The Foreign Policies of Great Powers

Monday, March 26, 2012

Author: Bahareh Sazmand, Ph.D. in International Relations

Publisher: Tehran International Studies & Research Institute (TISRI)
Date of Publication: March 2011
ISBN: 978-964-526-149-6
Number of Pages: 391
Language: Persian


The end of the Cold War and the new international developments over the past two decades have influenced the development of foreign policy studies and research. With the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union, one of the global poles of power disappeared and the structure of international system underwent a great transformation. Some international relations theorists believe that during the past two decades no specific structure has come to dominate the international system as it is going through a transition period. According to others, however, a uni-multi-polar structure is in the making while a third group of theorists maintain that a non-compulsory hierarchical structure has been shaped which, in spite of the hegemonic position of the United States, allows other actors a considerable room for manoeuvre. In any case, such major rivals as the European Union, Japan, China, and Russia have emerged along with the US over the period, which influence the international events and developments and whose role may not be overlooked.

Book Description

The present book sets out, as an academic textbook, to examine the foreign policies of great powers in the post-Cold War era and consists of two main parts. In the first section, which is titled “Examining the Factors Influencing the Foreign Policies of Big Powers” and includes chapters one to five, the important elements impacting the foreign policies of the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, and Japan have been investigated, employing James Rosenau’s theory of change and continuity. The foreign policy-influencing factors in this part have been examined on the basis of five variables: 1) Individual variables, 2) Function- or role-oriented variables, 3) Bureaucratic variables, 4) National variables, and 5) Systemic variables. The first chapter of the study sets out to explore and explain the theoretical basics of Rosenau’s theory with regards to the foreign policy orientation of the United States in the wake of the Cold War while the second chapter delineates the elements impacting upon the Russian foreign policy in the same period.

The author believes that various factors at different subnational (individual, functional, and bureaucratic), national (economic, political, military, and geopolitical power and capability), and supranational (the structure of international system and key developments in the international arena) levels have all had an impact upon Russian foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. It should be pointed out, however, that it was during the presidency of Vladimir Putin that this great power managed to attain a desirable position and status on the international scene. During the period, all subnational, national, and supranational elements together created certain circumstances in which Russia afforded to elevate itself to the position of an emerging power and, in other words, a great power in the international arena. The political experience and personal traits of Putin as well as the measures he took to distribute power within the country on the one hand, and the rise in the global oil and gas prices on the other, and finally the occurrence of September 11, 2001 attacks caused Russia to play a key role or function on the global scene and recover its past status to some extent.

In the third chapter, the key factors influencing the EU foreign policy have been studied. While the author stresses that the initial goals and objectives of the European economic community – which were mostly focused upon economic, trade, and customs benefits – have now extended substantially and include political, social, judicial, monetary, and cultural aspects too, she believes such factors as the introduction of single currency (Euro) common agricultural policy, common defence policy and the formation of a European military force, common social policy, common social and fundamental rights charter, the concept of common citizenship, common foreign and security policy, and common tax policy are among the most important plans of the European Union to develop into an influential and powerful player in the international system, a trend which is still evolving.

Yet, the EU has a more inter-governmental than federal structure. This means that first, institutions like the European Council and the Council of Ministers, which have the greatest weight and decision-making power within the Union, are totally influenced by the national interests of member states, and second, the role and leverage of other institutions such as the European parliament and commission, which constitute symbols of a federal union, are far less than the above mentioned centres of decision-making.

One should admit that the bloc has not yet been highly successful in implementing and advancing the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) due to a number of hurdles and challenges, which include the absence of a central coercive and binding force to enact the European foreign policy, the adherence to a voting system based upon consensus and unanimity vis-à-vis foreign policy issues, and finally the periodicity and transitoriness of the EU presidency as the most significant ones. In point of fact, these limitations and dilemmas have made the European Union unable to envisage and define a clear “role model” for itself in the international sphere. In general, the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy has a long way to go before it fully matures.

The examination of the key factors influencing the foreign policies of China and Japan in the post-Cold War era constitutes the main task of chapters four and five. In chapter four, the author puts forward the argument that despite the existence of a broad spectrum of various influential actors and their impact upon China’s foreign policy making, the country’s foreign policy has been largely overshadowed by the views and ideas of its senior officials, particularly the president.

Pertinently, the incumbent Chinese President Hu Jintao emphasizes the avoidance of adopting a romantic attitude towards foreign policy making (as a criticism of Jiang Zemin’s practice of foreign policy) while he regards the adoption of a realist attitude, the use of Chinese power to achieve multilateral foreign goals, attention to new conceptions of security, the ideas of good neighbourhood policy and peaceful emergence, adherence to a popular foreign policy, and energy diplomacy the most important approaches and factors in steering China’s foreign policy. In addition, the country’s economic growth has helped a great deal to promote Beijing’s status in international equations while giving rise to a new pattern of economic development dubbed the “Beijing consensus.”

As for Japanese foreign policy, which has been discussed in the fifth chapter, the author contends that with some exceptions the political and decision-making system governing Japan is comparably less influenced by the individual variables. On the contrary, the types of objectives outlined and enshrined in Japan’s political-social system as well as its constitution have created a context in which role-oriented and more notably bureaucratic variables play an essential part in adopting decisions and attitudes. Along these lines, because of the existence of two structures in the Japanese system of governance - formal structure consisting of parliament and parties, and real structure comprising an iron triangle or coalition of Liberal Democratic party, private sector, and state bureaucracy - it is not easily possible to come up with an accurate differentiation between role-oriented and bureaucratic variables in the decision-making process.

In any case, it can be safely argued that the “economy” variable is the most important and powerful source that shapes Japan’s interactions with foreign actors, though for the time being and probably in the future outlook, this factor faces a number of challenges including the increasing economic growth of its neighbours such as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) group and China, the aging population, fluctuations in the price of oil, and lastly the decline in the value of dollar following instability in the US economy.

The second major section of the study concerns the manifestations of the great powers’ foreign policies in the post-Cold War era. In this part, which is comprised of five chapters, the foreign policy orientations and practices of the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, and Japan have been examined and analyzed.

Accordingly, the author focuses upon the international policies of the US in the wake of the Cold War, America’s regional policies in the same period, and finally its foreign policy strategy after the 9/11 attacks in the chapter dedicated to the US. In the author’s opinion, after the Cold War, the American political leaders tried, in line with the formation of a new world order, to devise and present a new strategy consistent with patterns of the new structure of the international system. Notably, with the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US sought to perpetuate its hegemonic supremacy and dominance, so that no other power could threaten its political, economic, and ideological superiority.

The Russian foreign policy towards the West (the United States and Europe) and the Middle East during four specified periods of 1991-1995, 1996-2000, 2000-2008, and 2008 onwards constitutes the principal theme of the second chapter in Section Two of the book. The author believes that on the whole Russia’s approach towards the West, particularly the United States, has been marked more by oscillation, paradoxical behavior, and confusion than representing a continuous and stable trend. In other words, the trend of Moscow’s international behaviour towards the West has seen fundamental changes in spite of demonstrating a fine line of continuity. It can be claimed that since 2008, Russia, in parallel with the growing US pressure typified by the planned deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe as well as the extension of NATO’s influence to former Soviet republics, has mobilized all its capacities to prevent the US from expanding its clout in Europe. To this end, in its new strategic document, Moscow has adjusted its foreign policy towards wielding more influence in Latin America, which is regarded the US’s strategic backyard while trying to play a more active role vis-à-vis developments in the Middle East and North Africa.

European Common Foreign and Security Policy, the relations between the European Union and the United States, EU-Russia ties, and the relations between EU and the Middle East are among the central themes debated in the third chapter of the second section. The author maintains that given the political, security, and economic environment of Europe as well as the international circumstances, in the near future European-American relations in the Atlantic context - which enjoy a high degree of mobility and fluidity - will be shaped mostly by a type of competition coupled with cooperation, that is, by political cooperation aimed at securing shared interests and economic competition characterized by convergence and conflict of interests at the same time. As for the relations of the European Union with Russia, the author argues that these two key international actors harbour strategic concerns about each other on the one hand and are dependent on each other to meet their strategic needs, particularly in the area of energy, on the other. Therefore, their common and conflicting interests have caused numerous peaks and troughs in their bilateral relations in the contemporary era. In addition, the role of the United States cannot be ignored in analyzing ties between EU and Russia.

In the wake of the Cold War and in line with the increasing tendency of the European Union towards pursuing a common foreign and security policy, the EU policy towards the Middle East underwent a kind of transformation. The growing significance attached to security in social and economic senses is one of most significant manifestations of such a development. In other words, the European Union regards its internal stability, economic progress, as well as the security and prosperity of its member nations contingent upon the establishment of economic and political stability in its security neighbourhoods including the Middle East. In fact, the EU sees itself at risk from the Middle East when it comes to new aspects of global insecurity such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, regional conflicts, and organized crimes.

This exposure to risk and vulnerability along with increasing dependence on the oil resources of the Middle East are the chief factors driving the bloc’s policy towards the region. This means that the European Union considers the consolidation of stability and establishment of security in the Middle East as the primary solution to face the new security challenges and attain sustainable access to the oil resources in the region. The EU-Mediterranean Partnership, European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and the strengthening of relations with the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are thus the most important framework and mechanisms that the EU is using to realize its strategy of seeking stability and security in the Middle East.

In the fourth chapter of the second section, China’s foreign policy towards the United States in the light of such issues as the Chinese domestic politics, the question of Taiwan, Iran, rivalry in Asia, and Beijing’s security and environmental policies have been examined. The chapter also deals with China’s foreign policy towards Russia, Japan, and finally Southeast Asia (ASEAN countries). Regarding the Chinese foreign policy towards the US, the author believes that while economic relations between the two sides have been growing and both have shown increased interest in bilateral and regional trade and economic convergence, the ties have often tended towards undergoing political shocks and nationalist issues and has manifested itself in the form of “cold politics, warm economy.”

In spite of the cooperation between Russia and China in some common areas, one cannot claim, even with an optimistic attitude, that there is some type of strategic cooperation between the two powers in different areas of international system. This is mainly because China, unlike Russia, has given priority to relations with the United States. In spite of having differences of attitude with it, China regards the establishment of international stability and avoidance of tension – which are necessary conditions for its “peaceful emergence” – subject to more cooperation with the US and abstention from following the aggressive policies of Russia’s military bloc. Moreover, in recent years Russia has moved towards developing its relations with Europe and India, which means that Russia and China tend more to consult with each other on international issues than to cooperate.

As for the prospects of China-Europe relations, the author points to their being influenced by China-US cooperation and argues that in the future a variety of challenges, including security, political, and even value-based ones, will overshadow the type of relations between the two sides. Offering a general assessment of the Chinese foreign policy towards Japan and their bilateral ties, the author contends that as in the case of its relations with the US, Beijing’s relations with Tokyo are characterized by “cold politics, warm economy.” Yet, one cannot ignore the possibility that mutual concerns about economic development, terrorism and the question of North Korea may help ease political tensions and differences between China and Japan in the future.

In the final chapter of the second section, Japan’s foreign policy towards the United States, European Union, Russia, and ASEAN states has been studies. According to the author, economic relations between Tokyo and Washington are severely influenced by their mutual security concerns, and interestingly, under US pressure to settle tensions, Japan has often made significant compromises and given concessions, which has in turn caused serious worries in the Japanese public opinion in recent years. Regarding Japan’s relations with Europe, the two sides drafted a document, titled “Shaping Our Common Future: An Action Plan for EU-Japan Cooperation,” in December 2001, and have since demonstrated their determination to cooperate in building peace and security, reinvigorating economic engagement, resolving global challenges, and bringing their cultures and people closer to each other. Notably, the document that has come to be known as a framework for future policies and relations between EU and Japan.

Lastly, in the author’s view, the trend of ties between Japan and Russia and the related developments over the past years indicates that Japan is inclined towards relieving the existing tensions with Russia, and tries to exploit this advantage to create a balance of power in the region, particularly seeking to contain China’s moves.