Role of Bureaucracy in International Relations

“Foreign policy is shaped not only by the internal dynamics of individual and group decision-making but also by the states and societies within which decision-makers operate.” Bureaucracy is one of the main components of state machinery. The important duties of the bureaucrats are to Execute policies and orders, as prescribed by the government. Maintain and keep in order the overall administrative apparatus which lies within its official charge, and Give advice to the political executive regarding rules of procedure, regulation, etc. That’s why the Role of Bureaucracy in International Relations is very clear.

In the CSS Examination, whether you are studying International Relations (IR) or Public Administration, bureaucracy is a very important topic to study. Therefore, in this article, you will learn about the role of Bureaucracy in international relations.

Every state sets up its agencies and organs that are responsible for formulating foreign policy.

These agencies are foreign offices, diplomats, people, and other non-state actors who collect information from various sources and then articulate the information to formulate foreign policy.

These agencies are also known as sub-state actors who are close to foreign policy making. They are states’ bureaucratic agencies, responsible for developing and carving out foreign policy.

All these agencies come under the cover of bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are government officials meant to articulate government routinely. They have to thrash out details with regard to a policy and give their own point of view on a particular policy matter.

Role of Bureaucracy in Foreign Policy

Bureaucratic tendencies are insurmountable hurdles in policy- formulation. Bureaucrats, due to their culture and way of working, tend to obstruct every move meant to achieve positive results and are used to erect formidable impediments in the way of routine matters.

Diplomats are also bureaucrats. All states appoint diplomatic personnel who perform their duties in state embassies in foreign capitals. Policy-makers define the situation not only in terms of conditions abroad but also in terms of what is feasible bureaucratically.

They receive information from various government agencies, and the alternatives, they take into account, are often those options that have been drafted and chalked out by lower officials of various government departments. Policy outputs, therefore, can be presented as the outcome of the pulling and hauling of bureaucratic politics.

The degree to which the bureaucratic characteristics affect policy formulation differs from country to country. A policy developed over a period of time within the British Government bureaucracy may differ from a decision made by a few leaders of a small new state that hardly has a foreign ministry.

However, the foreign ministry bureaucrats often make foreign relations a routine affair where the top leaders and political appointees hardly matter.

Tension and tug of war very often erupt between state leaders and foreign policymakers. Career diplomats try to bring national leaders and their cronies around to control the flow of information they receive from different sources.

While politicians tend to use power and authority to bridle the bureaucrats because they (bureaucrats) can become nasty and cumbersome mostly. It is due to the fact that bureaucratic agencies usually are manned by career officials who can afford to ignore politicians and their commands.

Instances of tension and struggle between politicians and bureaucrats over policy issues are numerous. In 1993, for example, President Clinton was unable to articulate a clear American policy on the Bosnian War because there were so many competing opinions within the State Department, in Congress, and among the European Countries.

Some wanted a NATO-armed intervention to save the Bosnian Muslims from the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing policies. Many including the Pentagon warned that military intervention would be ineffective and would rather escalate war than put an end to hostilities.

Many members of Congress were apprehensive of the expanses, both human and monetary, of the military action. Some state department officials expressed despair over the American leadership’s lack of vision.

Most of the European governments were unwilling to do more than provide some humanitarian relief through die United Nations.

In order to curb the threatening influence of bureaucracy, sometimes the state leaders appoint their close friends or key advisors to take care of the foreign policy bureaucrats. US President George H.W. Bush appointed his close friend James Baker as secretary of state.

George W. Bush appointed his close friend James Baker as secretary of state George W. Bush followed his father in his footsteps and appointed Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State to manage the foreign policy bureaucracy.

“At times, frustration with the bureaucracy leads politicians to bypass normal channels of diplomacy. For example, during the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis, President Kennedy demanded to be put in direct contact with military personnel in the Caribbean overseeing the blockade of Cuba, bypassing the secretary of defense and high-ranking officials.

In a crisis, where decisions of great importance have to be rapidly taken, the effect of bureaucratic processes may be reduced considerably. In these circumstances, a few key individuals at the highest level of responsibility and authority usually gather around map strategy and respond to the problem or threat they are facing.

There is no time for detailed consultations, preparation of position papers, or thorough analysis of the situation and its background. Since the situation requires almost urgency, decisions have to be made largely on the basis of immediately available information, unverified rumors, and the views of upper-level advisors.

Under such conditions, individual attitudes, values, beliefs, and images of the highest policy-makers become particularly important in defining the situation, choosing responses and goals, and implementing policies.

Relationship between Bureaucracy and Politics

Attitude can be conceived as general evaluative propositions about some object, fact, or condition. More or less friendly, desirable, dangerous, trustworthy, or hostile.

In any international relationship, policy-makers operate—usually implicitly within some framework of evaluative assumptions of hostility or friendship, trust or distrust, and fear or confidence toward other governments and peoples.

These attitudes may have important effects on how policymakers react to the actions, signals, and demands of other states, perceive the intentions of other governments, and define their own objectives toward others.

If a high-level policymaker receives a conciliatory message from the government of a state, he perceives it to be hostile. His attitudes of distrust and hostility may lead him to interpret the message in a different manner than if he had received even a less conciliatory message from the leader of a non-hostile state.

Threats that are only potential may be viewed as actual because hostile attitudes predispose policy-makers to distort the evidence. Particularly where evidence of intention is ambiguous, policy-makers may fall back upon traditional attitudes of trust and friendship or of distrust and hostility.

Intelligence agencies can learn a great deal about the capabilities of states, but policymakers also have to gauge intentions-and that may be badly misinterpreted because of hostile, distrustful, or excessively trustful attitudes.

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