A University Grants Commission Approved Journal
(under UGC-CARE, Arts & Humanities Citation Index)
ISSN 2582-2241


Values in Foreign Policy: Investigating Ideals and Interests.
Edited by Krishnan Srinivasan, James Mayall, and Sanjay Pulipaka.
(London/New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), Pages 293, INR 835


THIS BOOK IS A PATHBREAKER. THERE IS NO comparative study yet on the relationship between values and foreign policy practiced in countries around the world. It treads new ground with rigour, leavening scholarly understanding of the topic. There are, of course, several books on values in foreign policy in a “single nation,” but the book under review is a remarkable standout because it deals with foreign policy values in “comparative” perspective in “multiple nations.”

There are some excellent “single nation” studies such as the full-length works on the values espoused by the United States such as Melvin Small, Democracy and Diplomacy; Robert Dallek, The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs; Charles A. Beard, The Idea of National Interest; and Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right, to name just a few.[1] Then there are several “single nation” studies of values practiced in other countries. But Values in Foreign Policy is so different: it deals with multiple countries, and obviously with a broad comparative brush.

When values are subsumed into policymaking—and when the resultant policy is put into practice—it is often ambiguous and ambivalent. This problematic question has confronted the editors and authors of this book in two ways: first, they have identified certain “values” in foreign policy that are difficult to link persuasively to actual foreign policy practice. It is, at once, a difficult task because the foreign policies of countries oscillate, for example, from the rhetoric of peace/peacekeeping to outright hypocrisy in the shape of foreign interventions and hegemony driven by national self-interest.

Secondly, ambiguity appears in postcolonial states as an ambivalence in the sense of being unresolved, wavering and vacillating. Ambivalence stems from the ways in which the former coloniser and the colonised states regard each other, with the former viewing the latter as inferior, and the latter seeing the former as enviable and hegemonic. These two-way discourses are (a) overlaid with the diplomatic façade of states’ respect for each other, and (b) dictate how states shape their values and inject them into their foreign policy interests.

The editors have skilfully assembled a collection of fourteen articles in this volume in addition to an introduction. At the outset, the editors declare that the various chapters would address two research questions: are there any identifiable set of “Asian” values, and whether those values were in harmony or in competition with values that originated in the West. While these two tasks have been accomplished through research and analysis, the third task of assessing whether there is any prospect of reaching consensus on a universal set of values is much more difficult to demonstrate.

As Robert Kaplan explains in the foreword to the book under review, a state’s values are not just part of its foreign policy, they are paramount to it.

In his chapter, James Mayall argues that the European Union is the only multilateral organisation with pretensions to a foreign policy and a diplomatic service of its own, and that it demands that prospective members meet certain common standards prior to admission, such as the holding of democratic elections, respect for individual human rights and the rule of law. He identifies an incurable tension between the universal pretensions of EU values and the priority given to European economic and security interests.

Mayall argues that “by the middle of 2018 the credibility of the ‘universal’ liberal values on which European civilian power—and its nascent foreign policy—had been based, if not in tatters, had been seriously damaged” (p. 28). But in reaching his conclusion, the author contradictorily comments that secular liberalism as a foreign policy value had “a reasonable prospect of being accepted as a universal value” (p. 32).

Disagreeing with Mayall’s conclusion, in his article Bruno Macaes argues that “the belief in universal values is a fair description of how the EU sees world politics, but this vision is increasingly difficult to sustain” (p. 89). The conviction that countries would cleave to European norms had become “a Kantian ideal” that was impossible to attain as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova gyrated between different models of governance. Yet, at the core of European idealism were Norway and Sweden that had deliberately linked their foreign policy to a set of values, believing that their national interests were intimately linked to the global order (p. 81). These scholarly debates within the book give the topic a rigorous edge.

Further into the book, Mehmet Ozkan and Kingshuk Chatterjee demonstrate the ways in which Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been incorporating religion into foreign policy since 2002, with the Directorate for Religious Affairs transforming itself into an international actor, and by subsuming into foreign policy the concerns of Turkish society (p. 120-121). The authors show that values in Iranian foreign policy were the creatures of the Islamisation of the language of politics (p. 125). They argue that in both countries realpolitik (geopolitical considerations, and cost-benefit analysis) had greater weightage in foreign policy than religious values which play a role largely of legitimising and galvanising domestic support.

Krishnan Srinivasan, a former Indian foreign secretary, explains that in the beginning of the new republic, Indian foreign policy under prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was tethered to a melange of values drawn from religious tradition, the struggle against colonialism and racialism, as well as Gandhi’s non-violent freedom movement, all of which asserted the moral superiority of India’s unique universalism. But these values remained inert in the face of international politics, and domestic political resort to realism and opportunism. The author argues that the exclusivist nature of Hindutva made India’s closer integration with a globalising world more difficult (p. 135).

Sanjay Pulipaka and Chaw Chaw Sein explore what they call “tentative linkages” between Theravada Buddhism and Myanmar’s foreign policy” (p. 156). The authors explain that the Buddhist concept of uppekha, or equanimity, is impartial in nature and may have translated into Myanmar’s policy of neutrality in foreign relations. The neutralist foreign policy faced new challenges following the violent rhetoric of some Buddhist organisations and the violence against Muslims in the Rakhine State (p. 168). As a consequence, Myanmar had begun relying more on China in order to “fend off” international pressure. The authors speculate that continuing violence in the Rakhine State would push Myanmar to abandon neutralism and move even closer to China. They suggest that the movement towards Beijing had already started.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar argues that although there had been continuity in Indonesia’s formal adherence to core foreign policy values defined by the ideals of independence (enshrined in Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity) and peace activism, there had also been changes in the ways in which they were used over time (p. 175).

The strength of this edited book lies in its comparative juxtapositions: for instance, in the interface between Myanmar’s value of neutralism and Indonesia’s neutrality. Dewi Fortuna quotes Indonesian vice president Hatta as saying that being independent and active did not mean neutrality in international relations, meaning that while the country was not aligned to either superpower during the Cold War, it remained free to pursue its national aspirations (p. 178).

Zhang Lihua explains that although the Communist Party of China’s guiding ideology is Marxism, the party’s worldview is guided by traditional Chinese cultural values that owe their provenance to Taoism, Confucianism, the Book of Changes, and Huangdi Neijing which locate harmony at their core (p. 194). From here, the ideal of harmony was worked into the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence of 1950, and most recently into president Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream of peace, prosperity, and happiness for the people.

In a break from the earlier chapters showing states’ efforts to infuse values in their policy, Lee Seong-hyon argues that South Korea has avoided the incorporation of values in its foreign policy. Seoul views values as a “liability” because its policy is driven more by its alliance with the dominant power in the region (p. 209). Thus, when president Lee Myunk-bak announced that he would pursue value-oriented diplomacy in 2008, it caused a flutter in Seoul with influential leaders describing it as a “misplaced idea, like a child who couldn’t read the changes in the world” (p. 216). Then in 2012, for the first time South Korea’s foreign ministry announced its four core values: national interest, public service, contribution to humanity, and aiming for the best, signalling a need to frame an original set of values rather than adopt the values of others (p. 221).

Tadashi Anno explains that after Japanese defeat in the Second World War, the country’s leaders embraced pacifism as a value that would help it gain international standing and regain self esteem (p. 227). In September 1945, Emperor Hirohito called for the establishment of a peace-loving country or heiwa-kokka, which imposed strict limits on military expansion (p. 230). While pacifism created a distinct Japanese identity, Japan used Western values of democracy and freedom in its foreign policy rhetoric during the Cold War (p. 232). At the same time the Japanese took a negative view of certain aspects of indigenous Japanese tradition (p. 234). If the end of the Cold War challenged Japanese pacifism, the Gulf War and the debate over peacekeeping missions exposed the inward-looking nature of pacifism, which was criticised as “pacifism in one country” or ikkoku heiwa-shugi, marking pacifism’s decline (p. 239). This led to the formulation of “value-oriented diplomacy” by the first Abe government in 2006, emphasising that its foreign policy would give greater importance to universal Western values (p. 240). The shift toward VOD is seen as a tactical move to block Chinese influence in the region, and the Abe government’s formulation of “proactive contribution to peace” or sekkyokuteki heiwa-shugi in 2013, which became a feature of national security policy, gestured towards a Japan willing to begin to take its military role more seriously.

Values in Foreign Policy is recommended as required reading for students of history and international relations because it encompasses not only the past but also takes the debate into the present. It should inspire students to undertake research projects exploring the ambiguity and ambivalence that is generated when states splice their grandiose values with crafty self-interest.


[1] Melvin Small, Democracy and Diplomacy: The Impact of Domestic Politics in U.S. Foreign Policy, 1789-1994 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Robert Dallek, The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs (Oxford University Press, 1990); Charles A. Beard, The Idea of National Interest: An Analytical Study in American Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1934); and Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995).