[GegenStandpunkt Index]

Diplomacy — The Tool of Competition between States

[translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 3-1996, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]

The various “foreign affairs” a modern state pursues when dealing with its peers are not easily understood right away. This is not only because these affairs involve foreign matters far from the compass of one’s familiar concerns, but also to a considerable extent because of the way one comes into contact with them. One must acquaint oneself with the fact that major foreign political projects between states are now and then said to depend on exactly what kind of “atmosphere” exists between them. It may be “tense” because of “resentment” possibly resulting from the fact — which in itself wouldn’t be exactly world-shattering — that a head of state feels “snubbed” for being invited to the wrong place at the wrong time; or possibly because he wasn’t on the guest list at all. Or perhaps he was indeed invited, but together with somebody else he didn’t care to meet at the same place at the same time. In another case, “good relations” may prevail, and even “friendship” can be spoken of — between states that is, which are not persons at all but legal entities, all the same thought to be capable of “friendly” acts. When friendship exists between heads of states, then they are on especially good terms with each other, and this speaks volumes — namely somehow about the overall relations existing between their nations. But perhaps the reported state of relations is not exactly so clear-cut, but instead “traditionally difficult.” In this case, one must pay close attention to the “signals” from which the further development of foreign relations between both sides is said to be inferred — and in fact is inferred: Nixon’s Ping-Pong players in China and Willy Brandt’s genuflection in Poland ushered in entirely new eras in diplomatic relations, far removed from the stuff of ongoing negotiations that regularly renders the every-day business of foreign policy and “relations” so “difficult.” But sometimes such “signals” simply consist in the absence of statements. If that’s the case, then perhaps this says quite a bit about the foreign affairs in which one finds oneself with someone making a “diplomatic announcement” by his silence…

All the same, even interested observers who cannot count themselves among the “usually well-informed circles” find their way quite easily in this mix-up between what states are out for when pursuing foreign policy, and the abstruse forms in which they carry out these affairs. The cosmopolitan concerned with foreign affairs never loses the ultimate point of reference on which nationalists focus their entire interest: the cause of the nation. Accordingly, a national observer cares rather less about the reasons and purposes of the flourishing foreign activity between states and all the more keenly about whether those responsible for these dealings are rewarded with success, and whether the national interest their machinations after all have to serve has actually been served. For concerns of this kind, precise knowledge of the nature of this interest is completely unnecessary. Even in their most profound cluelessness, questions like “Why do we give money to…?” or “What’s that got to do with us?” reveal the main point: unconditional partisanship for the success of the nation in all its foreign political difficulties. The survey of world events that comes about in this way takes all the many more or less “important” intergovernmental meetings, at which the opposing parties agree and dispute over which of their interests unite or divide them, as material for an assessment that aims at one thing only: whether and to what extent “our interests” have gained the right they naturally deserve. Provided that those in charge of the nation’s cause can report foreign political success in this regard, and that the nation is content with the results of their diplomacy, they walk off with praise for the skills and “art” they evidenced in the inherently difficult sphere of foreign political maneuvering. The nation’s cause, which raises these difficulties, thereby vanishes completely behind the form in which and by which it was so gloriously handled in one’s own interest.

If, conversely, the outcome of some negotiations or conferences at the intergovernmental level is not good enough to heap praise on the foreign policy leadership, they themselves are inevitably held responsible for the lack of success. With reference to the intransigence of one or the other negotiating partner they have not been able to bring around, they are certified as being manifestly incapable of satisfactorily achieving what the nation requires. In this case, discontent with the results of diplomacy substitutes for grappling with what diplomacy really deals with, why somebody has failed and in what. This way of judging politics is so unswervingly keen on national success that it declares a whole summit to be “useless” if a final communiqué leaves off without any of the “concrete results” one had wished for. Then all the diplomatic meandering was just that, because after all “nothing of substance actually” came about, and the ladies and gentlemen in question could really have saved themselves the trouble.

At the same time, those who have such high political expectations are completely aware that the point of diplomatic dealings is to prevail against other nations, to make foreign powers bend to one’s will to “reach agreement.” This objective is based on the simple fact that the political wills dealing with each other diplomatically are opposed to one another. The different “views” on a matter, the diverging “positions” of governments in the course of negotiations, are not differing judgments that in the course of a theoretical dispute prove to be correct or incorrect. Rather, they express the incompatibility of the interests with which states confront each other, while the dispute they do engage in revolves around the question of who has the right to his position. They are therefore compelled to agree on compromises; and whatever may come about in the way of agreements, treaties, and alliances, as well as in measures for maintaining them, says nothing against the fact that the matters pursued by the various nations are fundamentally mutually exclusive. Rather, it is thereby confirmed, and the form of diplomatic procedures demonstrates perfectly just how little states forget about the antagonisms existing between them when they want something substantial from each other — and indeed not just when they start talking about ensuring and establishing peace.

For it is exactly when they are ensuring a state of affairs named “peace” with their diplomacy, when they are bent on “finding compromises” and a “balance of interests,” that they utilize all the interests they have in each other against each other. The will to consensually settle all the issues raised by their decision to mutually utilize each other does not after all void the circumstance that in every case, powers strive to strengthen themselves exclusively in and through their dealings with one another, to widen the access they have attained through the monetary and material means of their might. In order to get this access going and to keep it permanently going, all the while discovering where power and interests diverge or coincide and developing “arguments” for “compromises” and concessions from the other parties to influence their intransigent will — it is for all this that the modern, imperialist state engages in diplomacy.

Incidentally, diplomacy is not put out to pasture when, as the upshot of this competition for wealth and power, one or the other nation feels “a continuation of politics by other means” advisable. For the national authors of “foreign relations” themselves know very well that ultimately, their foreign policy from start to finish is nothing other than a question of power that must be settled between them. By fervently arming themselves they prove how familiar they are with the fact that their seemingly civilized relations are the source of quite a lot of reasons to proceed from the weapons of competition to a competition of weapons. In that case, the question of power to be decided between them is posed in an elemental way — and even then, there is much for diplomacy to do. For nations treat the wars they wage against each other also as a relation in which they want something from each other, which is why they still have quite a lot to say to each other shortly before, but also during and after their armed encounters.

I. The Starting-Point of Diplomacy: The intolerable situation of a territorialized monopoly on the use of force

1. Lawlessness between supreme powers

a) States are political communities in which a will to rule establishes itself over the people within its reach and forces its rule upon them. Whatever the particulars of its aims and ambitions, their execution entirely depends on the means with which this subjection can be effectively and permanently put into effect; and this means is its power, which it successfully acquires against its competitors — actual or potential. A monopoly on the use of force is achieved as the result of the vigorous resolve not to leave the question of how the life of the community should be organized up to those concerned, but rather to decide it for them. Once this is settled, the state relates the will of all those under its control to itself as the authority over them, and dictates the solely valid conditions for their exercising their will through appropriate commands and prohibitions. In this way, the subjects of rule become a people whose identity consists in obedience to the same power and the same law, and who therefore should identify themselves with this power and consider its domestic and foreign interests to be their own concerns.[1]

b) In one respect, the power that a state claims exclusively for itself and makes unchallenged and therefore sovereign use of knows no boundaries. Everything that constitutes the continued existence of a state and pertains to its “internal affairs” has its origin in its force. All rights and duties, mandatory interests, and established antagonisms between the rather differently endowed members of its society are ultimately derived from its power. Force is the means by which sovereign rule adapts everything under its control to its own use. This principle holds irrespective of whether the ruling sovereignty considers itself appointed by the grace of God and organizes its domain as a society of personal rule and fealty obliged to pay it tribute; or whether it takes the impersonal form of “modern” bourgeois rule, in which society no longer has to serve personal ruling interests, but must instead bow to such anonymous necessities as the accumulation of private property and in that way serve the rule of the state.

But the contrary also holds for the reach of a state’s monopoly on force, for this reach also determines the boundary of its own absolute sovereignty. Trivially, a state is only free in the use of its power where it rules, so that it rightly and immediately recognizes its limits — which are identical with those of the territory over which it has dominion — for what they are for it, as restriction: what lies beyond them is and remains withdrawn from its exclusive and sovereign grasp — because another sovereign power has effectively established its supreme authority and asserted its monopoly on forcible control of the plot of earth at issue and the subjugation of its inhabitants. Thus the only boundaries a state acknowledges as restricting its monopoly on force are those drawn by the sheer existence of its own kind. This turns state sovereignty into a never ending matter of asserting the power it claims: every sovereign that lays claim to an exclusive right of disposal over its territory and its inhabitants stands in an essentially negative position against all others that — as its immediate or distant neighbors — do the same on their part. Each act of sovereign control over anything in one’s own state inventory is simultaneously the active exclusion of all other states, which likewise treat land and people only as material they want to appropriate for their rule. A state secures its own continued existence, i.e., its exclusive sovereign control, only by first actively repulsing any identically disposed sovereign will bent on exclusive control, asserting and defending itself against any sovereign claim that is not its own.

c) Thus the relationship between states is one of powers that cannot help but deny in others what they are themselves. As ultimate powers seeking to have as much territory and people at their disposal as possible, they confront, apart from themselves, their own kind, i.e., sovereign claims to rule in the form of a competing force monopoly whose sheer existence negates their own claim to an unchallenged sovereign exercise of power. This antagonism between states is by nature irreconcilable, and states are well aware of the fundamental character of their antagonism. They act on the basis of their sovereignty not only being a matter of their domestic monopoly on force , but also of the extent to which they secure it against outsiders. Their unconditional safeguarding of “national security” is not a reaction to bad experiences with their neighbors, but ranks from the very beginning at the top of a state’s list of duties.[2]

The fact that states deal with the contradiction of a pluralism of monopolies on force as a matter of course is revealed in the means of force they continually procure in addition to those with which they secure the state of law within their borders.

These means are specifically reserved for asserting oneself if need be against the power that forms the basis of a foreign will.[3]

2. The productive utilization of foreign sovereignty: Surmounting borders

a) A state monopoly on force is a purpose unto itself, and as such the very first and permanent condition for all the purposes that state rule brings into existence, dictates to its citizens, and which constitute the reason of state (raison d’état), i.e., the content of political rule.* In modern bourgeois states, this content — the aims the state pursues — is embodied in private property and in all the other institutions of a class society that serve the productive accumulation of property and determine the interests that citizens, released into the freedom of competition, are allowed to pursue. With its power, the bourgeois state forces on its society the interest in the increase of wealth in the form of an abstract and exclusive right of disposal that has its material existence and measure in the money it guarantees. This is how it creates, with its monopoly on force, its economic base likewise at its own exclusive disposal: material wealth is measured, in the national monetary standard, as the growth of capital, over which the state has command and from which it appropriates what it needs to finance its rule.

However, that’s not all there is to it, for a state does not establish capitalism as its basis with one big hit and then sit back passively and see what it reaps from its work. Since it is precisely capitalist success that is the basis of its might, a bourgeois state appoints itself the perpetual advocate of everything required for this success to come about. It treats productive private property as a matter of political sovereignty, handling all the conditions for its coming or not coming about as its very own business that demands the appropriate intervention of its power — all the while realizing that it can only do this as far as its power reaches. The reach of its monopoly on force directly limits its power over the increase of wealth because it can’t make use of so much of what could potentially be used to produce it. These resources remain mere potential means for its accumulation of money because they are at the disposal of another sovereign power, not its own; for a state, this is tantamount to the basis of its existence being curtailed.

b) Thus the very principle of creation of wealth in the abstract and universal form of money that a bourgeois state establishes confronts it with the fact that it, due to its territorially limited sovereignty, is itself the barrier to the further growth of this wealth. Of course, the form of wealth that it enforces on its territory, which exists solely as an exclusive right of disposal expressed in money, applies only within its own national boundaries. But in principle it transcends them, for abstract wealth is not per se limited by borders or by what happens to be found within them in the way of people and other material for creating and increasing this wealth. In fact it is not bounded at all, but extends to virtually everything that can be used to produce this wealth. On this account, a state becomes politically interested in all economic “resources” that are available as real or potential sources of its wealth but beyond its reach. As the use of these resources are monopolized by another sovereign, a bourgeois state trains its sights on the latter. In order to enable the growth of its capitalist sources of wealth beyond its own sovereign borders, it relates positively to the excluding and restricting state power confronting it, seeking to take up “relations” that first and foremost are intended to establish the usability of the foreign sovereign territory. For everything potentially of use there — from human labor to raw materials, existing means of production, and use of transport routes — is subject to the decision-making power that controls the territory in question, so that the utilization strived for depends entirely on whether the foreign sovereign permits it. The ensuing fundamental questions — whether and how agreement can be established between sovereign powers, and in regard to which matters, despite and because of their antagonisms — are the origin of the desire for institutionalized dealings between states.

c) The material substance of this desire consists in the identical interest of capitalist states in transcending the restriction they represent for each other as states, in order to increase their wealth as well as to augment the means at their disposal for increasing it. Since states seek to open up foreign dominions, i.e., to make foreign “resources” available to their own national growth, they acknowledge the fact that their means of power are limited by what other states confront them with in this respect — and aim to make these limits ineffective in practice. They want the material and human sources of wealth worldwide that have caught their eyes as material for enrichment to be made available in principle to all, reckoning on its falling under their exclusive national disposal as result of their competing for it. Out of their interest in making economic use of foreign powers to strengthen their own power, they propose to their peers, for the sake of this principle of using others to enrich oneself, that they organize the cooperative satisfaction of the sovereign egoism of each of them.

From this interest in utilizing one another arises the stuff of foreign policy that capitalist states cultivate between each other. A state’s interest in making others useable leads it to survey foreign sovereign territories, focusing on the conditions and means of growth present there. It discovers compatible areas, possibly even complementary ones; or perhaps not, and is instead confronted with a foreign sovereign’s unrelenting will as a persisting negative condition for itself, and therefore first has to wrestle with it and bend it to take advantage of it. This program of a standing arrangement between powers that have resolved to cooperate; the continual assessment of current or theoretically possible and suitable degrees of cooperation in which each party is out for itself; conversely the effort to master the restrictions arising from a foreign sovereignty and make them useful to oneself — this is the political cause that motivates states in their “foreign relations.” They are in principle only concerned with tapping the wealth of the entire world for themselves, i.e., to the exclusion of all others. For that reason, these nations also identify lots of “dependence” by which they feel far too confined in their freedom of action. For the success of their efforts is always tied to the premise that all issues arising from their competition are to be resolved cooperatively, meaning in principle amicably. So it is only logical that ambitious nations see a not unimportant prospect of their further success in emancipating themselves from this “dependence,” and resolve to upgrade their territory economically: this is the base of their power, and thus also their weapon against the limitations that all others place on them.

As long as capitalist nations stick to their weapons of competition, they name the state of their foreign affairs “peace.” But since bourgeois states leave no stone unturned from the standpoint of subjecting the wealth of the world not belonging to them to their exclusive power of disposal, the transition to the use of force, i.e., to the competition of weapons, always lies in wait. Capitalist states have thus on occasion taken very serious exception to the principle of leaving the primary question of their power solely up to their success in economic competition.[4] In their first world war they were, according to their own statements, concerned with “dividing up the world,” each for its own benefit, in order to conquer zones under their own control to the exclusion of competitors. Likewise, in their second world war, it was the unwillingness of nations to content themselves with the results of their competition that led to action, led them to seek by force modifications deemed necessary — first from German soil in order to conquer “new lebensraum” for this nation, and then as the corresponding response of its affected imperialist competitors, who would not put up with this correction of power relations. And the fact that the world was not divided in accordance with their interests immediately after the end of this war was reason enough for the bourgeois states to prepare for the next world war — they proceeded to forceful action against a socialist bloc of states because it eluded their grasp and cooperation on their terms. They took the sustained Soviet denial of their well-meaning requests to utilize the bloc for their own benefit to be a direct curtailment of their power. Their paramount foreign political mission consisted in making this deviant power bend to their will, and their method for doing so was to threaten the extinction of this power. First with their “Cold War,” then with their “policy of detente,” yet always from the standpoint of their unwillingness to reconcile themselves to the Soviet state, they turned down its offers for mere “coexistence.” In economic matters, they generally denied the power with the deviant system any access to everything it could have used to maintain itself; then they exploited some of its dire straits for business guaranteed to benefit themselves, not their adversary, promoting instead the further disintegration of its power. In the political arena, they offered to accept the deviant power if it voluntarily adopted the capitalist state program and subordinated itself to the principles of intercourse that imperialist states organize for themselves; and they backed up this offer with an arms program aimed at finishing off their opponent.

d) Now that this troublemaker has done away with itself — thanks to a stroke of historical luck — and all nations have made themselves conform to the standard capitalist type, “foreign relations” based in principle on mutual agreement between states committed to cooperative competition have finally gotten their worldwide chance. How nations proceed, the diplomatic form they consider to be absolutely necessary for conducting their business, reveals how hard it is for them in general to respect the fact of their mutual exclusion and restriction, precisely when and because they want so much from each other.

II. The respect competing states owe each other and the forms in which they show it: the initiation of diplomatic proceedings and their further development

1. The treaty of recognition

a) By the act of recognition, sovereigns ascertain the state of conflict between them in the most formal way, and declare their intention to relate positively to it as a modus vivendi. They assure each other that they accept the other parties’ power over territory and people as a limit to their own interest in making use of them both. This they adhere to by respecting the “ultimate power” that the opposite party also constitutes; they therefore take the status quo defined by the subsumption of territories and populations under exclusive state power as the permanent precondition for their further dealings. They acknowledge the situation existing between them as sovereigns, and thus each other as the actors that determine this situation.[5]

b) In recognizing each other, states relativize their claim on the unconditional force of their own power, and the good reputation that the act of recognition enjoys as a civilized achievement in international relations is due to this aspect of self-restriction. However, the reason why capitalist states take it on themselves to recognize other powers is the very opposite of self-restriction. They only respect foreign sovereignty because the particular benefits they seek cannot be had any other way. They cannot make the “resources” under foreign sovereignty available to themselves unless they accept this sovereignty as the authority whose might prevents any foreign access — but for that reason can also grant it. States mutually certify that this is how they want to view and treat each other.

As ultimate sovereigns that recognize no higher law, and therefore none between them, they court each other as such. By avowing respect in this way, they establish the appearance of legal relations, which while not actually existing between them, are nonetheless from now on made to exist, because they want it that way. Just as they give their will and command the form of law within their borders, they keep to this legal formality in their antagonistic relations with each other, too, as the proven method of functionalizing another will. Their will to cooperate is at any rate directed towards gaining access to foreign sovereign territory, and conceding each other this access as a right makes each of their wills to rule exclusively functional for the others. They then face each other as partners with equal rights in principle, for only as such are they able to agree on the conditions they seek for making use of each other.

States thus transform their excluding relation to each other, that of their being ultimate powers, into the form of a contractibility of the interests they have in one another. They decide to make the principle of service for a service in return — well known from the bourgeois legal world — valid between each other, too, in order to regulate their dealings with each other. Each party is to have the right to assert its interests by and in agreements, accepting the interests of the other party only inasmuch as it is granted advantages in return. Conversely, it commits itself to take up the other party’s proposals and to examine them for compatibility with one’s own interests. In this act of mutual assurance that everything they want from each other is to be the object of negotiations and regulated in an agreement aiming at an amicable settlement, states by no means relinquish their sovereign legal supremacy. They preserve it by making access to their sovereign territory strictly a matter of their granting it. At the same time, they agree that their might is not to be an insuperable barrier to any concerns brought up by other sovereigns as long as they are prepared to give the same declaration of intent.[6]

c) Therefore, by the act of recognition states do not dissolve the irreconcilable relationship in which they find themselves as sovereign powers. True, their interest in utilizing each other leads them to back down from the standpoint that their sovereignty deserves universality, and that a modification of this by other sovereign powers is incompatible with their own claim to supremacy —after all, the recognition of a foreign power’s right of authorization implies one’s own obligation to accept it as a limitation on one’s own ambitions if the other party shows itself to be impervious to them. By taking up relations, they even explicitly agree that the rules governing their internal affairs are no longer subject to their own exclusive authority. These rules, by their own will, are to be the subject of binding accords, so that even though the authority to govern does not itself devolve on one’s negotiation partner, it at any rate is conceded a regulated influence on one’s own internal affairs.

This voluntary restriction of one’s sovereignty has its positive side, though. First of all, all other sovereigns of course have to respond by returning the corresponding favor, granting the same recognition they themselves are granted: by conceding others their sovereignty, one conversely gains the integrity of one’s own, taking one’s place among all other sovereigns as a like power they respect. And secondly, by conceding a voice in shaping one’s own concerns to a foreign power, one is likewise conceded the converse — in the same act of recognition that entitles another power to exert influence, one gets the same rights for oneself, obtaining a say in its concerns.

d) Because states resolve to secure their own power by way of authorization, unconditional respect for the other sovereign is the lasting “contractual basis” of all dealings between them. Realizing that each relationship they enter into detracts from their sovereign right of disposition, states attach importance to being reconfirmed as the ultimate authorizing power with every new agreement. Hence, diplomacy has its first essential material in the continual declaration of this respect: in diplomatic formalisms and rituals, states reassure each other that they want to preserve the standpoint expressed in the act of recognition of being in agreement with a foreign power, as far as the form of handling their relations is concerned, regardless of disagreements arising from specific issues.[7]

The mere act of exchanging ambassadors following a consultation of government officials serves to demonstrate that states have entered into a lasting relationship for dealing with each other, and not that an incidental political arrangement between governments was established.[8] In drawing the fine distinction that it is states, and not governments, that recognize each other, both sides make clear that they intend to distinguish between a basic respect for sovereignty and the particular interests that are asserted. They emphasize that there is a common interest in dealing with one another above any changes in national personnel and policies. And for this the world of states has established the necessary institutions in the independent sphere of diplomacy, along with a staff only partially subject to political trends. Embassies, which function as initial points of contact for all kinds of state relations, are vested with rights and jurisdictions that correspond to the circumstance that there is a foreign power present on one’s territory: in the granted status of extraterritoriality, a state excludes part of its own territory from its sovereignty, treating it as if it were subject to the jurisdiction of the other power; foreign diplomats receive special treatment as persons not subject to one’s own sovereignty although indeed present on one’s sovereign territory; the agrément specifically affirms that they are acceptable representatives of a foreign power, which maintains the principle of the host nation having jurisdiction over its own territory. Once accredited, the diplomatic staff enjoy a special status that distinguishes them from other domestic or foreign residents on a state’s territory. Since their profession consists in protecting and expressing the interests of a foreign power, alien law doesn’t apply to them, and likewise domestic law: immune as they are, diplomats can strangle whom they like — they can neither be locked up nor deported, at most declared persona non grata and expelled. In fact, their official residence is “inviolable” to government search and seizure, and in return they are obliged not to harbor domestic public enemies — exceptions prove the rule. Exemption from taxation, permission to send uncensored mail, and other niceties document the host country’s respect for another country’s embassy as an extension of foreign sovereignty in one’s own country, and enable the staff to carry out its mission.

In the day-to-day dealings of states, this mission consists in completing afresh the demonstration of recognition of one power by another. The rules of diplomatic procedure meticulously specify, for all conceivable cases and occasions where diplomats have to deal with each other, how the mutual attestation of respect is to take place — from the red carpet when receiving a foreign guest to the question of what form a message should take on which sort of writing paper. In an especially fine way, the joint inspection of a dress uniform unit of a foreign military demonstrates the double meaning of the respect both parties pay each other: the symbolic display of one’s own machinery of power honors the guest in his sovereignty, because it documents the power of the host even as it shows the present willingness, not to make use of it, but to make respect for the sovereign power of the guest the principle of dealings with him.

2. Treaties between states

a) The treaty between states as such: contracting irreconcilable matters

For states, recognition is the precondition for carrying over the interests they have in one another into concrete contractual relations, the stuff and content of which encompass everything in the way of rights that states want to see granted by others to themselves and their citizens, so that their citizens can pursue their private business and the state comes into more wealth. The diplomatic proceedings in which states reach agreement therefore revolve around giving their opposing interests the form of law. In their diplomacy, states express their interest in lending their agreements the character of reliable obligation, at the same time expressing conversely their lasting reservation they intend to maintain as sovereigns with regard to every binding commitment.

The only thing agreements between states have in common with contractual relations like those citizens of a state enter into is the formalism that two opposed wills agree on reciprocal obligations. That’s as far as the commonality goes.[9] Citizens find that the form and content of the contractual relations they enter into are already completely codified. In all the contractual arrangements they come up with, they carry out their interests as a legally validated relation, carried out therefore according to what a political power has mapped out for them in the form of rules and regulations. For it is the power of a state that imparts the form of private property to all material goods and turns citizens into legal persons, into owners of rights who as such then conclude contracts with one another regarding the giving and receiving of their property. States, by contrast, do not contract on the basis of an existing law, but grant rights — and this is what they contract about: they concede each other sovereign authority, reaching agreement as law-making powers on the questions they want to settle and how they want to settle them by delineating rights they are allowed to claim against each other in each particular case.[10]

At the same time, they certainly do not forget that they themselves are above these rights As everything that is achieved through their agreements results from the self-obligation of sovereign powers, this circumstance is specifically allowed for in diplomatic procedures. After all, they are contracting about sovereign rights, so with every proposal, the avowal of respect for the other sovereign has to be renewed: the other sovereign is to grant the right to intervene in its affairs, and thus wants to be recognized as the ultimate grantor of rights. In the ceremonious signing of accords — best of all by the leading statesmen — not only is the achievement of the forging of a common will between monopolists on force demonstrated to the world, but at the same time each party also emphasizes the lasting sovereign reservation it retains as signatory. With each new agreement, the exchange of sovereign rights requires the express demonstration of concession, of regard for the other party that the sovereign wills have been jointly ready to make. Thus every result they achieve always attests to both parties’ willingness to come to an agreement — the more so the more acrimonious the conflicts were that had to be overcome, i.e., had to be cast in the form of a contract.[11]

It can be seen in the contractual relations themselves that both parties to the agreement are only interested in obligating the other party to grant rights, and that self-obligation is only the price perforce paid for this. Fixed time periods make explicit that all sorts of circumstances, even fundamental changes in the national interest, can make a revision of obligations once deemed useful the order of the day. When treaty periods near their end, a feisty diplomatic exchange commences over the question of whether and how the agreement is to be prolonged, annulled, modified or simply continued, i.e., how both parties intend to regard the treaty, its consequences and results, now and in the future. Thus allowance is made for the fact that mutual adherence to the treaty is not to be confused with a lasting acquiescence to its results. In the same spirit, the conditions for a possible repeal, accepted forms of noncompliance, as well as the conditions for renegotiation are also settled at the same time, thereby confirming the principle that commitment to a formal treaty never implies a renunciation of one’s own right to redefine the conditions for further dealings if the results of ongoing commitments prove to be unsatisfactory.[12]

b) “Pacta sunt servanda. Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.”[13]

The material that states contract about continually provides them with reasons to dispute the handling of the treaties they have concluded, for in the agreement, they promise nothing more than their intention to stick to what has been agreed upon. When, for instance, states reach agreement on removing “customs barriers” — as did the European Union and Turkey recently (1995) — whereby each party forgoes revenues hitherto obtained from cross-border trade, they do so in the expectation that lowering expenses for importers and exporters may stimulate business, thereby improving their balances of trade and payments.

However the stimulation of business may turn out for both parties, its effect on the balances of trade and payments is not so perfectly balanced: what one nation pockets as its trade surplus is entered as a deficit in the books of the other nation. Of course this result is not the end of the matter. The damaged nation regularly refers the result back to the treaty entered into, concluding that the price paid for enabling more business did not pay off. Thus a bad trade balance becomes a mandate not only for one’s own economic policy, but for diplomacy as well, which on the one hand has to make clear to the treaty partner the measures taken in the national interest for averting the damage, and on the other hand has to sound out the other party for possible modifications of the conditions already agreed on. Governments are acquainted with all sorts of variations on this theme. One can lodge a complaint with the treaty partner, point to the negative results, and get the green light for a differing interpretation of the treaty clauses. One can — this is what Turkey decided on — unilaterally stop complying with certain parts of the agreement and ask the treaty partner for forbearance due to special circumstances, i.e., indicate that the deviation from what was agreed upon should be understood as a temporary measure and not as unwillingness to abide by the treaty. Eventually, it may even come to an open breach of the treaty combined with notification of the treaty partner that the rights and responsibilities it derives from the treaty are in this particular case incompatible with one’s own national interests.

This latter case is rather the exception in the world of diplomacy. As a rule, the hypocrisy of “good faith” really predominates, i.e., the interest in sorting out the incurred losses with the understanding of the treaty partner, obtaining its endorsement of one’s own differing interpretation of the agreed-on provisions. Since it is known that this violates the interests of the treaty partner — after all, it’s the one that derives advantages from the practical application of the treaty — diplomacy takes care to emphasize the will to continue the mutually beneficial contractual relation when raising one’s own concerns. It cultivates the art of attesting that the conflict one is starting is not intended as such and consequently need not be one since it can be jointly dealt with within the framework of what has been agreed. Along with all measures that could be interpreted as a breach of the treaty come proposals to interpret them so that they appear to be compatible with foreign interests — if not in the particular case, then at least in principle. Even the diplomatic threat of noncompliance with an accord is not to be understood as the announcement of plans already decided on, but as an invitation to the opposite side to agree to negotiations in order to avoid further damage. Hence the importance of the “tone,” the diplomatic “level,” the method with which discontent is voiced and measures are defined or threatened. Does one, for instance, inform the other sovereign of one’s own decisions through official channels? Beforehand or afterwards? Or is it first to learn of them through the press? Such demonstrations of greater or lesser willingness to come to an understanding evince one’s interest in the disposition of the other party, at the same time as they sound out which reactions have to be expected and which concessions can be hoped for.

One could note the importance of diplomatic form, even and especially with an explicit breach of treaty, in the recent (1996) German policy decision to promote the German automobile group Volkswagen (VW) in contravention of EU conditions. The German side knowingly reckoned on this decision being a breach of EU law,[14] so it immediately had to let the authorities in Brussels know what kind of importance they should attach to this action. For this an internal “division of labor” was decided upon: the provincial government of Saxony took on the role of intimating the German point of view, namely that all previous agreements with the European Union regarding subsidies for eastern Germany were invalid.[15] The federal government took on the task of “regretting” the unauthorized action of Saxony vis-à-vis the EU “with all due appreciation for the matter,” meaning VW, and of manifesting its interest in further cooperation with the commission. In this way, the German interest was manifested, namely that the European Commission judge this “case” for the first time as simply that, and not immediately take it as an indication that German policy as a matter of principle no longer intended to stick to the procedures agreed upon in the EU.

The point of diplomatic contortions like these is not that they can’t easily be seen through. As an expression of the matters they stand for, they are certainly meant to be understood: they aim at diplomatically indicating to one’s partner the seriousness and validity of one’s own interests, as well as one’s continuing will to make these compatible with the partner’s interests — if the latter agrees to it. By asserting their interests diplomatically, states subject the will of the other sovereign to a test. It is presented with an offer as to how to take the matter: either more as a confrontation — or more as a matter for compromise, which amounts to a request to behave one way or the other towards the actions of the other power. Even when negotiations end with the announcement that there are no points of agreement to be found in the conflict under discussion, this does not signify a transition to the disputing parties’ deciding on their own absolute authority about tariffs, import licenses, transfers of foreign currency, and so on. In this case, the art of diplomacy consists in finding a way from hostility and suspicion back to more placatory tones, in showing the damaged relations in a favorable light, and thus paving the way for their beneficial continuation.

The disagreements that diplomacy has to take care of in this area gain their vehemence from the necessarily one-sided interpretations of treaty relationships that states resort to as soon as the results no longer suit them. With hindsight, the aggrieved sovereign concludes that the act by which it intended to ensure expanded access to national revenues proved to be a carte blanche for other sovereigns to enrich themselves at its expense, so that it logically infers that it made way too many concessions to its treaty partners. On the one hand, the other sovereign is always held responsible for this: if it benefits from agreements — concluded for mutual advantage! — it has obviously taken one-sided advantage of the relationship and heedlessly exerted the power conceded to it in the treaty. The aggrieved state thus belatedly assesses its own failure to utilize the rights acquired with the treaty as a restriction on its sovereignty — and the way its treaty partner has used its conceded authority is condemned as unacceptable interference in one’s own affairs that in the future will be not tolerated. The diplomats who led one’s own negotiating efforts therefore also come in for criticism: they did not negotiate vigorously enough and were instead taken to the cleaners. Diplomacy has to bear the accusation of not having fulfilled its national mission — and is thus sent into the next round with the goal of successfully ensuring that the conceded relinquishing of sovereignty results in national advantages. Sometimes this requires the replacing of ministers of foreign affairs or even entire governments.

c) The need for careful diplomatic tending of conflicting treaty relations

The diplomatic skirmishes over the interpretations of treaties and permitted violations is not an antithesis to the cooperation of states, but the way it proceeds. The more states have agreed upon, and consequently the more they have to deal with one another as a practical matter, the more necessities, opportunities, and motives there are for a retrospective and constructively forward-looking criticism of their dealings. This criticism is nourished by the intentional misinterpretation of the circumstance that the treaty rights one has acquired are always just conditions that are supposed to help the national interest on it’s road to success. For when states assess the undesired consequences of cross-border doings and dealings, nothing could be further from their mind than the recognition of the fact that by opening up cross-national commerce, they have handed over the growth of national wealth to the machinations of the private accumulation of money. Instead, they refer every consequence of the agreement back to themselves as its authors — and devise diplomatic ways of optimizing the results of commerce up to now.

In view of the fact that they mutually bind each other with their treaties, and that this may have negative consequences for them, the contracting states take precautionary measures: with each treaty, they assure each other of the right to interpret it “in the light of its object and purpose.”[16] The trick by which they turn the collision of their interests into a driving force of their contractual relations consists in their stipulating their freedom not to feel bound by the concluded treaty, while invoking it , but instead by their interest in its positive utilization. The treaty is thus “interpreted,” and an attempt is made to extend the formally stipulated binding effect for the esteemed partner to matters of interest that were not negotiated at all, or to acquit oneself from certain obligations. In this way, the conflict of interests between the parties takes the course of a competition of diverging exegeses of one and the same document. Thus the parties untiringly perpetuate the fiction that was born with their decision to pursue their concerns in a legal form: although it is only malefactors and beneficiaries that confront each other in the form of “high contracting parties,” they dispute like interpretation-crazy legal scholars, eager to have the national interest unconditionally attested through the formal authority derived, by virtue of their own decision, from a wording of a contract signed by the other party.[17]

Every declared interest in the further development of commerce with other states — whatever this may consist in — is based on the material content of the relationships already entered into, as well as on the mutual dependence that proliferates on their basis. Although the decision to compete for wealth obviously results in differing proceeds from the system of cross-border commerce, both winners and losers have their own irrefutable reasons to do what they can to perpetuate the established system of state agreements, by which they open up access to new sources of wealth for themselves. A power whose economic success results in its disposal over a world currency is very dependent on the progress of all the relations it has used so magnificently for itself — it finds itself completely dependent on the dependence into which it has maneuvered its competitors. Conversely, another power, which has to assess the results of economic competition as the ruination of its currency, also develops its own interest in the fostering of relations — as a way to make the best of the dependence it has fallen into. Consequently, the competitors’ national progress is, in various ways, dependent on the steady use of the rights of access they concede each other, and their need for the continuity of their relations finds its expression in specific diplomatic forms of intercourse.

Some states enter into alliances to stabilize their relationships. They come to an understanding that their dealings have resulted in a pool of common interests whose joint furtherance is to be specifically fixed by contract: they remove these common interests from the daily business of permission and denial, and agree upon a basic set of procedures for sorting out all economic, political, and military matters. Likewise, they agree on steps or “models” for extended cooperation, but also of course on special procedures for settling disputes meant to support and not undermine all that has been achieved in the way of common ground. The established firmness in matters of mutual utilization secures one thing above all, namely the means of power of each ally against third parties — they declare their commitment to their allies their highest priority, and grant no such preferential treatment to others. The fact that alliances also have their time limits and are not entered into for eternity only goes to show that being ready to relinquish sovereignty on an ongoing basis does not put an end to the national calculations for which sake the states teamed up in the first place.

Because states have in this manner made themselves very dependent on their established legal relations, they also see the need to impart on these relations a binding effect that ought to emanate pretty much from itself, so to speak. After all, it is none other than they themselves that concede each other rights, but also deny them, and therefore would like to have hold of a lever with which to put a foreign national will on the legal track that suits them best. Here an “international law” performs the required service: with reference to a basic community of interests and a consensus within the imperialist world of states, they fabricate legality for the sake of the national interest where there simply isn’t any. In the name of all nations, one can complain absolutely impartially about “violations” and remind bothersome states of their duties. The regret that the world lacks the force required to enforce many such verdicts may then be taken up by a world power — more details in section III.

3. The progression of authorized “intervention in domestic affairs”

a) The struggle for new treaties

Discontent with the outcome of existing contractual relations prompts states to insist that their treaty partners correct their will, and to extend the field of activity for their diplomacy accordingly. Diplomacy is here responsible for the task of lodging complaints, insisting on rights, declaring an interest in having the contractual relations modified, and inquiring into the other party’s willingness to agree to the conveyed proposals. For this, the joint responsibility for the concerns of the other sovereignty, responsibility it conceded in treaties already concluded, always serves as a point of reference for all newly asserted demands: each agreement, once concluded, is considered as evidence that new suggestions are all-too justified — after all, one is insisting only on the fulfillment of claims that have already been recognized categorically in other agreements. When, for instance, the United States traces the persistent trade deficit with Japan — persistent despite all the “agreements on opening up markets” — back to “trade barriers” of a different kind that just had to exist in Japan, and presses for new agreements, it acts according to this schema. Its interest in the accord with Japan consists in earning more money from and in Japan than before; “opening up markets” is the diplomatic slogan for all measures meant to be instituted to that end; when such earnings fail to materialize, the renewal of the U.S. legal claim takes the form of Japan’s having to see to it that the desired result come about with new authorizations. America’s proposal was met with the diplomatically appropriate answer: on the one hand, its partner referred to the letter of the treaty it had been sticking to and disclaimed all responsibility for its disappointing — for the United States — outcome; on the other hand, it agreed to new negotiations. This response was diplomatically appropriate inasmuch as Japan refers to the existing state of law as being — because agreed upon — valid, emphasizes its own fidelity to the treaty, and intimates that the United States itself had approved the conditions for Japanese economic success. As a prelude to new negotiations, this reference to one’s own legal position serves to demonstrate that one’s own willingness to enter discussions in no way means that one accepts the content of the American request for corrections — hence the discussions proceeded in a correspondingly “tough” and “acrimonious” atmosphere.

The diplomatic technique of invoking existing agreements in placing new demands labors with an obvious contradiction. The claimant refers to yesterday’s arrangements only to invalidate them, being intent on a revision of agreed-upon relations. The old treaty is not at all what the claimant is seriously invoking, but rather the will of the other party, documented therein, to conclude a new agreement on the matter in question. The proposition that the attainment of a sought-after advantage necessarily “follows” from the authorization to seek it is hardly a logical one. Rather, it requires on the part of the opposite party an “insight” of a somewhat different kind: namely, that relations the way it cherishes them cannot continue unless it is prepared to alter them by way of new concessions. This demand, that another power be prepared to correct its exercise of power, makes it the express purpose of newly opened-up negotiations to tie down the foreign sovereignty to one’s own interests, and thus the partner is unreasonably expected to adapt its sovereign will to one’s own. Hence, as always in the formalities of diplomacy, but now more than ever, respect must be shown towards one’s diplomatic contact — in order to make crystal clear that one takes exception to one’s dependence on the other’s will, and in what respect. There are enough instruments and opportunities available to demonstrate a graded variety of combinations of one’s readiness to negotiate paired with intransigence, due respect and at the same time annoyance: the choice of venue, the setting of the agenda, punctual appearance, convenient illness, deliberate indiscretions, and other childish nonsense all become significant here. Therefore no one considers it absurd, and for good reason, when diplomats announce, for instance, that negotiations are progressing well even though the parties have not moved the slightest bit closer to one another.[18]

b) From the right to intervene to the diplomacy of blackmail

The question as to which state will prevail with its creative urge to modify relations, and with how much success, is — as is always and everywhere the case with states — decided by the balance of power between them.

This balance of power comes about as the inevitable result of the practical comparison of the unequal means by which states take up competition and that they thereby seek to increase. It is economic capability, which in this comparison of their capitalistic bases some states possess and others by contrast lack, that is responsible for the quite different results that the nations assess as the benefit they derive from the granted authorization to utilize each other. The circumstance that all parties involved, winners and losers of competition both, are dependent on the undisturbed progress of cross-border commerce, i.e., on the reliability of established treaty relations, ensures that the differing competitive results rightfully turn into rather different types of dependence, which are consequently reflected in the arrangement of relations between states. From the extent to which the sources and means of its power — income, credit, military capability — are already dependent on agreements with others, a state can immediately ascertain how much it has to rely on ongoing relationships with other states. Conversely, a state that has successfully exploited the same relations also has with its success the means at hand to spell dependence the other way around — and is perhaps willing to make the concessions that a state of the first kind urgently needs.[19]

Therefore, when habitual relations of dependence are enlisted in the effort to derive new rights, it is always a matter of blackmail. Whether voiced or not — lurking in the background is the damage that could be inflicted on another state if it does not show itself amenable to one’s own request to condescend to a revision of established treaty relations. It is blackmailed by its own wish to avoid the threatened disruption of established relations or even worse their break-off, in which the extent of the damage that would otherwise occur naturally has a decisive influence on the outcome of the efforts at persuasion. This requires an enormous amount of “diplomatic skill.” For the point of the exercise is not the damage itself — rather, the other party is only to be made aware of the potential for damage in order to continue the mutually useful relations in a corrected form that better serves one’s own advantage. If all this really then ends up as a trade war, diplomacy has again much to do in order to end it, and not just because both parties suffer from the disruption of business. The transition to explicit harm of the other sovereign also brings it into the arena as a power that has to ask itself whether it wants to consider this act as a fundamental assault on the rights long since granted to it by the other state. With that, the entire network of useful agreements on which the dealings between states are based threatens to be called into question — and a backslide of relations to the basic question of whether the right of the other power is at all worth recognizing looms as well.

States are aware of this danger, so they take pains to make the “issues” out of which conflicts of this kind have already arisen or could arise in the future the subject of negotiations and agreements in the diplomatic sphere. For example, it is on such grounds that a “transatlantic economic agreement” between the European Union and the United States comes about, an agreement in which both parties institutionalize a special negotiating forum in order to settle their growing disagreements in this area.

Even the ultimate means of state power, which affect the most sensitive of concerns, their “external security,” become raw material for their diplomatic efforts to preserve the predictability of the other party on the basis of all ongoing relations. Since business is being done with weapons, and indeed on a global scale, there is a need for diplomacy on arms trade. After all, it is by way of their many unofficial, half-official, and highly official armament transactions that states equip themselves with the means that immediately make them worthy of respect as powers. As a matter of principle, then, each export and import of these hot commodities enjoys their highest political attention, and is therefore the subject of diplomatic supervision. The satisfaction of one’s own needs requires constant reappraisal of the supplier one has made oneself dependent upon and from whom one is susceptible to blackmail, since it has accrued rights to intervene in the Holiest of Holies, one’s own sovereignty; and conversely as a supplier one continually appraises the needs of the rest of the world, since one then acquires useful rights and means of blackmail oneself.

c) Diplomatic levers for altering the balance of power

When states pursue the benefits accruing to them from the entitlements of their various relations; when they press their “partners” to permit interference in their affairs by blackmailing them with established dependence — then they on no account intend to be themselves bound by the dependence they have already entered into. On the contrary, the legal standpoint they derive from successes in utilizing others, their right to success, is disturbed by the hindrance of this right always running up against the right of others. Invoking the dependence already established may be common practice, but in no way guarantees the opponent’s approval; instead, the latter feels just as much challenged to question the inherited relations in accordance with its interests. All the same, states continue to cement their successes against their competitors and their superiority over them in treaty provisions, deriving new rights for today and tomorrow from yesterday’s successes: they work on turning their current relationship and its progress into a matter of submission to their legal claims.

The “substantive law” they invoke during negotiations, by which compliance ought to follow from dependence, doesn’t exist, so diplomacy follows the path of blackmailing the party concerned with the established dependent relations and convincing it that these really do prove the inferiority of its rights. The customary threat of withdrawing the authorization the other party relies on is the lever for convincing the sovereign to adapt its will to the conditions of dependence, and, in exercising its sovereignty, to commit itself to the interests one is pursuing oneself. It is presented with the unreasonable demand to consent to its competitor also having permanent co-responsibility for its own internal affairs along with the authorizations and rights of use already granted — and to heed this from now on. The contractual codification of the achieved state of dependence aims at codifying an alteration of the balance of power as it has resulted from the competition between states: to the degree that they have had to accept competitive losses in the material capacity of their power, states are to admit that this justifies a permanent relativity of their sovereignty in the sphere of international relations. They are to accept that their freedom in using national capacities is, as shown by the results of competition, irrevocably relativized; and that their successful colleagues’ shared disposal over them is established instead — colleagues that assign them the remaining role they hence have to play in the concert of powers.

That is what Germany, for instance, has been working away on in Europe. German politicians, with reference to the pre-euro dependence of all the other European nations on the continued successful path of German money, insist on a more extensive subordination of their sovereignty to German interests. They act diplomatically in accordance with the logic that the economic dependence Germany had already created in the EU with its “anchor currency,” the deutsche mark, justified a legitimate German demand that all others fit themselves into a Europe essentially determined by Germany. German Chancellor Kohl’s “undiplomatic,” meaning deliberately stated dictum attacking the other European states’ unwillingness to subordinate themselves, namely that peace would only be secured by European unity, also certainly testified to the frustrations of a leading power that, in its demand for subordination, saw itself dependent on the corresponding willingness of the other states. For that reason, Germany’s politicians celebrated their forcing through of a narrower definition of the “Maastricht criteria” not only as a substantive outcome, but also as a declaration of the other EU states’ willingness to comply with the demanded subordination. This encouraged them to go further, so they announced their abiding will to lead all the other parties right into a German-style “political union” — and the other parties reacted very diplomatically. They combined their declaration of intent to join in on the making of “Europe,” meaning their profession of common ground in the question of Europe, with dissenting proposals regarding the route to unification and the organization of the union, thus insisting with their desire for unity on their right as sovereigns to co-determine the shaping and final form of the new Europe.

In this context, the dispute between the EU and Germany over the paltry subsidies for VW in the German east acquires its second, harsher meaning. Interference in national subsidy policy, which Germany absolutely refuses to tolerate of the part of the EU, is precisely what Germany expressly claims as its right vis-à-vis the rest of Europe. With reference to dependence established in Europe, Germany, brandishing the slogan of arguably overdue “budget consolidation,” denies Italy for instance the right to further subsidize its ailing industries — while at the same time reserving for itself the right to foster industries in accordance with its national site policy. What’s really at stake with the flourishing factories of Saxony is this: they serve as a test case for the fundamental question of which power grants rights to which others in this area, and is able to subordinate them by doing so.

Because established relations are aimed at altering the balance of power between states, they become material for a permanent diplomatic test of the submissiveness of other states: in the stuff of current affairs, but also apart from them, states check the extent to which the other party shows its fundamental willingness to behave in accordance with one’s own interest. How close states get, and want to get, to the fundamental question at stake between them — they are powers intent on subjugating each other — is revealed by their artful demonstration of the reservations they harbor against the rights of other nations. No state wants to see the rights and joint responsibilities it concedes to another be misunderstood as carte blanche for the unauthorized exploitation of the concessions; thus the necessity for a constant reminder that each right granted remains subject to the reservation that it must be authorized. The constant emphasis that one cannot be influenced, thereby rejecting the demand for submission under established dependencies, serves the purpose — just witness Great Britain’s reaction in the matter of BSE. It is therefore completely appropriate that all the proposals sovereigns favorably present to each other are met with the suspicion that, besides their particular content, what is a bit at stake is the clarification of the hot question of what stance the sovereigns take toward each other as powers. States and their representatives have a firm grasp of the fact that demands by other powers for agreement always contain the threat of considering the question of respect for the right of their partner differently if other means fail to impress it. Therefore, every specific point of contention arising between states may trigger a dispute over the respect one state owes or denies another. Conversely, it is only all too natural for states to carry out bitter disputes about nothing else but the question of how much one’s own power is respected in and by the other country. In manifold contortions and with no end of materials out of which it braids the cords of relations, diplomacy thus laboriously works on overcoming if possible the barrier that foreign sovereignty presents to one’s own interests in order to harness it all the better as a lever for them — and the states that give diplomacy its instructions then take stock of its efforts in a rather abstract and simple manner:

4. “The state of relations”

In the continual assessing of the extent to which other powers comply with or oppose one’s own interests, states subject the entirety of the relations they cultivate with each other to an independent evaluation. Apart from their specific calculations of advantages and disadvantages accruing to them from their dealings with other states, and also apart from negotiations over this or that matter, they form an overall opinion on how the interests of their negotiating partners stand vis-à-vis their own, on the degree of basic consensus or dissention existing between them as powers. They note the stance of the other state to the results of their relations and how it deals with them, and summarize the outcome of their assessment in the state of relations existing between the two parties. The state of relations sums up the extent to which a rival has succeeded in subordinating others, i.e., in asserting its right against the claims of others, the extent to which the others tolerate and possibly even accept all established conditions of dependence as a “situation” determining their future actions — or the extent to which they do this only conditionally or even not at all, thus standing in the way of one’s own right with their insistence on their own.[20]

The paramount national interest in knowing the state of compliance and reliability of a foreign partner reduces all forms of substantive and diplomatic dealings to indicators for the basic state of diplomatic relations — the formal code in which these relations are carried out then gives some information about them in its own way. The particular forms in which the exchange of opinions is cultivated, messages are delivered, consultations are suggested and information is exchanged, precisely express the results of scrutinizing the relation of respect to the other sovereign. Silly poses attesting to deference, affectionate kisses and holding hands, but also well-timed impudence and abruptness, are meaningful inasmuch as they express how the parties evaluate the existing balance of congruence and difference in their national interests. The addressee then has to gather from such messages how much importance an opponent places on a current matter of dispute, what significance it assigns to it in the overall bilateral relationship, how much it is in general still interested in coming to mutual understandings, and what changeovers to “conflict resolution” it could let itself be talked into: in short, how much friction exists, due to their current dealings, between it and the very legal relationship that the sovereigns have established between themselves.[21]

Because states continually resort to measures that do not suit the others, i.e., always end up clashing with each other, they must constantly retake stock of the state of relations — optimally at state visits and conferences at the “highest level” that often are arranged solely for this purpose. Particularly when participating states have much to jointly sort out because they pursue conflicting goals in many areas, it is especially important to hold an “exchange of opinions” about the extent to which their joint affairs violate the principle of amicably and fundamentally resolving clashes under recognition of the other party’s legal standpoint.[22]

As long as this principle holds, states are able to boast of “good relations,” at least for the time being and only for the moment, since they themselves already know precisely how fragile these good relations are — after all, everything that they do in and with these relations is apt to undermine the harmony of the legal positions that they have defined as the predicate of the status quo between them. Therefore they — normally — attach great importance to carrying on their various conflicts in such a way as to ensure the good quality of their relationships: even a Germany that derives the right to subordinate Europe from its increased means of power devotes itself to nothing less than the cultivation of all “good relations” existing in the Union.

This is not necessary, however, and sometimes the national interest absolutely demands acceptance of a “worsening of relations.” With this fixed expression, diplomacy refers back to its very starting point in order to get across the message that matters here to the state concerned: it reveals the conditionality of the underlying respect towards the other sovereign and its rights by recalling that it is and always will be an act of permission. It deviates from the principle of equal rights between partners in principle, i.e., of competing legal positions, and instead recalls the unconditional right of its own sovereignty as the basis of any further dealings with its competitors. It elevates a matter to a matter of principle by raising it in another way, namely not from the standpoint of a will that sees itself tied down to mutual consent, but rather in the “undiplomatic,” so-to-speak primitive manner befitting an interest that a nation counts among its unconditional rights.

Herein lies the third, most ticklish meaning of the German approach to the matter of subsidies for Germany’s taking of the East. Without further ado, German politicians interpret a treaty as if the prevailing legal situation in the European Union were the same as a mandate to serve exclusively German interests. At the same time, their sticking to their German legal standpoint undermines the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission in Brussels by overriding the entire political decision process that the European Union members have agreed to — provoking them in both respects to inquire whether they are now to consider the German action as a unilateral abrogation of the EU’s legal status. Being confronted by the German side with the very fundamental question of just how much practical importance their sovereignty has, a sovereignty in which notwithstanding they are still recognized as co-framers of the EU, they have to consider their response. The whole tenor of relations in Europe hinges on it, i.e., on whether and how they themselves elevate this question of principle to a fundamental question of their sovereignty, or whether they prefer to constructively ignore it.

The United States has gone a step further than the Germans in Europe by its overriding of the principle of mutual recognition of national legal standpoints. Relations between this world power and its European competitors have become markedly worse ever since the United States laid down the law in the matter of trade with “terrorist states.” It has decided to give its desire to excommunicate several states from world politics the form of a national law by which foreign companies are to be “punished” for doing business with the proscribed countries. In so doing, it has deliberately broken the basic rule of diplomacy, to amicably consult with other sovereigns when taking measures against them — and thereby put its right above and against all the rights maintained by its imperialist rivals in their relations with the incriminated states. The United States knowingly takes the resulting “worsening of relations” between itself and Europe in stride. Its take on the matter is that the Europeans are the ones to blame, because they have not complied with previous diplomatic efforts to create an American-style consensus. In this case as well, the extent of the worsening depends on the European reaction; on whether they threaten unilateral countermeasures and a bit of trade war; or whether they prefer to invoke the common rules of the WTO and to demonstrate their abiding will to observe established rules of procedure, i.e., to maintain “good relations.” As a precaution, their transatlantic partner has already announced its diplomatic negotiating position, letting it be known that it does not consider itself bound by a finding of arbitration according to WTO “law” that turns out unfavorably.

III. The international culture of civilized dispute and its continuity. A chain of conflicts that are first instigated and then settled for the interim…

States have every reason to keep continuous track of the state of relations they maintain in every direction, and they do well to expend some effort in fostering their relations. By checking and confirming the trust “existing” between them, they assure each other of their willingness to transform all the conflicts arising from their competition into nothing but matters for cooperation. In principle, they consider their conflicting interests to be compatible and view themselves as able and willing to compromise whenever good relations, an excellent atmosphere, and high personal regard between heads of government can be reported in the exchange of letters, in consultations, and on the occasion of state visits.

Governments consider glad tidings of this sort to be appropriate when a thriving commerce has developed over a long period of time, reflected in positive economic balances; common interests toward third parties, especially in matters of force, also bring about that perfect harmony expressed in communiqués as a matter of fact, as if without the assistance of those conferring. However, the confirmation of solid relations is not always an expression of a totally successful partnership, nor an index of satisfaction that the concerns of one nation have become an integral part in another’s calculations. Frequently, talk of (“unchanged”) good relations simply emphasizes the necessity for their continuation in the face of, and in spite of, considerable differences that have come to light in the matter under negotiation. In this case, news of the “state” of relations functions as the imperative of both parties not to neglect, on account of the conflicts that have emerged, the useful dependence they are involved in.

The avoidance of disruptions

is to the diplomatic business what a disaster prevention plan is to a nuclear power plant. All the “matters” states contract about, which turn them into partners, are ultimately of interest to them as means of competition. Everything from customs accords to disarmament treaties revolves around a mutual concession of rights calculated to increase the nation’s power. And as little as states resort to chalking up economic growth achieved by others as a success that compensates for their own dismal economic performance, they are all the more familiar with the polemic character of their machinery of force. That is why diplomats all over the world see themselves not only charged with representing the interests of their country, but also entrusted with the task of issuing a disclaimer with each of their nation’s demands: no proposal intended to make international dealings more useful for their home country comes out without the remark that it is not directed against anybody; every modification of established agreements strives for one’s own benefit — and is proposed along with the assurance that it is not calculated to disadvantage one’s partner. Suggestions for changes to the “status quo ante” always drip with hypocrisy — namely, that the legitimate interests of the other party are still respected and considered, that by all means “relations” continue to be as good as before.

Of course, in all these efforts at maintaining continuity, it is obvious that diplomats, from the ambassador to the foreign minister, always conduct their respectful business with foreign countries rather presumptuously. As it is their business to take critical stock of their negotiations and that of their predecessors with foreign countries — as they effect their own power — they are also always determining what the world of states is entitled to. They are constantly concerned with defining the “legitimate interests” of other sovereigns when taking them into consideration. After all, it is no secret to the craftsmen of imperialism that the capabilities of their state are only as good as what they achieve in relation to those of others.

The creation of disruptions,

the deliberately induced impairment of “good relations,” their explicit denial, therefore also has a permanent place in the business of diplomacy. Whenever the character masks of foreign policy determine that the “status quo” involves an intolerable restriction on their own means of power; whenever they become aware of an imminent or actual change in the balance of power due to advances of another nation — then they resort to an “undiplomatic” form of diplomacy. From the standpoint of violated or endangered rights of their nation, they point out to the foreign country what is not allowed. With fundamental reservations against the right of the foreign sovereign, they call for restrictions in what it is authorized to do; in this they adhere to the form of diplomatic procedures only in that they demand the addressee’s consent to their wishes. The matter that the other sovereign is to condescend to in such cases is tantamount to an admission of guilt. It is called on to renounce a use of its sovereignty classified as illegal.

The relation of mutual recognition between nations is strained to the utmost when a state makes territorial claims on its neighbor. Dissatisfaction with the political map, the claim of sovereign authority over a segment of the population that has ended up under the wrong ruler’s thumb, constitutes uniquely explosive material for peaceful cooperation between nations; sometimes orderly diplomatic haggling thus never even occurs. For decades, the Federal Republic of Germany has been a model achiever in this area, pursuing a diplomacy of nonrecognition and limited acceptance of relations — and even to this day insists on settling outstanding scores with some neighbors, thereby disrupting lots of otherwise desired business between states.

The German example also allows one to study the role played by “history” in the relations between nations — analogous cases of greater or lesser caliber are to be seen in the Aegean, in Latin America, in the Middle and the Far East… History, far from being one “of class struggles,” functions as a source of rights that sovereigns grant themselves and reproach others with. While the establishment and development of useful relations between states requires the recognition of existing borders, history teaches a different lesson: the changes over time in the reach of the power of one and the same state as a result of its armed encounters demand, for sovereigns that got a raw deal in the process, that the old proportions of people and territory be restored.

Like this solid revanchist standpoint, a fundamentalist criticism of the principles of foreign rule enriches the diplomatic scene, too, with many a long-lasting row. Certain nations, with their imperative that “democracy and market economy” are to be kindly practiced everywhere, supplement fundamental respect for other sovereigns’ monopoly on force with their just as fundamental ostracism. This juxtaposition determined the communication between East and West during the decades long “Cold War,” underlining the dubious nature of a status quo called “peaceful coexistence” expressly called for by the East, but declared undesirable by the West — and diplomatic insiders were not the only ones familiar with the fact that their “talking” was devoted to the shooting that was deemed due. The organized hypocrisy of this epoch even went so far as to christen the postponement of the great shoot-out, secured by diplomacy time and again, with the phrase, “securing world peace.” Along with that, there had to be intensive negotiations concerning the course and outcome of not exactly minor wars waged worldwide during this state of affairs.

To the present day, it is not really clear which diplomats actually salvaged world peace. The diplomacy of armament probably deserves the prize. This profession practices the art of considering the “security requirements” of the other party to be on the one hand legitimate, on the other hand not. Equipped with the findings of their espionage, negotiators from both camps set out to reproach each other for their will to wage war; not directly, but rather as a preparedness implied by the capability to wage war existing in weapons and soldiers. This big event, when the hostile parties slapped each other in the face with comparisons of their military capacities, was urgently necessary for making the enemy calculable, i.e., for the war preparations proceeding at full throttle — on the part of the Western side at any rate. In the wake of this, the world public was familiarized with purely ideological linguistic monuments regarding strategies and scenarios for the big showdown.

And finally, diplomacy also carries out the task of setting limits to what other states are authorized to do, i.e., of coming up with dictates that are made convincing by means of threats attached to them — simply insisting on obedience, to be precise. This manner of giving international law a helping hand is based firstly on the finding that certain states are claiming things for themselves they’re not entitled to. Some acquire weapons, for instance, even nuclear ones, in order to better position themselves in matters of “national security,” while others intervene in neighboring conflicts, stirring up the balance of power in the region. In this case, it’s not only a matter of not being democrats, but of terrorists. It is obvious that in such diplomatic definitions lurk loads of force, not calls for peace. Secondly, these types of affairs are based on a superior state’s refusal to tolerate a projected or accomplished increase in foreign power, appointing itself judge and passing strict sentence on any such attempt. Especially now that world peace has been secured at last, international politics is inclined to pattern itself after criminal law. It aggressively counters the attempt of numerous sovereigns to get hold of the means and avail themselves of the same techniques of exerting influence that allowed particular metropolises to gain considerable “weight in world politics.” “Good relations” with those honored with a ban do not matter at all.

By contrast, the diplomats of the few nations at the top of the hierarchy of states have their hands full maintaining their good relations with each other. For the competition between these economic and military partners that — thanks to “globalization” — aims at utilizing the entire world of states has not ceased. And in the acquisition of “markets” and the cooperation of other sovereigns required for that, the exclusivity that a nation’s grasping abroad leads to has not lost its importance despite the end of despicable colonialism. Thus the diplomats of many a great power have more and more opportunities to find a sovereign outlawed by the Untied States to be not so evil after all, and to distance themselves from the U.S. while still assuring unswerving friendship. The great powers — NATO here, the G7 there — have to continually cultivate their relationship a little; whether due to Yugoslavia, in regard to which they all see themselves on an equal footing, but don’t agree at all on the question of responsibility; or whether due to Cuba, China, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Beirut, etc., etc. And quite a bit is left open when an entire economic summit is officially sworn to “terrorism.” But after all, the “open questions” the diplomatic trade thrives on never cease, because it raises them…

The UN, international law, the international community…

It is questionable whether the UN was actually the last thing a competing world of states needed. Given that nations incessantly busy themselves with disputing each other’s rights; given that they handle every right they have granted each other as an instrument for revising it, it seems rather odd that they would desire a worldwide “state of law.” Nor can it be maintained that with the end of a world war, so named because power around the globe was forcefully redistributed, the world of states was seized with a deep yearning for a final codification of the status quo. On the contrary — the big combatants already had in mind some rather big affairs that were in line to revise the situation. And many small sovereigns voiced their needs, some wanted sovereignty for the first time at the expense of others; a good deal of military force was underway.

Actually the decision to establish the UN was intended a bit differently. The competition of the nations was not to cease, but was to take place in a controlled fashion. This invention came about thanks to the desire of a superpower and its halfway capable partners to bring globally regulated dealings with money, as well as impending matters of force, under the sway of some reliable rules that all states had to follow. It was quite important to its inventors that anticommunism in the form of human rights for domestic conduct come into operation at the same time. In this way, the hostility offered up by NATO immediately had its fixed place under the tent of this circus in which, ever since, the irreconcilable interests of all nations are presented by invoking an international law that applies to all.

The fiction, maintained to the present day, that nations only take liberties they are allowed in accordance with higher rules of procedure, was actively taken into account. In view of the fact that everything the other states pursued concerned the great powers anyway, virtually all nations were invited to file their damage reports with this forum on an equal footing and have their rights read to them. At the same time, and bearing in mind the relation between right and might, the idealism of a general assembly inspired by a common spirit and authorized to pass judgment on the permitted and forbidden acts of nations, was supplemented with a bit of realism with the establishment of a security council that was also to pass judgment, especially on the tougher conflicts. These conflicts in particular made it appear advisable to grant the right of veto to those more equal than others within the family of nations.

Ample use was made of this institution; and the fiction of a supreme authority that steps in as a mediator was discredited often enough. Nor did the judgments of the general assembly with its neatly enumerated resolutions achieve the binding character possessed by judicial decisions within a nation. Most frequently, it has been the United States and its allies that managed not to give a damn about the majority decisions of a court that is divided anyway The chronic disparity between appearance and reality reached a recent apex in the managing of the war in Yugoslavia, where for a few weeks the UN was in all seriousness appointed as the supervising power that was to “use” the might of the truly existing powers — until the U.S. again took matters into its own hands as NATO’s leading power.

And yet, none of the many government leaders has ever really declared the UN to be superfluous, even though its resolutions offer no advantage to some, and are ignored by others. The latter, especially the Americans, are probably the closest to considering the entire business to be an ineffectual instrument — but occasionally, even after years of holding back on their contributions, they are also pleased to affix the seal of worldwide approval to the American cause. They allowed their 1990 Iraq war to be rubber-stamped as a mandate of the international community, and the nuclear ban that must be enforced against North Korea and others looks fine when carried out as the execution of an international authority.

The point in all this is not the hypocritical “impression” that a world power leaves when selling its nationalism as nothing but a responsible execution of international law.

The peculiar function of the UN — and its affiliated international organizations — namely lies in the service it offers as a permanently open diplomatic stock market. In a world of states whose “members” claim universal interests, i.e., are active with their money and their influence in all the four fenced-in corners of the world; in a competition in which every nation is “affected” by the undertakings of every other at every meridian, diplomatic relations matter a lot — always and for all sides. In these institutions of capitalist internationalism, one can learn — even from silly resolutions — how the other sovereigns regard one’s own intentions; what caveats and obstacles are to be expected from them, what degree of approval and support can be counted on. And if, after his speech before the general assembly, a foreign minister cares less about the discussion of the international community because once again a few developing countries are sighing for justice by appealing to international law — New York is always still worth a trip. Then the visit to the UN is used for bilateral contacts that matter just now — after all, the needed contacts are all roaming around there…

The services performed by diplomacy

The expenditure for the diplomatic corps, for the foreign minister’s trips, for the arrangements for summit meetings including spouses — does not pay off. But it is necessary. Finding out and assessing the capabilities of other nations, sounding out how they intend to make use of their power, are all necessary in order to calculate the deployment of one’s own means of power. The scouts themselves know best that the success of a nation does not come from the skills diplomats evince in handling the diplomatic code and the UN’s rules of procedure. And they know, notwithstanding their pride, that it is their home country’s industry and gun barrels that enable diplomatic success. The translation of national interests into sheer internationalism is, like all hypocrisy, a question of practice. If they consider both to be the same, then they’ve got it right.

Notes

1 “World history,” especially its more recent chapters, provides some of the finest examples of the function of force and its monopolization as the midwife of every statehood. All past or present state-founding projects make clear — in a positive or negative way — what sovereign statehood depends on in each particular case. Of course, one party in a civil war need not always immediately — as in the Balkans — inflict a defeat on the opposing side by the productive force of terror, and thereby decide the question of power to its own advantage. But it is always this decision alone, the settlement of the competition for the monopolization of the use of force, that lays the foundation for a new statehood and turns a mere will to rule into a state that rules in full sovereignty. In a negative way, the same can be studied from the situation of the current founding of new states on the soil of the former Soviet Union. Due to the special inheritance settlement they agreed upon while dismantling the Soviet state , all of them can claim sovereignty, but in no case can they exercise it properly — because the critical act of foundation of a state, the clarification of the question of power and the establishment of an assured monopoly on force, has not yet been completed.

2 In the many “border disputes” they initiate against each other, monopolists on force reveal how difficult mere co-existence is for them. Just the scope of their power, the banal physical extent of their territory, is anything but a matter of course between them. For them, the question of how far their might can expand and maintain itself coincides with the question of whom they must accept as a power that draws their boundaries, and is thus on principle polemical against every border, whether determined by chance, historical legacy or any other way.

3 Hegel puts an end to the philanthropic idyll of “perpetual peace” by citing the principle prevailing between states of only recognizing themselves as supreme powers and consequently knowing only questions between themselves that are those of the clash of powers. The old philosopher was annoyed about all irrelevant glossing over the contradiction, because his own apologia of power was aimed precisely at the matter:

“Kant represented a perpetual peace secured by a league of nations that would settle every dispute. It was to be a power recognized by each individual state, and was to arbitrate in all cases of dissention in order to make it impossible for disputants to resort to war in order to settle them. This presupposes an agreement among states; this would rest on moral or religious or other grounds and considerations, but in any case would always depend ultimately on particular sovereign wills, and for that reason would remain infected with contingency. It follows that if states disagree and their particular wills cannot be harmonized, the matter can only be settled by war.” (Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, §§ 333 f., Alan White translation, 2002)

4 As it is, these competitors became big and powerful in an “age of imperialism,” a name specifically applied to put some distance from their current doings, because in those days they conquered the spheres of their exclusive control by force alone. They didn’t bother with asking any rulers if they would reorganize their domestic production for moneymaking purposes, and thus submit to the only principle of wealth imperialists accept: they sent over their expeditionary corps, appointed their governors, and just took from their colonies whatever could be used for the growth of their wealth.

5 That is why the foremost priority of newly formed states consists in obtaining recognition from other states. This not only confirms any given distribution of power worldwide, but creates a new situation. Without the formal act of recognition, the states created by the breakup of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union would have forever remained quasi-state “entities” — only as recognized states are they subjects with which a political relationship can be taken up.

6 How complicated relations between states become if one of the parties refuses to recognize the other, yet nonetheless tries to find ways to impose its will upon it, was demonstrated by West Germany’s construct of “special German-German relations.” In its refusal to recognize East Germany, West Germany reserved for itself the right to forcefully revise the borders in effect. From its “claim to sole representation” in the 1950s through the “Basic Treaty” of 1972 and Honecker’s visit in 1987, it unwaveringly insisted on its legal position that its sovereignty had authority over the East German territory, hence East Germany did not exist as a state. Thus none of the relations that nevertheless were desired with this state were allowed to take the otherwise customary form of normal relations between states, nor treated as such — least of all by East Germany. The fact that these relations were desired constitutes the other side of the contradiction of “non-recognition.” After all, East Germany was a not insignificant element of the opposing power bloc that was treated accordingly by the rest of the world, and that West Germany tried to influence according to its own wishes. However, as long as it refused “relations with East Germany,” it had nowhere to address its efforts at exerting influence. Thus was born the exceptional situation of relations without recognition — a historical curiosity that in hindsight demotes many a former chief negotiator on both sides to the rank of spy. Why East Germany got mixed up at all in the construct of relations below the “threshold” of recognition devised by West Germany, well that’s another story.

7 The treaty of recognition of course does not include agreement as such, but rather — very basic and very limited — agreement on the mutual respect of powers; agreement on everything they want from each other still has to be established.

8 Ambassadors set great store by this distinction between an “agreement on certain points” on the one hand, and explicit recognition on the other hand, particularly when feeling compelled to communicate with representatives of states with which they have nothing in common except enmity. So, the confession following an exchange of corpses between Israel and Hezbollah that this exchange would not have come about without Iranian “mediation” had to be promptly shown in its true light by a diplomatic announcement that in no shape or form was any step towards recognizing an “Iranian role in the Middle East” intended.

9 Hegel was already aware of this — and considered it quite normal: “The relation between states is a relation between self-sufficient entities that make mutual stipulations but that at the same time stand above these stipulations.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right § 330 supplement)

10 The notion that this act between states is about “exchange” comes solely from the formalism of a relation of wills in which both parties agree to consider and treat what is conceded in any particular case to be “equivalent” in the light of one’s own national interest to what is obtained. What states reciprocally grant are sovereign rights, so it is absolutely appropriate that the parties balance such seemingly incommensurable things as reparations with the “establishment of diplomatic relations,” or the inspection of weapons factories with the right to sell oil.

11 At the signing of the Dayton Accords (1995) ending the war in Bosnia, the — publicly noted — reluctant facial expressions of the parties to the contract were of course diplomatically intended. All the world had to see the reservation despite which the warring parties had allowed themselves to be blackmailed into agreement.

12 Thus it really takes rather special circumstances — as was the case in the Maastricht Treaty (1992) creating the European Union — for states to agree on a “roadmap,” about which they maintain that they had “tied their own hands,” i.e., renounced their sovereign right of repeal. That this is not really the truth of the matter can be gathered by their mutual warnings about the disputes that could arise if they did not continue to jointly submit to their own resolution. This is how the “European partners” express their awareness of how fundamental the waiving of sovereignty is that they had jointly declared to be the subject of negotiations in Maastricht but which was precisely what they did not agree on.

13 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 26.

14 EU law is binding on the European nations and establishes binding legal conditions for them if and when the members of the Union have made the procedures agreed upon at the supranational level their national law, i.e., have thereby subordinated themselves to the supranational authority in Brussels.

15 “Mr. Schommer [Saxony’s economics minister] explained that it was a matter of a basic policy correction for the new lands, that the decisions for building up the East could not be left to the discretion of the EU Commission.” (Handelsblatt, July 31, 1996). This statement — viewed diplomatically — is an affront, inasmuch as Germany especially insisted on having a higher ceiling for subsidies for its eastern lands written into the Maastricht Treaty, but with that also accepted European control over whether these subsidies are permitted, namely by reason of “disadvantages caused by the division of Germany.”

16 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Article 31.

17 In this connection, a wonderful achievement of German-style interpretation should not be forgotten. At the inauguration of the policy of “détente” with the Soviet Union, the Germans somehow could not avoid offering their opinion on the question of borders and thus of war and peace in Europe. The Russians would have liked to have their peace secured from German revanchism — at least by treaty — and accordingly proposed that the Germans consider “recognizing” the borders in Europe. The Germans refused this because they did not want to relinquish their right to alter these borders, a position with which they were not, however, able to do business with Russian diplomacy. The compromise achieved consisted in the Germans not recognizing anything, but nonetheless “undertaking to respect without restriction the territorial integrity of all States in Europe within their present frontiers” and “declaring that they have no territorial claims against anybody.” (Treaty of Moscow, 1970) Pacta sunt servanda, and for that reason “on the occasion of the signed agreement,” the esteemed Russians were informed in a very brief “letter regarding German unity” exactly what the Germans had agreed to in the signed agreement. They had the honor of asserting that the conceded “inviolability” of all borders did not contradict in the least its continuing political goal of “German unity,” meaning the annexation of East Germany.

18 The diplomatic instrument of an “ultimatum” accompanied by “last minute” negotiations thus enjoys great popularity as a means to stress both the urgency of one’s own concerns and the will to reach an agreement. The inevitability of countermeasures the opposing party would otherwise face is clearly shown, as is the opportunity offered it to come to an understanding. Of course, ultimatums can also be prolonged. And threats ignored by the other party are also sort of ridiculous when one is not interested in the threatened measure oneself.

19 The word “dependence,” often spoken in unthinking moral pretension to characterize the results of imperialist competition, applies in this matter equally to the defeated and victorious nations. There are indeed different ranks in the world of states, with the powerful on one side and the less well-off on the other, and this circumstance also rubs off on the relations prevailing between them — only that “dependence” is not the concept here. The attempt to make of the competitive situation a moral reproach against the few powerful nations by referring to the many “dependent” states has to fail since it is precisely these powerful nations that refer to the dependence they suffer — and from which they then derive a freedom to deal with the less well-off that approaches despotism. This is expressed in that modern slogan of universal dependence under which especially the successful imperialist competitors suffer so much: “globalization of foreign affairs.” This is what nations call the state of affairs where they are accustomed to exploiting the services of the entire world, being in that sense dependent on all others while concerning themselves nonstop with beating them.

20 Here, finally, when diplomacy deals with ascertaining the state of relations between nations, it once again becomes, in all its absurdity, simple and transparent. This comes about because diplomacy, although always a secret matter at the highest level between states, needs to let the people know at least the essence of the dodges it undertakes. For this purpose, it steps off its usual carrousel rotating between childish poses of paying respect and blackmail and summarizes its doings in plaintext: it starts popularizing the interim results from the competition of powers, disclosing publicly how the national interest is faring in foreign policy. It works on educating and maintaining a political public opinion whose entire content is the current state of all the answers to the same old question: where on earth there are obstacles to the right of the nation and especially who places them. Swearing the people to a continual sympathy in good times and bad in this way for matters pertaining to the assertion of the nation against its competitors is hardly the sole privilege of “totalitarian states,” even if they contributed to forming the concept of this sort of public enlightenment, which rightly identifies nothing but the nation’s friends and foes. Public enlightenment and the “public” it requires pertain to every nation in which importance is attached to leadership of the people. It is irrelevant whether this noble task is executed by a dictator and a corresponding state monopoly on “public relations,” or whether it is carried out in a democratic division of labor by a “fourth estate” that at the conclusion of every international political gathering immediately throws light on its “meaning” and “importance” in front of rolling cameras. Yet in their own way, democratic institutions enrich the repertoire of services that diplomacy renders to the national interest. The “separation of powers” permits the representation of the national cause, for which a government makes its policy, from about as many representative standpoints as there are in the democratic bodies that also serve the national cause. Thus the standpoint of what counts as necessity for the nation exists not only the way it is politically executed, but also as a multiplicity of always only more or less affirmative declarations of belief in its political execution — about which the public becomes important as a mouthpiece of the national interest alongside official diplomacy, and is attentively observed by those concerned. The other “independent powers” of a democratically constituted nation are in this sense also useful for foreign diplomatic missions. It is in fact not the prime minister of a republic who authorizes a warrant of arrest for a foreign head of government, but rather the “independent judiciary”it drafts a national caveat that can be applied diplomatically by him. And if a rejection is to be politely issued, the same “legislature” that makes the law exercises its authority by referring to the “existing state of law” that simply doesn’t allow for any other response. Even the people — generally held to be the sovereign in a democracy — have the honor of a role on the diplomatic stage — as an authority that is diplomatically referred to. For example, a concession in some negotiation or other is simply impossible due to widespread “public opinion” at home.

21 The necessity of being informed about the other power’s fundamental assessment of mutual relations provides diplomatic missions the interesting task of sniffing out the host country’s current intentions from all conceivable circumstances and to report back on all this — a civil, ubiquitously desired and respected branch of “reconnaissance abroad” alongside the other branch, which by the way does not thereby become superfluous.

22 Therefore nothing is more childish than the remark that — possibly “once again”“nothing was achieved” at a G7 meeting. The great powers, being dependent on each other in matters of utilizing and controlling an entire world economy and consequently constantly clashing with each other, especially need to come to a understanding of the overall balance of conflict and compatibility between them at a given moment.

Editor's notes

* Democratic societies normally reject a reason of state because they simply can’t conceive of a state having aims of its own, or if so, only as the result of the development of contentious political opinion among the citizenry. But when moral-political expectations of citizens are disappointed, or important private interests are damaged by the authorities, or when secret acts of national security are carried out, such things are right away thought necessary in the interest of the state. In these cases, democratic citizens somehow or other do recognize an overriding, own interest of the political power that is not subject to democratic majority decision nor derived from it. But while they come up against the reason of state from time to time, they obviously are not interested in its content and logic. For democracies only function as such as long as the reason of state is not in dispute, doesn’t have to be made an issue and above all doesn’t have to be justified. The present article elucidates this content; it is always referring to it when it mentions ‘reason of state.’ [ed.]

“Mad cow” disease: on March 27, 1996, the European Commission imposed a worldwide ban on British beef exports; the UK then mounted a legal challenge to the ban. [ed.]