A Philosophical Foreign Policy Question

by Dave Schuler on March 20, 2014

I have something of a broad, philosophical foreign policy question I’d like to put on the floor to see what other people have to say about it. What should the attitude of the United States be to countries that explicitly identify themselves as belonging to a particular race or ethnicity?

It’s not uncommon. Many of the countries in the world do. For example, most of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa explicitly identify themselves as “part of the Arab nation” which I gather is the customary formulation. San Denista Nicaragua explicitly identified itself as a mestizo country. And so on.

I’m not entirely comfortable with such identities and I think that as a country we should be wary of being too cozy with countries that enjoy them. In this, however, as in many things I think that pragmatism should be our guide. Sometimes there are reasons of state to have close relations with countries of which we disapprove profoundly.

I see official languages a bit differently. Most countries have one or more official languages—we’re the oddball in not having one. It always surprises me a bit when Americans express surprise that you don’t need to be able to speak, read, or write English to become an American citizen.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw March 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I think we should definitely not be comfortable with the idea and should avoid expressing that ethnic-self-identification as part of our own foreign policy. I don’t think we need to avoid such countries, there are probably too many anyway.

The Israeli situation is complicated in that we’re committed to a two state solution, roughly demarcating separate Jewish and a Arab/Palestinian states. We’re still using terminology that I think we should drop once a settlement is reached.

I would also say that we should use soft-power to draw attention to de jure unequal treatment of minorities, but I wouldn’t use it simply because a country self-identifies by ethnicity. Doesn’t France identify itself as French (though possibly in reference to language)?

... March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I don’t have a problem with countries identifying themselves ethnically if they so choose. Japan for the Japanese, I say. France for cheese-eating surreneder monkeys. America for gun-crazed cowboys.

Sadly, borders aren’t always that well-drawn, either because the boundaries have been drawn recklessly due to political convenience masquarading as statesmanship, or because people have made an absolute hash of who lives where (my neighborhood). In such cases it should be more important to see that civil rights and rule of law mitigate unpleasantness. But unless our naked self-interest is involved, I don’t see why we should care.

... March 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Oh, and sometimes ethnicity doesn’t change radically with a border. These things can slide across range of possibilities. I’m thinking of Alsaciens in particular.

... March 20, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Shorter: I don’t see why our bullshit notions of melting pots and multiculturalism should impact how we deal with other countries.

michael reynolds March 20, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I don’t like it, never have, and was surprised when it seemed we were suddenly accepting, even embracing the notion during the various Yugoslav break-ups. If we want to speak in terms of absolutes, with One World at one of the spectrum and Ethnic Enclaves at the other, I’m much more on the One World side. (As a long-term goal, not next week.)

Ben Wolf March 20, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Strong tribal identification at a national level is an indicator of elevated potential for right-extremism, particularly in tough economic times. The U.S. should maintain its distance if at all possible.

steve March 20, 2014 at 5:23 pm

We should be cozy with other countries only as much as it advances our interests. Pragmatism should be our guide. That said, I think your instinct to be leery is correct. I think that nations which identify that way are more prone to nationalism and extremism. Work with them when needed. Avoid long term entanglements.


... March 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Yeah, because what we want is left-wing extremism. The Maoists and Communists and other leftists never did anything bad.

Ben Wolf March 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Arguing with a ghost? Because what you wrote has no relationship to my earlier comment.

Andy March 20, 2014 at 7:32 pm

It seems to me that describes most countries. For US policy, I don’t think we should be concerned and should focus on actions and not perceptions. If the ethnic/nationalist attitude of a country translates into bad actions by a government (say, suppressing minorities), then we should address that consistent with our own interests among other factors. The mere fact that a nation defines itself by its people and culture is not enough IMO.

mike shupp March 20, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Much depends … Suppose a future French government proclaims that “France belongs to the French!” and virtually every French politician in sight begins pointing out that “To be truly French, one must speak French, one must learn French history, one must intentionally choose to be French.” We can live with that.

Suppose a future British government declares that “One must be traditionally British to be a proper Briton!” and ministers give statements to the papers and before Parliament explaining “No nig-nogs need apply. And no more Pakis either! Here’s the legislation to make England what it should be.” We might want to cough a bit about that, rather loudly. We might even want to call an ambassador home for “urgent consultation” for some years.

That said… It’s been one of this nation’s claims to fame and moral status over the centuries that the USA was open to all, rather than an ethnocentric homeland. Granted, we’ve fallen from that pinnacle on more than one occasion, but it’s still something we aspire to and something in which we take legitimate pride. I think it’d be a real good thing if we remembered that more and did our best to live up to that aspiration. It’d be good for our image, and it’d be good for us.

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