Since taking office in December 2019, the government’s foreign policy has become increasingly erratic. It is not clear what idea of global order it responds to, nor how it contributes to the development agenda. This lack of direction is a deficit for the country, which in order to grow needs to recover international credibility to attract investment and increase exports.
In an increasingly interdependent world, a country’s international integration model is central to its development strategy . A pragmatic foreign policy, which looks at the world as an opportunity, pushes the frontier of possibilities of a country’s development agenda. On the contrary, a contradictory, ideologized foreign policy decoupled from the most urgent needs costs external confidence and limits present and future growth.
Foreign policy can be seen as a stock of capital that can be invested in future development or can be used to alleviate conflicts within the ruling coalition. In the second case, foreign policy is consumed because the positions assumed respond to different identities in conflict, with which they become contradictory or over-ideologized to obtain majority support within the coalition. Thus, the capital stock is consumed, the country loses strategic relevance in the global order and foreign policy moves away from the development strategy.
The first option, which could be called intelligent international insertion, was the one taken by the government of Mauricio Macri between 2015 and 2019. Marked by pragmatism but without compromising the constitutive elements of our identity as a country, it promoted a diversified policy, supported by a definition clear of the place that we could occupy in the international concert and in a vocation to expand the opportunities of commerce and investment.
To end the isolation of previous years, diplomacy worked to regain participation on the international stage, rebuild trust in multilateral arenas, and strengthen our commitment to international economic cooperation. Some milestones in multilateral matters include the organization of the G20, the 11th Ministerial Conference of the WTO and the PABA+40. Progress was also made at the bilateral level: the relaunch of the relationship with the United States, the deepening of the Comprehensive Strategic Association with China (including two reciprocal State visits and the signing of 45 agreements), the holding of four presidential meetings with Russia, where the Comprehensive Strategic Relationship was deepened, and the level of the relationship was raised to Strategic Association that was achieved with Japan and India.
The contrast with current foreign policy is clear. The constant denunciation of human rights violations and authoritarianism in Venezuela in different regional and multilateral forums is opposed by the resignation of the Lima Group, the withdrawal of support for the lawsuits against Maduro in the International Court of Justice and the abstentions in the OAS in relation to Nicaragua. This ambiguity conspires against our democratic identity.
In terms of international economic insertion, in 2019, and after 20 years of negotiations, the EU-Mercosur agreement was concluded, which once ratified will open the doors to a market of 800 million people. Negotiations with the European Free Trade Association were also concluded, negotiations with Canada, Korea and Singapore advanced, and more than 250 new markets were opened for our products. On the other hand, the government of Alberto Fernández, who as a candidate had denounced the agreement and demanded its renegotiation, maintained an erratic position with respect to Mercosur during these two years, which led to disputes with Brazil and Uruguay. These disagreements weakened the bloc’s ability to be a great negotiating platform for its members.
Openness, pragmatism, coherence, consensus
A foreign policy in accordance with our development needs must contemplate some basic elements: openness, pragmatism, coherence and consensus.
Openness implies seeing the world as an opportunity, not as a threat, and the ability to understand the processes of change and the international scenario. The global order is in transition: decades of Chinese growth have significantly increased its prominence, which in turn has led to growing rivalry with established powers. The nature of this rivalry is totally different from that of the Cold War, since the economic interdependence between the two powers is greater, and the Chinese leadership seeks to build itself within the current structure of international governance. Argentina will have to process this new balance and its trends to make decisions regarding the incorporation of technology, security and investment attraction, to mention just a few issues.
Second, foreign policy must be consistent with the comprehensive development strategy. For this, it needs to internalize two categorical imperatives: economic growth and well-being of citizens. A foreign policy that is contradictory and decoupled from these objectives at a minimum becomes irrelevant and, at a maximum, becomes a burden. The Argentine decision to seek the pro tempore presidency of CELAC, negotiating for this the support of countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, while at the same time seeking the support of the United States before the IMF, speaks clearly of a lack of coherence .
The same can be said of the President’s decision to pay an official visit to Russia at a time when Putin is building up troops on the border with Ukraine and significantly increasing tension with the United States and its allies. The trip seems more the consequence of a game between factions in conflict than a strategic foreign policy decision consistent with the most urgent needs of the country.
Pragmatism is understanding the place that the country occupies in the international arena, where the possibilities of foreign policy derive from. It also implies taking advantage of opportunities beyond the ideological orientation of our potential partners. As Benjamin Disraeli said, a country has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Argentina must relate to all the countries of the world to the extent that this advances the national interest. You do not have to choose between traditional powers or emerging powers, but understand which partners you need for each foreign policy issue .
That does not mean abandoning the constitutive principles of our identity as a country. On the contrary, Argentina must have an irreducible commitment to the defense of democracy and freedoms in the region. Not only for moral reasons, but also for practical reasons: authoritarian advances put at risk a stability that we worked hard to achieve, and that we must not put at risk. Finally, pragmatism is also being aware of our own possibilities. Argentina continues to have very powerful elements of soft power in different agendas, but has lost strategic relevance at the international level. Foreign policy has to collect this data from reality, and come up with a strategy to regain confidence.
Like many medium-developed countries, Argentina is a rule taker, not a rule maker in the international arena. Even so, the country can consider a role of regional leadership that prioritizes the defense of democracy and human rights, the vocation of integrating ourselves into the world – prioritizing the economic-commercial dimension of MERCOSUR and resuming dialogue with the Pacific Alliance – and sustainable development. South America is our natural area of international projection, where we can be rule promoters. Such regional leadership is a possible exercise in pragmatism.
Finally, we need to reach firm consensus; permanent changes of direction reduce confidence and the margin of action. Argentine foreign policy has shown continuities in issues such as the permanent claim for the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands, adherence to the principle of the peaceful solution of international disputes and its commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. We must expand that list to include the unrestricted defense of freedoms in the region and the vocation to fully integrate into the global economy.
The medium-term challenge is to design a foreign policy that incorporates these principles and is at the service of the development strategy. Do not spend our international positioning capital on futile companies or those that harm the national interest in order to satisfy internal political claims, but rather see foreign policy as an investment that can increase the development possibilities of our country and improve the quality of life of the citizens.