Foreign policy in some measure is a game of judgement of the intentions of a foreign power. It does not do to assume that the other power is working toward similar goals as yours, even with the goalposts reversed. There is an additional problem, judging the other power takes time, attention, and care.

Coal miners in past centuries (and perhaps still) kept canaries in mines in cages. The reason for this is that during the mining process if the air supply was fouled or contaminated the canaries, being smaller and weaker than the miners would collapse or even die before the miners might notice. This would serve as a early warning.

There is in fact a similar situation in foreign policy. Russia, China, and other Middle Eastern countries are culturally very different from American and much of the West. It might be reasonably said that nobody outside of those countries really understand the day to day policy decisions, personalities, and events in those countries and the implications for foreign nations. Few pay attention to even the broad events and those actions must then be interpreted through the distortion of cultural division. We in the US for example have a hard enough time understanding the decisions and actions of those on the other side of a much smaller political divide between right and left not to speak of the far wider gulf of seeing events in their correct context where language, history and culture divide us.

Yet, canaries exist. Take Russia for example. The intentions and seriousness of Russian actions and motives might be best judged by reading commentary small states on her border such as the Baltic states&nbsp;&nbsp; … the smaller the state the better. Reading commentary and essays from those places is a better place to look than discussions or remarks about the same from any expert Western sources. Find a weak neighbor, a neighbor with the most to lose and there you fill find the most attentive watchers. And of course, like the Sudentdland of Hitler’s pre-WWII aggression, if the canary <i>dies</i> … then protestations of innocence on the part of the foreign power might be judged to be fallacious.

And yes, this is something that undoubtedly experts do right now. Yet, trusting the experts here is again a problem. They are themselves biased and have their own agendas. Canary watching however is something that ordinary people can do in this information age we live in. I blog. So, as an experiment I’m going to see if that particular medium is approachable to this sort of exercise. To whit, as an exercise, I’m going to try following through. In this exercise, the assumption is that reading and reviewing foreign blogs or smaller news sources with the canary model in mind is a better way of judging foreign intentions than by reading local expert opinion. In addition,&nbsp; the canary in the mineshaft model might also be an interesting way to judge one’s own country and how it is perceived&nbsp; from the other side. So … the next week’s I’m going to try adding a lot more foreign blogs to my reader list … which will likely ultimately be reflected in my weekday links posts.

Filed under: Mark O.

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