Dr. Lilyblad appears to relish a good debate and, give recent bouts of 'economic nation branding', he wonders whether Luxembourg has a coherent foreign policy stratagem.
Lively debates on foreign affairs are rather rare in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. Indeed, given the fickle rambling about human rights and European integration, sprinkled with some economic nation branding, one is often left to wonder whether Luxembourg even has a coherent foreign policy strategy. For this reason, I particularly welcome Mr Vogel’s intervention regarding Luxembourg’s stance on the Venezuelan crisis and the ensuing debate that it generated.
I even agree with the essence of Mr Vogel’s conclusion that Luxembourg should resist being blindly co-opted into following American doctrines imposed on the West’s foreign policy intelligentsia. This is particularly important in a multipolar global context where interests defined by the current American foreign policy establishment are increasingly less aligned with European priorities and interests.
Nevertheless, the logic and argumentation by which he arrives at this conclusion clearly reveal a selective historical memory, underwhelming reflection on the intricacies of diplomacy within the contemporary international system, and a rather naïve ideological moralism. All seem rather uncharacteristic of Mr Vogel’s sharp mind and sharper tongue.
To begin with, Mr Vogel takes issue with Luxembourg’s alignment with US policy based on the US historical role in the economic exploitation of Latin America. While the US certainly has benefitted from Latin America’s natural resources and the local political regimes that facilitated this, one should not throw stones from a glass house. Indeed, if history is to set our moral compass, it is worth recalling that the Monroe doctrine (1823) and the Roosevelt corollary (1904) – that created the institutional basis for longstanding US policy in Latin America – were designed to displace European economic exploitation of the region, not via propped-up dictators but under direct colonial administration.
History aside, let’s not forget that France remains the only ‘western’ state that still exercises direct sovereign control over a South American territory, the Department of Guiana.
Furthermore, Mr Vogel still seems to be locked into the left-right spectrum reminiscent of Cold War ideologies. In his response to critics, he particularly evokes the heroism of the Soviet Union in the liberation of Europe to countenance claims to moral superiority often attributed to the US. However, failing to avoid the trap of the debate’s false premises, beyond his rhetorical semantics lie hidden misguided logics of moralism and ideology.
While the US has, quite successfully, leveraged the ‘liberation of Europe narrative’ and subsequent reconstruction efforts as a foreign policy instrument, it is important to see this for what it is: a legitimation mechanism veiling rationalist and interest-driven approaches that have long guided US foreign policy – and, for that matter, Soviet/Russian foreign policy. In fact, given the evolution of Russia’s foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, it seems we’re all corporatists now!
Finally, though Mr Vogel rightly criticizes those who want to justify alignment with the US on historical moral terms, he nevertheless implicitly leaves the door open to moral absolutes with universal validity in international conduct. This is problematic because, within the contemporary rationalist system (a.k.a. iron cage) that humans, via their respective states, have themselves constructed, incentives for nation-states to pursue their own material interests will necessarily be greater than any moral principles. Indeed, as Henry Kissinger claimed in Diplomacy: “A country that demands moral perfection of itself as a test of its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security.” As such, I urge strong precautions when assigning moral values to foreign policy analyses as this may lead to self-deception and delusion.
In short, asking whether alignment with US-led intervention in Venezuela is justified via myths of universal morals or ethical absolutes is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask whether it is in the interest of Luxembourg to support an interventionist policy that violates the principle of sovereignty?
This is important because, as the primary constitutive rule on which our contemporary international system rests, sovereignty presents the institutional foundation of Luxembourg’s survival as an independent state. Whether undermining the principle of sovereignty is in Luxembourg’s interest, not who holds the ever-shifting moral high ground, would be the correct framing of the debate.
Christopher Marc Lilyblad, Ph.D., is CEO of Lilyblad SDG Consulting and lecturer in Sustainable Development at the University of Luxembourg. He is the author, most recently, of “NGOs in Constructivist International Relations Theory” in the Routledge Handbook of NGOs and International Relations, available in March 2019.