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Foreign Policy Breakthroughs

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Book Review: Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy edited by Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri

In Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy, editors Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri focus on a number of diplomatic successes since 1945, arguing that diplomacy not only functions as an adjunct to force, but also as a means of building international networks of cooperation dependent upon necessary compromise and sustainable agreements. This book offers important insights into the intricate methods upon which diplomacy depends through historical case studies that remain highly relevant to contemporary conflicts, writes Robert Ledger. 

Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy. Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri (eds). Oxford University Press. 2015.

That a new book on foreign policy successes is a work of history is an unfortunate – but expected – fact of contemporary international relations. For Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri, editors of the new volume Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy, this is partly because ‘diplomatic capability appears most lacking in contemporary foreign policy leadership’ (1). This book examines a number of diplomatic ‘successes’ in the post-1945 era, understanding a success in terms of how diplomacy has increased the options for policymakers to address difficult issues. The result, far from solely being historical in nature, offers us a selection of key insights and principles that could be applied to some of today’s intractable foreign policy problems.

The authors of Foreign Policy Breakthroughs have impressive credentials, including academics, policymakers and diplomats. One of the editors, Suri, has authored a number of books on foreign policy and diplomacy, including one on the profession’s most notable practitioners in Henry Kissinger and the American Century (2009). This new collection focuses on the process of diplomacy and how seemingly unworkable problems have been approached since the Second World War. The reader is left to ponder how these techniques could be applied to modern-day impasses, such as the conflict in Syria; how diplomacy of the past compares with the drawn-out Iran nuclear discussions; or even something more novel like climate change. This is what makes the book so relevant. It is hard not to agree with the authors that – particularly as armed conflict shows no sign of abating – the diplomatic element often attracts less emphasis in the modern analysis of foreign affairs.

Although each chapter indicates a successful process, the book is broadly split into three categories of case studies: outcomes deemed as successful, mixed or unsuccessful. Those in the former category include President George H.W. Bush’s diplomacy at the end of the Cold War; mixed results include the 1978 Camp David Accords; and those deemed unsuccessful include the 1955 Bandung Conference of newly independent states. Also in the latter category are attempts to set up a dialogue, or at least put a process in place, between aid agencies and Taliban-era Afghanistan. Despite the chapter being an interesting take on 1990s Afghanistan, it is quite a stretch to accept that any interaction between the outside world and the Taliban was fruitful during this period.




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