In its most basic sense, economic diplomacy is the use of the full range of economic tools available to a state, to pursue and promote its national interests. In this view, all economic activities, including, but not limited to, export, import, investment, lending, aid and free trade agreements are leveraged to benefit the interests of the state.
In March 2014, delivering the keynote address at the Sydney Institute, the premier Australian current-affairs forum, the country’s foreign minister Julie Bishop was quoted as saying, “If the goal of traditional diplomacy is peace, then the goal of economic diplomacy is prosperity.”
However, the State of Kuwait has since its inception as an independent nation been redefining this rather narrow definition of economic diplomacy. The country has taken the concept of economic diplomacy and evolved it into a highly efficacious form of international relations that encompasses peace, security and stability along with prosperity for its people.
Shortly after its independence in 1961, the sagacious leadership of Kuwait realized from past experiences that the country, wedged between much large neighbors and located in a geopolitically sensitive area, would need the support and cooperation of strong allies to ensure its continued existence.
This led Kuwait to strengthening its political standing by entering into diplomatic relations with countries around the world and joining a number of regional and international organizations. Kuwait joined the Arab League as its 15th member in July 1961, the United Nations as its 111th member in 1963 and was a founding member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969. Kuwait also joined the regional alliance of the six countries along the Arabian Gulf to form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.
But events early in its history as an independent nation convinced the Kuwaiti leadership that political diplomacy alone would not be sufficient to survive in a rapidly changing modern world. Cognizant of its increasing oil wealth, Kuwait decided to leverage this as a powerful tool to fortify its relations and gain support from around the world in order to ensure its security and stability. It was partly in this regard, as well as a genuine empathy for less privileged nations around the world that Kuwait decided to establish the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development in December 1961.
he fund was mandated to provide financial assistance in the form of soft loans, grants, guarantees and technical assistance to Arab and other developing countries. Since its inception, the Fund has provided over US$18 billion in various forms of financial assistance to fund developmental projects in the agriculture, energy, transport, industry, water and sewage, communication and social sectors around the world.
The significance of this economic diplomacy was highlighted in 1990 when Kuwait received overwhelming support, both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council to more than 10 resolutions, starting with resolution 660 that called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory. On 29 November, 1990, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 678, which gave Iraq one last chance to withdraw its forces peacefully before 15 January, 1991, failing which UN member states were authorized to use all necessary means to force Iraq to comply.
The total support that Kuwait received from countries around the world, during the seven months of occupation by Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein, as well as the international coalition that was subsequently formed to drive the Iraqi forces out of the country, attests to the outstanding success of Kuwait’s diplomacy, both on the political and economic front.
Speaking recently about Kuwait’s economic diplomacy on Albanian television, Kuwaiti Ambassador to Albania His Excellency Nejib Al-Bader underlined the significance of this economic diplomacy in promoting Kuwait’s relations with countries around the world. He noted that over the years economic diplomacy had helped Kuwait cope with major challenges at various levels.
Economic diplomacy had helped Kuwait shift from an oil-dependent economy to a diversified economy, channeling investments into various domains, said the ambassador, speaking at the round table, held by the society of honorary consuls and the Albanian television channel, Ora News.
Kuwait has taken major steps forward for the sake of transforming itself into an international financing and investment hub, he said, noting as well the substantial efforts over the past 53 years for funding development schemes in many nations.
After end of the Cold War, all Arab Gulf states, including Kuwait, shifted from political to economic diplomacy as part of the quest to restore the good economic status, witnessed in the 1970s and 80s.
Ambassador Al-Bader highlighted the significance of visits that had been paid by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, in his former capacity as foreign minister, to Asian nations in 2004, to examine the Asian economic experience and explore cooperation prospects. He added that Kuwait and the other GCC countries that possess more than 40 percent of the global oil reserves, base their ties with the Asian nations on joint interests.
Ambassador Al-Bader affirmed that the Kuwaiti diplomatic missions abroad are guided according to the national economic diplomatic strategy. He also underscored tangible improvement of ties with Albania.
Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Ambassador to Indonesia, His Excellency Nasser Al-Enizi, speaking on a memorial event held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the devastating tsunami that killed nearly 240,000 people and devastated many Asian countries in December 2004, said that Kuwait, through Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) and other entities, helped in relief aid efforts to support the Indonesians during their crisis.
Among the Kuwaiti efforts was the construction of a 150-house town named after late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, said the Kuwaiti diplomat, noting that the town also had a mosque and a health center to serve the Indonesian populace occupying the area.
He indicated that Kuwait’s contributions were well received by the Indonesian government which named the Gulf country as one of the strongest contributors of relief aid efforts after the devastating Tsunami.