Pols 3442 Midterm One
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pols 3442 Midterm One
Prof. Stephen Dyson
Pols 3442 – American Foreign Policy
Midterm Paper #1
September 27, 2015
Foreign Policy: Political Science or Political Art?
The crafting of foreign policy carries enormous consequences, both for America and the
rest of the world, and therefore we must ensure we take the most practical approach to crafting
foreign policy. There are two common approaches to viewing foreign policy: 1. Treat it as a
scientific process with pre-formed rigid rules, procedures, and “formulas” for handling given
scenarios or 2. Treat it as an art form, where creative solutions are used to adapt to changing
scenarios on the fly. However, there exist far too many complex factors that make up foreign
policy to break it down into a scientific process whereby leaders apply specific, rigid and
calculated protocols to any given foreign policy dilemma. The sheer complexity of the factors
which can affect foreign policy simply precludes the practical use of a purely scientific approach.
Instead, a more effective method to craft foreign policy is to treat it as a work of art, viewing it as
an ever-evolving project where any given action can have radically different outcomes
depending on the scenario. Dilemmas in the realm of foreign policy necessitate quick adaptation
and creative thinking, traits that using a more consistent, calculated scientific approach would
hinder. Strategy still plays an important role in foreign policy, but in the artistic approach
strategy acts as more of a general guideline or list of goals, rather than a set step-by-step plan for
accomplishing a goal start to finish, as in the case of a scientific approach, thereby allowing the
foreign policy “artists” more flexibility in achieving their goals while still having a coherent
framework to guide their actions. The main assertion this paper aims to prove is that the making
of foreign policy strategy cannot optimally execute its intended goals if treated as a purely
scientific process, and instead we must treat foreign policy as a delicate art form where creativity
and intelligent adaptation trump rigid consistency in the face of ever-evolving global situations
and new challenges, for which there exists no single scientific formula that can decisively
achieve a state’s goals. In order to exhibit the validity of my main argument, the discussion will
first focus attention on the characteristics inherent to foreign policy, and show how these
characteristics cause foreign policy to lend itself better to treatment as an art rather than as a
science. The next focal point of discussion will entail demonstrating why creativity and
adaptation prove more essential in achieving foreign policy goals than rigid consistency. After
accomplishing this, the discussion will conclude by reiterating my main argument and
reconciling it with the notion of a pre-planned strategy. This is accomplished by demonstrating
how even though a looser, more creative attitude toward foreign policy proves most effective,
strategy still remains relevant in the context of an “artist’s” approach to foreign policy.
Let us now turn the discussion to exploring the various characteristics intrinsic to
conducting foreign policy and how these characteristics create an “image” of foreign policy that
appears far more like a manifestation of art than a work of traditional science. To begin, we
must note that no two states have identical circumstances, meaning that, “A country’s size,
geographical location, history and economy all influence the way it conducts foreign policy.”1
Since every state differs in these aspects and more, any given state cannot easily develop an
1 Green, Michael. "Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Representation." Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Last
modified January 8, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2015.
effective universal scientific doctrine to apply to its foreign policy while adequately taking all
these differences into account. However, these myriad differences are much better handled via
an artistic approach, since any given scenario can be treated as its own independent case with its
own unique solution instead of trying to apply solutions from past dilemmas to new dilemmas
that have slightly different but consequential factors, as the scientific approach tends would tend
to do. Another vital characteristic to take into account is the fact that foreign policy is often
carried out by individual leaders or a representative of their choosing. In America’s case the
President has far more influence and control over foreign policy than Congress. Due to this
general characteristic, individual leaders possess the ability to utilize, improvise and implement
“artistic” and creative solutions to foreign policy dilemmas, rather than being bound by a fixed
“scientific” doctrine pre-set by legislators who typically do not directly partake in major foreign
policy decisions. For instance, this week (9/28/15-10/2/15) is the annual UN General Assembly
debates and President Obama has stated that he will meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin
to discuss global issues, specifically the ongoing crises in Syria and Ukraine.2 The meeting
between these two powerful heads of state may culminate in consequential decisions with
tangible outcomes, and both men possess the freedom to make decisions as individuals
representing their respective countries. This context of individual leaders meeting and crafting
foreign policy while retaining relative flexibility and personal discretion in decision-making
facilitates an artistic approach whereby leaders may adapt on the fly to rapidly changing
circumstances and/or seize opportunities as they appear, actions which would likely be very
difficult, if not impossible, if leaders were bound by rigid, scientifically calculated doctrines.
Evidence of how these meetings between individual leaders, a standard feature in the realm of
2 Khalilzad, Zalmay. "Face-to-Face: Obama Meets Putin." The National Interest.September 28, 2015. Accessed
September 28, 2015.
foreign policy, creates an environment conducive to applying an artistic touch exists in the fact
that the meeting between Obama and Putin could cause a number of different outcomes
depending on the skill and creativity of these two “artists”: “Against the backdrop of a forward
Russian strategy in Syria and Ukraine, and the uncertainty about Russian objectives in both
theaters, the summit could be a success if it leads to a conceptual agreement for a balanced
settlement to one or both of these conflicts. Failure should lead to a significant adjustment in
U.S. strategy in both conflicts to increase pressure on Russia.”3 Furthermore, regardless of
actual global circumstances, the skill of “foreign policy artists” plays a major role in determining
foreign policy outcomes. In this case, Obama, as a “foreign policy artist,” possesses the ability
to apply pressure and negotiate a settlement with Putin over Syria and Ukraine by emphasizing
to Putin the reality that Russia in its current situation is exposed.4 Whether Obama applies this
leverage or not is up to his discretion as an individual artist. Adopting a rigid scientific approach
does not lend itself well to these types of encounters between leaders which frequently determine
major foreign policy outcomes, as rigidity restricts the ability of the “artists” to do what they do
best (or worst, depending on your political opinions): create works of art, in the case of our
discussion, the art of foreign policy.
Although the crafting of foreign policy exhibits core characteristics which make it
advantageous to treat it as an art form, there remains another crucial question to answer: what
carries more value, creativity or consistency? While in practice creativity and consistency exist
to differing degrees in both the scientific approach and the artistic approach, for the sake of
argument we will associate creativity as being more closely related to the artistic approach and
consistency as being more closely related to the scientific approach. With this in mind, let us
3 Khalilzad, “Face-to-Face: Obama Meets Putin”
4 Khalilzad, “Face-to-Face: Obama Meets Putin”
consider a common technique employed by the scientific approach which exemplifies the
principle of consistency: the trial-and-error method. This method as referenced in the context of
foreign policy within this paper will be defined as the application of solutions that worked in the
past to similar new situations. In this sense, a trial-and-error scientific approach cannot provide
reliable solutions to newly emerging problems, as even different scenarios which may appear
identical can have subtle variations in their contributing factors which could necessitate vastly
different solutions. A direct example of the failure of trial-and-error to reproduce effective
results is evidenced by the botched “European Neighborhood Policy”: “In contrast to the success
of its eastward enlargement drive that transformed former communist countries into thriving
market democracies, the European Neighbourhood Policy launched in 2003 has been a
spectacular flop.”5 While the EU successfully integrated many former soviet states into the EU,
it is all but staring into the face of defeat in its attempt to use the same strategy to integrate more
states on the periphery of the EU. By attempting to apply the same strategy that worked
previously with several former soviet states to periphery states, the EU’s use of relatively rigid
consistency failed to take into account key differences between states: “It [the European
Neighbourhood Policy] set out a one-size-fits-all relationship for states with widely diverse
levels of economic development and governance, most of which are ill-equipped to apply
swathes of EU market, environmental or health and safety legislation.”6 Furthermore, the
European Neighbourhood Policy failed to appreciate the finer details and nuances of the North
African and southern Caucasus countries it tried to incorporate by incorrectly assuming that
these countries wished to cooperate and trade with one another, when in actuality no such desire
5 Taylor, Paul. "EU 'Ring of Friends' Turns into Ring of Fire." Reuters. September 27, 2015. Accessed September
6 Taylor, “EU ‘Ring of Friends’ Turns into Ring of Fire”
for trade and cooperation existed between these countries.7 The EU policymakers made the
mistake of over-emphasizing the importance of consistency, presuming that what worked on one
occasion would also work again in a similar situation, and neglecting the finer details unique to
each situation. After recognizing this failure the EU began to shift its approach and, “Now the
EU neighborhood policy is undergoing a fundamental rethink, with a more modest, flexible and
differentiated approach due to be unveiled on Nov. 17 .”8 In other words, one could
accurately say that the EU has decided to take a more artistic approach to its foreign policy.
Creativity deserves prominent recognition of its importance in the crafting of effective
foreign policy, as the next example from recent events will show. President Obama met with
Vladimir Putin during the UN General Assembly debates this week of 9/28/15, as mentioned
earlier within this paper, and Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov also met, to discuss foreign policy issues9. Since these leaders possess the capacity to
freely negotiate on behalf of their respective states, the nature of their meetings inherently
operates under an artistic approach to foreign policy. This creative freedom allowed these
leaders to arrive at an agreement on several goals for handling the ongoing Syrian conflict.10 In
the words of John Kerry, “There was agreement that Syria should be a unified country, united,
that it needs to be secular, that ISIL needs to be taken on, and that there needs to be a managed
transition.”11 Although Kerry also mentioned that Russia and the USA have differing views on
what such a “managed transition” would consist of,12 there now exists an established framework
of basic goals under which mutual cooperation can take place. Had the USA and Russia used
7 Taylor, “EU ‘Ring of Friends’ Turns into Ring of Fire”
8 Taylor, “EU ‘Ring of Friends’ Turns into Ring of Fire”
9 Heavey, Susan."U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry." Reuters. September 29, 2015.
Accessed September 30, 2015.
10 Heavey, Susan."U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry."
11 Heavey, Susan."U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry."
12 Heavey, Susan."U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry."
former policies as a basis for foreign policy, such as following their older Cold War-era policies
towards each other, than their leaders would be constrained by more rigid limitations, thereby
restricting their ability to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, and the outcome of the
meetings would likely have been far more confrontational. However, these leaders were allowed
the creative freedom to adapt to new situations and make unconventional decisions, such as
agreeing on common goals for Syria even while the two states remain very much at odds over
Ukraine. This creativity appears as if it will pay off, as when questioned about whether it is
possible to use Russia and Iran’s influence over Syria to put an end to President Bashar al-
Assad’s use of barrel bombs on his own people, an interest of the United States, Kerry
responded, “Absolutely…They are both in the position, in exchange perhaps for something we
might do, they might decide to keep Assad from dropping barrel bombs.”13 Thus, through use of
an artistic approach to creatively craft foreign policy the USA can potentially accomplish goals
important to its interests without directly intervening or coming into direct conflict with other
major powers, as it likely would have had it implemented the more confrontational policies
towards Russia which it successfully used during the Cold War. Here in the examples of the
EU’s failed “European Neighborhood Policy” and the high-level diplomatic talks between the
USA and Russia at the very recent UN General Assembly debates, we have found an answer to
our question and can observe how creativity in foreign policy triumphs over rigid consistency
based on past successful policies.
However, this conclusion does not mean that strategy or set plans and steps for
achieving foreign policy goals are of no use in the artistic approach. It simply means that
whatever strategy is implemented must be flexible, open to adjustment as necessary and, most
13 Heavey, Susan."U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry."
importantly, able to adapt to changing circumstances. The artistic approach to foreign policy
provides a basis for executing more effective policies than a rigid scientific approach; however,
by mixing artistic creativity with advance strategic planning, states can achieve even better
outcomes. In other words, if foreign policymakers make use of their creativity to craft a number
of different plans or strategies contingent on differing circumstances than they will be better
prepared for whatever situations may develop and have an easier time adapting to changing
circumstances. For instance, recall how during the UN General Assembly debates this week
Putin met with Obama to discuss Syria and Ukraine and agreed on a few basic goals for Syria.
While Russia and the USA can agree on these basic goals, they disagree on the specifics, leading
to a murky situation where cooperation and confrontation coexist between these states. So while
they can cooperate on some issues, such as the need to defeat ISIS, both must prepare multiple
different strategies to react to any unexpected moves the other state may take. This brings us to
Russia’s recent actions on 9/30/15, when Russian air forces launched air strikes against targets in
Syria; however these air strikes appear to target, not ISIS, but a rebel group in Syria supported by
the USA.14 While both states agree that Syria needs a stable unified government, the USA
desires a regime change while Russia supports the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, leading
to a key divergence in interests between the two nations and a source of tension and mistrust. As
the situation unfolds many different factors may change and both states must be ready to
confront whatever challenges may come their way, whether those challenges come from each
other or a third party. To maintain this state of readiness and to execute the most effective
foreign policy, these states, and any other state confronting foreign policy challenges, must adopt
14 Kenner, David. "Russia’s First Strikes in Syria Hit U.S. Ally, Not Islamic State." ForeignPolicy.com. September
30, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2015.
an artistic approach to foreign policy and utilize their creative abilities to the fullest within the
bounds of their overall strategic goals.
1. Green, Michael. "Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Representation." Te Ara Encyclopedia
of New Zealand. Last modified January 8, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2015.
2. Heavey, Susan. "U.S., Russia Agree Syria Must Be United and Secular: Kerry." Reuters.
September 29, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2015.
3. Kenner, David. "Russia’s First Strikes in Syria Hit U.S. Ally, Not Islamic State."
ForeignPolicy.com. September 30, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2015.
4. Khalilzad, Zalmay. "Face-to-Face: Obama Meets Putin." The National Interest.
September 28, 2015. Accessed September 28, 2015.
5. Taylor, Paul. "EU 'Ring of Friends' Turns into Ring of Fire." Reuters. September 27,
2015. Accessed September 28, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/27/us-