Tag Archives | Geopolitics

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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Power Dynamics and its role in Geopolitics

Quite often, casual discussions and news coverage on geopolitical events result in value judgments. For example, the reaction to USA’s role in Afghanistan or Syria is criticized on the grounds that it is morally wrong  for USA and its allies to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. Such opinions however are simplistic as they assume that the laws and principles which apply to domestic affairs apply internationally as well. The reality is quite opposite – the morality of a nation-state within its boundaries is in most cases, based on a document like the constitution which every citizen and the government is expected to adhere to. A deviation from the principles of constitutionalism is thus considered wrong or inimical to the interests of the nation as a whole. On the other hand, the rules of the game that apply to international affairs and geopolitics are completely different. There is no constitution or a written code of conduct here. There is no sovereign authority that can impose itself on all the nations of the world. Much of international law is also based on prior consent of nations. This means that a state member of the international community is not obliged to abide by a type of international law, unless it has expressly consented to a particular course of conduct. The fundamental law which then applies to international relations is that of Power. As the Acorn explains, it is the law of the jungle, the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ that ensures the survival of a nation and determines its influence. The significance of power is reaffirmed by the existing structure of a global organization like the UN. While around 200 members are a part of it, the permanent UNSC members which have the power to veto are the five most powerful countries at the end of WW2, when the UN was constituted.

Power, thus is to geopolitics what force is to physics. Just as an external force can change the state of inertia of a body, power and influence can change the prevailing state of geopolitics. So it is not surprising that various thinkers, diplomats and think tanks have advanced some means or another of assessing national power. And since there is no common definition for what constitutes power, every research has tried to incorporate different elements of power to come up with a hierarchical structure of the world. Earlier researchers (Inis Claude, Kingsley Davis et al) in the 1960s adopted single variable approaches to measure national power with the lone variable being indicative of either the economy or the military strength of a nation. Thereafter, it was recognized that Power is multi-causal and hence multi-variable approaches to measure power were proposed by experts like Clifford German, Trellis et al. Subsequent researches differ in the selection of the variables and the models used to combine them. In recent times, India’s National Security Index and China’s Comprehensive National Power Index are variants of this multi-variable approach.

My project at Takshashila Institution also relates to forming a Global Power Index. As a first principle and starting point, I will be using the Kautilyan definition of Power. Kautilya, in Arthashastra, says that there are three elements of Power – the Power of Energy which comes from the drive of the ruler and his/her intellectual strength, the Power of counsel and diplomacy and the Power of the army and the treasury. The first source of Power roughly translates to the modern concept of ‘soft power’ while the other two relate to ‘hard power’ of a nation. Kautilya also gave subjective weights to these three sources of power. He says that the Power of the army and treasury is more important than the Power of Energy and the Power of counsel and diplomacy is more important than the other two.

Using the above principle as a reference point my second step would be to identify the various ways in which nations influence each other. The way nations influence each other is a result of the power dynamics situation between various nations. As this report mentions, even providing humanitarian aid to another nation is taken on the basis of how it affects the donor’s power vis-a-vis the other players in a region. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting on the various ways in which nations indulge in a show of strength and classify these actions on the basis of their power sources. For example, Pakistan’s policy of transferring nuclear bomb technology to Saudi Arabia makes it powerful. Other nations looking to build a nuclear deterrence will try to engage Pakistan in various ways to get a similar aid from that country.

The ultimate aim of a Global Power Index is to be able to predict how two nations would engage with each other. The last part of my project will deal with this.

Do help me with your thoughts, comments and suggestions!


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