Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Let's Stay Friends! Relational Repair in Friendly Interstate Relations

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Let's Stay Friends! Relational Repair in Friendly Interstate Relations

Article excerpt

Introduction

Friendly interstate relations are not always straightforward.1 Friends and allies on the international scene often disagree, and these disagreements may, from time to time, be serious enough to trigger the deterioration of their relationships. In such cases, we can talk about crises among these countries.2 As the literature on transatlantic relations since the end of World War II shows, several crises have taken place among members of the Atlantic alliance since its creation.3 To quote Kaplan: "No year in the Cold War had passed without revelations of strains between the United States and its European allies; some were minor, others serious."4 This has also been true since the end of the Cold War.5 Yet, these crises did not lead to the end of the alliance or to the withdrawal of any of its members. In fact, often enough, the countries managed to overcome the deterioration of their relationships that was triggered by a crisis among them, that is, they achieve relational repair.

The term relational repair, as used in social-psychology, and thus regarding the behaviour and relationships of individual human beings, often refers to "the more specific processes and strategies by which a relationship is restored to a good or sound condition after decay or damage."6 Although interstate relationships are different from relations among individuals, this definition can be adapted to the international level, as we are also dealing with relationships that have deteriorated because of a crisis. In this context, then, relational repair refers to the idea of returning to a degree of closeness and cooperation similar to pre-crisis levels. Relational repair does not imply an improvement of the relationship as compared to its condition before the crisis. Complete relational repair is achieved when the relationship has returned to a similar quality and strength as before, which means that the countries have managed to overcome the damage done to this relationship by the crisis.7

This was the case with the French-U.S. relationship after the Iraq war issue in 2003. Although the two countries clashed severely during this crisis, they still view each other as close allies and friends, and their relationship is now back to a similar quality and strength as it was before the clash. This does not mean, however, that relational repair was automatic or easy to reach. In fact, countries often have to work hard to repair their relationships, and they may not always manage to return to a similar degree of closeness and cooperation that they had before a crisis. Hence, relational repair is a key concept in understanding the maintenance and evolution of friendly interstate relations, as well as these countries' behaviour during the crises, which sometimes sets them in opposition to the international scene.8

It is striking then, that although crises have often been studied in particular alliances (especially NATO), and despite the recent advances in the literature on friendship in international relations, very little work has been done on relational repair in the context of friendly interstate relations. There is no relational repair theory, and this concept is still at the conjectural stage in literature on international relations.9 The concept itself, and the ways in which relational repair can be achieved, are often overlooked. Scholars tend either to take relational repair for granted, and/or simply observe it after the fact, or to view it as something that can only be dealt with after the crisis, that is, when the spiral of reproaches and counter-reproaches comes to an end, and the level of tension between the countries is significantly lower.10 The term repair is sometimes used informally by authors dealing with severe interstate crises, involving friendly as well as less friendly bilateral relationships.11 Yet, as I argue in this paper, their views as to how relational repair works are often mistaken or incomplete at best. …

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