Many say combining ethics and foreign policy is impractical. In judging a foreign policy, they say, it should simply be asked whether it works it is normal. Some foreign policy issues relate to national interests and the important question is how leaders choose to define and pursue that national interest under different circumstances.
Since World II, the United States, for example, has been involved in several wars but none were for its survival. So, it will only escalate global tensions if all states try to act in their own national interests.
A foreign policy must consider good moral reasoning based on balancing intents and consequences. Things become inspirational and pragmatic when a foreign policy interests human rights at every step of the way. But human rights are, sadly, often left aside. When powerful nations neglect human rights in favour of security concerns, the whole world suffers.
As the debate goes on, Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cosmos Group, hosted a lecture on “Values, or Their Absence, in Foreign Policy” as part of Cosmos Dialogue’s Distinguished Speaker’s Lecture Series on February 22.
Former Indian Foreign Secretary, renowned scholar, author and former Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations Krishnan Srinivasan delivered the keynote address on the topic. Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Principal Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, conducted the symposium while Cosmos Foundation Chairman Enayetullah Khan delivered welcome remarks.
A high-level expert panel joined the discussion when the floor was opened to the participants after the keynote speech by Ambassador Krishnan Srinivasan.
In his lecture, former Indian Foreign Secretary Srinivasan laid emphasis on resolving the global problems arising from conflicting values that can divide rather than unite humanity.
“We must think of resolving problems,” he said adding that they need a new universalism, a shared principle of common humanity that will somehow allow them to prioritise universal and international interests over “parochial national interest” that actually divide instead of unity.
The prominent author and former Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth said there is a universal tension between values and interests.
He said they live increasingly in a globalised world and described how intractable problems are confronting humanity, irrespective of border.
“We should seek congruous between different value systems to forge a harmonious world based on common factors -- tolerance, equal rights and equal opportunities,” said the former Indian diplomat.
He, however, mentioned some difficulties noting that societies cherish different views that make the prospect unrealistic and unattainable for the time being.
In exceptional cases, Srinivasan said, values are so deeply held that promoting them becomes a national interest.
He said they, sometimes, find that values, ethical or moral principles, ideologies are usually not central to the foreign policy. “This we need to understand.”
Srinivasan said values are principles or standards of behaviour by which good and bad, right and wrong might be assessed.
Values of course can vary depending on generation, class, education origin, tradition and they provide the motivation to influence the outcomes both in the minds of people and governments, he said.
“Although some values are shared across cultures, there’s the contrast of values in different societies that account for many of the misunderstanding and misperception among countries,” said the Indian scholar.
Highlighting domestic values and its practice, he discussed situation in the USA, India and the UK with focus on secularism, equal rights, social harmony and the rule of law.
Srinivasan said the acceptance of refugees, economic migrants and asylum-seekers is now widely unpopular in most parts of the developed world but in Germany it stresses the acceptance of refugees as part of its values. “Every country firmly believes that its values have ethical standards.”
He said values influence foreign policy, especially when a country is strong enough to project power or influence.
The former diplomat said soft powers can only sustain values up to a point and one nation’s values are meaningful only when they are recognised as such by others.
Srinivasan said a successful foreign policy cannot be implemented without being supported by values.
He mentioned that values which are in only one country’s interest could potentially jeopardize its relationship with other countries which do not respect those interests.
“It’s important for us to recognise that values can lead either to agreement or to discord with other countries,” Srinivasan said.
He said it is true that all nations generally pursue the same basic goals – the welfare and security of their populations, and protection of their national borders.
But, he added, languages, political cultures, social customs might differ and create obstacles to cooperation and welfare efforts might get lost.
Essentially, Srinivasan said, the real drivers of foreign policy tend to be the advancements of economic or strategic advantage.
Responding to a question, Srinivasan said India is a democracy and it has not been eroded. “I think Indian democratic system is robust.”
He said certainly the central element of a democratic process as they understand them still continues in India reasonably in a robust way.
Dr Iftekhar shed light on some of the problems of the current time and laid emphasis on resolving those problems noting that civilizationism is frequently based on myths erected on falsification.
He also discussed on how the global and domestic politics operate; referred to Rabindranath Tagore who wanted all to live in a world which has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls. “Should we not then aspire to that?”
Enayetullah Khan said today, they are witnessing, if not a decline of the West, but certainly a rise of the East, with Asian powers playing an increasingly critical role.
“The values they practise, therefore, have gained considerable international salience. So, what set of values determine current global politics: Western? Eastern? Or are the interactions between the two producing a universal consensus?” he questioned.
In recent times, Khan said, they have been experiencing a rise of ‘populism’ in different parts of the world.
“This development is tending to exacerbate the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This seems to be gathering momentum in a wide range of otherwise dissimilar countries. Sometimes they espouse their unique values and ideologies as well,” he said.
But, Khan said, unfortunately, these can be threatening to global stability and social order. “This phenomenon merits observation and study with a view to addressing them in a positive manner, so as to manage their negative effects.”
One of the speakers highlighted the role of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s foreign policy and his achievements in just 3.5 years in the global arena.
Enayetullah Khan had mentioned the publication ‘Values in Foreign Policy: Investing in Ideals and interests”, co-edited by Ambassador Srinivasan, along with two others Professor James Mayall and Sanjay Pulipaka. Seventeen contributors from around the world have sought to examine the implications of what the title contains.
“They have not all agreed. Nor were they meant to. But they have provided a mosaic of ideas that show us the broad parameters within which nations and peoples connect with one another in our present times,” he said strongly commending the volume to all interested students of foreign policy.