In all matters concerning State diplomacy domestic considerations come first. At its core is this one guiding principle: foreign policy is an extension of one’s domestic policy.
It is therefore important that we understand why countries choose to engage with us, or why we should forge closer ties with another country.
Our foreign policy of ‘friend to all enemy to none’ is perhaps the most basic of foreign policies, it is an open playbook for anyone wishing to engage with us. It lacks strategic thinking, and it runs the risk of putting foreign interests ahead of our own.
Today, the global political landscape has shifted, and countries that are sensitive to such shifts in thinking adjust accordingly. We have, on the other hand, chose to maintain the middle ground – a place we seem to find comfort, but a place that is increasingly untenable for any government in today’s global political environment.
When love and hate collide, there is no middle ground.
“You could have a change of heart, if you could only change your mind,” is a fitting description of today’s global contest where political systems and values are taking centre stage. It is a battle of the mind and the heart, not just of countries but of peoples.
Whichever side you’re on, it is a competition of how things are and how things ought to be - a master orchestrator, and an increasingly assertive understudy.
There needs to be serious thought in what we say and do in such an environment. Political nuance and posturing will not save us - countries will start to look through us, and over us, and soon we will be collateral damage, becoming friends to none, and an enemy to all.
A responsible government should be thinking ahead, crafting a foreign policy that is suited to our situation. It is perhaps time that we develop a foreign policy whitepaper, one that is guided by a policy rationale that is easy to digest and implement. It should also be one that is measurable, the success of our foreign policy should be more than just an expanded global reach or presence.
Our smallness requires an approach that promotes collective solidarity, and with that a clear set of objectives. Broadly, our objective should be guided by economic development, security, the environment, climate change and our democratic values.
A good example of collective solidarity in pursuit of economic development is the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). As a collective the group was able to negotiate equally with distant water fishing nations, reaching and concluding agreements that were favorable to the group. This same approach could also be considered for other natural resources – the pooling together of regional talents, negotiating for and on behalf of member countries.
As a small island state the majority of our relationships are among unequals – that is our starting point. Searching for a quick fix may work at the domestic level, but it should not carry on and influence how we engage internationally, it is a reckless approach and one that will have undesired consequences.
Being small means, we need to be thoughtful, and engage pragmatically – always protecting and promoting our national interests, values and objectives and aligning with those that do.