The Dangers of Fear as the
Basis of Foreign Policy

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"'....Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just. And how can we fight for liberty if we are not free in our own minds? How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?... Only in true surrender to the interest of all can we reach that strength and independence, that unity of purpose, that equity of judgment which are necessary if we are to measure up to our duty to the future, as men of a generation to whom the chance was given to build in time a world of peace.'" (Dag Hammarskjöld -UN Press Release SG/360, December 22, 1953)


A foreign policy based on fear often results in the consequences it fears most- a self fulfilling prophetic nightmare. Franklin Roosevelt’s oft quoted, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” is profoundly true both for the individual and society.

A foreign policy based on fear will have the following characteristics:
 
bulletAn over reaction to the actual and/or perceived threat. This over reaction can trigger a loss of allies, emboldened enemies, more, not less brutality, infliction of unnecessary force, violations of basic human rights, etc.
 
bulletA focus of resources on perceived rather than real threats. Because resources are always scarce, the result is a policy that is less effective and at worst counter productive.
 
bulletA weakened civilian and military morale and a degradation of the human spirit. When people are asked to act based on fear rather than a just cause, or if they feel they are being deceived into acting for reasons other than those given, they will become less united and more bitter and cynical. Mass protests will be organized, family members will take competing sides and one of the key tenets of effective foreign policy- public support will be weakened.
 
bulletFear perpetuates cycles of violence without end and into future generations. Fear perpetuates thoughtlessness and a disregard for long term consequences. It can even be addicting, with the need for ever greater amounts to sustain a kind of fear equilibrium.
 
bulletFear forms the basis of action that is the antithesis of creative non-violence. Our enemies and friends are never persuaded of the rightness of our cause. Friendship and understanding is destroyed. Evil is perpetuated- not diminished. Suffering is increased, not decreased. Creative solutions to problems become impossible. The recognition that all life is interrelated is replaced by isolated policies that are counterproductive to the political, economic, social and ecological good of the world community.
 
bulletA foreign policy of fear is often used as a way to control ones own populace- civil liberties are sacrificed, sometimes never returned. The populace is weakened in the long run and may lose the capacity to make rational decisions- instead being motivated by the fear mongering of their leaders. "Our beloved land has been fogged with fear—fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich." - Garrison Keillor, In These Times 8/26/04
 
bulletFear- while it can awaken one to the need for action- if used as a basis of action becomes cowardice and obliterates thoughtful action. Religion, instead of being invoked to help citizens strive to higher ideals, can become another instrument of fear and repression.

A rational foreign policy motivated by high ideals recognizes the true nature of a threat. In fact, it resists the temptation to overreact- knowing that overreaction is often just what the enemy wants. A rational foreign policy builds alliances based on trust and understanding. It focuses resources on the areas of greatest threat. It builds and sustains public morale and support. It presents creative solutions to conflict that can stop or prevent cycles of violence. More than ending a particular conflict, it lays the basis for enduring peace and cooperation. It builds hope and motivation to rise above petty hatreds for the benefit of one’s children and future generations.
 
Ends never justify the means. Human beings are inherently fallible. No arm of government, bureaucracy, individual or group can be given the power to violate laws- international or otherwise to pursue ends it deems fit. Once this occurs, checks and balances are destroyed, cynicism pervades at all levels and policy is no longer given needed scrutiny. Mistakes- grave mistakes- are made that cost dearly in human lives.
 

 

 

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