I am by no means an expert, but I have the ability to observe and come to conclusions, so here my 0.02 EUR on the current state of affairs in policymaking under uncertainty. This post is influenced by a discussion somewhere else on the Internet on that topic and by some independent observations of mine.
The general modus operandi in Brussels seems to be “when in doubt, support the weaker side that fits your narrative and raise stakes to infinity”, and in several conflict situations this policy has been enforced. Let us just look at the results.
- Yugoslavia. Genscher was among the first ones to recognize Croatia and all other newly-independent states of former Yugoslavia. There was lots of support, mostly moral, but also military for Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and strong condemnation towards Serbia. What followed was a civil war, genocide, lots of people dead, bitterness everywhere, (even now) a source of instability, and poor countries instead of cheap, civilized workforce and a rather good-looking market. One may say that this were the first steps of European diplomacy and one should not judge too harshly with knowledge of today, so I won’t, but I would still like to observe the result.
- We move a step later and arrive in Kiev, 2004. The EU urged the Ukrainian ruler to surrender. The result? Not as terrible as the first time, but still: heavy economical and political damage, less possibilities for long-term planning, and increased conflict potential. One may argue that in this case, there has been some pressure from Moscow, however, it should not be a surprise for anyone even remotely familiar with the situation.
- Six and a half years later we land in Libya. Same policy, same strategy, almost no resistance. In the end, the country is unpredictable, the civil war is still going on, albeit at a small scale, trading and investing in Libya does not seem to be a good business, unless you can buy shares of Instability, Inc. And then there is the migrant problem that nobody wants to deal with. At this point, one would have to think whether the results so far coincide with long-term goals.
- We do not have to move much further in time and space to come to Syria. Everything is the same, but with more resistance. Lots of blood, a civil war that is still going on, a complete destruction of Syrian economy, homegrown terrorists joining the holy war, leakage of terrorist groups to Iraq, and lots of other interesting things that nearly make Iraq side with Iran.
I have deliberately left out Ukraine. First, I cannot foresee the future development, but for all I know, it looks scary and I should be lucky to be someplace far away. Second, this topic is a little emotional for me. I would just like to point out that the diplomatic policy in the EU followed the same general scheme.
We now see a pattern, and this pattern looks bad. However, nobody seems to take responsibility—the politicians and policymakers tell exciting stories at invited talks, the public looks in horror at the scary consequences and does not seem to entertain the thought that it might be a good idea to purge the policymaking department which is obviously not doing its job. Because trying several times the same thing and expecting each time a different result which does not come, this is the definition of idiocy. However, evading responsibility has never been so easy when you can hide behind Noble Narratives.
However, I do not want to think of everyone else as of idiots, because I know that I have less political and diplomatic experience. This would give rise to funny conspiracy theories, but I also know that there is no such thing as a multi-stage General Plan, because this implies that this Plan would be either too complex or too rigid: the first property is unsatisfiable, the second one makes the plan useless.
So, why does the foreign policy look like that, despite its obvious shortcomings? Lots of it—if I am reading the “public philosophers” right—seems to come from the impression that acting in a fashion that looks Morally Right will benefit everyone. If this is the case—I am not sure if it is, but I suspect that—it is a very dangerous mindset. If you, as a person or as a general entity, act out of some inner sense of what is right, this will make you feel comfortably warm and fuzzy in the gut but your objectives might (and probably will) suffer. Another problems seem to be a general lack of responsibility (and an unwillingness to take it) and conflicts of interest. This combination is very, very dangerous and might lead to even greater failures.