Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr: Diplomacy as Tactics

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, 5 April 2018

This is the second of three lectures directed at laying a basis for the development of diplomatic doctrine.  It deals with diplomacy as the tactics of foreign relations.  The preface to this series and the first lecture in it set out some thoughts on diplomacy as strategy.  The third lecture will consider diplomacy as risk management.

In American foreign policy, perpetual warfare, arms races, economic bullying, and derogatory rhetoric seem for the time being to have supplanted diplomacy.  This is a profoundly destabilizing approach to foreign relations.  Once it has run its course, Americans will need to rediscover, reconstitute, and rebuild diplomatic capacity.

Our objective in doing so should be to train and field diplomats who are as skilled in the profession of persuasion as our military are in the profession of arms.  The extent to which we are able to draw on diplomatic doctrine – guidance for the application of judgment to trends, events, and opportunities – will determine the speed and effectiveness with which we can accomplish this.  We need to work now on developing such doctrine for application to our foreign policies and practices when that is possible.

Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that few Americans have been educated to understand and whose history – even in relation to our own country – most do not know. Diplomacy emphasizes peaceably arranged change, but it is not pacifist.  Diplomacy is how power persuades states and peoples to accommodate adjustments in relations they instinctively disfavor.  It uses words to portray capabilities and convey intentions in order to shape the calculus of foreign partners and opponents and cause them to make desired changes in their policies and behavior.

Diplomacy is the verbal tactics of foreign relations.  It is the alternative to the use of force as well as its prelude, facilitator, and finale.  It is both the implementer of policy by measures short of war and the translator of the results of war into durable outcomes.

Americans celebrate our independence on the day of its official declaration, July 4, 1776.  Most imagine  that we achieved our autonomy then or on October 19, 1781, when we (and the French) defeated the British at Yorktown.  But this ahistorical view disregards the essential role of diplomacy in such adjustments of relations.  U.S. separation from the British Empire was only secured when the British conceded it.  It took John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson nearly two years to persuade the British to accept that the necessary consequence of their military defeat was American independence.  This became a legal reality only on September 3, 1783, when Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris.

The failure of Americans to recognize the centrality of diplomacy to war termination, including in our own war of independence, is not inconsequential.  Recall the ludicrous triumphalism of President George W. Bush after the defeat of the Iraqi Army in 2003, when he stood on an aircraft carrier under a banner, reading “Mission Accomplished.”  Subsequent events in Iraq provided a costly reminder that no war is over until the defeated admit defeat and accept its consequences.  Such adjustments do not happen automatically.  They are achieved through diplomacy or not at all.

The tragic American experience in Iraq was also a reminder that to achieve peace, there must be a leader among the defeated populace with the authority to commit them to it.  This is why the United States left the Japanese emperor on his throne after World War II.  The failure to consider, let alone address, the question of who might be able to commit Iraqis to cooperation with their foreign occupiers – and what would be required to persuade Iraqis to do so – accounted in no small measure for the anarchy that followed the removal of the Saddam regime in Baghdad.

Diplomatic tactics for war termination are an essential element of any war strategy.  But the translation of military triumph into political victory is a task that the American way of war all too often omits.  This reflects a history of pursuing the annihilation of enemies, their unconditional surrender, and their political reconstruction through occupation.  Disdain for diplomacy that negotiates postwar adjustments in relations, together with “mission creep,” is a major reason that so many American wars spin on without end or abate, only to resume in altered form.

 

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