(Book Review) Values in Foreign Policy: Investigating Ideals and Interests

Edited by Krishnan Srinivasan, James Mayall, and Sanjay Pulipaka

Publication Date: Mar 2019, Published by Rowman & Littlefield International

This book constitutes a fundamental break-through in conventional political analyses, representing as it does, an exploration of the relationship between espoused national values and actual foreign policy interests and policies. It is highly ambitious because it does not solely focus on one country’s foreign policies, but on several. Individual states (China, India, Japan, the US among others) each has a chapter while regional alliances (ASEAN and the EU) and even a religious grouping (Islam) are also addressed.

Taking any one country and analyzing how and why it reaches foreign policy decisions is challenge enough. Taking most of Asia, much of the West, as well as Russia is both ambitious and risky. Yet the editors of the book (Srinivasan, Mayall and Pulipaka) have pulled off a major accomplishment. Distinguished scholars, former senior diplomats, a journalist and others have contributed chapters to the compendium and, while individual chapters are often brilliant, the whole breadth and depth of the publication is what makes it really unusual and special.

The Foreword by Robert Kaplan and the Introduction (by the three editors) are also uniquely worth reading and pondering. In my experience these are often throw-away and highly ignorable parts of such wide-ranging explorations, but these are special and stand by themselves as outstanding reviews of the challenges involved in such a study. Kaplan flags, among other issues, the linkages between Empires and values while the editors manage an illuminating review of theories of foreign policy among academic thinkers.

The editors also took the bold step, in their emphasis on Asian countries’ foreign policies, of addressing the question whether there is such a real phenomenon called Asian Values, and, if so, what it means. As chapters in the book describe and analyze the policies of India, China, South Korea, Japan, Myanmar, and Indonesia as well as ASEAN, it becomes quite clear that the assertion that there is such a pan-Asian approach to international relations is not based on fact.

Linked to the question whether, in practice, there are Asian Values is the question whether there are other, Universal Values, often viewed as Western constructs but which in several post- World War II international institutions are adopted as though they truly have worldwide buy-in. Looking at the world today, it seems clear that there are no such universally accepted values, in any meaningful, actionable sense.

It is also of considerable interest to deeply probe individual states’ strategies attempting to balance what are widely accepted core national values and more obvious immediate as well as longer turn national economic, strategic, military, and political interests. These interests constitute a complex brew of goals and objectives and, especially in democratic states, there is often the assumption that they must be described and promoted as furthering national values. Sometimes this effort succeeds, because it is authentic, but often it falters because of the obvious gap between those values and the policies purporting to promote them. These deep and complicated realities are addressed in each of the book’s chapters.

I personally found the chapters on Indian, ASEAN, the European Union and U.S. foreign policies to be the most interesting because the challenge of wedding values with strategic interests is most public, and most debated. The chapter on India is sub-titled, “Lofty Ideals Give Way to Parochial Pragmatism” and it is clearly apparent that the implied dilemma is a reality not just for India but for all other democratic countries. In contrast, one might say that, for China, for example, what the government says about the relationship between ideals and pragmatism, is effectively the end of the conversation. Not so in democracies.

This ground-breaking book could and should be required reading for students of international affairs. The chapters are usefully practical, as opposed to theoretical, as well as realistic and thus give the reader much to think about. Hopefully, it will become a text which is widely read and can be a basis for university coursework focused on real-life questions of the foundations of foreign policy activities among a wide range of important countries.

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