The Rationale of Foreign Policy

"Current democracies do no longer stand the test of foreign policy. Nonetheless, in the globalization era, it is precisely foreign policy from which many of the real benefits and assets come." Prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori discusses the role of foreign policy in current politics

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stand as (left to right) German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, European Commission Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and German Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth sign documents during the launch of the Alliance for Sahel (Photo: AP)

From the 1970s onwards, politics has undergone a very extensive and thorough conceptual transformation. I am not referring to the usual and trivial issue of the "crisis of ideologies" or the end of Right or Left all-encompassing narratives. Nevertheless, the idea that the post-modern world – which was already on the horizon at the time – could do without what Wittgenstein called "super-orders of super-concepts" has been currently wiped out by reality. On the current political and philosophical scene, there are much greater super-orders than those typical of the bipolar world.

Just think of the post-modern politics derived from Nietzsche’s philosophy or of the wide-ranging issue arising from the confrontation between the Western, secular and religious models and those typical of Islam (and the Chinese traditional culture).

Hence, the first point to raise is that technique – positivistically regarded as an objective practice not influenced by value judgments – cannot even define its aim and its scope of action.

In fact, if we resort to a procedure to solve a specific political and social problem and we use only the technique, I cannot even define it and hence solve it. Where does the impact of new robotic technologies start and end? No limit can define it materially. Hence, each technique has its own defined set of values, and every application of tèchnè is subjected to a series of conceptual, philosophical, historical and ideal approvals that are not written in the procedure but are always there anyway.

If we had no philosophical criterion for defining social justice, we could equally accept the "Obamacare" or the Italian National Health System (NHS), but these are two radically different choices. Hence, which is the "health policy" par excellence?

Furthermore, the concept is always based on the recognition of its limit, which is not only applicative but also descriptive. A limit we cannot define beforehand but must be checked against reality, by applying the concept in a semi-casual way.

A thing is that thing and not another. If we lose sight of the designation of the idea – and hence of its natural limit – we have not a concept, but a flatus vocis identifying at least two different – and, maybe, opposing – things with the same sign. Hence, the idea that in current politics there are no longer effective conceptual limits is not just a resource of propaganda, but a real practical and ideal limit.

Unemployment cannot be solved with the "social wage" because its cost is borne by those who still work and pay taxes. The education crisis cannot be solved by making school curricula even easier since this makes them even more useless. Unfortunately, however, a paradox prevails in all the current governments’ standard political procedures.

It is the paradox of the parts and the sum of these parts. I may also think that Rosso Fiorentino's "Deposition from the Cross" is just a set of brush strokes, but I can never exactly reproduce it. In politics, this means that I may also separate – by means of a pseudo-scientific (and useless) process – the traits of a phenomenon (provided that later this phenomenon is not turned into another), but I cannot solve it only by recomposing its parts differently.

I cannot solve the problem of falling population with immigration, because this phenomenon has a cost that would not be there if there were a normal population replacement rate – and for the additional reason that creating a workforce coming from other regions (net of transfer costs, which are certainly not negligible) is very different from creating it on the spot.

Hence, Popper’s myth of "social engineering" is a false myth, considering that we cannot fully reproduce complex phenomena such as the political ones, and considering that no political fact can be completely isolated from the others. The "social engineering" myth also relates to the idea that the myths, ideas, and motivations of the peoples and the ruling classes are completely irrelevant compared to the old "super-structures" in the Marxist meaning of the word. However, there are physical, chemical and biological reactions. Politics – and foreign policy, in particular – is a biological reaction.

This is another major mistake: politics – and particularly foreign policy – is made up of myths, perceptions, cultural patterns and symbols. There would not currently be Emmanuel Macron’s grandeur in France without Charles De Gaulle’s. And the inferiority complex of the Italian politicians, when it comes to dealing with foreign policy, stems from the fact that they have naively accepted the narrative made by their former enemy turned into a friend after World War II. While Western Germans have never completely regretted the Third Reich, given the propaganda and the "repression of painful memories" which took place after the Allies’ occupation, the Italians were laid the blame for everything, obviously in addition to be considered "traitors" or "treacherous."

Those who make others create their own identity – lose it. Not to mention the fact that Republican Italy has always avoided implementing foreign policy on its own, under the pretext – for fear of the largest Communist Party in the West – of the obligations arising from the Atlantic Alliance’s membership or, more recently, under the pretext of the comical peacekeeping activities where there are wars.

This currently applies to all Western countries: voters are no longer interested in foreign policy. They are interested in symbolic, national actions (the fight against the so-called "caste") or in equally national real benefits, such as jobs or pensions. The current democracies do no longer stand the test of foreign policy, which requires brilliant minds and unprecedented prediction abilities. Nonetheless, in the globalization era, it is precisely foreign policy from which many of the symbolic and real benefits and assets, which appear to be typical of national policy, come.

Furthermore, foreign policy in Italy and abroad is currently implemented on the basis of fully archaic and clearly propaganda-oriented choices. It is also implemented at the lowest level – see the famous "spreading of democracy," or in a slightly more structured way – see the "fight against terrorism." Terrorism is one of the jihad techniques and this is precisely the real context of the asymmetric warfare launched against us, "Jews and Infidel," by a vast part of contemporary Islam.

Nor does the usual paleo-Marxist inference apply – namely that the oil issue underlies the jihad. This is certainly true, but there is also the attempt to unify the Islam after the fragmentation of many Muslim "failed states," as well as the Islamist struggle to conquer Africa and Asia, where the old "Cold War" countries do not operate any longer. Finally, there is also the ideological and political management of the huge Islamic migration into Western countries. In foreign policy, there is not only one single "foundation," but there are always many of them at the same time.

The sum of the parts does not provide the shape of the whole; the sequence of phenomena does not indicate their real relevance and the time when historical facts occur does not indicate their importance.

Obviously, in the case of our politicians, the law of the old US Senator, Tip O'Neill, still applies: every policy is local. Ian Budge’s thesis of rational choice also applies: every politician tries – first and foremost – to be re-elected. As already noted, however, it is foreign policy that currently distorts the national one – it is no longer as during the "Cold War" when foreign policy in Italy was shaped and implemented by its allies.

Nevertheless, how should we currently think in terms of foreign policy? Firstly, the sequences and the most likely consequences of a particular choice should be defined, without ever forgetting exceptions. There is a conceptual mapping deriving from the traditional one – maps are a substitute for the territory. Secondly, the potential of each secondary phenomenon should be assessed: obviously we can send our soldiers to the Middle East with specific rules of engagement or alliances, but we must also be able to "imagine" what would happen if our soldiers were attacked by Hamas or the Sinai Islamic Jihad. Different effects for the same phenomenon. Moreover, foreign policy has to do with alchemy: if we send soldiers to the Middle East, we must be able to use this political-military success to obtain less expensive oil contracts or even to sell our weapons to the local peoples or to become essential at the peace-negotiating table.

Indeed, Cavour's idea of sending the Piedmontese soldiers to Crimea was excellent.

Hence, foreign policy can be used on multiple fronts and negotiating tables, provided we are able to do so. Moreover, implementing foreign policy means creating an inevitably global phenomenon: those who deals with it, knows very well that every operation has multiple and sometimes unpredictable consequences, but always ranging from culture to the economy, from technology to arts. In principle, nothing is excluded from foreign policy.

Finally, those who are not able to run are not even able to walk: the ruling classes that do not know how to develop a foreign policy line in keeping with their goals do not even know how to implement domestic or economic policy.

 

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