• Monday 19th August 2019

Reflections on statesmanship, diplomacy and geo-politics

  • Published on: July 17, 2019

  • By M.R. Josse

    NEW YORK, NY: This week’s column will ruminate over some scattered but hopefully still relevant reflections on statesmanship, diplomacy and geo-politics — based on assorted chunks of wisdom proffered by acknowledged statesmen/diplomats.
    Thus, though there is never any dearth of topics that are eminently noteworthy, especially in President Donald Trump’s America, let us mull over instead – for a change – on Henry Kissinger’s illuminating observations on statesmanship, as they are recounted by Winston Lord in the opening chapter of his fascinating monograph – “Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership.”
    As Lord reminisces, Kissinger holds that “statesmanship requires both the vision to establish long-range goals and the courage to make the often harrowing decisions to move forward towards them.”
    With regard to tactics that leaders can/should employ to fulfill such goals, Kissinger holds that “the choices reaching the president are close calls – otherwise they would be resolved at the lower levels.”
    On strategy, America’s pre-eminent historian-statesman says is that “there is the much more exacting challenge of dealing with fateful conjecture…When the scope for action is greatest, the knowledge of the terrain is limited or ambiguous. The more is known, the less room for maneuver.”
    In an aside, Kissinger discloses that one of his boss Richard Nixon’s core principles was: “Since you pay the same price for half measures, you should adopt bold measures.”
    Kissinger continues to expound on issues concerning diplomacy, grand strategy and leadership, thus: “I would say you need a minimum of intelligence to understand the issues. You can always have intelligent people, but you cannot have character.”
    He then goes on to expand on the art or challenge of decision-making in this fashion: “Much of the web of decisions is based on conjecture. You have to make an assessment that you cannot prove correct when you make it. You will only know in retrospect…So the art is to make your judgment at a moment when you have enough facts to be able to interpret what will turn out the correct way, not so soon that you overthrow everything and not so late that you are stagnating.”
    Finally, Kissinger has this revealing nugget to offer vis-à-vis Nixon/Kissinger’s celebrated strategic gambits towards Moscow and Beijing of the early1970s: “We pursued the Moscow and Beijing summits simultaneously. Our strategy was to be closer to both the Soviet Union and China than they were to each other. The Soviets had misread our earlier attempts to start to have a Soviet summit because they did not know about the Chinese summit. And we offered it to the Soviets ahead of the Chinese.”
    Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, offers what to me seems eminently sound advice on diplomacy – or, more narrowly, on diplomacy’s purpose.
    In his detailed and richly documented book, “From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador In Putin’s Russia”, McFaul offers a revelatory, behind-the-scenes account of America-Russia relations.
    During President Obama’s first term McFaul helped craft America’s Russia policy known as ‘Reset’; later, during his ambassadorial stint (2012-2014), he was witness to Putin’s Russia ending an era of cooperation with the United States, dragging it down to a level of confrontation not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War.
    In the epilogue dealing with Trump and Putin, McFaul says that during his first year in office Trump failed to articulate a coherent strategy for dealing with Russia. While clear about his desire to befriend Putin, Trump, he avers, never elucidated the foreign policy objectives he sought to achieve while engaging Russia.
    This leads McFaul to expound, thus: ” ‘Good relations’ should never be the goal of U.S. foreign policy towards Russia or any country. Diplomacy is not a popularity contest. Rather, better engagement always must be used to as one of the possible means to advance American security, prosperity, and values goals. Trump confused means and ends in formulating his ideas about Russia policy, defining ‘better relations’ as his main objective instead of articulating concrete security and economic objectives of benefit to the American people. The result was unimpressive.”
    Methinks there is fine lesson here for Nepal’s politicos who are not known for their international relations acumen – and the leading lights of our ‘foreign policy community’, if one can so term them.
    What’s in a name? The short answer is: ‘plenty’. Such thoughts surfaced noting that for sometime now there has been a calculated move to substitute ‘Indo-Pacific’ (sometime without the hyphenation) for ‘Asia-Pacific.’
    Essentially, what it boils down to is the decision by some countries – including India, Japan, Australia, the United States, France and Indonesia and, collectively, ASEAN – recognising that the Indian and Pacific Oceans constitute a single strategic space.
    This semantics gimmick in fact seeks to elevate the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, and India in particular, for the undeclared but obvious geo-political objective of containing China, essentially an Asia-Pacific power, whose growing power the ‘Indo-Pacific’ powers, if they can be so termed, would wish to greatly diminish.
    Also, the term ‘Indo’, for the Indian Ocean, is not only a legacy of British imperialism but is out-and-out misleading: the waters of the ‘Indian’ Ocean wash the shores of scores of African and umpteen Asian states, other than India. The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ thus gives disingenuous, and undeserved, importance to India in all matters having a bearing on the ‘Indian’ Ocean!
    The rush to replace the neutral ‘Asia-Pacific’ nomenclature – long favored by the United Nations – with ‘Indo Pacific’ or ‘Indo-Pacific’ started after the Trump administration decided to rename its military base in Hawaii from Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command.
    Since the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are conjoined by the Panama Canal, one might argue: why not have a Indo-Pacific-Atlantic Command for the U.S. military?
    Patently, there is clearly much more to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ semantics game than meets the eye.

    Editor’s Note:
    As Mr Josse is currently traveling in the U.S. his column will resume in two-three weeks’ time.


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