With the debate on the new Constitution underway, foreign policy is coming into focus. While many agree that a renewal is needed, creativity is lacking. A new generation of analysts, however, has an intriguing proposal.
Refounding the Chilean republic requires doing away some cherished principles, including in foreign policy. Commentators and the media are doing their part in shaping a new foreign-policy cycle by churning out numerous columns a week.
Contributions range from international law conservatism to liberal triumphalism and progressive proposals. The latter two are most worthy of engagement.
Liberal Triumphalism – Triumphant?
Many Chilean liberal triumphalists were formed in exile during the dictatorship. The US and Western Europe at the time still welcomed refugees and ran social democratic economies, not out of common sense but as a counterweight to communism.
And right after the dictatorship and the Berlin Wall fell, markets and liberalism seemed invincible.
In a column for news site El Mostrador, Abraham Quezada and Sergio Toro, scholars with international pedigree and advisers to the foreign service, wrote that analysts back then “read well the context and the trends.” That allowed Chile to supercharge its insertion into the global economy, leading to unprecedented poverty reduction linked to free trade and an open economy.
In the current changing context of crumbling US hegemony and rising Chinese assertiveness, Chile should reassess the trends. A “new cold war” is generating tensions Chile must appreciate. It should “promote in the international community a climate of permanent rapprochement between the two” because “distancing between China and the US serves no one.”
Their proposal is more complex, but its foundations remain shaky. Chile has always inserted in the global economy. Washington politics might have been cautious toward Pinochet, starting with the Jimmy Carter administration, but business was not. The dictatorship was a precondition for US investments. Distribution policies, not free trade, led to poverty reduction.
And had the plebiscite not ended the era, Pinochet could have counted on London. The Thatcher administration greenlit arms deals and intended to rehabilitate Pinochet as an ideological and war ally.
The capitalist democracies have always valued Chile as a partner who sold the raw materials to power their economies.
Also, the authors’ use of “new cold war” ignores the Chinese view. China has never lived in a liberal order. It’s been engaged in a power struggle to regain the status it lost to Anglo-Saxon colonialism. If a cold war exists, it can’t be new for China.
Besides, the war was never cold. Dubbed containment, Washington launched a campaign to eradicate ideas opposed to capital accumulation and US hegemony. That campaign provoked violence, even in countries like Chile where the Soviet communists didn’t have any interest in.
Promoting anything in the “international community” is also problematic because such a community doesn’t exist. Should Chile work with the majority of states? The majority of the powerful but restricted UN security council, or the majority of the open but impotent general assembly?
Last, destructive US-China tensions are unlikely for the time being, anyway. It’s not that their economies are entangled; it’s their political economies. US corporate profits – and hence the donation-based political system – depend massively on Chinese labor, while the Communist Party’s ability to create jobs and hence legitimacy hinges on US spending.
Out With the Old
The self-styled New Voices in Foreign Policy have created a progressive proposal. They haven’t built careers in a social-democratic bipolar world. And they’ve been shaped more by European higher education than Chile’s commercialized and sclerotic system.
The differences are apparent already in the writing style. The group writes in accessible language, unlike most Chilean columnists whose preposterous and dense style enables self-affirmation rather than public dialogue.
And the new voices are killing idols. For some reason, established commentary can rarely do without citing the plagiarist and banality-peddler Fareed Zakaria or the demonic Henry Kissinger. But the new voices take inspiration from respected non-western scholars like Amitav Acharya. Emphasizing the importance of non-Western experiences, Acharya is theorizing global international relations. His recent work focuses on a “multiplex world.”
In such a world, the new voices claim, Chile must become an “entrepreneurial state” and pursue strategic autonomy, a concept that is becoming fashionable in Europe to counter dollar hegemony. The entrepreneurial state must provide protections against disruptions emanating from the global economy and which no export-oriented state can avoid.
Such a state should create “ad hoc international coalitions” with states, NGOs, and social movements based on shared interests, which would avoid having to choose one side.
While the Chileans’ progressive proposition is more advanced than the US counterpart, which remains a hodgepodge of realist and liberal theories, it still needs some work. That should start with democratic proofing. An entrepreneurial state is prone to abuse because an entrepreneur relates to employees and clients, not citizens.
Also, ad hoc alliances are already a staple of foreign affairs. The US has supported various foreign groups for decades, sometimes even with results adverse to its national interest
So, should Chile create an ad hoc alliance with Hong Kong’s or Russia’s democracy movements and risk their governments’ retaliation? Or should it maintain warm relations with the governments, which enables exchange that could benefit Chile? What if a minority is against an ad hoc alliance but has a democratic mandate? It’s unthinkable a Chilean right-wing government could support an abortion movement in Brazil. More likely would be an alliance on the shared interest of profit-making, enabling, for example, deforestation. But that’s not progressive.
To deal with potential pitfalls, theorizing is key. Although not fashionable, theory is important because it exposes assumptions about how the world works. It facilitates interpretation, which informs policy. Progressive scholars should defend theorizing and explain theories in accessible language. Foreign policy affects everyone, so everyone has a right to understand and get involved.
Still, the new voices are on solid ground already. It is encouraging that a new generation is rejecting received wisdom. But that’s the easy part.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).