Friday, April 1, 2016

Diplomacy or personal will

The liberation of Palmyra is just one of the results of the new constructive cooperation between Russia and the United States over Syria. This cooperation is an example of the still surviving elements of the stable old world order, which resulted from mutually recognized spheres of interest and rules for behavior: A moderated proxy war in the third world, pressure and strong statements from both sides, but de facto ignoring hysterical reactions in the press and above all patient step by step diplomatic activity. Much of the same elements also characterized the way to the brilliant nuclear deal with Iran. 

But we may now be entering the era of the Erdogans, Orb├íns, Trumps and Le Pens with all the shortsightedness and inconsistency that this implies. With such people as leaders it could be easier  to strike a deal here and now without long negotiations. But it is equally easy to have misnderstandings and sudden changes of minds and policies being determined by personal animosities. The foreign policy of the Western democratic powers with their frequent changes of leaders could become especially inconsistent in such a declined political culture. 

The time of long term international stability could be replaced by lability based on transient changes of mood in the leaders and in the populations, the media and not least in the Internet.

The Greco-Roman world around 100 BC went through a similar transition. Instead of conflicts, wars and treaties between political parties with ideologies and between countries came power struggles and private deals between dominating men as so clearly seen in the triumvirates. Similar developments took place in other civilizations in the last century of their modernities. Just look at the Oriental world in the 11th century where the emerging sultans had a role corresponding to that of the triumvirs. We too are entering the time of the triumvirs. Sudden deals between leaders, sudden disruption of ties, sudden adventures.

In Rome because of the total dominance of this single power the triumvirs were all from the state of Rome. In our case they will be leaders from different big powers.

Stable longterm international relations could gradually become replaced by private deals and breaks between single leaders of the big powers.

Already before this phase we see international politics being disturbed by immature traits apparent in the eastward political and military expansion of NATO and the EU. And the 2014 Russian answer in the form of the ntevention in Eastern Ukraine. Such acts are unnecessary, insensitive and breaking the rules of avoiding provocations. The planned NATO missile shield mostly based in Eastern Europe is the continuation of these insensitive acts.

Such behaviors represent the often mentioned general political decline, here also manifesting itself in international politics.

Another result of this decline in foreign politics is a disappearance of the border between diplomacy and the media and in general the public opinion. The populist leaders merge with and lead the public opinion in their transient moods, and worse, the diplomatic activity will no longer have the freedom from interference needed to reach balanced solutions. The leaders and media will not distinguish between 1) symbolic power demonstrations or mere signals and 2) real threats or problems. What used to be semi-conflicts or games in preparation of and as part of diplomacy, will be perceived as serious threats or provocations demanding immediate action, not only as hitherto by the press, but also by the leaders.

Signals will be confused with reality.

The next step is the full transformation from foreign policies being governed by strategic thinking and diplomacy to a policy determined by the personal will of the rulers. The era of higher forms of foreign policies could sooner or later come to an end. 

Of course the impact of the will of leaders can be partly absorbed by the political and legal system in countries and unions where the power of the leader is clearly limited. But 1) in some countries like Hungary or Turkey these limits are being removed, and 2) where they are not, like in the case of the EU the political decline leads to the impossibility of making decisions.

In powers where the leader already has a constitutionally based strong influence on foreign policies like the United States, Russia and France, the impact from future presidents making personalized foreign politics will be immediate and strong. The emerging inconsistent personalized international relations can become a nightmare for experienced diplomats.