Patricio Carmody is author of "Looking for Consensus at the End of the World: Towards an Argentine Foreign Policy With Consensus (2015-2027)," published by CARI and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
After two years of a very intense international activity on the part of the Mauricio Macri administration, it has become critical to define a clear vision of Argentina’s foreign policy. In order to be successful in this field, we must first define our goals clearly. As Winston Churchill once wrote: “the first thing is to decide where you want to go.” Although it is true that the government has continuously spoken about an “intelligent international insertion” into the world, in truth this seems to be more a strategy than an objective or vision – and sometimes, the way in which it is enforced does not appear to be either intelligent or effective.
A concept that is at the same time aspirational and concrete is the idea of “making Argentina’s potential a reality.” In some ways, President Macri has alluded to this concept himself, such as when he expressed at the World Economic Forum in Davos that there is no country in the world with greater potential than Argentina. In turn, this vision can generate the necessary level of political consensus.
If the task of a true leader is, as Henry Kissinger once wrote, “to take their societies from where they are to where they have never been,” it is important to add elements too that can greater define “where we want to go,” as well as explain “how do we want to get there.” Among the former, we could propose the idea of realising Argentina’s potential in order to make it a “beacon of culture, creativity and development.” To expand on that, today our country demonstrates high levels of culture and plenty of creativity, but its does not perform well in terms of development. In this context it is important to elaborate and put forth a clear developmental vision, one that our diplomatic corps can contribute to. In particular, we could consider here the area of commerce, where our "intelliigent insertion" does not appear to be working out too well.
So “how do we want to get there”? It’s an important idea, but one which is difficult to implement, especially if it is to arise through consensus. For this to happen, the government must attractively describe the shape and form of the future Argentina it wishes to materialise. But it must do so through consensus, in order to maximise the chances of this vision coming to light.
In the context of “how we want to get there”, it would be valuable to have some kind of conceptual framework. An indispensable element of this has to be giving a degree of autonomy to those in control of foreign policy. In a pluripolar world, it seems wise and prudent to adopt a “diverse horizons” strategy. This means to maintain positive and simultaneous relationships with established and emerging powers, and those from our “near abroad.” This will allow us to maximise our possibilities in terms of global commerce and foreign investment. But it will also help us avoid relationships that could imply high levels of dependency, be it with established or emerging powers. This approach implies a great effort on the part of government and business leaders, who have to avoid the temptation of only dealing with established powers and our nearest and dearest, our “near abroad.”
In turn, this framework should allow us to evaluate if the decisions that are being taken in terms of foreign policy are really intelligent ones that will enable us to maximise our potential. We must consider, at a minimum, three dimensions: a) its contribution to our development; b) its effect on the prestige and impact of our diplomacy; and c) the defence of our territorial interests. In terms of development, decisions taken should be oriented toward raising the standard of living for a wide majority of our population. Growing our prestige and impact of our diplomacy is of utmost importance, in order to increase the chances of our interests and points of view being defended effectively in a complex world. Finally, defending our territorial interests, particularly in the South Atlantic and in the Antarctic, becomes critical in order to maximise our economic and strategic potential.
Implementing our chosen foreign policy with a clear vision, and with an appropriate conceptual framework, will help our diplomats to evaluate if the various measures that are being taken are good moves, whether they have the potential to help us maximize our potential. It will also help them later to explain the logic behind such decisions to the political class and to the wider public at large.
Although the Macri administration, under its two foreign affairs ministers, Susana Malcorra and Jorge Faurie, has maintained an intense level of diplomatic activity, its impact has been more symbolic than delivering concrete results (although under Faurie we are starting to see some palpable results). Maybe it is time to analyze, in a more pragmatic way, the real chances of success of the major initiatives we undertake, before we initiate their execution.
International economic negotiations are an instrument that could help to materialise Argentina’s potential, but the results thus far have been uneven. As well as ensuring we possess a clear conceptual framework, it would be useful to avoid voluntary public declarations during the process that undermine or weaken the chances of success of our negotiators. Although in the domestic arena, the government can control several variables and thus sometimes take audacious measures with good chances of success, this is not true in the international field, where the variables that a medium-size power can control are limited. In these negotiations, our diplomats must also have a good, and previously known, understandings of the “red lines” that both they and their counterparts would not be willing to cross.
The task of making Argentina’s potential a reality is, without a doubt, an immense challenge. But as Churchill wrote: “Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions.”