Three Principles of Diplomacy

By
F. Joseph Dresen

"The Kennan Institute has seen some pretty amazing changes over the thirty years of its life," declared Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State, at the Kennan Institute's 30th Anniversary Dinner on 25 March 2004. After describing his impressions of our growing relations with Russia after the Cold War's end, Secretary Powell commended George Kennan's patience in waiting more than forty-five years to see his prediction of eventual collapse of the Soviet Union to come true. "All of us might also learn a lesson about diplomacy from Ambassador Kennan's patience," continued Powell, "Patience is indispensable to long-term success in foreign policy…Indeed, patience in a great power goes to the core principle of diplomacy itself, one of three principles that I would like to talk about this evening."

The first principle, stated Powell, is that "power is a necessary condition for foreign policy success, but not always a sufficient one." Power is necessary because it is not possible to reason with every adversary that threatens a vital interest. Deciding the balance between patience and power is a difficult judgment every president must make.

It is a reflection of this first principle of diplomacy that "military victories don't translate automatically into political achievements the day after the war ends." Powell spoke about the need to stay the course in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against the threat of terror. Staying the course means that, "After the fighting stops, other hard work begins, including political and diplomatic work, rebuilding, transforming a defeated country." It is the kind of hard work that the U.S. has historically been associated with, Powell noted.

If the effective use of force does not translate directly into final political success, continued Powell, it does do more than defeat enemies on the battlefield. "Power has a reputation as well that walks before it into the future, affecting what others think about us," stated Powell. "It is diplomacy that deploys power's reputation [to achieve policy goals] in the form of political influence."

Powell noted that force and authority are not the same, and that not all use of force is created equal in diplomatic terms. He contrasted the use of force in Iraq, which was the subject between 1991 and 2002 of multiple United Nations resolutions authorizing the use of force, with the situation in Libya. Although Libya is recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism, Powell said that the U.S. was determined to use the reputation of American and coalition power without necessarily having to use force. Libya's subsequent decision to turn away from weapons of mass destruction, Powell concluded, was not solely the result of power or diplomacy, but a combination of the two.

Powell outlined a second principle of diplomacy that follows from the first: "policy success comes easier when more actors work with you than against you." According to Powell, "One of diplomacy's main jobs is to arrange coalitions so that one's power and one's reputation are multiplied. The fact of power alone cannot do this because power repels as well as attracts. A wise diplomacy magnifies power's attractive quality by using power to benefit others as well as oneself." Powell stated that American diplomacy, in defending others, forgiving enemies, reconciling adversaries, and building international institutions to promote trade and investment, has exemplified this principle since World War II.

An adversary, Powell continued, needs an honorable path of escape if we are to achieve our main policy goals without using force. Following from this, the third diplomatic principle is that the most advantageous outcome may be an incomplete success. "Some adversaries will never take that avenue of escape," said Powell, "Saddam Hussein being a perfect example."

All three principles are at work in ongoing diplomacy with North Korea, in spite of the North Korean leadership's efforts to generate a crisis atmosphere. Powell noted that all options remain on the table, "but we have focused our efforts on persuasion," which evokes the first principle of diplomacy. And, according to the second principle, the President has gathered allies into the process: "By working to bring Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea into our Korean diplomacy, we advance their equities as well as out own. We legitimate our power; we give it greater authority." The goal is not to reward the North Korean regime, concluded Powell, but, according to the third principle, to offer it a chance to "embark here and now for the 21st century, and to have an honorable place in the world community."

"The President knows, we all know, that if we want our power to endure, and the reputation of our power to prevail over the long haul, we must be patient, cooperative, and prudent as well as strong and bold in the face of danger," concluded Powell. "I'd like to think George Kennan understands and applauds this description of American diplomacy. After all, to a considerable extent, we all learned much from him, from his example, and from his writings."

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