Charles Kupchan, an international relations expert at Georgetown University has written a recent and very interesting piece in Foreign Affairs (“Enemies Into Friends: How the United States Can Court Its Adversaries,” Vol. 89, No. 2(March/April 2010) pp. 120-135) on the new American administration’s policy of engagement, accommodation and rapprochement with its adversaries.  This policy approach received much criticism when Obama, as a candidate, proposed open a dialogue with US adversaries including Cuba and Iran. 

Now Kupchan was another participant with us at Princeton University at the conference, “New Foundations for Global Governance.”  So, I wanted to use the piece to reflect on what it might tell us about the global governance.  It would seem that this article is a part of a larger study that Kupchan has undertaken and that appears to have just been published, How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace (Princeton University Press, 2010).  A number of issues are worth reflecting on in this article.  First Kupchan’s article reminds us how difficult domestic policy has become for leaders seeking to exercise diplomacy.  In examining contemporary great power relations there is a growing acknowledgement that domestic politics pose a significant challenge to the leading powers – the US in particular – but also other democratic states and I would argues as well authoritarian ones as also including China.  Domestic politics has become a growing challenge for global governance.

It is also clear that the character of the attack by critics on what is described already as a failure of Administration policy represents a particular misreading of history (it is also a reminder of how carefully an analyst must tread if he/she wants to use historical analogy).  These critics tend to view accommodation and then rapprochement as appeasement.  This of course throws us back to the examination of pre-war British policy toward Nazi Germany.  But Nazi policy, and Kupchan is well aware of this and describes this, was devised by a revolutionary power that sought unbounded objectives and was unwilling to be restrained within the then contemporary international relations system.  Viewed as revisionist power that could be satisfied, the truth proved otherwise.  With such an adversary, and only in that setting, is such a rapprochement strategy reflective of appeasement.

 Kupchan examines a wide variety of international relations instances where powers sought accommodation on the road to rapprochement.  The case are quite numerous but also distinct.  The piece becomes something of reminder of the tactical means of encouraging sustained cooperation.  We learned it long ago in the contests over iterative prisoner’s dilemma tournaments.  Of course this doesn’t mean that we don’t need reminding, as Kupchan has done, but it is arguably common knowledge that moving powers commence with cooperation rather than confrontation to optimize the prospects for accommodation.  Such tactical moves rely on symmetry and reciprocity.  As Kupchan suggests:

… the Obama administration should pursue rapprochement incrementally and carefully sequence its concessions, strictly conditioning each more ambitious step on reciprocity.

 Thus in this way, says Kupchan, the Obama administration can avoid the risk of exploitation.  But even this clear tactical logic becomes more complicated as one moves from adversary to adversary.  Iran, as Kupchan notes, may necessitate a negotiation not just over its nuclear program but a wider canvas examining a broader strategic realignment. 

 So, there is no cookie cutter solution to resolving adversarial relations. Still, there are realistic tactical approaches.  And Kupchan urges the current administration to undertake the painful diplomacy that is required.  Which raises yet another point.  According Kupchan it is politics – diplomacy - not economic relations, that determines success. Kupchan suggests, “Rapprochement, however, is the product of diplomacy, not commerce.”  Here I believe Kupchan goes a step too far. The cases he alerts us to do not reflect the tight integration – trade and investment – that characterize relations among the leading powers today.  While tight interdependence is not a sufficient condition for stable international relations it does define and it sets the international relations landscape for great power relations – which are far more concert-like than Kupchan seems to suggest.  Now this doesn’t undermine much of Kupchan’s analysis.  It just limits it to adversaries such as Cuba, Iran, etc.  The analysis is powerful just not ubiquitous for all international relations today.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.