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What is Checkbook Diplomacy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Checkbook diplomacy involves using economic clout as a political tool, to either cultivate favor with specific nations or to contribute to global diplomacy in some way. This type of diplomacy can take a number of forms, ranging from offers of economic support for military actions to arrangements for special low-interest loans for developing nations. Some nations have been criticized for their use of checkbook diplomacy, perhaps most notably the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, which governs the island of Taiwan.

In the case of China and Taiwan, both nations spent large amounts of money in order to be officially recognized by other foreign powers. They contributed to foreign aid, invested in other nations, and cultivated powerful trade deals with potential allies. Both nations hoped to utilize money as a tool, essentially buying respect from the international community; in the case of the Republic of China, checkbook diplomacy seemed to work, with several governments officially recognizing the Republic of China after its extensive campaign.

Checkbook diplomacy can also take other forms. For example, both Japan and Germany have curtailed military abilities, as part of their terms of surrender after the Second World War. As a result, these nations have historically had trouble supporting international military efforts. However, both have healthy economies, and they have provided substantial funding to military efforts and police actions all over the world so that they demonstrate a desire to cooperate internationally.

As can be seen from the above two examples, sometimes checkbook diplomacy seems suspiciously like an attempt to buy diplomatic favors, while at other times it is simply used to strengthen diplomatic ties. Many nations engage in checkbook diplomacy to varying degrees, using their economic power to provide aid to disaster victims, negotiate trade relations, and to support international organizations. Increasing economic cooperation around the world is often cited as a positive thing, especially when aid reaches developing nations which are in sore need of it.

Some critics of checkbook diplomacy feel that it is too distant, and that nations should instead be rolling up their sleeves and helping the international community. For example, after a major disaster, funds are certainly helpful, but so are doctors, engineers, and a wide variety of other personnel. These critics sometimes liken checkbook diplomacy to an absentee parent who tries to bribe a neglected child with toys, rather than putting in the physical effort required to build a strong relationship.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By truman12 — On Sep 02, 2011

It always shocks me when people call for reducing the amount of foreign aid as a program that is either unnecessary or that is an unjustifiable drain on the budget. The amount of aid the we give out in this country, while substantial, is the tiniest fraction of our national budget. And, compared to many other countries in the western world, we provide less aid per capita. It seems like a big number but it is actually small by the world's standards.

So we should stop complaining about how much is being paid because its not that much. On top of that the rewards are huge. Helping the sick, supporting the progressive, feeding the poor, providing shelter and water, anything which helps pull people out of dire circumstances contributes to global stability. The cost of not providing aid is exponentially higher.

By nextcorrea — On Sep 02, 2011

I think one problem with checkbook diplomacy is that corruption is rampant world wide but especially in depressed areas trying to recover from stressful circumstances. We are all aware of wild stories about huge sums being embezzled or out right stolen from aid contributions.

The risk of theft is much higher when you simply contribute a wire transfer rather than hard resources like food or guns. I think that checkbook diplomacy, however well intentioned, probably serves most to line the pockets of the greedy people.

By chivebasil — On Sep 01, 2011

Its hard to know how to feel about a thing like checkbook diplomacy. I can see good arguments being made on both sides.

On the one hand it does just kind of seem like buying influence or attention. The world has a lot of problems and the solution is not always money. Sometimes the commitment of concrete resources, manpower, security, or expertise counts for a lot more than just a check.

But on the other hand, money makes the world go round and in the end it was what most countries/organizations/groups need the most. Simply dumping money out into the world can seem crass or ineffective but it can do a lot of good. I'm not sure which way I come down. I'm glad I'm not the one that has to make the big decisions.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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