cat without changing its wild unpredictable character within.
Foreign policy will not escape the foundational ideas of Machiavelli or Sun Tzu or more modern thinkers who have labored to make self-interest the prime motivation for political and economic survival in the ancient world as well as in the present milieu.
The world has come a long way in establishing cooperation, harmony and peace on a global scale. What we have is a tribute to the thinkers and workers who helped and cointue to maintain the balance in the world. And yet, we live with jittery anticipation of what a wily rouge nation or several conspiring nations who might one day tilt the world beyond its regular orbit around its axis, so to speak.
The best strategy for keeping world peace and harmony is not through scientific research or trade relations or military action but through establishing common values that reinforce nations’ heritage as human beings with common basic interests and needs.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as foreign as everything that we value (family, heritage, honor, property and land) is a common denominator in every nation by virtue of our birth, humanity and destiny. Foreign policy is largely an artificial orientation that only divides and creates disharmony, in general. We must work toward an encompassing international or global policy that benefits us all equitably.