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Book Review: Values in Foreign Policy: Investigating Ideals and Interests

09 Jan 2020
Reviewed by Professor Derek McDougall

Srinivasan, Mayall, and Pulipaka offer a thorough insight into how cultural values, supranational institutions, and ideology influence foreign policymaking.

This book is an examination of the values underpinning foreign policy in a range of Western and Asian states. It comes highly recommended, with some 31 commendations at the start of the book. There are five chapters on Western foreign policies, seven chapters on Asian foreign policies, one chapter on Russia, and one chapter on Islamic values in relation to Turkey and Iran. In addition, there is an introductory chapter examining general issues concerning values and foreign policy and setting out the framework for the book.

The editors are a former Indian Foreign Secretary (Krishnan Srinivasan), a distinguished professor emeritus in international relations from the University of Cambridge (James Mayall), and a prominent Indian academic (Sanjay Pulipaka). Robert Kaplan, a well known author of books on international relations, has written a thoughtful foreword emphasising the centrality of values to foreign policy.

The major contribution of the book is to provide a richly textured introduction to the role of values in foreign policy in a range of Western and Asian countries. The three major Asian powers (China, India, Japan) are covered; among the Western countries, there are focused chapters on the United States and Germany, as well as two chapters relating to Europe more broadly, and one chapter on values in Western foreign policy. In addition to the coverage of the three major Asian powers, there are chapters on Indonesia, South Korea and Myanmar. A final chapter covers Asian foreign policies more generally, with particular reference to India, China and Japan, but referring also to the Asian values debate. Among the world’s emerging powers, attention to countries such as Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa would have been of interest, but this would have made the book too long.

This book can be read as a whole to obtain an overview of the issue of values in foreign policy. Alternatively, one can read particular chapters to gain insight into the role of values in the foreign policies of a number of important states, mostly major powers but extending beyond that group. Broader groupings in relation to foreign policy are also covered: Western, European, Asian, Islamic. There is a rich offering here.

In their introductory chapter, the editors define values as “principles that influence political beliefs and actions” (p. 4).They refer to the distinction between pluralism and solidarism, the former emphasising the priority of state sovereignty, the latter upholding the view that humanity is one in relation to values. The pluralist-solidarist distinction underpins the argument by Bruno Maçães in chapter 8 on values in Western foreign policy about which paradigm in international relations will ultimately prevail: a state-centred conception or a more universalist one (p. 88). In practice most of the substantive chapters focus on the overall evolution of foreign policy in particular states or groups of states as their way of conveying the nature of the underlying values, although some of the chapters give more explicit theoretical or philosophical attention to what the values entail. While there might be a large degree of consensus in most states on the issue of values, tensions and conflicts can arise; even if there is some consensus on basic values, there can be differences about the best strategies for upholding those values.

In discussing “Europe” there can be some temptation to conflate Europe and the European Union (EU), focusing on policy outputs from the EU as indicative of underlying European values. This makes sense if one is wanting to consider what European consensus amounts to, but it glosses over conflict that occurs within the EU and the broader European context. Mayall refers to differences of emphasis between Britain and France, but this divergence and others are likely to become more marked in post-Brexit Europe. The Brexit issue in the United Kingdom (UK) is a good example of underlying conflict about foreign policy values in one polity (indeed about the overall direction of the state), although one might also argue that this was an issue of strategy rather than values.

There are some parallels between the Brexit debate in the UK and the situation of the United States (US) under Trump. Is Trump simply pursuing a different strategy (more unilateralist) than his predecessors rather than attempting to modify underlying foreign policy values? Pursuit of self-interest could remain relatively constant, but reference to democracy and human rights in US foreign policy has become less obvious under Trump. As William Antholis suggests in chapter 5 on US foreign policy, the universalist-particularist debate is very much at centre stage under Trump (incidentally, the Declaration of Independence in 1776 was against the “British Crown’ and the “State of Great Britain,” not “England” (p. 63)).

The chapters on Asian countries take up issues such as India’s shift from Nehru’s early idealism to a more realist stance, the impact of pacifist or peace-oriented values in Japan, the role of Confucian values in Chinese foreign policy, the significance of independence and peace activism in Indonesian foreign policy, the influence of the major powers (especially the US) on South Korea, and the role of domestic ethnic and sectarian conflict as defining features of Myanmar’s foreign policy. The significance of historical precedent as a values framework under Putin is made clear in the chapter on Russia. The chapter on Islamic values suggests that realpolitik is the main influence on both Turkey and Iran.

Overall, one might ask whether distinctive values have a significant impact on foreign policy as compared to a realpolitik explanation. If the latter, then states will focus on protecting their security and economic interests as perceived by their leaders, and the objectives of foreign policy will remain relatively constant, albeit allowing for changing circumstances. The weakness of this argument is that in practice there is considerable variation in the way in which values, whether distinctive or more universalist, manifest themselves in the foreign policies of individual states. Realpolitik can explain some of the dynamics of international politics but not all; studying the impact of values on foreign policy enriches our understanding by showing just how diverse the world is.

Derek McDougall is a Professorial Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and author of Asia Pacific in World Politics, 2nd edition (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016).

This is a book review of Krishnan Srinivasan, James Mayall and Sanjay Pulipaka, eds., Values in Foreign Policy: Investigating Ideals and Interests. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. ISBN 978-1-78660-749-2 (hardback); 978-1-78660-750-8 (paperback); 978-1-78660-751-5 (e-book). USD120.00, GBP80.00 (hardback); USD38.95, GBP 24.95 (paperback); USD37.00, GBP24.95 (e-book). Available in Australia through Footprint Books for AUD69.99 (paperback).

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.