INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
Unit 3: Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
Foreign policy concerns how one country relates to another country, for instance how
Canada ought to relate to America, or how America ought to relate to Iraq. There are two
fundamental, logical issues of foreign policy: ▯▯▯ZKDW¶V▯WKH▯JRDO, in our relations with
another country?; and 2) what are the means we ought to use to achieve that goal?
In terms of the basic goals of foreign policy, there is a classic, time-honoured split
between Realismand Idealism.
Realism is the view that, as a country, your goal
dealing with the outside world, ³the international
community,´ one RXJKW▯WR▯³/RRN▯2XW▯)RU▯1XPEHU▯
2QH´▯▯GR▯WKH▯EHVW▯ you can for your own society,
especially in terms of: national security/defence,
growing the economy and population, access to
natural resources, DQG▯ DXJPHQWLQJ▯ RQH¶V▯ FXOWXUDO▯
and political influence around the world. At
\RX¶YH▯ already got; at most, you should get as
much as you can and, in fact, re-make the world in
your own image. Prominent realist thinkers would include Machiavelli and Hans
Morgenthau. Prominent realist politicians would include Henry Kissinger and former US
President Richard Nixon.
1 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
1.1.2. Constrained vs. Unconstrained Selfishness
what they are, at times, made out to
be. It all depends how you define
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difference between what David
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unconstrained maximizer (of your
own pleasure and interest), you simply always put your own interests at the forefront in a
YHU\▯REYLRXV▯▯XQFRQFHDOHG▯ZD\▯▯7KHUH¶V▯QR▯DUW▯WR▯LW at all: you just demand your way,
maximizers, and they retaliate with selfish or un-cooperative behaviour of their own. This
actually decreases the ability of unconstrained maximizers to get what they want. So,
clever realists often suggest, especially when it comes to foreign policy, that the best
policy is that of constrained maximization, wherHLQ▯RQH¶V▯PRWLYHV▯DUH▯VWLOO▯IXQGDPHQWDOO\▯
reasonableness. One is more artful and tactful DERXW▯WKH▯SXUVXLW▯RI▯RQH¶V▯LQWHUHVW▯▯RQ▯WKH▯
common-VHQVLFDO▯ JURXQGV▯WKDW▯³KRQH\▯ DWWUDFWV▯ PRUH▯IOLHV▯WKDQ▯YLQHJDU▯´▯ I shall argue
below that recent American foreign policy has forwarded more of an unconstrained
maximization approach, whereas recent Canadian foreign policy sports an orientation of
1.1.3. The Assurance Problem
One of the most important concepts within the realist world view is the so-FDOOHG▯³UHDOLVW▯
DVVXUDQFH▯SUREOHP▯´▯The assurance problem is this: fundamentally, countries cannot trust
each other. There are just too many differences between them, in terms of their world-
world government to help them align their policies. In the end, countries have no one to
rely upon except themselves. In this sense, the international arena is completely different
2 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
from the arena in well-ordered domestic or national societies, like here in Canada. Here,
we can more or less count on peace and order and good government, and on most people
being basically law-abiding, etc., and maybe even sharing a roughly-defined world view.
But internationally, there just LVQ¶W that kind of peace and order and good, over-arching
government, and there is no guarantee RI▯JRRG▯EHKDYLRXU▯IURP▯RWKHUV▯▯7KXV▯▯WKHUH¶V▯D▯ELJ▯
WUXVW▯▯RU▯³DVVXUDQFH´▯▯SURblem in international life. The international world is just far
more dangerous and unpredictable. Thus, realists conclude, the only smart policy is a
selfish policy²looking out for yourself, since no one else will. Whether that selfishness
gets expressed iQ▯D▯FRQVWUDLQHG▯RU▯XQFRQVWUDLQHG▯ZD\▯ZLOO▯GHSHQG▯RQ▯RQH¶V▯RZQ▯SRZHU▯
and the nature of the situation one is in.
Idealism, by contrast, is the view that your goal as a
country, when dealing with others, ought to be to do
your part in making the world a better place. It is
like a form of national altruism or un-selfishness.
When dealing with the outside world, use your
resources and influence to improve the world: make
it richer, happier, more secure, and so on. Be a good
international citizen. Give a damn, and act
accordingly. Prominent idealist thinkers would
include Immanuel Kant, whereas prominent idealist
politicians would include former US President
The idealist response to the assurance problem is
this: insist on multi-laterDO▯▯³PDQ\-VLGHG´▯▯▯QRW▯XQLODWHUDO▯▯³RQH-VLGHG´▯, approaches to
international problems. Instead of going it on your own, join in with others and everyone
can then help each other. This co-operative approach, it is said, is so much better than
constantly looking over your shoulder, seeing if anyone is about to undermine your
interests and stick it to you. Support the UN and international law, instead of just always
3 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
going it alone in terms of foreign policy. The strong point here that they have is this:
a nice, sober, realistic thing to keep in mind. In other words, where would the world be
without some idealism?
1.3. Common Ground Between the Caricatures
This big distinction between realism and idealism is, I think, often radically over-played
and exaggerated: essentially, caricatures. Idealists tend to think that realists are
completely unprincipled, ruthless, cynical. Machiavelli, for instance, was even derided as
being fully evil in his day and time (Renaissance Italy). Realists, for their part, view
idealists as utterly unrealistic, utopian do-gooders; even as sort of being stupid and out of
touch with the way the world really is. The charges essentially boil down to excess
pessimismon the part of the realists; and excess optimismon the part of the idealists.
The good news is that there is common ground between the two doctrines:
1. Often, ideals and interests can run together. In other words, following ideals can
often be in your interests. Consider, as an example, in your personal life when it is
often in your best interests to treat others in accord with the ideal of honesty.
2. Peoples and nations often have, as part of their interests, their ideals. They want to
see their ideals realized in the world. In other words, they define the realization of
their ideals as part of their national interest.
3. The point that some idealism is necessary for the world to improve at all is a neat
HPSLULFDO▯FODLP▯▯3UHVXPDEO\▯▯LW▯LV▯LQ▯RQH¶V▯own best interests to live in a better
world over time.
But I do want to add some caution here, and I guess in doing so maybe I reveal my slight
1. States often pay way more lip-service to their ideals than their interests.
2. As a result, I think that interests tend to be a much better indicator of actual
behaviour than ideals.
4 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
3. The reality of hypocrisy. Often, peoples and states fail to live up to their own
ideals. Or, they say they believe in something, but the reality is they behave in a
in their selfish interests to do than in expecting them to follow what they tell us
are their ideals.
2. What are The Tools of Foreign Policy?
Every foreign policy textbook in the world will tell you that there are three basic tools to
use, as you try to realize your goals in foreign policy: diplomacy; sanctions; and force.
Obviously, this is when you try to persuade the other country to adopt your view, and act
accordingly. This is done by talking, negotiating, lobbying, dealing, trying to persuade
them rationally, through argument, or through offering positive political or economic
Diplomacy happens every day, and this is
one of the main functions of consulates
and embassies around the world. For
example, Canada has a massive
diplomatic presence in the United States.
This is because America is our largest
trading partner and has the most affect, of
any other country, upon the quality of our
lives. So, the Canadian government has invested massively in having a huge diplomatic
staff, and not just at the main embassy in Washington. Canada actually has smaller
consulates all around the United States, essentially in every city over a population of
500,000. The job of the diplomats is to use persuasion and lobbying and deal-making in
represHQWLQJ▯&DQDGD¶V▯QDWLRQDO▯LQWHUHVWV▯WR▯GHFLVLRQ-makers in the United States, trying to
5 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
businesses trying to negotiate deals with American businesses.
But note that diplomaF\▯GRHVQ¶W▯DOZD\V▯KDYH▯WR▯EH▯SRVLWLYH▯DQG▯JORZLQJ▯LQ▯LWV▯QDWXUH▯▯
even though this is commonly what we mean when we compliment someone on being
³GLSORPDWLF▯´▯'LSORPDF\▯FDQ▯LQYROYH▯EHKLQG-the-scenes private threats, or even in-front-
of-the-camera public criticism. These things are quite common in international relations.
But the point is that it remains diplomacy as long as it is just words. When hostile actions
start taking place, then we are moving out of the realm of diplomacy and towards the
other tools of foreign policy.
displeasure you are willing to show in your relations with another country. You are also
here more willing to move away from positive incentives, and mutually beneficial deal-
making, and towards negative incentives: threats, non-cooperation, punishment,
deliberately taking actions which you believe will thwart the interests of the other
country. Sanctions can vary in level and intensity and affect. Small sanctions include
Or, maybe closing your embassy. Or, PD\EH▯H[SHOOLQJ▯WKH▯WDUJHW▯FRXQWU\¶V▯GLSORPDWV▯
from your own country. You are clearly conveying displeasure, and punishing that
society, but only to a small extent and in a way which is very targeted towards the
government of that society.
2.2.1. Targeted vs. Sweeping Sanctions
What about economic sanctions? Here we must distinguish between targeted and
sweeping sanctions. Targeted sanctions are when the measures of punishment and un-
cooperation are focused upon hurting the elite decision-makers in the target country. A
recent example was in 1994, when the USA slapped targeted sanctions on the leaders of a
military coup in Haiti and their families. The coup leaders had their US bank accounts
6 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
government made it illegal