Arms control is a strategy by governments to overcome the security dilemma with institutionalized cooperation. It comes in three versions, arms control proper, with stability as the main objective; non-proliferation as a sub-category of arms control, so understood with the main objective being to preserve the distributive status quo concerning certain weapon types; and disarmament, with the objective to eliminate a specific weapon type. Confidence building is a crosscutting functional concept lumping together many different measures that can serve all three versions.
Arms control does not reject self-help as a basis of national security, but entrusts a significant piece of it to cooperation with potential enemies. Hence, arms control—with the exception of unilateral, hegemonic arms control imposed on others, and of non-proliferation for preserving an existing oligopoly—is a difficult subject for realism and neorealism, but also for post-modernism. It presents a solvable puzzle for rationalists and no problem at all for constructivists who, to the contrary, can dig into norms, discourses, and identities.
Concerning stability and change, arms control can be looked at from two opposite perspectives. Since it aims at stability, critical security approaches have labeled it as a conservative, status quo orientated strategy. But there is also a transformational perspective: arms control as a vehicle to induce and reinforce a fundamental redefinition of the relationship between states. Naturally, the concept of disarmament shows the greatest affinity to the transformational perspective.
A related issue is whether arms control is a result of political circumstances, a dependent variable without a political impact of its own, or whether it has causal effect on interstate relations. Constructivism proposes a dialectical relationship in which arms control and broader policy influence each other. From this reflection, the question of the conditions of success and failure flows naturally. Conducive interstate relations (or extrinsic shocks), technology, domestic structures, learning, leadership, perception, and ideology have been candidates for the independent master variable.
Three models tackle the relationship of arms control and historical time: the enlightenment intuition of steady progress; a series of waves, each of which leaves the world in a more cooperative state than the previous one; and the circle—arms control ebbs and flows alternatively, but achievements are fully lost in each ebb period.
We can distinguish four arms control discourses: arms control as the maiden of deterrence; arms control subordinated to defense needs; arms control under the imperative of disarmament; and arms control as the instrument of human security, the survival and well-being of human individuals, notably civilians.
As with all politics, arms control involves justice issues: the distribution of values (security/power), access to participation in decision making, and the granting of recognition as legitimate actor. Arms control negotiations are ripe with justice claims, and failure through incompatible justice demands happens frequently. Also, emotions play a key role: frustration and ensuing resentment, anger, and existential fear can prevent success. Finally, compassion, empathy, and trust are ingredients in successful arms control processes.
Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.
The majority of countries around the world are engaged in the foreign aid process, as donors, recipients, or, oftentimes, both. States use foreign aid as a means of pursuing foreign policy objectives. Aid can be withdrawn to create economic hardship or to destabilize an unfriendly or ideologically antagonistic regime. Or, conversely, aid can be provided to bolster and reward a friendly or compliant regime.
Although foreign aid serves several purposes, and not least among them the wish to increase human welfare, the primary reason for aid allocations or aid restrictions is to pursue foreign policy goals. Strategic and commercial interests of donor countries are the driving force behind many aid programs. Not only do target countries respond to the granting of bilateral and multilateral aid as an incentive, but also the threat of aid termination serves as an effective deterrent. Both the granting and the denial of foreign assistance can be a valuable mechanism designed to modify a recipient state’s behavior.
Donors decide which countries will receive aid, the amount of aid provided, the time frame in which aid is given, and the channel of aid delivery. The donor’s intentions and the recipient’s level of governance determine the type or sector of foreign aid. States can choose between bilateral or multilateral methods of disbursing foreign assistance in order to pursue their interests. Although bilateral disbursements allow the donor state to have complete control over the aid donation, the use of multilateral forums has its advantages. Multilateral aid is cheaper, it disperses accountability, and it is often viewed as less politically biased.
Foreign aid, once the exclusive foreign policy instrument of rich powerful states, is now being provided by middle-income countries, too. The motivation for foreign aid allocations by nontraditional donors parallels the motives of traditional Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors. A main difference between traditional and nontraditional aid donors is that nontraditional aid donors generally do not place conditionalities on their loans.
The issue of fungibility can obstruct the donor government’s purpose behind the allocation of foreign aid. If the preferences of the recipient government are different from those of the donor, the recipient can often divert the aid and use it for other purposes. A recipient government may reallocate its budget after it determines how much aid it is slated to receive. The recipient government will redirect its resources to areas it deems a priority that cannot be funded externally, for example the military or prestige projects.
An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning.
Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts.
Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century.
The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous.
Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.