A Jet-Lagged Legacy? Or Unspoken Foreign Policy Spectrum?

Amelia Hadfield |

 Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the most iconic women in the world. Ranked fifth on the Forbes list of “World’s Most Powerful Women”[1], the former US Secretary of State (the 67th of that ilk) is on most occasions entirely capable of providing a crisp and detailed delivery of a given viewpoint. Her October 2013 Chatham House Prize acceptance speech however was not nearly as profound as it could have been, and rather too pithy. Brevity, in this instance, was not exactly the soul of wit. Optimists may suggest that Clinton was perhaps overwhelmed with the sheer import of the award, and accordingly less than coherent with her thoughts and ideas. Pessimists may argue that the award, and thus her attitude to it, was simply a less-than-notable feature on the ‘legacy landscaping’ undertaken by retiring prominent politicians. Foreign policy scholars should base their analysis on the totality of statements that emerged from the event, as well her high-profile
Foreign Affairs article of 2010, and the backdrop of President Obama’s own Nobel Prize speech of 2009.

 Accordingly, comments at distinguished international gatherings can be deconstructed within the contours of an emergent and operative foreign policy spectrum. Awarded the prize “in recognition of her significant and impressive contribution to international diplomacy as US Secretary of State and her work on behalf of gender equality and opportunities for women and girls”[2], Clinton’s acceptance speech was quotidian at best and trivial at worst (or indeed trivialising). Nostalgic reminiscences of London took precedence over a clear response to the substance behind the receipt of the award itself. References to the “special relationship”[3] occured as a diplomatic afterthought (“I think it’s assumed”) and rather obliquely, in that “we should never assume anything that is so important.” Clinton then attempted a swift volte face, stating in her final comments that “this special relationship is an indispensable foundation of our mutual peace and  rosperity”, and in need of “nurturing and never to be taken for granted”.[4]

While accepting an award from a long-standing political ally certainly contributes to nurturing their abiding connections, doing so with extreme brevity and in lacklustre language unfortunately gives precisely the impression of taking both the ally, and the relationship for granted. Foreign  Secretary William Hague[5] by contrast, launched swiftly into an exposé on the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, which suggests that British diplomats continue to regard US-UK connections as a rather more substantive foreign policy structure than the symbolic nature bestowed on it by their American counterparts.

The Q&A session that followed the acceptance speech gives the sense that Clinton herself was not entirely au fait with the proposed protocol on this occasion, and had perhaps assumed that Chatham House rules would rule: “I thought everything
would be off the record”. After another swift volte face, Clinton concluded that she was in agreement with Chatham House Director Robin Niblett, and that it would be “a fascinating idea that we would talk and answer questions”, principally because “we need more discussion, we need more dialogue, we need more challenge to one another.”[6] Converting
necessity to virtue, and warming to the thrust of questions from the audience, Clinton responded precisely to the requirements she had earlier suggested, namely the need to strike a balance between means and ends, between core liberal values and strategic methods, arguing that  “we have to hold on to our values and our ideals, but we have to be smart about how we chart our course forward together”. In marrying classical, if implicit liberal modes with realist methods, Clinton – like many contemporary politicians – travels the full spectrum of International Relations theory that has long underwritten foreign policy in theory and practice, and finds a convenient middle ground.

Evidence for the calculated use of this spectrum is found most recently in Clinton’s own Chatham House responses. Discussing the Libyan farrago, Clinton stated her belief that “there should be more shared responsibility and there should be more multilateral leading on a range of issues… But I don’t think that means that we don’t recognize and accept our primary responsibility in any of those settings.”[7] Thus, whilst shared responsibility via multilateral structures emanates from
classical liberal views, primary responsibilities suggest an abiding allegiance to realist state-centrism.

The deft use of this IR-grounded foreign policy spectrum is compellingly brought to light in comments on the United Nations, in which Clinton argues that “[w]e need that role that the United Nations plays, which is absolutely, critically important for all the obvious reasons. But it is difficult to get controversial action done quickly within the Security Council.”[8] The tussle between virtuous values imparted over the long-term from slow-moving but laudable international organizations versus the requisite need for immediate, even expedient, state-driven action to tackle pressing issues highlights the IR 2.0 argument between neorealists and neoliberals; Clinton identifies both the tension between relative and absolute gains, and ideational influence versus material power.

Further and older evidence for the use of this IR-oriented foreign policy spectrum by Clinton herself emerges from her 2010 article Foreign Affairs, in which she emphasises the importance of civilian power in foreign relations principally because it
deepens her advocacy for a differential take on foreign policy, including the role of civil society and an enhanced role for women and education policy.

More fruitfully however, the elision of realist and liberal values (and indeed classical and contemporary diplomatic history) emerges with her combination of new methods of individual-driven diplomacy (as opposed to traditional government-to-government mechanisms) with key axioms like a robust foreign security policy and resilient financial institutions.[9] The balance is again struck in the concluding lines, where Clinton states that “with the right balance of civilian and military power, the United States can advance its interests and values, lead and support nations in solving global problems, and forge strong diplomatic and development partnerships with traditional allies and newly emerging powers.”[10] Both the ‘diplomatic and development’, and ‘interests and values’ two-step is positively European in tone (although Clinton was never hailed as a firm ally of EU foreign poli-gentsia). The reference to a ‘civilian and military balance’ suggests either an acknowledgment of the new strategic shopping list of the post-Cold War NATO, or an appropriation of the hard/soft, realist/liberal balancing act that must perforce be struck by artful politicians.

Clinton has emerged as an artful practitioner of diplomatic judiciousness, and frequently goes solo with this leitmotif. She has however had something of an administrative advantage in having this same foreign policy dyad being emphatically set for her from the earliest days of her role by President Obama, whose 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech articulated most explicitly the need to calibrate US foreign policy along an operative realist-liberal spectrum. Receiving the most prestigious acknowledgment for peace-making as “Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation” at that time warring on two fronts and with an “acute sense of the costs of armed conflict”, Obama nevertheless argued that American military involvement was  coterminous with the waging of a just war, “waged as a last resort or in self-defense”, with proportional use of force, and, where possible, sparing civilians from violence.[11]

Obama went on portray America itself as a nation that, while permanently and emphatically armed against any number of foes, has also “led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace”, largely by emphasising commerce, which “has stitched much of the world together”, aid, by which “billions have been lifted from poverty”, and an abiding dedication to the “ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law.”  However, operationalizing this legacy in pursuance of world peace frequently comes at a cost. In order to balance “notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace”, political reality – at least for the self-appointed hegemon of the early 21st century – means acknowledging that “there will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.” Obama mentions Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior and the need to “protect and defend my nation” because – in the simplest statement of realist foreign policy “I face the world as it is.”

In her role as Secretary of State, Clinton has reliably upheld the dyadic nature of this operative spectrum, and done so with considerable influence. Let us hope that her legacy was merely temporarily jet-lagged in London, rather than permanently jaded.


With warm thanks for both background research and incisive analysis to Sara Martone, US exchange student at Canterbury Christ Church University, autumn 2013 term; Cazenovia College, Cazenovia NY


[1] Caroline, Howard. “The World’s 100 Most
Powerful Women.” Forbes, May 22,
2013. http://www.forbes.com/profile/hillary-clinton/ (accessed October 21,


[3] Interestingly, in Clinton’s transcript,
‘special relationship’ is not capitalized, while in William Hague’s response it
appears as a capitalised formal noun, and thus a diplomatic term of art.

[4] “2013 Chatham House Prize Acceptance
Speech,” Read by Hilary Rodham Clinton, Web, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkxfJdhw14E. Transcript available at:

[5] William Hague, “Chatham House Prize 2013” (speech, London,
October 11, 2013) Chatham House, http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Meetings/Meeting%20Transcripts/111013Hague.pdf


[7] Clinton, Hilary Rodham.
Interview with Robin Niblett. Chatham
House, London.
11 October 2013.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hillary
Rodham Clinton, “Leading Through Civilian Power,”Foreign Affairs, no.
November/December (2010),

[10] Ibid

Obama, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (2009) http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/obama-lecture_en.html.


Howard, Caroline (2013) “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Forbes, May 22, http://www.forbes.com/profile/hillary-clinton/.

Clinton, Hilary Rodham (2013) Interview with Robin Niblett, Chatham House, London, 11 October,  http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Chatham%20House/111013ClintonFull.pdf.

Clinton, Hillary Rodham (2010) “Leading Through Civilian Power” Foreign Affairs, November/December,  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66799/hillary-rodham-clinton/leading-through-civilian-power.

Hadfield, Amelia (2013) “Liberalism and the Neo-Neo Debates”, Contemporary International Relations Analysis (CIRA),
Politics/International Relations, Canterbury, Kent, October 15.

Hague, William (2013) “Chatham House Prize 2013.” Speech, London. October 11, 2013.
Chatham House:  http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Meetings/Meeting%20Transcripts/111013Hague.pdf

Obama, B., (2009), Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Oslo: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/obama-lecture_en.html