Foreign Policy Expertise & Negotiation Culture

Foreign Policy Expertise

It seems to me from the way ministers are assigned to lead the Foreign Policy portfolio in government that expertise is NOT a pre-requisite; prime examples of this include the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Now this suggests to me that these positions are more ceremonial due to one of 2 possibilities;

  • a) The perception that Foreign Policy is NOT a key subject matter for the government or
  • b) (the more likely) To ensure that policy decisions in this area are predominantly driven directly by the head of government who unfortunately in most cases also lacks expertise in this domain as well.

This in my view is a very big mistake and has/continues to lead to flawed policy decisions not only in dealing with foreign conflicts but also in creating them in the first place. Remember that the person heading this job is NOT only the top diplomat but also has (or should have) the responsibility in developing/maintaining a vision/philosophy within the department and ensuring that prudent foreign policy is able to Evolve rather than allow flawed policy to Revolve.

This view reflects my conviction that government should be driven by a team of technocrats that are less concerned with partisan politics and more concerned about effective policy where scope/scale of change are judged on Merits based on Facts NOT Perceptions based on Ideology. The head of government on the other hand should play the role of managing the team and defining the overall strategic course/vision for the government/country. The reverse of this governance style is exactly what we have right now and which results in partisan, inconsistent and overall harmful policies.

Negotiation Culture

It’s certainly true that negotiation is an art/talent and that expertise plays an important role in developing/mastering this talent. However, when negotiation involves parties of different cultures as is mostly the case in Foreign Policy, it is also critical to involve people of the same culture/expert knowledge of subject matter-or at least with sufficient knowledge of that culture-in the negotiating team to ensure better understanding and create a more cordial environment that can affect the extent/confidence level of any agreement reached. It is equally important to go into these negotiations with a clear strategy/process that allows the team to assess/respond to progress of the negotiation particularly considering the cultural element involved.

A very good read about the art of Negotiation which I highly recommend is; Getting to Yes; Negotiating an Agreement without Giving in, by Walter T. Fisher