Fate and Will in Foreign Policy

Fate and Will in Foreign Policy

Fate and Will in Foreign Policy

Fate and Will in Foreign Policy

Excerpt

Fate and Will are dealt with by Karl Marx in a famous aphorism: "Men make their own history; but they do not make it just as they please". I have found it useful to reformulate the aphorism as follows: Foreign ministers make their own foreign policy; but they do not make it just as they please.By "foreign ministers" I mean not only the political heads of foreign offices - secretaries of state, or secretaries of state for external affairs. I mean all those personages — prime ministers and presidents, under-secretaries and foreign secretaries — who are the custodians and executants of their countries' foreign policies.

When foreign ministers (thus understood) pick up their portfolios for the first time, we find them full of gusto for the tasks that lie ahead. They breathe confidence and optimism. They talk grandly of new brooms and new ideas, of fresh starts and fresh approaches. By the reverses of the past they are undeterred; by the failure of their predecessors they are undismayed. Uplifted and exuberant, they plunge into the fray.

It doesn't take long for this mood to disappear. A year later, two at most, and our hero is a changed man. His gusto has gone, his exuberance has faded, his optimism vanished. In their place we find guardedness, caution, reserve. Where the fledgling foreign minister talked excitedly of possibilities and opportunities, of initiatives to be seized and battles to be won, the veteran dwells gloomily upon drawbacks and difficulties. If he is still at all disposed to confide in anyone outside the charmed circle of his profession, it is only to say how hard it is to be a foreign minister, how narrow is his room to manoeuvre, how few his options are, how manifold the constraints, and ohl how heavy. He no longer depicts himself bestriding the narrow world; he depicts himself cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd, bound in. Never mind that the modern foreign minister travels in a week as far as Franklin or Palmerston travelled in a lifetime.We see him at the airport, we see him on the jet. Literally he is on the move: figuratively he is in a rut. And he is the first to tell us so. "No, gentlemen", he dictates to the cluster of reporters who greet him on arrival, "I am not a magician, I am only a foreign minister. I have no panacea, I have no magic formula". Indeed he does not.Another conference over, he pauses at the ramp. "We had a good conference", he says to unseen millions, "a very good conference, in my opinion.I was glad of this opportunity to exchange views with the Premier, whom I had not seen for too long.Our discussions were very cordial, very frank. Of course, I am not in a position to disclose more at this time". And with that he is up the ramp and into the plane.And this is called progress.

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