New Age Foreign Policy Making
— Honita C
Political normativity defines a good foreign policy as being any exercise which is invariably profitable to the nation. Rationality and pragmatism are thus the mantras and economic and military measures, the instruments. But is this perception of foreign policy as being limited to rational pursuits of self-enrichment still relevant today? Are the strictly ‘hard’ foreign policy instruments applied still as efficient? Though we will not find any country purposefully harming its interest just to fulfil a social duty, it remains that there are certain considerations which push nations to engage into foreign activities even if it may seem that there is not much to gain from it. Culture is such a consideration. And accompanying this disruption in logical political activity is also a change in the tools applied: personal friendships .i.e. ‘soft diplomacy’ steps into the shoes of traditional economic sanctions and military measures to create magic.
Our little island has not escaped the experience of these tectonic shifts in foreign policy operation. France Telecom’s acquisition of 40 percent shares in our national telecommunications company and its commercial branding to Orange, the $720 million Chinese investment project named Jin Fei Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone at Terre Rouge, the active role played by India in the Ebene Cyber City and the recent treaties signed between Mauritius and the Democratic Republic of Congo altogether form a pattern indicating the poignant presence of the above mentioned determinants in foreign policy-making. We simply cannot ignore the recurring cultural and personal variables in the foreign policy encounters of our country.
Mauritius connects to different parts of the world through its cultural history of French and British colonisation and influx of African, Indian and Chinese workers. Though, notably, it is a cultural history whose non-violent nature allows a peaceful mutuality between Mauritius and France, Britain, China, India and Africa. As a consequence, a positive perception of how we ‘forget and remember’ is constructed. India, China and Africa only bring us fond memories of our kinship ties, ethnic practices, languages, rituals, etc. Reminiscences of France and Britain do not evoke any sort of bitterness — on the contrary, we owe to these two countries our initial development. The peaceful handing-over of independence, a welcome integration of families of French origin and the continued ancestral relations our African and Asian citizens maintain with their motherland nurture a goodwill which instigate reciprocity from those lands of origin.
The visit of Shashi Tharoor on the anniversary of the arrival of identured labourers from India, during which the Indian government gifted Mauritius ‘Dhruv’ is testimony of the strong cultural ties binding the two countries. At several other instances, Mauritius has witnessed demonstrations of support to our security and sovereignty by the Indian government through parades of their military ships and aircraft in our waters and skies. The little, almost negligible contribution that Mauritius makes to the Chinese economy has not stalled Chinese investment from flowing into our island. Although sceptics see this demarche of China as a disguised attempt to reach the greater African continent or to increase its international legitimacy, and some see in it one more link in the chain of bases around India, it is a fact that China’s recognition of its cultural affinity to Mauritius plays an encouraging role in bringing China to Mauritius. Our Sino-mauritian population and the Mauritian Chinese Chamber of Commerce here act as catalysts in bringing these investments home.
We cannot also forgo the critical role played by the nature of relationships between civil groups and that exisiting between the leaders in fostering peaceful foreign links. Along with structural concerns like the nature of the government, its economic performance and investment-inducing policies in foreign policy-making, ententes between the national communities determine the extent to which a nation will go to forge a relationship with another. For instance, in the case of the Mauritian-India connection, Bollywood plays a major mediating role. The liking for Indian movies professed by the Mauritian community and their idolisation and imitation of Indian celebrities bring Mauritians and Indians to relate to each other at a further personal level.
The nature of the relationship leaders of countries share with each other has a similar substantial role to play in how countries behave towards each other. History does not allow us to forget that it was as a result of the sour personal connection between Nixon and Indira Gandhi that Bangladesh came into being, US and India grew distant and India confirmed its unspoken alignment with Soviet Union. Nor can we forget that it was thanks to the friendliness between Nelson Mandela and Khadafi that the UN sanctions got lifted from Libya post the Lockerbie bombing.
A similar example was witnessed by the Mauritian public just a few weeks ago. Messrs Iqbal Osman and Christian Li held in Congo from December last were only released after the personal intervention of our Prime Minister. The personal friendship between Dr Navin Ramgoolam and President Denis Sassou Nguesso was key to the immediate liberation of our countrymen, following which a treaty promising greater economic and techonological cooperation between the two nations was signed. It is obvious that it is the good entente betweent the two leaders that triggered such a foreign-policy action.
Sadly, today, little credit is given to culture and personal friendship links in our foreign policy-making units. The general trend in government is that culture is considered as a ‘end’ rather than as a ‘means’. We content ourselves to reducing culture to means of entertainment to display our ‘Mauritianism’ instead of acknowledging its potential in acting as an instrument to channel greater cooperation between two nations and its peoples. A sega perfomance and a ‘maquette bateau’ presented to foreign delegates — this is the way culture is formatted in the foreign-policy building context in Mauritius. Interpersonal links between the respective leaders are underplayed. Either we dampen the powers of friendship between our leaders and their foreign counterparts by labelling it as mere boasting on their part or we condemn it as unethical to use personal kinship in a realm of rational politics.
In whichever way, the end is that cultural and friendship links are constantly downgraded as potent political instruments. Structural explantions are provided to rationalise activities resulting from the use of these abstract social catalysts of foreign policy. But here, we must salute our Prime Minister for convincingly making the first step in challenging these myths about the strict structuralism of politics and linking back ‘politics’ to ‘people’. His personal networking and diplomatic abilities has placed the country on the address book of many foreign offices. Now it only remains for this conviction of one man to transpire to the system and to realise the alternate ways of successfully exercising good foreign policy.