Small Wars Journal

The Critical and Enduring Role of Confidence in Preventive Diplomacy

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 8:34am

The Critical and Enduring Role of Confidence in Preventive Diplomacy

Patrick Blannin

“In determining your object, clear sight and cool calculation should prevail. It is folly ‘to bite off more than you can chew', and the beginning of political wisdom is a sense of what is possible … Confidence is like the current in a battery; avoid exhausting it in vain effort and remember that your own continued confidence will be of no avail if the cells of your battery, the people upon whom you depend, have been run down” (1967: 213)[i]

Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s elucidation transcends time, geography and adversaries, as confidence remains central to national and regional security. Confidence in the state’s ability to defend itself and confidence in the state’s ability to predict and prepare for the actions of states within its geographic proximity and beyond. To achieve this desired end, states develop the appropriately labeled confidence building measures (CBMs-also known as confidence and security building measures CSBMs).[ii] This article posits that CBMs rely on four key components: Reputation, Status, Transparency & Trust (RST2). In theory, when RTS2 combine to establish sustainable CBMs, regional conflicts can be prevented, rolled-back, contained or extinguished. A primary means to achieve this end is preventive diplomacy (PD).[iii] In addition, this article explains the ubiquity of confidence in formulating and enacting national security strategy. Confidence is central to developing a regional identity outside of the major power-oriented parameters which facilitate ASEAN specific PD.[iv] It describes how confidence is generated, in part, by the somewhat maligned concept of PD which engenders RST2, while simultaneously serving as a facilitating and supportive mechanism for CBMs, thus generating a self-sustainable mechanism to progress a state’s national security objectives.

Many regional institutions and organizations such as the European Union, African Union, Origination of American States and the Association of South East Asian Nations have identified the fundamental parameters and defined PD as the “consensual diplomatic and political action taken by sovereign states with the consent of all directly involved parties” (ARF Inter-Sessional Support Group, 2002: 2).[v] This article highlights two elements not included in this definition: that PD is continuous, and that PD incorporates any diplomacy-oriented action which achieves these objectives. The aims of PD are evident across three identifiable thresholds: prevent disputes and conflicts from arising, prevent such disputes from escalating, and help minimize the impacts of such escalations should they occur.

The security and prosperity of this region (Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific)[vi] is dependent on predictable and constructive pattern of relationships. Australian Prime Minister Turnbull emphasised this reality at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, affirming that:

“Australia’s vision, optimistic and born of ambition rather than anxiety, is for a neighbourhood that is defined by open markets and the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas; where freedom of navigation goes unchallenged and the rights of small states are untrammelled; where our shared natural bounty, our land, water and air is cherished and protected, and disagreements are resolved by dialogue in accordance with agreed rules and established institutions. Our interests will not align on every issue, but we have to find a unity of purpose”[vii]

The obligation to foster diverse network(s) united by commonalities, whether they be values-based, interests-based or both, is anchored in a shared realization that states cannot rely on great powers to safeguard their interest.[viii] Enhanced regional communication and transparency facilitates a better understanding of individual states security oriented concerns and priorities which generates a degree of strategic confidence in and among the regions stakeholders.[ix] An example of strategic transparency comes from the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, the Australian government prioritised a “stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific” would enable it to “prosecute its national interests unconstrained by the exercise of coercive power” (2017: 37).[x]

To achieve this objective, the White Paper detailed that the Australian government would pursue three lines of effort by “building a more capable, agile and potent Australian Defence Force … pursue active diplomacy … use development cooperation to promote economic reform and social stability” (Ibid). This example is only one section of selected text in a 123-page document which manages to champion the pursuit of its national interests with an increasingly interconnected network of bilateral and multilateral alliances and comprehensive strategic partnerships. The particular example demonstrates how a single, unambiguous paragraph can articulate that states have a responsibility for their own security and prosperity whilst recognising the advantages of burden sharing, the strength of collective leadership with trusted partners and friends, and how these forms of engagements can help shape the region in ways which align and are favourable to its national interests.

PD has been separated into structural (indirect prevention-development and economic oriented initiatives) and operational (direct prevention-diplomatic, political and/or military) (ARF 2015, 5).[xi] Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) is an example of direct prevention and provides an opportunity to operationalize integrated concepts which in-turn can generate a deterrent effect. Additionally, and significantly, HADR reinforce the CBM objectives and bring together civilian and military expertise from across the region. However, this article stresses that all diplomacy-oriented engagement, or mechanisms which facilitate such engagement, are political, thus delineation into structural or operational tools is, at best, an explanatory exercise. Admittedly, while it may not be possible or relevant to employ PD to every security issue, it remains one important component of comprehensive suite of diplomatic mechanism available to regional stakeholders. The use of the term stakeholders is deliberate and indicates that non-state actors are credible enablers of the PD process. However, this article posits that the full potential of the state is yet to be fully explored in relation to PD.

Despite its foundations in Article 33 of the UN Charter, PD can still be perceived as “somewhat more than an idea but somewhat less that a policy strategy” (Lund, 2005: 27). Because of its broad purview and scope, PD suffers from delegitimizing labels such as overambitious, untenable, or ineffective, encompassing a “catch-all label for every conceivable action taken” (ARF, 2015: 6). It’s clear that, like diplomacy in general, there are differing expectations, limitations and experience of PD. Therefore, states appear justified in their reticence to commit wholesale to PD to solve the regions security challenges. Moreover, skepticism during the decision-making process is not unique to PD and should not stop states from pursing this particular diplomacy-oriented mechanism. Once more, confidence in PD is critically important as any form of preventive engagement requires states to forward looking and acting in order to shape the future regional environment in their favour.

Whether one sees gathering clouds of uncertainty and instability, or opportunities to diversify and forge new relationships, there are clear benefits for all stakeholders to play an active role in protecting existing norms and frameworks, as well as shaping the future of the Asia-Pacific region through alternate mechanisms. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared recently that “Australia is optimistic although not complacent about the future” (February 2018).[xii] The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper notes that “not all rules are contested” while the Foreign Minister insisted that the “rules-based order is not facing the same direct assault as during periods of the Cold War,” therefore, whether it’s business as usual or strategic turmoil, state’s should focus on opportunities to improve (2017: 80; February 2018).[xiii] The Asia-Pacific’ diversity is an enabling factor, not a barrier to progress. Moreover, the regions dynamism (economically, strategically, cultural), generates shared influence (influence of the collective, effectively strength in numbers) which allows it to shape how other state’s respond to crises globally. Prime Minister Turnbull emphasised that “a region with this dynamism can solve its own problems so long as we are clear about the principles that guide us …” (IISS, June 2017). While the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper prioritises support for “well-designed proposals for new forms of global cooperation and reform of multilateral institutions” (2017: 79).

A sound diplomacy-oriented (including PD) strategy is supported, in parallel, by a strong military.[xiv] For example, the U.S. National Security Strategy in 1994 outlined U.S. PD through “… overseas military presence, mil-to-mil contacts and involvement in multilateral negotiations … in order to resolve problems, reduce tensions, and defuse conflicts before they become crises” (1994: 5).[xv] The peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region has been enabled by consistent U.S. global leadership, leadership that wouldn’t have been possible without U.S. hard power. However, regional multi-track fora support and facilitate frank discussions about latent security tensions founded on a belief in threat specific arrangements, strong alliances and collective security. Such dialogue mitigates political uncertainty and encourages cooperation and integration instead of the unilateral (opaque) acquisition of military capability and the pursuit of zero-sum strategic ambition anchored in a priori vision for the state.[xvi]

It must be emphasized that relative stability, once achieved, needs to be maintained and alternative mechanisms can and should be explored if only to provide contingencies. A proactive, responsible state should expect and prepare for the unexpected.[xvii] Additionally, the efficacy of PD can be measured in terms of short, medium and long-term benefits and these are not always compatible. For example, short-term ‘successful efforts to prevent an adverse outcome which rely on a more coercive strategy, delivers short-term benefits to the detriment of mid/long-term engagement. This is because reputation matters, and the adage ‘once bitten twice shy’ rings true.

Relatedly, the relevance of reputation in a dynamic regional security environment dictates that states must increasingly integrate results-oriented security dialogue to prevent crises from turning into conflicts, to confront transnational challenges, and to seize opportunities for cooperation. The most pertinent area for this form of engagement is the complex threat of transnational/intra-regional terrorism. The developing strategic relationship between the U.S. and Indonesia is one example of a result-oriented bilateral security partnership.[xviii] Identifying and applying clearly defined metrics for success help to generate stakeholder confidence in this form of regional engagement, the broad suite of CBMs as a sustainable mechanism, as well as the concept of PD. Subsequently, the generally short-term nature of results-oriented dialogue deliver medium-to-long-term benefits well beyond the scope of the initial tactical/operational objective.

Developing a fluid framework to engender a level of predictability among stakeholders, which encourages engagement while simultaneously strengthening confidence in the concept and mechanism of PD. This has a self-sustaining reciprocal effect whereby the stronger one perceives the mechanism to be, the more likely one is to participate. More participation generates more confidence in the mechanism and thus draws more observers to participate and on, and on. Doing so effectively ensures that PD engagement does not violate the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of regional states. This aligns with individual state caveats or multilateral commitments such as ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and to its tenets of non-coercion, sovereign equality, non-interference and territorial integrity does not limit the ability to influence worldview and behaviour of regional stakeholders.

This article presents PD as a multifaceted (multiple threshold) continuous preventative mechanism: preventing conflict from occurring, expanding, and causing destabilization by reverberating throughout the region. While international relations have always involved states being somewhat exposed to the actions of others, the post-Cold War world is increasingly dynamic, thus a state’s ability to forecast and/or rely on intelligence for early warnings is challenged. Though these skills should not be discounted, the preventative (and preemptive) qualities of PD, such as transparency and consensus-based cooperation, help state’s influence and shape the worldview of regional partners.[xix] This improves strategic foresight across the region, which adds another layer of comparative surety and confidence for the state, and by extension the mechanism of PD. Moreover, while PD is often associate with non-traditional security, traditional and non-traditional security are fluid concepts, therefore the focus should be on stability as the objective, with PD as one dynamic mean to achieve it. Finally, PD should not be perceived as a mere antiseptic response to regional threats; it’s an affirmative, collective, proactive political action by regional states.

End Notes

[i] Liddell Hart, B. H. Strategy: The Indirect Approach, (1967), pp. 1-343.

[ii] Types of CBMs: Principles/Declaratory Measures -generalized statements of interests, norms, and beliefs -statements can be either explicit/formal (e.g., declarations, treaties) and implicit/informal (e.g., communiqués) -common to other approaches to security cooperation, e.g., preventive diplomacy (PD) or conflict resolution (CR); Transparency measures - defense White Papers publications - calendar of military activities - exchange of military information-military-to-military contacts- arms registry- military personnel/student exchanges -mandatory consultation on unusual/dangerous activities-notification of military manoeuvres/movements -invitation of observers-surveillance and control zones-open skies troop separation and monitoring; Constraining measures - prevention of dangerous military activities -incidents at sea agreements - demilitarized zones -disengagement zones -air/maritime keep-out zones -weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zones -limits on personnel numbers, categories and deployment zones -limits on equipment deployment (by geographical area or numbers), category and storage -limits on troop and equipment movements/manoeuvres by size and geographical area -limits on readiness -limits on number of military exercises per year -bans on simultaneous exercises/alerts and/or certain force/unit types. See: Acharya, A. The ASEAN Regional Forum: Confidence-Building, (Ottawa: Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Government of Canada, 1997)

[iii] PD Core Principles: Diplomacy: It relies on diplomatic and peaceful methods; Non-Coercive: Military action and the use of force are not part of PD; Timeliness: Action is preventative rather than curative. PD methods are most effectively deployed at an early stage of a dispute or crisis; Requires Trust and Confidence: PD can only be exercised successfully when there is a strong foundation of trust and confidence; Consultation and consensus: Any PD effort can only be carried out through consensus after careful and extensive consultation among ARF members; Voluntary: PD practices are to be employed only at the request of all the parties directly involved in the dispute and with their clear consent; Additionally: PD applies to conflicts between and among states, and, it’s conducted in accordance with universally recognized basic principles of international law and inter-state relations.

[iv] For an example of the regions distinctive characteristics, see: Frost, F. ‘The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, Sydney, March 2018: issues and implications’, Research Paper Series, 2017-18, (March 1, 2018), pp. 1-19.

[v] The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) for example, is an important permeable, policy-oriented track 2 network for the region to respond too Ministerial directives, as well as influencing the development of new policy and the implementation of strategy; A comprehensive study of the scope of PD through the above mention regional institutions along with associated case studies can be accessed through, Pacific Forum CSIS & S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Joint Study on Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Preventative Diplomacy, on behalf of the ASEAN Regional Forum, (2015), pp. 1-153; An alternative definition comes from Michael Lund presents PD as “actions taken in vulnerable places and times to avoid the threat or use of armed force and related forms of coercion by states or groups to settle the political disputes that can arise from destabilizing effects of economic, social, political, and international change” (2005: 37). Lund, M. S. Preventing Violent Conflicts: A strategy for Preventive Diplomacy, (Washington D.C.: United States Institute for Peace Press, 2005).

[vi] Indo-Pacific is a nascent term which reflects the fact that “the geopolitical connect between the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific had become increasingly palpable, in both the geo-economic and security dimensions” (Kuo 2018). See: Kuo, M. A. ‘The Origin of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as Geopolitical Construct’, The Diplomat, (January 25, 2018); Chong, A & Wu Shang-su ‘Indo-Pacific’ vs ‘Asia-Pacific’: Contending Visions?’, RSIS Commentary, No. 034/2018, (February 28, 2018); This article will use the term Asia-Pacific out of familiarity and consistency with established institutional entities.

[vii] The Hon. M Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia. IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2017 Keynote Address, (Singapore, June 2, 2017).

[viii] The Foreign Policy White Paper discussed values-based relationships (the U.S., the UK, the EU; 2017: 80) as well as interests-based engagement (Pacific Island nations, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste; 2017: 99), and reinforces that both interests and values-based partnerships can be enduring and that such diversity exemplifies Australia’s smart power capabilities; The Shadow Foreign Minister echoed this sentiment during a speech in January 2018, see: Wong, P. Peace and prosperity in a time of disruption, speech, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, (January 24, 2018); For more on the concept of smart power see: Gallarotti, G. M. ‘Smart Power: Definitions, Importance, and Effectiveness’, Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 38, no. 3, (2015), pp. 245-281.

[ix] There are different levels of transparency from revealing policy/strategy frameworks through to full disclosure. The level of transparency should not distract from the intention of ‘openness.’ Therefore, it may be useful to adopt the approach of former Director of the National Security Agency, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency General Michael Hayden, who substitutes the word transparency with translucent; allowing light to pass through to reveal the shape and structure of the object without revealing the detail.

[x] The 2016 Defence White Paper also presented a national defence strategy which balanced an increase in defence spending to improve unilateral/independent capabilities with enhanced regional communication, cooperation, coordination, and selective integration.

[xi] Pacific Forum CSIS & S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). Joint Study on Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Preventative Diplomacy, (ASEAN Regional Forum, 2015), pp. 1-153. The authors claim that operational prevention comprises strategies in the face of a conflict where structural prevention comprises strategies to addresses the root causes of conflicts” (2015: 5).

[xii] Bishop, J. Hon. ‘King's College Menzies Centre Speech’, London, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Media, (February 19, 2018).

[xiii] The White Paper’ sub title of “Opportunity, Security Strength” reflects this mindset. However, some concluded that the paper has “bright hopes but dark visions” (Dobell, February 2018).

[xiv] Although the definitional discourse relating the strategy is complex, this author ascribes to Colin S. Gray’s assertion that “the vital intellectual architecture of strategy is expressed in the relationships among the three interdependent concepts of Ends, Ways, and Means, with an additional value of Assumptions” and how these relationships are used to achieve a specific policy objective (March 2018). For more detail, see: Gray, C. S. So What! The Meaning of Strategy’, Infinity Journal, Vol. 6, Iss. 1, (Winter 2018), pp. 4-7.

[xv] The White House. National Security Strategy for Engagement and Enlargement, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994), pp. 1-32.

[xvi] This should not be conflated with generating self-reliance. As espoused by newly elected senator Jim Molan recently, “managing strategic uncertainty as long-term ally America undergoes a ‘relative decline’ is crucial … we need to increase our self-reliance to manage strategic uncertainty through increased readiness, preparedness and all-round adaptability.” Molan quoted in ‘Defence boost needed to combat threat of China: Molan’, Defence Connect, (16 February, 2018).

[xvii] It must be acknowledged that there are limits to the level of preparedness any state, no matter its capabilities. “In matters of military contingency, the expected, precisely because it’s expected, is not to be expected. Rational: what we expect, we plan and provide for; what we plan for, we therefore deter; what we deter does not happen. What does happen is what we did not deter, because we did not plan and provide for it, because we did not expect it” (Quinlan quoted in Hennessey, 2010: 396) Hennessey, P. The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010, (London, Penguin Books, 2010), drawn from Sir Michael Quinlan’s private archives.

[xviii] The U.S. Indonesian partnership delivers benefits to both nations beyond the immediate enhanced CT and maritime security capabilities. Closer integration with Indonesia mitigates China’s overt, and somewhat coercive, actions throughout the Asia-Pacific; For example, see: Cronin, P. M. ‘Deepening the US-Indonesian Strategic Partnership’, The Diplomat, (February 17, 2018);  Davis, M. ‘Arms Races, Security Dilemmas and Territorial Disputes in the East And South China Sea’, East Asia Security Symposium and Conference, Beijing, (June 2013).

[xix] The pervasiveness of RST2 suggests there is a correlation between the ability to deter and the ability to prevent, thus to either preempt and/or prevent is directly related to RST2.  However, in part due to the so-called Bush Doctrine which was operationalised in the Global War on Terror, preemption has a negative connotation. Yet Colin Gray argues that “[P]reemption is not controversial; legally, morally, or strategically. To preempt means to strike first (or attempt to do so) in the face of an attack that is either already underway or is very credibly imminent. The decision for war has been taken by the enemy. The victim or target state can try to disrupt the unfolding assault, or may elect to receive the attack before reacting” (2006: v). See: Gray C. The Implications of Preemptive and Preventative War Doctrines: A Reconsideration, (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute & U.S. Army War College, July 2007), pp. 1-70; Both forms of action are anchored in the premise that ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’ and the preemptor can justifiably be labelled the preventor. Engaging in preventative dialogue to mitigate a threat signals to the adversary(ies) that the target state(s) is aware of the threat and a thus prepared to deal with it should it eventuate.


About the Author(s)

Patrick Blannin (@PatrickBlannin) is a PhD Candidate, teaching fellow and research assistant at Bond University, Queensland, Australia. Mr Blannin’s doctoral research focuses on the role and scope of defence diplomacy in contemporary counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. He has published a research monograph titled Defence Diplomacy in the Long War (Brill) as well as peer-reviewed journal articles on topics related to transnational terrorism (organisations, funding sources and counter measures).