Home > Essays in Diplomacy, Peace and Conflict Resolution > Diplomacy and Use of Force: two sides of a coin?

Diplomacy and Use of Force: two sides of a coin?

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Neville Chamberlain (L) and Adolf Hitler (R) in summit diplomacy in Munich

Diplomacy is usually associated with peace building and creating an environment of cordiality and cooperation among states for the pursuit of national and common interest.  The tools of diplomats are negotiations and persuasion while traditional military tools are guns and weapons. The duties of diplomats and military are difference. One prepares for war while the other prepares war. These dichotomies are not simple. For a strategist, both diplomacy and force are part of a state’s foreign policy instrument.  In the practice of state craft, military and diplomacy are part of one continuum.

Two perspectives of force and diplomacy

There are two distinct perspectives between the force and diplomacy nexus. For the realists, the use of threat or use of force is essential in the pursuit of power.  Hans J.Morgenthau, a proponent of the use of force in diplomacy, advocates that foreign policy is best achieved by combining force and diplomacy through coercive diplomacy, for instance.

On the contrary, the liberal perspective questions the use force to achieve peace. The classic liberal theory, which is rooted in the writings of Immanuel Kant, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rejects the realist perspective of international relations which is classified as a “zero-sum game”.  An assumption espoused by liberals is the “democratic peace theory” which lends to the notion that democracies are inclined to avoid wars among fellow democracies.  Liberalism argues that economic interdependence and political integration produce peace.  However, some liberal scholars, does not preclude avoiding war altogether. Some advocates the “just war” doctrine which has its roots from the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. “Just war theory” justifies the use of force if the aim is to defeat evil and the result is geared towards the common good.  A liberal may also view coercive diplomacy’s utility to threaten an adversary rather than actual its actual use.  Therefore the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy could be gauged by how it could coerce the  other party by escalation tension as a last ditch effort to achieve peace.

“hard power” vs. “soft power”

In modern diplomacy, Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power provides a framework in the usefulness of military force and economic sanctions vis-à-vis persuasion and negotiation. To contextualize these two concepts, it would be useful to explore the differences between ‘hard’ and ‘soft power’.  By definition, “hard power” is about coercing your opponent to adhere to your will through threat and use of force while “soft power” is about attracting your ally to share your goals through cooperation and dialogue.  In terms of objectives, “hard power” seeks to annihilate, contain, and defeat the enemy while “soft power” seeks to persuade through mutual understanding and search of common interests.  Their techniques are different. “Hard power” relies on sanctions to foes through threats and use of force, while “soft power” coaxes partners through meaningful exchange and negotiations. “Hard power” is offensive, competing and zero-sum game while “soft power” is defensive, collaborative and a win-win game. The natural consequence of “hard power” is that i produces fear, suspicion and torment while “soft power” encourages trust and confidence.

The dissimilarities of the two viewpoints can be polarizing when situated in the context of an institutional milieu or applied in practice. The usual set-up of the military and foreign ministries as distinct, detached, and removed from each other produces divergent cultures.    However, it may also be argued that the separation of armed forces and diplomacy has been adjoined by the concept of “civil-military operations” veering away from “all-out war” approach to an “all-out peace” approach.  This is manifested by the military engagement in community-building and disaster and relief operations such as in the Philippines.

A combination of the two approaches may prove to be effective versus the use of a single approach. Absolute “hawkishness” of the Adolf Hitler sort or pure “dovishness” of the Neville Chamberlain category could be fatal.   The combination of  “hard” and “soft power” is what  Nye refer to as “smart power”. However, its mismanagement could again be disastrous as exemplified by Western power’s intervention in Afghanistan which could be described as “neither here nor there”.   A key question to be pondered is the pros and cons of using force or threats of force to accomplish foreign policy objectives.

A case in point of the success of “soft power” is  South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine-policy”.  It was the first time that Seoul engaged  Pyongyang that resulted in the warming of relations.  The policy which was largely adopted by President Roh Moo-hyun yielded positive results and created an environment of peace. However, the policy of current President Lim Myung-bak to pressure North Korea has resulted in skirmishes and exchange of threats from both sides.  In this example, hard power approach was counter-productive.

Force, Diplomacy and Ethics

In conclusion, diplomacy is generally perceived as diametrically opposed to the use of force. A key issue to be explored beyond the relationship of force and diplomacy is the role of ethics and moral sustainability in international relations. The Gulf War and the unilateral intervention of the United States in Iraq opened a Pandora’s box and raised questions of moral and ethical use of force.  In the “just war” doctrine, force could only be justified if it attains the common good and does not produce negative and “evil” consequences. Therefore, the challenge of states is how to justify the use of force if its main concern is the pursuit of narrow national interest.  Consideration of ethics must then guide international relations.

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