Recognition is Not Endorsement

By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.) Dealing with other nations to reduce tensions and advance mutual interests is facilitated by establishing embassies and consulates in those countries to enhance communication and increase understanding. This is a long-established diplomatic practice that has been recognized through the ages as highly beneficial in inter-state relations. Diplomatic recognition of another country and its government is nothing more than an acknowledgement of its de-facto existence as a nation state, not tantamount to approval of its political system or its policies. In fact, it is especially important to establish diplomatic relations with governments with which we have strong disagreements to prevent unintended escalation caused by misunderstandings. Yet the United States has failed to recognize some key nation states whose governments it finds objectionable. It took us 15 years to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and establish diplomatic relations with it in 1933.  We clung to the myth that the Chinese Nationalist regime that fled to Taiwan represented mainland China for more than 23 years, from 1949 until 1972, when President Nixon visited the Peoples Republic; and we finally established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. We have found it beneficial to maintain diplomatic relations with both China and Russia despite some major conflicts of interest and even the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its aggression in Ukraine. The vital New START nuclear treaty with Russia continues to function effectively, as does our logistical passage through Russia to Afghanistan; and Russia continues to supply us with rocket engines we use to enhance our national security and to ferry our astronauts to the international space station. Our diplomatic relations with China have resulted in improvements in our economic relations with the world’s second largest economy, and agreement on military contacts and exchanges hedges against increased tensions that could result from disagreements between China and some of our allies in the region. With the recent military successes in Iraq of ISIS, the Islamic State, the United States finds itself with a vital interest in common with Iran, but without diplomatic relations that could facilitate cooperation and provide insights into the problems faced by the current Iranian administration with which we are trying to reach agreement on its nuclear program. Why haven’t we learned the obvious lesson of the advantages to us of recognition of foreign governments and the establishment of diplomatic relations with them? We actually appear to be retrogressing in this regard. It took us 15 years to recognize the Soviet Union and 23 years to acknowledge that the Peoples Republic controlled mainland China. In Iran, the revolutionary movement solidified its control in 1979, 36 years ago; and we still have not accorded it the de-facto recognition that could lead to mutually beneficial diplomatic relations.