America: Prone to War, not Diplomacy
The American Foreign Policy is one built on force, coercion, and blowing things up. America’s concentrated agenda on the 21st century challenge of global terrorism and the rise of China has not revolved around an increase in diplomatic engagement, nor has there been a focus on cultural and social understanding. The importance of bridging cultural gaps has been sentenced to the waist side in favor of sharpening the sword of king force.
The U.S. currently spends more than $583 billion on its defense budget. France (believe it or not) comes in a far-behind second, spending just over $74 billion. One would think that this indulgence in military spending would be matched in the field of diplomacy, since war should also be a last resort, right? Well, according to some alarmingly facts pointed out by Nicholas Kristof in his recent New York Times Op-Ed, this isn’t the case — not even close. Here are a few of the unsavory facts pointed out by Kristof that show America’s apparent disdain and neglect of diplomacy:
- The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.
- This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.
- More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.
- The entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group.
Instead of using the increased international focus on China to build strong cultural ties and strengthen diplomatic relations, vast amounts of money are being funneled to the Navy and Air Force for F-22s, attack submarines, and advanced destroyers — not the ideal type of vessels for diplomatic engagement. There has been an overall neglect in establishing strong diplomatic ties with China. The typical response to China’s rise has been to build up arms, not extend a welcoming hand.
This type of statecraft frustrates “beyond belief” veteran statesman Dennis Ross, who views the Bush administrations marginalization of American soft-power and neglect of the America’s diplomatic corps as a great travesty to American diplomacy and the main culprit behind the increase in anti-Americanism and the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his recent book Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World, Ross praises the Bush I and Clinton administration for their focus on diplomacy and negotiations. Prior to the rise of the hawkish Bush II administration, the focus on American soft-power and global outreach marked a time in which the American leadership connected to the world via “talking” instead of “shooting.” Among the examples of diplomatic success, Ross cites the German reunification, the Balkan crisis, and the first Gulf War. All, according to Ross, are cases of diplomatic success, marked by extensive engagement and negotiations.
The call for more diplomatic engagement is more than a part of the dove lobby’s liberal fluff. It focuses attention on a painfully overlooked aspect of international politics and cultural understanding. America’s intuitive response to fighting terrorism is to simply blow them sky high, to punish those “derned terrist” until they get the message and bow-down to the all-powerful America. A recent study from the RAND Corporation found that the most effect way for a terrorist threat to “disappear” was for it to be absorbed by the political process. Interestingly enough, the report found that the use of military force hardly ever solved the problem of a terrorist threat. When aggrieved parties have an opportunity to voice their dissent via the political process, they are forced to “de-radicalize” themselves in order to gain legitimacy amongst the population. Examples such as the Belfast Agreement (establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly) and, more recently, the induction of Hezbollah into the Lebanese cabinet (and the subsequent deal with Israel) are cases-in-point of the effectiveness of an opposition party.
As for larger issues, such as the rise of China, an approach that advocates the position taken by international theorist John Ikenberry should serve as a model for future U.S. foreign policy. Instead of antagonizing a rising China by focusing on a build-up of arms and an increase in military spending, the U.S. should seek to encourage and cradle China’s absorption into the Western institutional mold. Unlike any time in history, a rising superpower will face a well-established international order with existing institutions and well-established norms. This provides the world (specifically the U.S.) with the opportunity to prove wrong the hegemonic stability theory in favor of a peaceful absorption. The international world doesn’t have to change. There exists already the necessary tools and institutions to make China’s ascension to superpower status a peaceful and relatively harmonious event. Instead of viewing China’s rise of a threat, and thus a reason to spend more on military aggrandizement, the U.S. should seek to expand its diplomatic corps and work to bridge cultural gaps and mend ill feelings.
Let it be known that this write-up isn’t a dove advocates apologetic. I understand that the pressure for a strong and large military is perceived as a must for the United States and, in many ways, a necessity. But the disproportional figures between military spending and diplomatic investment are staggering. I can only hope that future administrations, whoever they are, will put a renewed focus on the virtue of engagement and breathe a new life into American diplomacy.