Monday, March 10, 2008

Foreign Policy Has a Sex Appeal

Why sex and foreign policy aren’t as different as you might think

By Colin Parks

Would you believe that having sex can provide you with a better guide to effective foreign policy than any political theory out there? In fact, if our policy makers spent more time nurturing their sex lives, they could find themselves more attuned to the most effective tools of statecraft. This should come as no surprise and I’ll tell you why.

In order to have sex, you have three options. You can buy it, i.e. prostitution; you can take it by force, i.e. rape; or you can seduce it, i.e. the art of romance. Buying sex is usually only a temporary fix and an expensive one at that; most prostitutes don’t offer blue-light specials. Furthermore, it might not be the most desirable experience unless a dingy motel room, cheap champagne, and the incessant glow of neon lights is your idea of a romantic getaway. Forcing sex might be desirable for some but for most it simply isn’t worth the likely consequences, i.e. spending the rest of your life behind bars in an orange jump suit contemplating escape with a spoon and a bed spring.

How then, do you use seduction to get sex? You first need to possess certain elements of attraction such as good looks, an appealing personality, and some sort of alluring feature that compels your intended companion to get a little frisky with you; generally a few sprays of cologne will turn the trick. Second, you need to have a strategy; sex on first contact isn’t usually the rule but rather the exception. You need to take the time to get to know your companion, i.e. enduring a few awkward dates, engaging in conversation more enlightening than the weather, and actually noticing little things like eye color and the type of shoes your companion is wearing; observing bust size doesn’t qualify! Finally, you have to set the mood; a few candles and some sultry music will do. A little tender, loving, care can go a long way so don’t be afraid to sharpen your massage skills. What’s more, when the deed is done, you can’t just fall asleep or abruptly leave. It pays to cuddle and stay around for breakfast. While it might take a bit longer and require more finesse, if executed skillfully seduction can result in quality, long lasting, and meaningful sex, without the messy consequences of prostitution or rape.

So why is sex similar to foreign policy? If it isn’t already apparent, nations have three options when deciding how to achieve a particular foreign policy objective. Like sex, they can buy it, i.e. with bribery or economic sanctions; they can take it, i.e. with military force; or they can seduce it, i.e. creating an allure via soft power. The first two options are hard power methods frequently used to coerce or compel an adversary to succumb to your will, tangible instruments that clearly indicate a nation’s desire to alter behavior or gain the advantage in a given scenario. However, these options can have dire consequences. Economic sanctions, bribery, and war can be costly, extremely risky, and lacking in quality assurance. Moreover, military force and the careless use of economic sanctions can produce damaging ripple effects that can be difficult to suppress. One only needs to look at the situation in Iraq to ascertain that the friction and uncertainty of war can create more problems than solutions, and the case of Cuba to realize that buying your objectives doesn’t necessarily work.

The seduction of soft power attempts to alleviate some of the pains associated with the misuse of hard power by using public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy to persuade an adversary rather than coerce it. This implies confidence in one’s ideals and principles, and a willingness and ability to export them. For the United States, this means accentuating our most appealing qualities such as democracy, the rule of law, plurality, and freedom. It also means tapping into the alluring features of culture such as music and art. These elements can potentially convince an adversary to view the U.S. in a more positive light; a nation that finds us attractive is more likely to emulate our behavior and subsequently comply with our demands. Like a seductress, however, the purveyor of soft power must be patient and willing to invest in a little TLC.

So maybe the hippie mantra “Make Love, Not War!” has a point. If we take the time to seduce our target and tap into the softer side of foreign policy, we have a greater chance of securing our foreign policy objectives in a manner that ensures lasting relationships. Like a good lover, the U.S. must be willing to sustain its soft power initiatives over time by not abandoning these initiatives when the deed is done and sticking around for a little cuddle time.

Colin Parks is a graduate student at The Institute of World Politics in Washington where he studies the elements of statecraft in national security and foreign affairs. He can be contacted at,

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