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The Power of Diplomacy

How the quality of diplomacy can greatly determine a nation’s power vis-a-vis other nations.

In my previous post, I wrote that a nation’s power determines its pecking order in the geopolitical arena. What exactly constitutes a nation’s power is then the next logical point of consideration. Through the next few posts, I will discuss the sources of national power with examples of how these powers have been utilized in the geopolitical space.

One source of power comes across as the most significant one in several streams of thought – diplomacy. Diplomacy here is loosely defined as the act of getting other countries to agree to what a nation/group of nations wants without the use of a conventional military force. This ‘power of diplomacy’ Kautilya says, is superior to all the other sources of power. Geopolitical realist Hans Morgenthau, in his seminal work Politics among Nations also concurs when he says –

Of all the factors that make for the power of a nation, the most important, and of the more unstable, is the quality of diplomacy.. The conduct of a nation’s foreign affairs by its diplomats is for national power in peace what military strategy and tactics by its military leaders are for national power in war.

To give an analogy, while the other sources of power like military, nuclear deterrence, economy are like raw materials in an industry, diplomacy is the machine that synthesizes these materials into a finished product into a foreign policy which is then visible to the rest of the world. If the diplomacy is of high quality, the quality of the final product is much greater than the sum total of its parts put together individually. If on the other hand diplomacy lacks vision, is inconsistent with the objectives of the foreign policy, it can produce an output much lesser than the sum total of all elements that make up a nation’s power.

Let’s discuss some ways in which diplomacy has worked in modern history.

Hans Morgenthau writes that the diplomacy of France between 1890 up to the World War I presents a very good example of diplomacy raising a nation’s power. Bismark had successfully managed to isolate France from 1870 till 1890. After Bismark’s dismissal, German foreign policy weakened and could not make any alliances with other European powers. France on the other hand made several agreements with Britain and Russia after 1890. It was a result of this diplomatic effort that in World War I, France had Russia and Britain on its side while Germany did not. Post World War II, France achieved diplomatic success through the policy of Francafrique, which helped it regain some of its lost sheen in the politics of Africa.

Through diplomacy, some nations have also managed to convert what might seem global challenges into sources of power. An example is countries like Maldives, Seychelles and others who now call themselves collectively as SIDS (Small Island Developing States). By raising the issues of global warming time and again in international forums and advocating climate change diplomacy, these countries now play a leading role in global systems like Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change (UNFCCC). The sharp diplomacy of the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan has managed to position itself as a receiver of international grants for ending terrorism on one hand while on the other, it continues to support the same terrorism.

Another country that punches way above its weight in geopolitics through diplomacy is Norway. By positioning itself as an impartial mediator in resolving conflicts, Norway has managed to increase its “soft power” manifold. Norway played a major role in long-standing conflicts of Palestine-Israel, Sri Lanka and Guatemala thereby becoming a global troubleshooter. On a related note, as the Acorn writes, India squandered the opportunity of playing a much bigger role in resolving the Iran-US conflict on the lines of what Norway achieved.

Diplomatic power is sometimes expressed through regional groups. A case in point here was Lebanon, as the sole member of the Arab League in the UNSC in 2011, its opinion was central to what the UN would do in Libya. It achieved consensus in the Arab League and voted against Libya in the UN resolution dealing with the establishment of no-fly zone over parts of Libya. By forming strong diplomatic channels and achieving consensus within regional groups, a nation can play a much greater role than it could do on its own.

As the examples demonstrate, the quality of diplomacy is a major factor that determines a nation’s influence. How it can be measured and quantified is something that I will explore in due course of my project.


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