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Pravimal asked: What exactly does 'carrot and stick' policy mean in International Relations?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: Carrot represents inducement/incentive that promises pleasure/profit; and, stick represents pressure/threat to cause pain/punishment. The idiom of carrot and stick is based upon the fable of a cart driver who seeks to both induce his mule to move forward by dangling a carrot in front of it as well as goad/force it into moving forward by wielding the stick from behind.

    There are basically two ways of applying these policy instruments in international politics. Carrots and sticks can be applied either simultaneously or serially one after another. It all depends on the particular context prevailing at a certain historical juncture as well as on the worldview (realist, liberal or constructivist) of the decision maker (hawk, dove or owl) concerned. Whatever be the manner in which these instruments are employed, the end goal, the challenge, remains the same: how to make the other party change their policy on a particular issue in tune with what one desires.

    For example, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, America threatened Pakistan with grave punishment unless Pakistan became America's frontline state in the 'war on terror' which began with Operation Enduring Freedom to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan also became a huge beneficiary of the US aid and particularly military aid, which has now crossed the $20 billion mark.

    It is of course a different matter that neither carrots nor sticks employed either serially or together may guarantee success. In the above example, we know that America's use of carrots and sticks worked only up to an extent, which goes to show that the other party has its own interests and, in addition, may actually not consider the carrots sweet enough or the stick painful enough.