Review by Amb. (ret.) Thomas B. Robertson
Foreign Policy: From Conception to Diplomatic Practice by Dr. Ernest Petric. Martinus Nihoff/Brill Publishers, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-9004245495, 318 pp., $ 171.00
Dr. Ernest Petric’s latest book, “Foreign Policy: From Conception to Diplomatic Practice” is the result of a long and distinguished diplomatic and legal career. He was Slovenia’s first Ambassador to the United States as a newly independent country in 1992, having successfully made the transition from the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry in Belgrade. Like many European diplomats he came to diplomacy with extensive legal training, and he has taught throughout his career at law schools in Ljubljana and elsewhere. He is no slouch in the legal field, either, having written three other books on international legal issues. He currently serves as the Presiding Judge of Slovenia’s Constitutional Court, a position not unlike that of our Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Petric’s purpose here is to bring together the challenges of the “practical implementation of foreign policy” with the theory of international relations and law. Largely a theoretical work, it is therefore more of interest to the student of political science than the practitioner of diplomacy or diplomatic historian. But it can serve as a valuable textbook to those unfamiliar with the practice of foreign policy and international relations looking for something fairly comprehensive. He has done his homework on reviewing the literature on the theories for foreign policy and international relations, and the book, edited down from the original Slovenian version, is organized effectively into five sections: 1) the theoretical fundamentals of foreign policy; 2) the international context; 3) the decision-making process; 4) the means of foreign policy; and 5) the features of the foreign policy of small and new states.
To be sure, despite a fine translation and editing, this is pretty dry reading. But it is a fair summary of a rather classical view of foreign policy and what goes into it. Petric has a brief but interesting discussion of the EU’s failed efforts to develop a foreign and security policy separate from NATO’s, particularly in light of the financial and economic crisis beginning in 2008. There’s nothing surprising about his views on the future of relations between Russia and the U.S., either, just common sense about the difficulties for the US and EU of forming partnerships with Putin’s Russia when both interests and values diverge. And the same may be said for his reasonable discussion of the growing influence of China in an increasingly multipolar world.
As for the means of foreign policy, Petric focuses on “propaganda” as a category of means versus “public diplomacy,” an unfortunate and certainly outdated notion. “Propaganda” reeks of intentional misrepresentation, more appropriate to war and hostile engagement of the 20th century than to the world of the Internet. Even then, his description of US efforts during the Cold War misses the point. In fact USIA’s programs and VOA’s efforts were focused on undermining the myths perpetrated by state-controlled media in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe about the inferiority of the American system while making clear the advantages of a more open and unregulated society. And much of USIA’s efforts were through “people-to-people” diplomacy. Ironically, the success of such public diplomacy contributed in direct measure to Gorbachev’s own reform efforts, ultimately leading to the end of the Cold War.
Unfortunately I think Petric has limited the usefulness of his book by not addressing the challenges and opportunities that the social media revolution presents foreign policy professionals as they try to affect policy both at home and abroad. The uses of Twitter and Facebook during the Arab spring are but one exciting example of how instant communication can make a real difference. He does address briefly the effect instant media have on diplomatic reporting in the 21st century. But what are the advantages (and disadvantages) of ambassadors and their staffs conducting live public diplomacy with both the foreign public and the foreign policy elites through social media? And where are the lines to be drawn where every young diplomat has his or her own Facebook page and a web site to boot? Diplomacy in the 21st century must be nimble, agile, quick but disciplined.
The last section on the foreign policy of small and new nations presents an opportunity for special insights into Petric’s experience leading Slovenia’s diplomatic efforts abroad in key posts. Many Slovenians were miffed that so soon after Slovenia became independent for the first time in its history, Slovenian diplomacy voluntarily sacrificed some of its autonomy by joining NATO and especially the EU. Petric rightly points out that one of the fundamental challenges facing small countries is balancing the needs for integration with the preservation of cultural and national identity.
I was amused by his comments that big countries have it easier managing interagency issues than smaller ones since their resources are much greater. Tell that to someone in Washington, where turf battles are legion, and keeping track of what non-traditional foreign policy players are doing (and wish to do) in the host country is a full-time job! But my experience in small countries and large in Central and Eastern Europe confirms that stove piping and bureaucratic intransigence between ministries and agencies are widespread. I often kidded my embassy team that the U.S. Embassy served as the interagency coordinator for some of the governments where I worked. But, of course, being the American Embassy we had the resources to do that.
I wish Petric had written more about his own transition, and that of the old school Slovenian diplomatic elite, from serving Tito’s Yugoslavia, a moderately communist country and leader in the non-aligned movement, to leading Slovenia’s efforts to join the West, and particularly to become a member of NATO and the EU. Slovenia is still split politically between those who prospered during the Yugoslav period and those who did not make peace with the established communist order of that time, and understanding those who successfully made the transition and how they did it would be enlightening. But that was clearly outside the scope of this tome. Perhaps when his current service as Slovenia’s senior constitutional judge is completed Ernest Petric will share those more personal experiences in a book looking back on a rather incredible career.