The Basis of Strategic Partnership

In international relations states use different concepts to underline the ‘special’ role of kinship with certain countries. One such concepts is ‘strategic partnership’. Although in recent times we observe the ‘devaluation’ of this concept due to frequent usage, a real strategic partnership can be seen between the US and the UK, and between the US and Israel. In other cases, strategic partnerships are based on situational and conjunctural, short-term interests rather than fundamental long-term ‘strategic’ priorities.  In this analysis, we will try to understand the rationale behind strategic partnership between two countries.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term strategic partnership as “an arrangement between two companies or organisations to help each other or work together, to make it easier for each of them to achieve the things they want to achieve.”[1] In this definition, the key word is ‘the things they want to achieve’. In the terminology of international relations, the word translates to ‘national interests’. As it is discussed by experts, “countries trying to establish a strategic partnership share mutual and strategically important targets or even vital interests. In this regard, there should be a collaboration between parties with a long-term plan and roadmap. One of the important goals is to maintain security, prosperity and status of each other in the international arena, of which maintaining security and prosperity of each other is the core.”[2]

From this point of view, the basis of strategic partnership is shared interests, targets and priorities. The important question which should be asked here is; ‘Who defines the interests of the state?’ To answer this question, we have to recall that we are still living in the age of nations. Therefore, the well-being of the state is termed as ‘national interest’. This concept is understood to benefit everyone in the country. In reality though, ‘national interests’ are interests of a particular group who are influential in decision making.

Based on this assumption, we can say that the overlapping of interests of ruling elites are not enough for the establishment of a strategic partnership. The clear example which reveals the irrelevance of such elitist approach is the Iran-US relations before the Islamic revolution of 1979. While the elites of Iran considered the US as a strategic partner, the ordinary people did not agree with this foreign policy understanding. In the end, the change of regime in Iran led to the total deterioration of the so-called ‘strategic partnership’. Unfortunately, today many strategic partnerships have superficial characteristics and are absent of strategic depth.

In our opinion, the basis of strategic partnership is national identities. National identity means how people of a particular country see themselves, perceive others and their nation’s place in the world. Culture, language, religion, history and other ideational values constitute the national identity. Naturally, people are inclined to positively perceive the countries with whom they share common values. Every nation considers itself as part of a particualar region, area and a certain ‘world.’ This ‘world’ can be defined as civilisation. In this sense, Samuel Huntington is right in his thesis of clash of civilisation. In Huntingtonian terms, the basis of strategic partnership is civilisation. Nevertheless, to share a common civilization is not enough to build a strategic partnership. Common language, which is one of the essential components of national identity is determinant in a strategic partnership. Why?

People perceive the outside world through language. Humans express their inner world through language. The concept of ‘worldview’ is, in fact, a semantic world which means the world constructed by words. More clearly, the world in our mind is formed by words. Ideas, concepts, theories are all defined by words. In this way, language becomes the most important component of national identity. Every language in the world has its cultural environment. Due to different circumstances, most languages have developed separately and have different semantics. For instance, the semantic world of Chinese language is distinct from that of an Arabic one. It is because the natural and cultural environment of these languages is different. Therefore, translation from one language to another sometimes can be misleading. That is why some people prefer the word ‘interpret’ to the word ‘translate’. While by translation we understand the exact matching meaning of two languages, in interpretation we explain the sentence according to the semantic world of an another language. When people share the same language, it means they share a common world. Thus, for individuals who share a common language, it is easy to understand and trust each other. Human to human relations is much more intensified in such situations. Individuals of one country can easily understand through media what other individuals in a partner country think of themselves. Therefore, media also serves as one of the columns of a common ‘world’.

In the final analysis, language is the basis of strategic partnership. The best example of strategic partnership based on shared language is the partnership between the US and UK. To display the significance of language over religion we can also analyse the relation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and the relations between Iran and Tajikistan. While Azerbaijanis in terms of religion share common values with Iran, linguistically they share almost the same language with the people of Turkey. Based on these inclinations, while Azerbaijan builds good relations with Iran, the relations between Baku and Ankara has a strategic character. In other words, Azerbaijanis prefer Turkey to Iran, since they understand each other well. When we examine Iran-Tajikistan relations, it is observed that despite the fact that Iran constitutes a Shia Muslim majority and Tajik people are Sunni Muslims, they succeeded to some extent to establish positive relationships. Again, the rationale behind Iran-Tajik cooperation is a common Persian language.

In conclusion, there is a correlation between a language and the power of the country which the language belongs to. Hence there is no doubt that the Western civilisation and its values have become widespread due to European empires succeeding in imposing their languages. Even today most of the decolonized states look to their previous colonisers to develop strategic partnerships. This reveals the power of national identity and the power of common language.


[1] ‘Strategic partnership’, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/strategic-partnership, 8.07.2017

[2] Snr Colonel Le The Mau, “Identifying strategic partnership in globalization and international integration era”, September 13, 2016, http://tapchiqptd.vn/en/research-and-discussion/identifying-strategic-partnership-in-globalization-and-international-integration-era/9297.html, 8.07.2017