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«Introduction Diplomats often find international relations (IR) books strange. If they read - or more likely reread (as many Western diplomats have ...»

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Conclusion: Relationalism: why

diplomats find international relations

theory strange



Diplomats often find international relations (IR) books strange. If

they read - or more likely reread (as many Western diplomats have

studied IR theory at some point of their life) - Waltz's Theory of

International Politics/ they shake their heads. When presented with

metaphors of the state such as Wolfers's2 famous billiard ball: "a closed, impermeable, and sovereign unit, completely separated from all other states," they look bewildered. Also non-realist IR scholarship appears odd to most diplomats. Finnemore and Sikkink's life cycle of norms3 would seem as far from their daily work tasks as Jervis's game theoretical models of cooperation and conflict under anarchy.4 Diplomats would anytime prefer the gossip in their embassy cables and the Financial Times (FT) to the models in International Organizatiol1 or International Studies Quarterly. Not just because cables and FTprovidea lighter read but also because they seem closer to what diplomats perceive as the "real world." What lies behind this estrangement between diplomats and scholars of international relations?

I wish to thank Iver B. Neumann, Vincent Pouliot, Ole Jacob Sending, and the other participants at the workshop at the New School for Social Research in September 2012 for their helpful ideas and comments. Moreover, I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers as well as to Julia Frohneberg,j.ene Hansen, and Cynthia Weber for constructive suggestions.

Kenneth Waltz, Theory of Ill1ernational Politics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1979).

Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962), 19.

Martha Finnemore and Kahtryn Sikkink, "International Norm Dynamics and Political Change," International Organization, 52(4), 1988.

Robert Jervis, "Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma," World Politics, 3(2), 1978.

Conclusion 285 Scholars in diplomatic studies have argued that the reason for the estrangement is to be found within IR theory itself. It is "dangerously reductionist,"S "rationalistic,,,6 focusing on macro decisions of superpowers,? or simply irrelevant - "locked within the circle of esoteric scholarly discussion" as US diplomat David D. Newson put it.s Arguably, IR theory has failed to acknowledge the logic of practice in diplomacy,9 and it does not capture the bodily experience to being a 1o diplomat. However, the authors of the preceding chapters have demonstrated that the problem is more fundamental: IR scholars have ignored that diplomacy helps constitute world politics. To'bring out the ways in which this constitution takes place, the ehapter-tl-ffi this book ha¥il employed a relational approach.

In this conclusion, which reflects critically on this approach and its wider consequences, I argue that diploma ts are estranged from IR theoryand vice versa - because IR scholars generally subscribe to substantia/ism, whereas diplomats tend to think in terms of relations. In fact, a deeper understanding of these relations is a key theoretical take-away point of this book. More specifically, the ehaj'lte'i.argues that relationalism - as a meta-theoretical approach - not only helps us understand the diplomatic production of world politics, relationalism also reflects a particular ontology, which differs fundamentally from the worldview that most IR scholars subscribe to. As I suggest, most IR s~holars depart from the social phenomenon they want to study, for example, states, diplomats, soldiers, organizations, treaties, companies, and women.ll Assuming a s Carne Ross, Independem Diplomat: Dispatches from all Unaccountable Elite (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 146.

6 Harald Muller, "Arguing, Bargaining and All That: Communicative Action, Rationalist Theory and the Logic of Appropriateness in International Relations," European foumal of Imemational Relations, 10(3),2004;

Jeffrey Lewis, "The Janus Face of Brussels: Socialization and Everyday Decision Making in the European Union," International Orgallization, 59(4), 2005.

7 Geoffrey Wiseman, "Bringing Diplomacy Back In: Time for Theory to Catch Up with Practice," Illtemational Studies Perspectives, 12(4), 2011.

8 Newson (2001) quoted in Stephen Walt, "The Relationship between Theory and Policy in International Relations," Allnual Review Political Science, 8, 2005, 24.

9 Vincent Pouliot, "The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities," International Organization, 62(2), 2008.

Iver B. Neumann, "To Be a pipJomat," international Studies Perspectives, 6(1), 2005.

See also Patrick J. Jackson and Daniel H. Nexon, "Relations before States:

Substance, Process and the Study of World Politics," European fOllmal of Internatiollal Relations, 5(3), 1999.

286 Rebecca Adler-Nissen priori the existence of these phenomena (e.g. states or individuals) and ascribing certain characteristics to them, they develop substantive theories. Consequently, diplomacy is reduced to the mechanics of states bumping into each other or a system of reciprocal signaling.

However, most diplomats know, in an embodied but often unarticulated sense, that world politics is deeply relational. Their job is to make those relations "work," and they are convinced that important knowledge can be gained by consulting and meeting with foreign powers, that is, "the other." As such, they subscribe to a relational thinking (shared to some extent by diplomatic scholars). Relationalism takes as its point of departure the idea that social phenomena making up world politics always develop in relation to other social phenomena. Thus, for example, states are not born into' this world as fully developed states that then "exist"; states are made in continuous relations with other states and non-state actors. The development, consolidation, weakening (or even disappearance) of states can only be understood in terms of continuous processes that play out in relation to other social processes. These ontological and epistemological differences between much of IR scholarship and diplomatic knowledge and practice are important for how we understand (and construct) world politics, including war, international cooperation, and responses to human and natural catastrophes.

The chapter is organized as follows. The next section illustrates diplomats' relational ontology and construction of national interests with an anecdote from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an account from a former US ambassador to France. The third section shows that substantialism may be part of the reason why IR theory, in its realist, liberalist, and constructivist versions, has produced reductionist images of diplomacy. Addressing this problem, the fourth section teases out the relational approach, which is advanced in this book, whereby diplomacy is seen as constitutive (or rather co-constitutive) of other international or transnational practices. The fifth and sixth sections examine the problems and limits of the relational approach adopted in this book, which still insists that diplomacy is the mediation of estrangement: first, the risk of down playing the consequences of diplomacy's move from representation toward governance and second and the risk of seeing diplomacy as politically "empty" (and thus innocent) practice that can be addressed separately from questions of power. The chapter concludes that if IR theory is to begin closing the Conclusion 287 gap between the theory and practice of world politics, as scholars such as Walt have called for,12 it will need to acknowledge other forms of knowledge than the substantia list version dominating political science today.

Diplomacy as "folk re1ationalism": we would never.

talk about "win-sets".

The first argument that I wish to make, drawing on the preceding chapters, is that the diplomatic worldview differs from that of IR scholars. This helps explain their mutual estrangement. More specifically, many IR scholars have a substantialist view of world politics, whereas many diplomats subscribe to "folk relationalism.',13 By "folk relational ism, " I understand the commonsensical way of carving up the social world in what the anthropologists Ladislav Holy and Milan Stuchlik call "folk models," that is, people's representations of their own world - srylized schemata of social facts, ideas of relations and social causes that people work' by in their everyday lives. They are learned or experienced assumptions about ho:w the world works that help navigate social relationships, conflicts, and needs that they have in ordinary life.14 Diplomatic action, as I will show, also proceeds based on a particular representation of the world. This has important implications for the construction of national interests, as the following example illustrates.

When I was working as a head of section in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA; 20l0-ll), I once showed an academic article on EU foreign policy toa colleague. I was employed full time at the MFA, but I continued to. teach the IR undergraduate course at the university, and I was interested in my colleagues thoughts on the article, which was on the students' reading list. My colleague, who was responsible for EU foreign policy coordination in the MFA, read it. In the lunch canteen, he said: "It's too bad your students never learn how diplomacy really works." "What do you mean?," 1 asked. He answered, "I mean this is so far from realiry. We would never talk about 'win-sets'... You

–  –  –

know how Michael [our head of department] likes to put it: 'it's about being within target,''' my colleague saidY In the course of my stint at the MFA, I learned that "being within target" was extremely difficult to pin down in words. It was not always based on a calculation of interest, but more a gut feeling. You knew when it sounded right, when you had described our national position in the right terms.

Of course, my colleague's criticism of the article may just reflect his self-construction or professional identity.16 For instance, few people think about their choice between two supermarkets as related to their indifference curves. Yet, economists have effectively demonstrated that - as


and idealized as they may be - indifference curves actually provide an accurate description of consumer behavior. So perhaps my colleague, the diplomat, did not know himself well enough.

My colleague, however, insisted that this was not the case. He leaned over and said, "the problem is that he [the scholar] believes that national interests are fixed prior to negotiations. But we always keep brackets. " With "we always keep brackets," my colleague referred to the way we drafted the national position and speech notes for the foreign or prime minister. While the MFA would collect background material weeks ahead of the meetings in Brussels, the paragraph explicating the national position and bullet points for the minister were often kept in brackets or left blank until the very last hours before a meeting.1?

This anecdote suggests that diplomats think in terms of processes and relations rather than substances. Diplomats know that international negotiations require a certain degree of flexibility and adaption of national positions. As Sending shows in Chapter 9, they draw on intuitive flairs or social skills that help them steer the negotiations in the 15 "Det handler om at vcere inden for skillen" in Danish.

For fascinating analyses of diplomatic scripts and reflectivity, see Neumann, "To Be a Diplomat"; Ivcr B. Neumann, "'A Speech That the Entire Ministry May Stand £or,"or: Why Diplomats Never Produce Anything New," International Political Sociology, 1(2),2007; Costas M. Constantinou, "Between Statecraft and Humanism: Diplomacy and Its Forms of Knowledge," International Studies Review, 15(2),2013.

This is an interesting parallel to Neumann's observation that keeping brackets as

a way of wielding influence (Iver B. Neumann, At Home with the Diplomats:

Itlside a European Foreign Ministry [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012J, 114).

Conclusion 289 preferred direction. Of course, some negotiations are based on clearly formulated and fixed goals such as security partnerships, trade rounds, or membership accession agreements, but even such negotiations require a certain degree of subtleness in terms of presentation of positions, timing, and an ability to make compromises. Moreover, national interests may change in the course of the negotiation process as the involved parties learn more about the issue and their opponents and as the negotiations gain their own momentum.

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