Of values & interests

Of values & interests

Values in Foreign Policy Edited by Krishnan Srinivasan, James Mayall and Sanjay PulipakaRowman & Littlefield, 2019pp 293, Rs 980

Governments like to present their foreign policy in terms of lofty values. However, the reality is that often it is economic and/or security and strategic interests that get precedence over the values they claim to uphold. Sometimes, values and interests are mutually reinforcing. Often, they are in conflict with each other. Should we respect another country’s national sovereignty or speak out, even intervene to halt atrocities there? Should we support an undemocratic regime that ensures stability in a strategically important neighbouring country or back a mass pro-democracy movement there that has the potential to leave it in chaos?

Values in Foreign Policy: Investigating Ideals and Interests edited by Krishnan Srinivasan, James Mayall and Sanjay Pulipaka is a compilation of essays by 18 scholars and diplomats. The contributors examine the values which drive the foreign policies of countries in three continents: North America, Europe and Asia and offer insights into the complex interaction between values and interests in shaping their foreign policies. So how has this tension played out in the US? William J Antholis points out, for over a century now, Americans have generally leaned more towards universalism, although the foreign policies of successive presidents reflected a blending of universalist and particularist values. Thus, values like multilateralism, economic integration, free trade and democracy have enjoyed bipartisan support, he says.

However, President Donald Trump is swinging to “the farthest end away from universalism across all strands of values and interests,” he says (p.63). His championing of ‘America First’ focuses on privileges unilateralism over multilateralism and protectionism over economic integration.

Global or humanitarian concerns are not a priority. This is in contrast to the universalist, pro-democracy world-view of career diplomats and professionals who shape American foreign policy. They are resisting Trump’s particularist course on security and trade, Antholis says.

In his essay on Chinese foreign policy, Zhang Lihua maintains that traditional cultural values like harmony, benevolence, righteousness and wisdom are manifested in its foreign policy. Obeying ‘the system of law in international society’ is a Chinese core value, he says. In his overview of values in Asian foreign policies, Ravi Velloor counters Zhang’s claims.

He draws attention to Beijing’s refusal to respect The Hague tribunal’s verdict of 2016 relating to maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. Velloor points out that China as “observed more in the breach” the Panchsheel principles, which supposedly guide China’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to its disputes with other countries over the South China Sea.

Krishnan Srinivasan points out that Nehru’s foreign policy drew on principles derived from religious traditions, the belief in Gandhian non-violence, the struggle against colonial rule and solidarity with African and Asian nations. Non-alignment was the ‘signature policy’ of the Nehru period and although it was framed in morality and idealism, it was pragmatic and enabled a newly independent country with limited resources to punch above its weight. But it came under pressure from the real world forcing India to deviate from its principles. This deviation has increased over the decades.

Srinivasan’s essay on Indian foreign policy focuses on the Nehru period and on non-alignment but ignores India’s dilemmas over democracy. India came out in strong support of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement between 1988 and 1992, even honouring its leader Aung San Suu Kyi with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.

Yet by the early-mid-1990s, New Delhi was courting Myanmar’s generals. Strategic and economic interests trumped democratic principles. Similar interests underlay its support to King Gyanendra and the Royal Nepal Army even as the Nepali public and political parties demanded his ouster in 2005-06. Prioritising values over interests is easier with distant countries.

The Narendra Modi government “makes no reference to philosophical values other than Hindutva,” and while Gandhi is evoked it is “without the invocation of non-violence,” Srinivasan writes. The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one) is often evoked. Srinivasan’s observation raises food for thought.

Not only is there tension between values and interests in foreign policy but also, values championing inclusivity abroad may not approximate with reality at home.