Since the end of the 20th century up till a few years back, states around globe exercised diplomacy and formulated their foreign policy in a unipolar world. The US enjoyed the status of being the sole super power in the world. The US acquired this status after the dissolution of the USSR on December 25, 1991, when the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time.
Much has changed since then and with the rise of China – a major power second only to the US — international politics has altered quite a bit. More or less, majority of the states who have relations with both the US and China have changed the course of their foreign policy, trying to balance relations between the two while protecting mutual interests.
Preventive diplomacy also talks about such an approach. To explain, in the simplest of way, preventive diplomacy’s responsibility is to foresee any uncertainty or instability that might cause problems and take necessary course of action to avoid entering the troubled waters.
Jared Diamond, in his book titled Upheaval – How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change, brilliantly explains how Finland made use of preventive diplomacy to its advantage and to survive in a highly charged geo-political environment during and after the World War II. Finland had set aside its difficult past with Soviet Russia and decided to move on despite having fought two wars with it, the Winter War and the Continuation War. Finland recognized the insecurities felt by the USSR and addressed them by building a relationship with the Soviet leadership based on mutual trust.
Finland recognized the insecurities felt by the USSR and addressed them by building a relationship with the Soviet leadership based on mutual trust.
After the World War II, Finland made a judicious decision to repudiate on the much-needed Marshall Plan’s financial aid. The Finnish leadership did so by anticipating the Soviet suspicions that Finland might become allied with the West. So, while Finland joined the Western European economic trade platforms i.e. the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), it concomitantly signed agreements with Eastern European communist states. It awarded the most-favoured nation status to the USSR and pledged same concessions and exceptions which it was giving to EEC allies. This way Finland was able to balance its relations with the West and the Soviet Russia, while preventing any escalations from happening on the diplomatic front.
In the current contemporary era, many voices from the world over are concerned with regards to resurgence of another era of bloc politics at the international arena, where countries are compelled to side with one camp or another. Only a handful of states are able to maintain their neutral status and continue on about their politics and diplomatic activities at the international grandstand without risking isolation.
Pakistan faces a similar paradox as the tensions between the US and China rise with each passing year, and as China closes in on the gap to match the US in terms of global influence and the US countering and containing the Chinese influence around the world. Commentators on international affairs hint towards a new era of Cold War.
Some political analysts in Pakistan have sensationalised this delicate foreign policy matter and have ignited nationalistic and patriotic sentiments among the masses of Pakistan – basically to choose sides. This narrative can be at best described as naïve because Pakistan is heavily reliant on the US and China. Pakistan’s relations with the former are decades old when Pakistan decided to join the western bloc during the Cold War by becoming a signatory to SEATO and CENTO. Whereas, the relation with China is popularly described as “higher than Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey”.
Pakistan faces a similar paradox as the tensions between the US and China rise with each passing year, and as China closes in on the gap to match the US in terms of global influence and the US countering and containing the Chinese influence around the world.
Pakistan has trade relations with the US which crossed the five billion dollars mark in 2021. Pakistan also banks on the US for its military needs such as weapons, aircrafts, spare parts and more, which are essential for the defense of the country. Similarly, Pakistan also has a decent trade volume with China, but it is the Chinese investment in Pakistan that’s worth pondering over.
China has invested more the 60 billion dollars in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is linked to the mega One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. As Pakistan now decreases its dependence on the US for military needs, it looks towards China to provide advanced military technology as well.
Therefore, Pakistan must not choose sides, rather formulate a proactive foreign policy to stabilise its relations between the US and China in a way that compliments Pakistan’s interests with theirs. Pakistan cannot risk offending either one of the two super powers, as both hold significant influence in the global landscape.
Former Finnish President Urho Kekkonen’s quote sums up the situation the best. He said, “A country’s independence is not usually absolute, there was not a single state in existence that did not bow to historical inevitabilities”.