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A Feminist Reformulation of Joseph Nye's Question: What is Moral in Foreign Policy?

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In this coronavirus era, if we are fortunate, we find ourselves with time to read and contemplate what kind of world we are reshaping. What will the future hold? Will a new normal be something close to the old normal? I certainly hope not. We the people of this blue planet weren't doing a spectacular job through 2019. We put economic growth and bloated military budgets before public health. While observing the chaos and confusion, I sought out connection to women scholars in international relations. In the last few years while living in Japan, I had moved my research interests to gender diplomacy. The early insights from feminist IR scholars helped inform this new agenda. It was while reaching out to a number of these women IR scholars and within this shelter-in-place contemplative context that I became interested in reading about our moral selves. Joseph S. Nye's new book from Oxford University Press, "Do Morals Matter?: Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump," seemed the perfect start. This is my response.
Published on USC Center on Public Diplomacy (https://www.uscpublicdiplomacy.org)
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May 21, 2020 by Nancy Snow
A Feminist Reformulation of Joseph Nye’s
Question: What is Moral in Foreign Policy? [1]
In this coronavirus era, if we are fortunate, we find ourselves with time to read and contemplate what
kind of world we are reshaping. What will the future hold? Will a new normal be something close to
the old normal? I certainly hope not. We the people of this blue planet weren’t doing a spectacular job
through 2019. We put economic growth and bloated military budgets before public health. While
observing the chaos and confusion, I sought out connection to women scholars in international
relations. In the last few years while living in Japan, I had moved my research interests to gender
diplomacy. The early insights from feminist IR scholars helped inform this new agenda.
It was while reaching out to a number of these women IR scholars and within this shelter-in-place
contemplative context that I became interested in reading about our moral selves. Joseph S. Nye’s
new book from Oxford University Press, Do Morals Matter?: Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to
Trump, seemed the perfect start. The Amazon promotion for the book is enviable, referring to the
book as “an exercise in normative thinking applied to every President since 1945.” Walter Isaacson, a
distinguished fellow and former CEO of the Aspen Institute and professor of history at Tulane
University, said in a review that “Joe Nye is one of our foremost and engaging analysts of diplomacy,
and in this book he provides a clear-eyed guide for reengaging our moral compass.” Walter Isaacson
has published over 30 books, mostly about other great men (Steve Jobs, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci,
Kissinger) and even a book called The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, as well as
People of the Century: One Hundred Men and Women Who Shaped the Last One Hundred Years. Nye
belongs on that list of great people in international relations from the last century to the current.
Up until a few months ago, Nye was on a global book tour to promote his morals and foreign policy
book. I shared a quick email exchange with him in February to say that the novel coronavirus (as it
was still called then) was the largest negative exchange program in history. An energetic 83, Nye is
the dean of my fields of specialization, public diplomacy and global persuasion. Outside of USC
diplomatic historian Nicholas J. Cull, who co-edited the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy with
me, I know of no other leading scholar who can succinctly and clearly explain the linkages between
persuasive communications and international relations. Mr. Soft Power has heavily influenced our
understanding of how nations attract through appealing values and norms.
I’m a strong believer in discourse and dialogue in international relations. This is why I elected to write
Joe Nye again the end of April to say that there was a gender gap in moral foreign policy that needs
filling. It’s much bigger than social-distancing gaps. You could drive a semi-trailer truck through it. I
titled my email, “A feminist reformulation of your question, ‘What is moral in foreign policy?’” And
here is the gist of what I said.
In Nye’s article published by Texas National Security Review, “What Is A Moral Foreign Policy?,” one
will not see gender or feminism mentioned. You will find the word "engendered." Women with agency,
with voices in international relations, are largely invisible, as are women scholars. If women are
referenced at all, it is often in the context of statistics (gender equality gaps, womenomics) or
violence against women (#MeToo). Both of these categories reinforce women as subjects—to
be acted upon by outside forces and interveners.
This limited capacity for agency should not continue to happen in our international relations
discipline. The COVID-19 era is exposing the fissures in privilege (race, class, ethnicity, region) as well
as how men and women speak in a different voice about international relations. As leading feminist
theorist Cynthia Enloe says, “The international is personal. The personal is international.”
So what is a moral foreign policy if gender mattered and if women even counted in international
relations and diplomacy? My response to Nye’s work would look at this question holistically and
inclusively, in keeping with his purpose to compare different moral foreign policies.
Nye’s discussion of ethical consequences—or, what’s good
for us must also be good for others—illustrates the shared
power of feminist concepts that challenge anarchy and the
rational actor models.
I told him I would discuss values and principles as national interests using a forensic rhetorical
approach. He stated that values and principles are national interests just as are access to oil, military
sales and regional stability. Then he poses the question: “How can these two categories of interests
be combined?” My response is, “Why are we combining these categories in the first place?” There are
embedded values and principles in militarism, including military sales. Past habits of nations make the
marketplace of organized violence a power-driven division of labor. The most prominent values are
domination and control, which translate into how bigger and more powerful “superpowers” stockpile
weapons to project power onto lesser nations. We do the same dance between bigger and more
powerful people, mostly men, who use physical strength, domination and control to overpower
women. A line needs to be drawn between domestic and international violence.
Joe Nye’s discussion of ethical consequences—or, what’s good for us must also be good for
others—illustrates the shared power of feminist concepts that challenge anarchy and the rational
actor models. He may not have realized what a feminist he is!
When I was in graduate school at American University’s School of International Service I was left
wanting by our assigned readings. We were taught Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations like it was
divinely inspired. Realism seemed so sterile and lacked soul. Morganthau wrote like the international
lawyer that he was. Fortunately he spoke out against the insanity of the Vietnam War and argued that
American self-interest was best defined by nonintervention if the organized violence is on behalf of
conservatives and fascists opposing radical reform and revolution.
In time I discovered books that filled in knowledge gaps. There are many foreign policy principles and
values that emerge from feminist scholars such as Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches &
Bases and Does Khaki Become You:? The Militarization of Women’s Lives, to J. Ann Tickner’s A
Feminist Voyage in International Relations and Christine B.N. Chin’s Cosmopolitan Sex Workers:
Women and Migration in a Global City. Blanche Wiesen Cook’s three-volume set on the life of Eleanor
Roosevelt confirms that even when unelected, women have served in presidential (executive) roles
that heavily influence the men in charge. So let’s reimagine that subtitle: Instead of Presidents and
Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump, we add this: Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR and ER to
Trump. As soon as you change the title, you change the agency. The change in agency changes
perception, and the persuasive appeal.
Women scholars, especially feminist, are often cast as radical because they offer unconventional
wisdom. The conventional wisdom continues to come from men. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Too often
the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely
dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without
expression.” I’m not sure if she would be pleased at our stilted gains in international relations theory
and discussion.
In 2000, I was excited to come across John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt’s discussion of noopolitik and
the noosophere that challenge realism. I consider their holistic, sustainabile, moral- and ethics-driven
insights to be important, albeit underappreciated. This is why Nick Cull and I chose to include a 20-
year update to their original RAND monograph in the second edition of the Routledge Handbook of
Public Diplomacy.
The entire monograph on moralism in foreign policy is high on the list for feminist potential. Isn’t
morality conventionally associated with women? As Ellen Willis says, “For women, life is an ongoing
good cop-bad cop routine.” This applies to minorities as well. Just cooperate, we’re told, and we’ll go
easy on you. Women cooperate, go along, smile, get along, make peace, listen and conduct our
expected duties as moral leaders. We’re told that “men will stop at nothing” in matters of the birds
and bees, therefore, we must act modestly so as not to provoke punishment at worst or unwanted
attention at least. This is a form of good moral reasoning about consequences (pregnancy, rape,
domestic violence). We’re ambassadors and diplomats, not equally in office, but in expected tone and
tact.
Joseph Nye’s soft power concept is a feminist creed with its
attraction, nonviolence and nonintervention associations.
The bottom line is that moralism is not the exclusive domain of men and their "tough" decision-
making models of foreign policy. I realize now that gender informed my understanding of who
is in control nearly 30 years ago. Right after I completed my Ph.D. in international relations I became
a Presidential Management Fellow in foreign policy. I had job rotations at the United States
Information Agency and the U.S. Department of State. The Department of State was where the big
dogs were—the men making foreign policy. USIA, with its motto, “telling America’s story to the
world,” was full of mostly women staff. We were like the sorority sister who shows up to hand out
flyers and posters about the event. Of course neither institution could compete in resource or rank
with the Pentagon.
Joseph Nye’s soft power concept is a feminist creed with its attraction, nonviolence and
nonintervention associations. Soft power and institutional power (e.g., UN’s WHO, CDC, private-public
partnerships) are redefining divisions of agency between men and women.
Now what do you suppose Joe Nye said in response? He thanked me for my thoughtful letter and
added: “I think a feminist reformulation would be very interesting and urge you to do it. There is no
single or final wisdom on morality and foreign policy. I have had my try; now others should fill in what
I missed.”
Now that’s all the encouragement I needed.
In the COVID-19 era and the pandemics to follow, I predict that women will gain much more power
and visibility in international relations through our reconstituted global society and new definitions of
how we define security—away from methods of mass destruction—and toward methods of mass
protection. We will exercise our gender diplomacy roles. We will not shrink from stepping forward,
becoming leaders in international relations, and we will not let our invisibility today impact our
visibility tomorrow.
... For instance, a gender inclusive analysis asks not just what public diplomacy is or how it is carried out but also how public diplomacy is gendered. Based on my personal and professional journey and recognition of gender and feminist gaps in how we talk about morals, soft power, and foreign policy (Snow 2020), I'm committed to making a contribution to that progress. ...
Article
Full-text available
A former government official of an independent foreign affairs agency reflects on her experience as a woman in public diplomacy.
... As a subfield of political science and international relations, public diplomacy has grown up largely a "great man" field, just like public relations (Cassidy, 2017;Lamme, Russell, Hill, & Spector, 2017;Snow, 2020a). It relies on studies by prominent male scholars and officials (Nye, Cull, Bjola, Pamment, Melissen, Anholt) over women scholars. ...
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Public diplomacy is a subfield of political science and international relations that involves study of the process and practice by which nation-states and other international actors engage global publics to serve their interests. It developed during the Cold War as an outgrowth of the rise of mass media and public opinion drivers in foreign policy management. The United States, in a bipolar ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, recognized that gaining public support for policy goals among foreign populations worked better at times through direct engagement than traditional, often closed-door, government-to-government contact. Public diplomacy is still not a defined academic field with an underlying theory, although its proximity to the originator of soft power, Joseph Nye, places it closer to the neoliberal school that emphasizes multilateral pluralistic approaches in international relations. The term is a normative replacement for the more pejorative-laden propaganda, centralizes the role of the civilian in international relations to elevate public engagement above the level of manipulation associated with government or corporate propaganda. Building mutual understanding among the actors involved is the value commonly associated with public diplomacy outcomes of an exchange or cultural nature, along with information activities that prioritize the foreign policy goals and national interests of a particular state. In the mid-20th century, public diplomacy's emphasis was less scholarly and more practical-to influence foreign opinion in competition with nation-state rivals. In the post-Cold War period, the United States in particular pursued market democracy expansion in the newly industrializing countries of the East. Soft power, the negative and positive attraction that flows from an international actor's culture and behavior, became the favored term associated with public diplomacy. After 9/11, messaging and making a case for one's agenda to win the hearts and minds of a Muslim-majority public became predominant against the backdrop of a U.S.-led global war on terrorism and two active interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Public diplomacy was utilized in one-way communication campaigns such as the Shared Values Initiative of the U.S. Department of State, which backfired when its target-country audiences rejected the embedded messages as self-serving propaganda. In the 21st century, global civil society and its enemies are on the level of any diplomat or culture minister in matters of public diplomacy. Narrative competition in a digital and networked era is much deeper, broader, and adversarial while the mainstream news media, which formerly set how and what we think about, no longer holds dominance over national and international narratives. Interstate competition has shifted to competition from nonstate actors who use social media as a form of information and influence warfare in international relations. As disparate scholars and practitioners continue to acknowledge public diplomacy approaches, the research agenda will remain case-driven, corporate-centric (with the infusion of public relations), less theoretical, and more global than its Anglo-American roots.
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