Guerrilla Diplomacy and Grand Strategy

This fall I have begun to tour in support of the release of Guerrilla Diplomacy. Last week I addressed undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Toronto, and participated in a forum before a mixed group at Dalhousie University in Halifax. That institution’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies has a special place in the overall scheme of the book project, and as such I was particularly delighted to appear there at this early juncture.

Next week I speak in Montreal and Ottawa.

I tend to open these events with a few prefatory remarks about guerrilla diplomacy as both an approach to diplomatic practice and a framework for the understanding and management of international relations and global issues. Following that introduction I usually set out a statement of the book’s main argument, to the effect that if development is the new security in the era of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy. I then outline several the essential building blocks of the analysis, such as the ACTE world order model, and suggest some of the implications for public administration and international policy.

Over the course of the these, and the previous discussions which have followed my presentations, the question often comes up: how can your program be implemented?

How do we get from where we are to where you are advocating that we should be?

I reply that there are at least three prerequisites:

  • The rehabilitation and popularization of diplomacy per se, bringing it in from the far reaches of esoterica and closer to the mainstream of public and political discourse by making it relevant and real
  • The radical reform of, and reinvestment in, the foreign ministry and foreign service
  • The formulation and articulation of a grand strategy in which guerrilla diplomacy can be situated

With the publication of the book and related articles, increasingly frequent forays into journalism, and now with an extended road show, I hope to be able to contribute in some way to the realization of the first and second goals.  It is the third element, however, which I would like to elaborate somewhat at this point.

The notion of grand strategy comes up at various points in the volume, and I consider it a core element of statecraft. Few other analysts, however, seem to share that view. As a term, it is largely unknown outside of specialist circles, and is rarely mentioned in the media. Even in academia it is rarely taught, particularly at North American universities. Canada does not have one; the last effort to cobble together such a document collapsed in a smouldering heap following  a change in government, and nothing has been offered since. A grand strategy may be under construction south of the border, but the Obama administration has yet to set out anything comprehensive.

All of this, I think, is unfortunate, because grand strategy is an extremely useful concept.

In the absence of grand strategy,  international policy tends to be ad hoc, incoherent and splattered. Perhaps the only thing worse than no grand strategy is one which is flawed or failed,   such as the notorious Bush Doctrine of the Global War on Terror, pre-emptive defence and unilateral intervention. If bad or non-existant, poor decisions are made, lives are squandered, finance is wasted, and insecurity – often in concert with underdevelopment – is advanced.

In the particularly memorable words of Oxford University historian and theoretician Hew Strachan, without grand strategy, policy can become an instrument of war, rather than the other way around.

In the next posting or two, we are going to drill down into the concept of grand strategy, identifying the critical elements and assessing their significance vis-a vis guerrilla diplomacy in the age of globalization.

In the interim, a provisional definition might read something like this:

Grand strategy is a unifying, long-term vision of a country’s global values and interests; an expression of where that country is, and wants to go in the world, and; an analysis of its potential and capacity to achieve the objectives, and to reach the destination set forth.

Well worthy of some sustained reflection, wouldn’t you say?