Monday, August 6, 2012

Foreign Policy, Culture and the Past
                Romney's assertion considering Russia as the U.S. number one geopolitical strategic foe was intriguing. Clearly, Romney was, among other things, reiterating talking points his foreign policy advisors taught him. The fact politicians are influenced by their advisors is not a troublesome phenomenon; politicians can't process on their own eve every issue or opportunity and must rely on a large staff dedicated to analyze complex situations and provide the decision-maker with their insights and recommendations. A rational decision making process involves weighing the pros and cons of conflicting ideas. The person of authority decides the best course of action using a process that balances the proposals with his core beliefs and values. Romney’s pool of advisors consists simply of individuals from the previous administration seeking to restore their failed policies rejected and changed by the current government. This pattern can be observed in the international system as a whole; states’ foreign policies change and shifts, sometimes radically, based on the ideology driving the policymaking. In order to ascertain the root causes of these dynamics, we must comparatively and critically analyze whether culture or the past is the overreaching theme shaping the interactions in the international system. The post Arab Spring environment makes such analysis crucially needed in order to predict the interactions involving both state and non-state actors and the possible spread of inter and intrastate conflicts validating Huntington's apocalyptic civilizations clash prophecy.

            Comparative foreign policy contrasts the foreign policies of various States to determine general empirical connections between the attributes of the State and the traits of its foreign policy. The study of foreign policy distinctively links international relations and domestic politics by taking into account both internal and external events’ influence on state conduct. The goal of comparative foreign policy is to confirm recurring and recognizable archetypes; in the quest to distinguish norms of behavior events are not considered historically exclusive, therefore, studying the past is at the core of this discipline. Discovering past patterns is essential to achieve broad awareness and a better ability to anticipate future actions; knowing the factors shaping the choice of entering into a conflict enables us to forecast, influence, and perhaps even avert potential international conflicts. Many scholars argue the past is the driving force of foreign policy due to continuum from past to future; armed with historical knowledge, policy makers caught up in a living moment with no certainty of how things would turn out, approach, analyze, and react to the current challenge based on the lessons learned from the historical past.

            Certainly, traumatic and pleasant experiences take part in molding a state’s identity and its politics and stay resilient in the communal consciousness for numerous generations who have not witnessed the initial or seminal experiences. Ted Hopf asserts past interactions lead individuals to develop habits; habits are spontaneous, oblivious, automatic, and impetuous. Succumbing to habits eliminates shrewdness, agency, and ambiguity, therefore leading to the adoption of a distinct understanding of collaboration, security quandaries, persistent enmities, and security communities in interstate interactions (Hopf, 2010). Habit contrasts with learning because habitual stereotypes are self organized; since individuals are oblivious of their processes they develop a cognitive underpinning for self-fulfilling prophecies. In the case of Russia, it is clear that habit is influencing team Romney’s assessment; Russia’s past since the Tsars was based on a totalitarian culture and political system which always compelled the Kremlin to rely on the Western menace image domestically and undertake a revisionist behavior.

            The past has a dual role; it gives individuals historical icons or "pointers" to associate themselves with and to assemble around, it also provides the essential connection between past and present and future. Dreyer, Colaresi, and Thompson focused on the causality between interstates’ historical past and persistence of rivalries, intractability of conflicts, and escalation of conflicts. Dreyer found that issue conflict buildup is likely to boost the possibility of armed conflict (Dreyer, 2010). Historical memories, either genuine or fictitious, are capable of causing conflicts, prejudice, nationalism, and cultural identities. Due to these historical memories, international rivals frequently vie over numerous issues concomitantly, hence multiplying the antes of the competition. Because of their past, the parties develop deep mistrust towards each other and any gesture from the other side, even if positive, will be viewed with suspicion and interpreted as a threat. Colaresi, and Thompson share the same opinion, they contend disputes in the realm of historical enmity is more complex than conflicts among non rival states (Colaresi and Thompson, 2002). According to their research, a small number of dyads which relations are plagued by an intractable conflict are to blame for the majority of the international conflicts; their past promotes the escalation and amplifies the expectation of continued rivalry. Finally, Cederman revisited Kant’s democratic peace theory and reinterpreted it as a dynamic and dialectical learning process, as it failed to explain why other non democratic dyads have shown a pacifying trend among them (Cederman, 2001).

            Historical memory is the quintessence of communal knowledge that is stored and construed through the socialization process. The usefulness and importance of the lessons of history are undisputed; learning from the past becomes important for providing a sense of direction to policy makers when they face an unfamiliar situation. Nevertheless, making the past the major source of foreign policy hinders the pursuit of national interests. While the past may have influence on foreign policy undertakings as the researchers above contend, deriving foreign policy from the past becomes problematic because all knowledge of history is subjective; the way individuals recall historical information and what they learn from it is subject to interpretation and re-interpretation. The past is static and cannot be changed, foreign policy, however, is never static; it must respond to and initiate actions as circumstances change. Culture is impacted by an ever-changing world as new phenomena of social, intellectual, economic or technical nature emerge. Culture determines the affective and cognitive behaviors which an individual selects to meet environmental demands and in doing so develops or changes current policies. In foreign policy, the notion of culture could be depicted as broad and general beliefs and attitudes about one's own state, about other states, and about the relationships they can realize or that they should realize between the self and other actors in the international system.

            In order to comprehend decision making processes, we have to grasp the influence of information processing and various biases. Culture represents a group’s favored method to sense, evaluate, and systemize the concepts, circumstances, and incidents they come across. Cultures do vary considerably as distinct cultural communities have dissimilar customs, live through different histories, and engage in different practices; therefore a divergence in their styles of thinking and thus in their action is likely. The most important influence of culture is perhaps the gradual formation of one’s way of thinking, which has a strong impact on one’s perception of the outside world and interpretation of oneself and others. This can explain how Rabin's practices and policies created a cultural space in Israeli politics in which a withdrawal from the occupied territories became attractive and well-founded. This cultural shift was facilitated by the Palestinians' own adaptation to the new realities; changing the Charter to remove the destruction of Israel clause was a significantly important trust-building action in the peace process.

            Many scholars developed a culture focused research to determine causality between war and state formation. Taylor and Botea found that ethnic diversity and promulgation of unifying national ideology affected the state formation in post war Afghanistan and Vietnam differently; relative ethnic homogeneity was a significant contributing factor in the building of Vietnam after the long war (Taylor and Botea, 2006). Theis focused on the state building in South America and found that interstate wars did not improve the extractive capacity of the state; in those countries internal rivalries as much of an impact as external threats. This political culture impacted the foreign policy and state building process of  causing it to focus on balancing between the two threats (Theis, 2005). Some however disagree, Duffield contends there is no discernible pattern of influence of culture on Germany’s behavior after unification; Germany’s political culture is greatly shaped by its past experiences and therefore it favors policies of continuity, stability, and restraint rather than resorting to unilateral aggressive behavior (Duffield, 1999). Culture also contributes to trust building, cooperation, and attitudes towards international institutions. In the U.S. Democrats favor cooperation and building alliances to boost legitimacy of foreign policy undertakings, however, Republicans view treaties in their international operations as political obligations restraining the U.S. sovereignty.  This is emphasized in Rathbun’s social psychological theory of international cooperation in which he argues that “multilateralism is a dispositional trait” rather than a reaction to tangible security situation (Rathbun, 2011).

            Perhaps, Huntington’s clash of civilizations theory, due to its grim outlook,  sparked much research that eventually supported the effect of culture on foreign policy, and the likelihood of a future devastating conflict with the Islamic civilization. According to Huntington, “A civilization is the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have.” Extreme divergences and increased contact and visibility will strengthen “civilization consciousness and awareness of differences and commonalities,” thus choices to engage in major conflicts will be based on cultural parameters  (Huntington, 1993). Haynes, shares this concern as he realizes globalization caused many of these cultural differences to be heightened (Haynes, 2005). While is it true that the increase of civilizational conflict with Islamic civilization from Western perspective, the Islamic civilization have cultural conflict with all other civilizations as their past conflicts have always been civilizational (Fox, 2001). This civilizational conflict has been latent as most state actors confined in the Islamic civilization favored secularism and fought radical Islam. Terrorist groups and non-state actors have been so far the flagship in this Civilizational clash; radical Islamists’ culture is based on moral commands and aspirations that are rigid and impregnable. Their belief system is totalitarian, that is, it prohibits coexistence with different ideals and morals and asserts an absolute authority to regulate every aspect in the life of people under its jurisdiction. The civilizational clash is looming in a post Arab spring world where radical Islamist groups have become state actors, the civilizational clash will be twofold; radical Islamists as state actors will attempt to eradicate alternative forms of moral, social, and political though such as secularism and modernism from Muslim societies, and in order to avoid disturbance from the West they will keep them preoccupied with threats from non-state actors; Diasporas in the West will feel the blunt of any civilizational conflict.

            In this particular case, the Muslim and Arab Diaspora in Western societies is experiencing a harsh environment since the terrorists attacks in the host countries involving radicalized and alienated young and well educated Muslims, this environment has results in more quotidian political and social violence which increased radicalization. Western societies are based on the citizens’ commitment to liberal-democratic and humane principles and not to an ethnically-based, cultural community (Shain, 1995). The post 9/11 environment generated mistrust towards this Diaspora; authorities waived privacy rights of certain groups a covert war is being waged to prevent a widespread homegrown terrorism phenomena, some politicians even warn against Muslim extremists’ infiltration of Western governments and call for their dismissal. This will at the end lower the groups’ collective self-esteem, make them reconsider their national identities and allegiances, and increase the likelihood of intergroup bigotry, repression of liberties, and aggression (Spinner-Halev and Theiss-Morse). The problem is, Arab and Muslim diasporas vary widely in degrees of religious involvement and include those who are ultra-orthodox, those who rarely attend mosque, and non-practicing or ex-Muslims who are still part of a Muslim community. Many of them have left their countries because of  home dictatorial regimes supported by the west for decades in the name of combating Islamic radicalization; these people resent radical Islam because they consider it the cause of their grievances. Because the Diaspora is not united their identity has no implication on Western foreign policies (King and Melvin, 2000), however, should a Civilizational conflict erupt they may relate more to the home states and be used as a tool to shape their host states foreign policies through terrorist acts.

            According to Darwinism, species that adjust to their environment prosper; those unsuccessful to progress risk annihilation. Human wellbeing was enhanced as new knowledge defied and ultimately defeated prevalent dogmas, including revered but idiotic beliefs that had been around for centuries. The foreign policy goals and priorities of individual nation states are more impacted with globalization, as such they are compelled to adapt their cultures to an interdependent, multi-polar international environment. However, the challenges facing the international community within the context of globalization include a possible civilizational conflict which may wreck havoc and greatly impact foreign policy choices. In conflict situations several factors influence decisions making processes which at times turn out to be irrational. Occasionally decisions have to be made with incomplete and insufficient information; culture, Judgment, intuition, experience and knowledge all come together when making these decisions.

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Dreyer, D., (2010), "Issue Conflict Accumulation and the Dynamics of Strategic Rivalry", International Studies Quarterly 54(3): 779-795.
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