Any useful considerations for a foreign policy that works must begin with adequate understanding of the world and the international system in its existential reality along with the trends that shape it and how its trajectories would continue to unfold. Foreign policy is among the core components of any country’s policy, not only because any such country must engage in relations with other countries, but because the outcomes and inputs from foreign relations count and contribute significantly to the total domestic aggregates that constitute the wealth, power and prestige of any country.
If foreign policy is not tailored to generate returns and inputs that contributes to the domestic aggregates, such policy is sub-optimal and lacks utilitarian value and consequently, a burden and drain of national resources.
Foreign policy leverages the institutional efficiency and credibility of the domestic or national political process and its socio-economic terrain and more importantly, the competency of its diplomatic machinery for effective delivery. A poorly defined and ill-articulated policy cannot fly no matter the technical competence of its diplomatic service and a mediocre foreign service or diplomatic machinery will ruin the best of foreign policy outlines. For a foreign policy, both properly defined, meticulously articulated and efficiently projected, a proper grasp of the international system, its trajectories and how it is evolving and its changing patterns along with the trends shaping it, is absolutely essential to maximizing the outcomes of foreign relations and its contributions to domestic aggregates.
Many Nigerians like to reflect on the dynamism of the country’s foreign policy in 1970s, ’80s, and even the ’90s, and the diplomatic service that ensured robust and efficient delivery of the country’s foreign policy. The same reflection cause some observers to bemoan what some have tagged Nigeria’s lacklustre contemporary foreign policy, made worst by a far less efficient and even dysfunctional Foreign Service establishment.
While there might be some good point that in the past, Nigeria’s foreign policy and its diplomatic service were far more robust, efficient, visible and attracted regional, if not global admiration than its contemporary counterpart, there are strong arguments that the challenge of articulating foreign policy and making of the diplomatic service is far more complex than it was in the past. The world and the international system have significantly evolved and newer elements are heavily weighing on the international system, much more acutely than in the period of the post-world war II international order.
The system of the international order in the aftermath of the World War II which heralded the icy cold war was essentially exclusive to the preeminent powers of that period, US-led Western Alliance and the former Warsaw pact headlined by Moscow. The Bretton Woods Institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, were the main factors in defining the trajectories of international finance, as Western liberal rules and economic outlook were generously embedded as the foremost architecture of global economic landscape.
Most countries, including Nigeria, were under Western-dominated colonial rule and have little or no impact in the immediate post-World War II International Order. Even on becoming independent, most countries in Africa, Asia and South America sought to shield themselves from the most egregious fallouts of the intense geo-political competition through the United Nations and the Non-Align Movement.
But there was no escaping the reach, influence and power of the Western-dominated international institutions, especially the all powerful Bretton Woods Institutions. It was, therefore, the international milieu of restricted opportunities, fostered by the ideological bigotry of super power rivalry that Nigeria and many other African countries gained independence and emerged on the global scene on their own. Though, the period weighed heavily on the choices and options of the emergent states, it nonetheless provided them with crucial tools to navigate the delicate terrain.
Nigeria shepherded to independence through negotiations with British colonial authorities retained a degree of the extant influence of London with whom, she inherited both the tradition of its foreign service and even foreign policy outlook. This did not detract from Nigeria coming into its own at independence and her largely efficient diplomatic service ensured robust delivery of the country’s foreign policy.
Africa and the world acutely felt the presence of Nigeria as it took stance on critical global issues, whether on decolonisation, especially in Southern Africa, the French nuclear test in the Sahara desert and even the readmission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations. However, the current and emerging post- cold war international order, characterised essentially with multilateralism, a phenomenon of broad inclusion in global governance and unanimous understanding for the centrality of the United Nations system offers broad opportunities for Nigeria to wean off, the historical constraints.
The dominant Western-centric institutions are still important landmark of the global economic and financial architecture but are now far from being alone. The rise of the Asia-Pacific and its economic powerhouse, China has also caused a considerable shift in the balance of global economy and finance. In 2012, the then US President Barack Obama made the famous “pivot to East Asia” regional strategy whose major outlines “are strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment….”.
The Asia-Pacific accounted for 37 per cent of world GDP in 2021 and expected to rise to nearly 45 per cent by 2040. About 39 per cent global trade takes place in this region. A country like Nigeria, whose priority is economic recovery and measures to expand the economy, cannot ignore the region with the seemingly most robust economic activities. China since 2014 has offered the world, the most practical public goods through her Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, which offers infrastructural connectivity, unimpeded financial flows, industrial and production capacity cooperation among others on a grand scale.
Even the usually China-skeptic London-based Economist Magazine commented that “in many ways the BRI have lived up to the hype”, and that more than 150 countries accounting for almost 75 per cent of the world’s population and more than half of its GDP, have signed on to the scheme”. The magazine added that China has “given out hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants for railways, roads, and other infrastructures that might otherwise have gone unfunded”.
Onunaiju is Research Director of Abuja-based Think-thank.