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How Far Do You Agree that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an Evolving Institution?

| October 28, 2015


The roles of foreign affairs ministries are central to projecting the aspirations of states when operating on the international arena. This paper assesses that a number of the dynamics which have occurred in the global stage in order to assess whether or not foreign affairs ministries are evolving institutions and assesses that evolution is an important factor considering the anarchic state of the environment in which they operate. If they did not evolve then it is arguable that particular states would become irrelevant and outdated.


The role which foreign affairs ministries play within the state and within the international arena is crucial to the projection of state aims when global aspirations are considered. This paper discusses these roles and evidences a changed international landscape which foreign affairs ministries must respond to when offering advice to state executive committee’s when they are planning to respond to international events. However state actions do not occur in isolation of the responses of other states and it is here where policy development, as responses to third party activity, is considered. This paper assesses that events which take place on the international arena occur in a state of relative anarchy but where the role of foreign affairs ministries must be sufficiently flexible in order that appropriate responses can be delivered.

This paper reviews the role of foreign affairs ministries within both their relative states and the international arena. In doing so, it assesses the dynamics of international relations over the span of the post-World War Two environment; similarly it incorporates a number of liberalist agendas which has helped to create a number of international institutions and regimes. However, an overriding factor in this paper is the mitigation of war between states and the usage of soft power as being a preventative measure of war. Instead, conflict can now be considered as a diplomatic tool which advances state policies. However since states remain inherently selfish entities, this paper discusses the role of realpolitik as a tactic within foreign affairs and diplomacy. This paper concludes that foreign affairs ministries are evolving institutions and must be in order to respond to the fluid environment of the international arena. If this did not occur then affected states potentially would be subjected to reduced relevance when compared to their peers.

The Role of Foreign Affairs Ministries

Foreign affairs ministries (known as foreign office this paper) comprise the part of the state which tend to bridge the gap between the domestic political environment and its international equivalent. With this, a state’s foreign office represents the state in the interactions with other states. However, it is to be noted that since there is no higher authority than the state the international is largely comprised of an anarchic structure (Waltz, 1959). Whilst this argument is largely indicative of the realist explanations of international relations, it is to be noted that this anarchy creates a fluid political environment where events have a tendency to dictate the responses and actions of states. This has been evidenced in recent years where, for example, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre resulted in military deployment and conflict within six weeks, lasting to this day. As such, foreign offices need to be sufficiently flexible to respond to the dynamics of the international arena. Clearly, therefore, conflict is a persistent factor in this anarchic environment.

In response to Waltz’s (1959) respected publication, Suganami (2009) argues that the prevalence of international conflict occurs because of a missing element in the structure of the international environment. Primarily, he argues, this is because the political status quo is insufficiently powerful to avert conflict (Suganami, 2009). This supports a further statement in Waltz’ (1959) paper which suggests that for there to be an avoidance of war or conflict, there needs to be a level of convergence between states; for example, the current political dynamic tends to concern the tolerance levels between liberal and illiberal states (Casanova, 2006). For this to reach conclusion, a global assimilation of ideas and political perspectives would need to occur. This notion is based upon the cosmopolitan explanation of international relations but suggests that where this did occur that respective foreign offices would no longer require its evolutionary element, primarily since state systems would largely be acting in congruence (Chandler, 2003).However, as well as project domestic state policies onto the global environment, a second purpose of any foreign office is to advise the political leadership of the state on matters relating to international events. In the United Kingdom (UK), for example, this role has been reduced in recent years, largely as a result of several factors; firstly the increased congruence between the UK and other liberalist and democratic states; and secondly from a reduced need to for specialist advice on a number of geo-political matters (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 2011).

On the surface this suggests that the evolution of the UK’s foreign office is slowing however a closer examination highlights that the UK executive is refocusing its foreign office to one of diplomatic excellence (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 2011). It can therefore be suggested that rather than stagnating or in receipt of a slowed evolutionary process, the UK is reforming its foreign office to one which suits the political leadership of its state.

What is Soft Power?                                      

As a factor in the role of foreign offices, diplomacy can be considered to be an essential part of the role conducted by these state departments. Nye (2002) has argued that foreign offices tend to promote a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to their activities (Nye, 2002: 10). Here, carrots can be considered to be an inducement towards increased co-operation between states whilst the stick is indicative of threats. This analogy is indicative of the difference between soft and hard power. The carrot is the outcome of soft power whilst has been utilised and developed from diplomacy and whilst the hard relates to the coercive usage of military forces (Nye, 2002). In effect, the hard power aspect has been covered already in this paper by virtue of the earlier discussion relating to war and conflict.

Cooper, Heine, & Thakur (2013) argue that diplomacy is ‘more concerned with persuasion as opposed to that of coercion’ (2013: xxxiii), however they further argue that soft diplomacy is largely concerned with achieving to win the balanced outcome of what can be considered to be a win-win. However the term can be conflated or diluted by academic theorists. For example, Barston (2001) holds a belief that states use diplomacy to increase their influence amongst other state and in the supra national organisations which they are members of, but this is sought in line with state foreign policy objectives. Alternately Evans (2002) argues that diplomacy is merely a vehicle for projecting foreign policies onto the world stage. However, central to the notion of soft power is the utility of negotiation. This is a factor which Pigman (2010: 4) referred to when defining soft power, when he argued that diplomacy is simply ‘the art of negotiation’ or the ‘management of international relations by negotiation’. One such example of a sustained foreign policy where a carrot and stick approach was used occurred in US policies towards Latin America. These policies are referred to as the Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was a US foreign policy which was aimed at the European colonial powers of the UK, France, Russia and Spain to stop them from intervening in Latin America (US Department of State: Office of the Historian, 2014). This policy was a mainstay of US policies for over a century and, arguably remained the case today up until the era of the Reagan administration (Leogrande, 1990). Leogrande (1990) argues that the Reagan administration used the Monroe Doctrine to stop the spread of Communism to Latin America during the latter days of the Cold War, regardless of the impact of the maintenance of military dictatorships and the impact of thee regimes on their domestic populations.

In terms of foreign offices being considered as being evolving institutions, it can be argued, in light of the Monroe Doctrine, that there are precedents where a long help policy can be utilised as a strategy but where different tactics are used in order to ensure the efficacy of these tactics. In essence, it can be argued that, particularly, in the case of the Monroe Doctrine, that forms of realpolitik were being utilised in order to further the advances of US foreign policy despite changing international circumstance (Kupchan, 2005)

Realpolitik, Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs

As with the diplomacy, realpolitik is a subjective matter. Wayman and Diehl (1994) argue that the theory is based upon a belief that states should be free of any constraint in their actions when relating to one another. This definition proves problematic when the development of liberalist systems, such as collective security organisations and economic frameworks, has been created, primarily in the post World War Two era. However recent developments indicate that the discourse relating to diplomacy and the involvement of realpolitik is a progressive one. More recently, for example, Keisling (2014) has argued that any relevant theory of realpolitik should incorporate a perspective that links a number of factors in order that diplomatic or other non-military approaches should be considered as being successful. For him, this includes a mercantilist approach to economic realities and a blunt emphasis over the usage of military power when necessary. In relation to this it is to be noted that these factors are indicative of a realist explanation of the state and international relations, particularly when it is accepted by states act out of selfish interest.

However, the increased liberalist agenda which exists on the international stage has proven to be the factor which has altered the dynamics of the international arena, as per the earlier assertion by Chandler (2003). At the surface level this has resulted in increased co-operation states which share the same ideological perspectives. Similarly, this reinforces the absence of coercion between states which Cooper et al promotes (2013). Here, the creation of numerous structure sin the international arena, which includes international organisations, such as the European Union (EU) and the World Trade Organisation has resulted in a decrease in war between states but where conflict, akin to the usage of soft power, has resulted.

Within the development of organisations and regimes, the potential for foreign offices to further the policies of states has been increased (Smith and Bayliss, 2013). Indeed it can be further evidenced that numerous interstate conflicts have been resolved or where the real potential for military conflict has been mitigated. Ong (2002) refers to this outcome as graduated sovereignty and argues that devolved aspect of foreign policy to collective bargaining outcomes of multi-lateral negations helps to shape the dynamics of the international arena. Indeed, this particular outcome was realised when a number of Western states were denied the right to directly intervene in the ongoing Syrian conflict (United Nations Security Council, 2012). This particular outcome has reinforced the changed dynamics of the international arena where diplomacy has been increasingly used by states whereas previously the outcome would have resulted in the usage of hard power.   Nye (2002) argues that one potential reason for this changed policy is that states have recognised the false economy which hard power offers, particularly when soft power can achieve similar or improved outcomes as a result of diplomatic interventions. Indeed this particular perspective can be applied to the EU; particularly since previously, European states settled their differences on the battlefield (Nye, 2002). It is, therefore, not by chance that European states have not entered into a state of war since the inception of co-operative European institutions in the 1950s.


This paper has assessed the role of foreign offices as being a specialist unit which advises their relevant executive of the events which are occurring on the international stage. Foreign offices can then project new policies back onto this stage in response. As a result of this factor alone, it can be evidenced that foreign offices remain part of an evolving structure. In doing so, states will project a series of divergent policies, through their foreign offices, which act as a vehicle for short or long term strategies. However this outcome has occurred in an environment which has seen the development of a number of liberalist institutions, with result being that former military adversaries settle their differences across the negotiating table as opposed to on the battle field as would have occurred previously. In order to achieve such outcomes, foreign offices need to evolve in order to respond to international events and trends. As such, the evolution of foreign offices forms part of a persistent dynamic of the international arena.


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