Research Fellow, University of Auckland, New Zealand


`Security dilemmas are not acts of
God: they are the effects of practice'. This comment by Wendt
(1995:77), encapsulates one of the key ideas implicit in the idea of
constructive engagement. It draws attention to a major contribution
of the model, the fact that the context in which security issues
emerge is a major constituent in the process. However in the past
this insight has not been fully developed. It has either been
neglected or proven difficult to put into practice in the political

Constructive engagement, as an
approach to security and strategy concerns, first emerged as an
American response to the problem of its relationship with South
Africa between the 1970s and 1985 (Coker, 1986). It was adopted, as a
foreign policy, in a world in which the Cold War and the nuclear
deterrent shaped the security debate and policy initiatives. The
nuclear balance of power was essentially controlled by the two

This policy was a way of dealing with
the contentious debate over sanctions and the isolation of South
Africa demanded by the liberal constituency in the West at this time.
It provided an alternative and mediating strategy that recognised the
illegitimacy of the apartheid regime, and so acknowledged and
responded to the concerns of the domestic lobby in the USA, but
avoided isolating South Africa. Rather the objective was to use the
continuing relationship, and the inclusion of South Africa in the
western international community, to influence its internal policies.

Constructive engagement has been
extensively criticised (Coker,op.cit.: Skinner,1986) and is generally
regarded as having failed to deliver the anticipated benefits. It was
practised in a different world, one in which security was based on
the balance of power, the processes of globalization were not so
advanced, the world not so closely integrated economically,
communication systems not so developed and the nuclear armament more
clearly controlled by the two superpowers. In this context it was
part of a bilateral strategy but with regional implications.

It was applied to a security problem
that had its genesis in a moral issue seen as potentially
destabilizing as well morally repugnant. Among the questions to
consider, in any discussion of the relevance of this approach in
today's world, is whether it can be effectively used in a more
complex context, in a unipolar global system (Mastanduno, 1997). Also
is it possible to use it for addressing not only moral issues and
questions of political change, for which it was historically used,
but the more traditional security concerns, such as the nuclear
proliferation in Asia and the Middle East, and inter and intra state
ethnic conflicts. It is interesting that the two most recent examples
of the use of the ideas and assumptions of constructive engagement
have been have been in relation to human rights issues in Burma and
China. So whether this approach has a wider usefulness as a security
and foreign policy strategy is an issue that needs to be considered.



Constructive engagement cannot be
called a theory. It is rather a method or process for implementing
policy and as such can be and has been used by realist or liberal
strategists. This is illustrated by American policy between 1968 and
1985, a period ranging from the Nixon Kissinger years through the
Carter epoch, which defined human rights a foreign policy concern, to
the Reagan years when the model was most explicitly set out by
Crocker. Despite this versatility it begins from certain identifiable
premises which mark it as a distinctive approach.

The basic underlying idea is that
there is a middle way for addressing foreign policy and security
concerns that lies between isolation and more direct confrontation.
In this sense it is a pragmatic response to security dilemmas. It is
part of a group of approaches, strategic engagement, critical
dialogue, or the Japanese concept of `quiet diplomacy' which overlap
in their assumption that inclusion, dialogue and negotiation are more
effective in securing foreign policy objectives than exclusion or
overt coercion. (President Clinton's televised debate with Premier
Jiang Zemin, during his recent visit to China can be seen as fitting
into this approach and as a response to his domestic constituency, an
important element in the policy process in a democracy). The adoption
of constructive engagement in American foreign policy vis a vis South
Africa was based not on the validity and strength of the argument for
exclusion, and the imposition of sanctions, but rather on an
assessment that sanctions were ineffective (Coker, op.cit.).

Constructive engagement offers an
alternative approach to security dilemmas. It is significant that it
has been developed and implemented by foreign policy institutions.
This is one of its distinctive characteristics as a security
response. It offers a political response to a security issue rather
than a military one. As such it corresponds more closely, in its
approach, to contemporary understandings of the complexity and
multifaceted character of modern security dilemmas in a unipolar
global world. These are expressed in concepts such as comprehensive
security, cooperative security and common security. They all
emphasise that security, and stability in which security is grounded,
is affected by the inter-dependence between economic, social, and
environmental factors as well as political and military.

Crocker (1980), argues that
constructive engagement is based on the premise that it is possible
to mediate to apply pressure that will result in constructive change.
This requires that contact is maintained. The focus of the approach
is on the process, the dynamics of internal change, rather than the
ultimate objective. The latter can, ultimately, be assumed to be
based on self interest, however this is defined in the specific
context. The emphasis is on evolutionary rather than revolutionary or
abrupt and radical change. So this approach envisages a sequence of
orderly and inter-related change. It recognises that change can be
destabilising and attempts through constructive pressure, to ensure
that it occurs in an orderly process. In South Africa and again in
Burma and China the maintenance of order and stability, internal and
regional, through sequential evolutionary change rather than radical
change was the ideal. At the same time there was recognition that the
existing situation by its nature threatened internal and regional

Two important distinctive elements of
this approach stem from this premise. The first is the requirement
for an active and interventionist strategy. The second is the
explicit cooption of economic policy, commercial interests and trade,
to further security and foreign policy objectives.

Constructive engagement assumes
involvement in the internal affairs of another state as the middle
way between confrontation and isolation. In reality the line between
`constructive' involvement and intervention can be difficult to
maintain. Without a degree of pressure for change, and inducements to
do so, the policy can be seen to lead to accommodation. It can be
interpreted by the recipient regime as providing legitimacy and
support for its policy. Explicit intervention and pressure for change
raises the problem of interference in the internal affairs of an
autonomous sovereign state.

In practice constructive engagement
has usually combined the carrot and the stick. Inducements to change,
in the form of trade concessions, loans and other incentives have
been accompanied by clearly defined and limited negative conditions.
These have included arms embargo or limiting aid funds to NGO
projects rather than government programmes.

The rejection of the use of sanctions
to isolate a state is rooted in assumptions about their
effectiveness. These include the difficulty of effectively applying
sanctions and ensuring compliance with them in a global society in
which economic and political interests are interdependent in their
effects but operate separately, the problem of establishing a direct
link between economic sanctions and political change to justify their
use, the fact that they are frequently seen as illegitimate by the
recipient population so create ill will and lastly the fact that they
often have their most damaging impact on those most vulnerable in the
society (Coker,op.cit). One of their major benefits is that they can
express moral condemnation of a government that acts contrary to
international norms. In this case they have a valuable moral and
symbolic function, particularly in the state that initiates the
sanctions. They are a response to domestic lobby groups and NGOs that
in Western democracies form a powerful constituency.

Despite the argument that the failure
of sanctions shows the lack of a clear causal link between economic
deprivation and political change constructive engagement assumes that
economic and trade inducements and benefits can help bring about
political change. Commercial interests, trading and financial
concessions are used to integrate the state into the wider community
of nations. It is assumed that this creates an effective context for
negotiation and so a means of exerting pressure for political change.
The idea is to use economic cooperation not to impose a particular
pattern of change but make the state in question realise the need to
change and the advantages of doing so.

The policies of Thailand, Japan,
Singapore and America in relation to Burma demonstrate this
assumption (Bray, 1995). The increasing integration of the global
economy and growth of financial investment flows, particularly direct
private investment, means that this pattern is likely to persist.
However if the economic pressure is seen as threatening sovereignty
it can have little influence on political change, or even have a
negative impact. Yet without explicit attempts to use economic links
to mediate or bring pressure for change the economic support and
involvement of outside states is likely to be taken as support for
the regime. This is the case in Burma and it is compounded by the
reluctance of ASEAN nations to confront differences when they involve
the internal policies of another state. So if constructive engagement
is to be effective it must find a delicate balance between excessive
pressure and accommodation.



As an alternative approach to
security, based on creating a framework which facilitates negotiation
and mediation to resolve an internal problem that is seen as
potentially destabilizing, constructive engagement would appear to
provide a useful and effective policy strategy. It recognises the
complexity and changing nature of the contemporary security dilemma,
focuses on process and the dynamics of change and allows for
theoretical pluralism, useful in the flux and ambiguity of a post
modern world. It also focuses on a political rather than military
solution. Yet there is a consensus that it has failed to deliver its
promise (Coker, op.cit.; Skinner, op.cit). This is a consequence of
both problems in the model and in its application.

Some of the difficulties in the model
stem from the focus on process rather than objectives, and on the
dynamics of internal political change as an evolutionary process that
can be influenced by an external state. Because generally this model
did not define specific ends, or clarify the nature of the
relationships involved between the economic and political dimensions
of change, it has little predictive power. Unless the objectives the
process is designed to attain are clearly identified it is difficult
to put in place a process to achieve this or to demonstrate the
successes of the policy. In a democracy clarity of objectives and the
ability to show progress in attaining them is necessary to create and
maintain a national consensus or majority support for a particular

This is important when the policy in
question runs counter to the normative values of the society and can
or will offend significant domestic lobby groups. This is
particularly the case when human rights are involved. In a democracy
the domestic constituency is an important element in the process of
developing policy and forging a national consensus. Given the
emergence of international NGOs and pressure groups, who use modern
communications to place their concerns on the international agenda
and stimulate global networks of support to put a spotlight on the
issue, this is an important referent and element in the policy
context. It must be taken into account. If the concerns of this
constituency are not addressed the policy risks being seen as a
process of accommodation which benefits both parties, providing
legitimacy to the `problem' state and possible economic benefits to
the external state. Public pressure can force the a policy change.

One possible solution to this
difficulty is to clearly set out a series of benchmarks and a
timetable to achieve them as a way of clearly linking integration and
engagement with internal political reform. Bray (op.;cit.:55), notes
proposals for such a process in regard to Burma. For such an
initiative to be effective it must be agreed by all the external
powers involved, and be transparent so that progress can be
monitored. Otherwise it allows for manipulation.

Constructive engagement emerged as a
bilateral policy but the underlying assumption was that the domestic
politics of the state in question had the potential to disrupt
regional stability. In the global world of today it would appear that
a regional, or multilateral approach would be more effective. This
also would recognise the fact that although the contemporary global
system is uni-polar in the regional context balance of power
politics, and balance of threat as a strategy for dealing with a
security problem, has a continuing pertinence. This is the case in
the current Pakistan, India, China nuclear dilemma. A regional or
multilateral approach would be compatible with the growth of an
international civil society and the international constituency of
referent groups.

The development of a timetable of
progress for political change overcomes the problem of the lack of
understanding of the internal dynamics of change and lack of a causal
nexus between economic development and political change. No necessary
correlation between the two dimensions has been established although
it is generally accepted that over time, in a global world, the trend
is towards more democratic states. The over-riding security concern
of the constructive engagement model was to manage change, which was
seen as inevitable, so that it did not become destabilizing. Hence
the emphasis on the process rather than the ends. However in the
global world of today, in which communication is a central factor and
knowledge of other ways of life and possibilities is a constituent
element, ends must be more specifically defined. The establishment of
an agenda for change, specifying goals and processes, in a
progressive sequence, establishes a series of links between economic
cooperation and political change and allows the external
constituencies to measure progress.

In terms of the application of the
model, an effective policy of constructive engagement must confront
the ambiguities and dilemmas inherent in the premise of intervention
in the internal affairs of a sovereign state that is implicit in the
model. A regional or multilateral approach could provide a more
effective way of dealing with this problem. Intervention, in this
model is not seen as a deterrent, nor as overt coercion. Rather it is
to encourage and facilitate compliance within an accepted
international normative framework, although this compliance will also
serve the interests of the state exerting pressure. Intervention, in
these cases is integrated into the process of establishing agreed
benchmarks as part of a sequential pattern of change.

Such benchmarks cannot be imposed on
the society in question. Rather they must emerge through dialogue and
consultation in a process that assists the state in question to
confront the inevitability of political change and begin the process.
Further they must be made transparent.

A publicly accountable multilateral
system of working with the state in question to establish a process
of change could overcome some of the problems inherent in the notion
of intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another.
Multilateralism, as Ruggie (1992), notes operates on expectations of
`diffuse reciprocity' as against bilateral policies which divide and
compartmentalise relationships. A multilateral approach locates the
process within the international system, in conformity with
internationally agreed norms, rather than as the initiative of one
more powerful state over another. The recent Commonwealth initiative
in relation to Nigeria exemplifies this pattern. Determining and
implementing the process must remain the responsibility of the
national state. However the multilateral framework, regional or
international, can facilitate the process and make it easier for the
state to accept change by providing support, assistance as required
and `carrots' when necessary.

A further major difficulty that
emerges in the application of the model relates to another dimension
of the intervention dilemma. This concerns the modalities of the
process. In the three previous cases, South Africa, Burma and China,
demands for the adoption of a policy of constructive engagement
resulted from global public outrage at the political system and
widespread pressure for change. This pressure was reinforced by
alliances that developed between NGOs and lobby groups in the
external states and pressure groups in the state in question. However
the external states, attempting to facilitate internal change in
another state have problems in finding appropriate structures and
groups in the state in question capable of effectively bringing about
fundamental change. By definition the government is committed to the
current system.


Effectively, these internal pressure
groups, that could provide structure for facilitating change, usually
oppose the government but are denied legitimacy by it. So the
external states compound the problem of intervention if they attempt
to coopt these groups to bring about change. In any case since
communications between states is normally through official channels
external states may not have the necessary knowledge or contacts
among dissident or opposition groups. So the adequacy of structures
and institutions capable of implementing change, or committed to
change, is a major practical problem (cf Bray, op.cit.;
Coker,op.cit.; Skinner, op.cit.).



The complexity of security dilemmas
today is rooted in the inter-dependence between the economic,
political, cultural, social and environmental systems, globally and
nationally, and the erosion of state power. This means that no
monocausal solution or explanation is possible. Wendt's (op.cit),
comment that security dilemmas are the consequences of practice draws
attention to the fact that security problems are socially embedded
and socially constructed. This social constructionist approach
complements liberal or realist theories, by providing a way of
understanding the process through which security dilemmas are
created. It adds a critical theoretical perspective to the model
which extends its analytical and explanatory power.

This approach assumes that structures
are made up of three elements, shared knowledge (and ideas), material
resources and practices. Structure emerges and is maintained as a
result of processes in which these three factors interact. They are
not then purely material. Ideas and knowledge, embodied in practice,
are integral elements. These structures in turn shape and influence
the identities and interests of the actors. Wendt, (op.cit.:73),
argues that a security dilemma emerges when a lack of trust among
states leads to a structure in which worst case assumptions are made
about the intentions of other states. So it is based on a
mis-interpretation of intentions. Interests become defined in terms
of the maintenance of self help. A security problem is the outcome.
Security communities, are he maintains made up of a different
structure in which shared knowledge builds confidence and trust
between states so they can resolve conflicts peacefully.

This perspective brings together
material factors and ideas in the construction of social practices
through which states interact and seek to maintain their interests.
The resultant social structures can constrain or facilitate change.
These processes, internal and external, shape the collective
identities of the participants, and by definition the identities of
the outsiders, who may be defined as the `enemy' (Hansen, 1997). This
becomes an integral element in the maintenance of national stability
vis a vis other states and nations. The model, although it has little
predictive value, allows us to explore the way in which the processes
of interaction produce and maintain cooperation or conflict and
structure relations between nations and groups. It suggests that the
way in which states interpret the context is part of this social
construction. This then becomes a significant element in the
assessment and interpretation of situations as posing a security
dilemma. It gives us a model for analyzing the social construction of
international politics.

The value of this `structuralist'
perspective is that it includes ideas and knowledge as active
elements in social practices through which interaction is channelled
and security maintained or threatened. It appears to add a useful
dimension to the model of constructive engagement by drawing
attention to the structure of the social context in which security
problems are embedded. As Buzan (1997), notes it draws attention to a
wider range of referents. It applies equally to the state in
question, the `problem' state, and those attempting to address the
problem. It therefore calls for a degree of reflexivity to understand
the way in which the reciprocal process by which the ideas and
practices of all the states involved become constituent elements in
the security discourse and affect the interpretation and resolution
of the problem (Ruggie, 1997).

So I would suggest that the inclusion
of knowledge and values as constituent elements of the social
structure, and focus on the process of constructing and interpreting
social reality, provide a broader understanding of the context. This
adds to the constructive engagement approach. However, we have seen
that it has been primarily used in relation to moral issues that were
seen as threatening stability, specifically in relation to human
rights issues that suscited strong external pressure groups. Given
the emergence of nuclear proliferation, particularly in the Asian
region, as the critical security problem, we need to consider whether
the model of constructive engagement can be useful in dealing with
more traditional security issues.

The recent series of Pakistan and
Indian nuclear tests is a case in point. The external world was not
able to prevent the Pakistan test despite condemnation of India's
actions and the suggestion of inducements to Pakistan if it did not
follow India's example. The external world interpreted the issue in
terms of their material interests in limiting global nuclear
proliferation and avoiding the possibility of overt conflict between
two adjoining nuclear powers. The response of these states, in
particular the G7 nations, was determined by their specific interests
in the region.

The interpretation of the context by
the states directly involved, Pakistan and India was different.1/ The
security crisis emerged in the context of an aggravation of the
unresolved conflict between the two states over Pakistan, aggravated
primarily by the actions of the currently more nationalistic Indian
government. This ongoing issue provided the framework for a context
which conformed to Wendt's model of a social structure in which a
security dilemma emerges.

Within the wider regional context
India interpreted its position between two nuclear states, China and
Pakistan as creating insecurity. Pakistan viewed the increasing
emergence of India as a world power, economically and in terms of
discussions of its permanent membership of the Security Council as
increasing its global influence, which was already perceived, in
Pakistan, as extensive. Internal Pakistan politics were an active
element in the construction of the crisis. All the opposition parties
pressured the government for a strong response to India's test. This
included the fundamentalist Moslem groups as well as the two major
opposition parties. This `unified' pressure meant that the government
risked being overthrown unless it tested. Major financial, trade and
aid concessions from the outside world together with a stronger
condemnation of India from the G7 may have provided leverage for the
Pakistan government to refrain. But the external reaction to India's
test were interpreted by Pakistan as insufficient.

The construction of collective
identity became a significant factor in the escalation of the
dilemma. Public debate about the economic benefits to Pakistan if it
refrained from testing, were widely interpreted as an insult to
Pakistan autonomy and authority a implying it could be bought off. At
the same time the nuclear tests were interpreted as signifying a
change in the global status of both Pakistan and India in that their
tests showed they had equalled the achievements of the
technologically advanced states. Nuclear bombs were seen as symbols
of prestige and the basis of claims for international recognition of
changed status (Singh Sidhu, 1997). National pride and national
identity became constituent elements in the social construction of
the political crisis.

This brief overview of some of the
elements in the internal debate that concluded in the Pakistan
nuclear test shows the way in which an analysis of the context as
socially constructed can aid in the understanding of the roots of the
dilemma, from the perspective of the protagonists. This opens up
several potential avenues for addressing the issues as a continuing
process and for identifying areas of negotiation and potential
cooperation. But it does not allow us to predict the outcome. However
it is clear that an active multilateral approach to the crisis,
inclusionist rather than exclusionist, and drawing on insights from a
critical constructionist approach, offers greater potential for
progress. It would recognise the nuclear reality and problem of
regional balance of power and changing regional balance of threat and
within this context seek to identify areas for negotiation.

Nuclear proliferation is the major
security dilemma in Asia Pacific today. Although the immediate
problem concerns South Asia this is an Asian wide problem. It needs
to be addressed through using existing international mechanisms, and
drawing on insights from constructive engagement rather than using
exclusionary tactic or overt coercion. This means recognising the
importance of the social context in creating the dilemma and finding
policies to address these broader problems as well as the immediate
technical nuclear problem.

The other major security concerns in
Asia relate to the economic crisis and human rights. The problems of
the economic crisis are too complex to be addressed in this paper.
But it must be noted the global and regional ramifications of this
crisis have been recognised. This is shown in the adoption of
regional and multilateral inclusionist approaches. However the
solutions have tended to ignore or neglect the resulting problems of
internal deprivation, human insecurity and instability.

The question of human rights remains
a difficult issue not only because its solution requires active
intervention to achieve fundamental political change but also because
of the difference in the approach to human rights between Western and
certain Asian governments. However constructionist approach provides
a framework for understanding and grounding these different
interpretations, the basis for negotiation and change. ASEAN (Leifer,
1996), provides a starting point for a multilateral approach to
security in the region. It would seem to be well placed to tackle the
issue of human rights in Asia. However its mode of operation, and
reluctance to confront differences and become involved in internal
affairs of its members, limits its potential. Its contribution
however is not negligible. It creates a context of understanding and
cooperation which provides a climate of cooperation and trust, the
basis for the establishment of a security community, to use Wendt's
(op.cit), term and facilitate negotiation and involvement. Its
broader approach to questions of regional stability, based on
comprehensive security and national resilience, provide a starting
point for indirectly influencing the sequential process of change,
linking economic change and political development.

The ASEAN contribution to regional
security is indirect rather than through direct constructive
engagement. The Asian Regional Forum, a wider grouping then ASEAN,
was established specifically to deal with security issues. Although
it has adopted an ASEAN approach to security it provides the
potential for more active involvement, particularly through in the
construction of a security community based on confidence and trust,
within which security problems can be addressed. It has the potential
to evolve into a useful multilateral mechanism that can
constructively engage in security issues in the wider Asia Pacific.



The model of constructive engagement
has not so far fulfilled its promise. However in the contemporary
global context its inclusionist approach and emphasis on negotiation
and active involvement to facilitate change provides the most useful
model for dealing effectively with security dilemmas. If this is
combined with a constructionist perspective of the security context
as socially constructed, it would increase its analytical power and
aid our understanding of the genesis of security dilemmas and the way
they are interpreted by the protagonists. This could open up further
avenues for negotiation and intervention. As an interventionist
approach the model is more effectively applied through a multilateral
rather than bilateral framework. The former avoids the potentially
divisive problem of unequal bilateral power relationships and by
providing a unified, approach reduces the possibility of manipulation
and accommodation. Transparency is a vital element in the model and
allows for the incorporation of pressure groups in the domestic and
international constituency who provide significant and powerful
referent groups in the contemporary security context.



1.This analysis is based on personal
observations during a visit to Pakistan over the period of the
nuclear tests.



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