Technology, Values and Foreign Policy

Technology, Values and Foreign Policy

With fifty percent of the world’s population below the age of 30, and the values of this generation becoming the leitmotifs of international discourse, international-relations frameworks are steadily assimilating and adapting to these changes in value systems.

Emerging value systems and technological breakthroughs complement each other. The history of international affairs and the history of technology are intertwined.  The bandwidth of technologies that affect international relations is steadily widening, no longer limited to the narrow realm military application.

With ever increasing interconnectedness, bringing larger national demographies in contact, it has become easier for states to identify and associate with shared value structures. Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action. Shared values across states promote cooperation.

Shared vision frameworks like Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set up by the United Nations have successfully assimilated several nations as proactive collaborators, relatively frictionlessly.

People take foreign policy personally: the same basic values that people use to guide choices in their daily lives also extend to the domain of foreign affairs.[i] The proliferation of technologies, in the current era, has introduced many more imponderables.

Gen Xers (the demographic cohort with birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s) and millennials (1983-2000) were the first to grow up with computers in their homes. In an increasingly individualised society, millennials seem to be the most sustainability-conscious generation.

India has more than half of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 percent below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years.

Foreign policy is the manifestation of the internal cohesion and development of the community into a union.[ii]

The value systems of this “demographic dividend” are in a state of flux, with majority of the population concomitantly holding on to both traditional and emerging value systems. Traditional values like puritan morality (thrift and self-denial), work-success ethic, group-conformity, future-time orientation (denial of present wants for future satisfaction) co-exist with emerging values like sociability, relativistic moral attitude, individualism and present-time orientation.

This state of flux has precipitated cognitive dissonance among large sections of the population in various countries, resulting in the emergence of popular nationalistic leaders (Donald Trump in the United States, Marine Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry in Germany, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India), whose rise to power hinged on assurances of the protection of traditional values.

Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect. (Schwartz, 1992, 2006a) When values are activated, they become infused with feeling. People for whom independence is an important value become aroused if their independence is threatened, despair when they are helpless to protect it, and are happy when they can enjoy it.

Hence the selection of the theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” at the World Economic Forum 2018.

Conservation values (from Schwartz’s theory of basic values) are strong predictors of militant internationalism while universalism values are strongly associated with cooperative internationalism.[iii] Cooperative internationalism is defined by support of international cooperation and détente while militant internationalism is defined by support for sending troops abroad.

Universalism values underpinned the motivation when India took a lead role in setting up the International Solar Alliance (ISA). It was jointly launched by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France on 30th November 2015 in Paris. The ISA became the first treaty-based international government organisation to be based in India, with 19 countries ratifying its framework agreement. It currently has a membership of 121 nations.

Tradition, conformity and security are considered conservation values while universalism and benevolence are considered self-transcendence values. The defining goals for universalism as a value include understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature. Benevolence is marked by caring for those in one’s own community.[iv]

The influence of benevolence values on foreign policy is visible in the steady fortification of the resolution of the Indian government in facilitating speedy rescue of Indian nationals in foreign conflict zones and safeguarding the rights of Indians abroad. The union cabinet, in August 2017, accorded sanction for proxy voting right for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Overseas Indian diaspora find ever increasing mention in foreign policy circles.

With strategic influence overshadowing military dominance, as the operating principle in global politics, cooperative internationalism has largely outmoded militant internationalism and isolationism. This posturing marks a departure from foreign policy decisions driven by expecting the benefit of reciprocity: if I take your problems seriously, you are that much more likely to help me solve mine.

The evolution of foreign policy orientation is in consonance with the relative weighting accorded to conservation values (security, conformity, tradition), self-enhancement values (achievement, power), openness to change values (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism) and self-transcendence values (universalism, benevolence).

The natural progression of India’s foreign policy orientation from varying degrees of isolationism (non-alignment to strategic autonomy)  to cooperative internationalism and beyond are sustained by the evolving values of a maturing democracy.

[i]       Brian C. Rathbun, Joshua D. Kertzer, Jason Reifler, Paul Goren, Thomas J. Scotto, “Taking Foreign Policy Personally: Personal Values and Foreign Policy Attitudes”, International Studies Quarterly, Volume 60, Issue 1, March 1, 2016, Pages 124–137, available at

[ii]       Martin Holland, “The Foreign Policy Making Process”, European Union Common Foreign Policy, 1995, Page 2, available at

[iii]      Joshua D. Kertzer, Kathleen E. Powers, Brian C. Rathbun, and Ravi Iyer, “Moral Support: How Moral Values Shape Foreign Policy Attitudes”, The Journal of Politics 76, no. 3 (July 2014): 825-840, available at

[iv]      Schwartz, S. H., “Are There Universal Aspects in the Structure and Contents of Human Values?”, Journal of Social Issues, Volume 50, 1994, Pages 19–45, available at

Arjun G is a journalist and writer based in Bangalore, India, with a keen interest in technology and its influence on society.


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