The Role of Emotion in Geopolitics

We live in a world where the main actors are states governed by their national interests. These national interests are framed by policymakers on whom not only hard geopolitics but morals, principles, and even symbols have an influence. South Asia is a culture heavy on symbolism and emotions, and so the latter’s influence on the international affairs of the countries in the region should not come as a surprise. It is true that signaling and labeling play a role in diplomacy, but we need to acquire the right balance between our emotions and realpolitik.

South Asia occupies a key geostrategic location in the world today which the countries in the region can take advantage of if they harness their strengths. South Asia is on the positive side of the demographic curve, as it is one of the few regions in the world where the youth exceed the elderly and where governments have invested in education and social development. The resourcefulness and entrepreneurial skills of South Asians is also evident in the economic growth of India, which can spread to other countries of this region.

However, in order to do this, in Moisi’s words, the policymakers of the region need to seek the right balance between good and bad emotions. In this case, what it means is build relations with your neighbors by playing to your strengths and your historical and cultural ties. Try to resolve those issues that you can, but those which are difficult must be left on the backburner for now.

Of the two countries about which Moisi speaks, China has adopted this policy very effectively. China has amicably resolved its border issue with Russia and its border with Pakistan was settled long ago. In the case of the Sino-Indian border, over which the two countries fought a war in 1962, China’s policy since the late 1990s has been to build political, economic, and even military ties with India while periodically discussing the border issue without expecting to resolve it anytime soon. India and Pakistan have yet to reach that point in their relationship.

The strong emotions evoked by the history of the two countries remain a barrier to pragmatic decisionmaking in New Delhi and Islamabad.