Diplomacy in the 21st Century – March 2012 - 17th International Symposium
The London Academy of Diplomacy, University of East Anglia, London Campus organised the 17th International Symposium in the series of Diplomacy in the 21st Century –28-29 March 2012 , on:
Rethinking Diplomatic Practice, Global Commerce and International Security in the Age of Heteropolarity
Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia - Opening Address recorded on YouTube >>
Overview of themes and panels
- The limits of diplomacy... do they exist?
- Revolution in ICTs and the implications for diplomatic practice (WikiLeaks, social media, virtual foreign ministries, etc.)
- PD in conflict zones/PD as counter-terrorism
- Executive ambassadors – MNC country managers as corporate heads of mission
- Diplomats as globalisation managers – best practices in trade and investment promotion
- Corporate social responsibility and the question of ethics in International Relations
- From Cold War to Long War... and how to get at the real threats and challenges
- Humanitarian intervention, state sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect
- Universal values and national interests – can the two be reconciled?
- Science, technology and the management of international policy
- Modelling the future of world order
- New approaches to global governance
The question must be put – does diplomacy, that oft-mentioned, little understood approach to the management of international relations characterized by dialogue, negotiation and compromise - still matter? I believe that answer to be yes, but... Diplomacy matters now more than ever, yet it has been sidelined. Its practices, practitioners and institutions have not adapted well to the exigencies globalisation, and international policy, as was the case during the Cold War, remains militarised.
In the public mind, diplomacy has never fully recovered from the legacy of Chamberlain in Munich, when diplomacy came to be associated with weakness and appeasement. This can be seen in the still popular currency of expressions such as "talk is cheap" and "weasel words". That legacy is exacerbated by the prevailing archetypes of spoiled ditherers drinking and dining off the public purse, lost in a haze of irrelevance somewhere between protocol and alcohol, which in turn has reinforced the more substantial issue of failing to change with the times. The result is a double diplomatic deficit: an increasing demand for, but diminished supply of diplomatic representation world-wide, and a serious performance gap which afflicts foreign ministries almost everywhere.
Diplomacy has been neglected for over half a century. During the Cold War, international relations revolved largely around geopolitical confrontation, ideological competition, territorial disputes, alliance politics, and multilateral organizations. The imperatives of deterrence and mutually assured destruction, all files dominated by the military, tended to leave only small spaces on the margins for diplomatic manoeuvre.
9/11 allowed the trend towards the militarization of international policy - which was almost derailed in the 1990s by the absence of credible enemies and demands for the payment of a peace dividend - to continue. Like Communism, the threat of terrorism was declared to be universal and undifferentiated. Like containment, addressing it would for the major powers require extensive global facilities for power projection and the declaration of an open-ended, global war on terror, again led by the armed forces. Thus did the Cold War morph into the Long War - or Overseas Contingency Operations, or stabilization, or counterinsurgency. Throughout this period, the marginalization of diplomacy has persisted, if not become more acute.
How so? Most diplomats work for states, and these days states are only one actor among many on a world stage now crowded with multinational corporations, NGOs, think tanks and celebrities. In recent years the formulation of foreign policy has become more of an executive and specialised function, with leadership passing increasingly upwards, into the hands of presidents and prime ministers, outwards, to new actors and other government departments, and downwards, to other levels of government. Foreign ministries have lost much of their turf.
Today, clearly delineated empires are no longer colliding, and the spectre of world war and thermonuclear annihilation has receded. In the globalization era, the most profound threats and challenges to human survival – public health and pandemic disease, food security and resource scarcity, alternative energy sources and climate change, to name a few – are rooted in science and driven by technology. The centre of gravity in international relations has shifted; bombs and guns, generals and admirals can't readily address the new set of threats and challenges. Diplomats can and should. But are they?
Not well enough.
In the face of challenges of this magnitude, simply dimply dusting diplomacy off or changing the wrapping won't do. It must be re-thought from the ground up. Traditional diplomacy turns on conventions, some formally codified, others embedded in the bureaucratic culture. A diplomatic renaissance, however, will turn on the unconventional, on the capacity to get well beyond the both negative stereotypes of cartoon caricatures in top hats and pearls and the default position of merely going through the well-established motions of conducting relations between states.
The management of today's sprawling suite of transnational issues requires not only relentless creativity and tireless collaboration, but the engagement of cross-cutting networks between government and civil society - NGOs, business, universities, think tanks and the media. This means finding ways to build better diplomats - by adopting innovative approaches to recruitment, training, and professional development, for instance. But it also implicates a more fundamental diplomatic transition: from looking to seeing, from hearing to listening, and from transmitting to receiving.
So, does diplomacy matter OR are diplomats still necessary? You bet, because it privileges talking over fighting – you can't garrison against global warming, or call in an air strike on inequality. If human-centred, long-term development is the essence of the new security, then diplomacy must displace defence at the core of international policy. But if diplomacy is going to work, then foreign ministries will first need to be fixed - made relevant domestically, made effective in their operations, and transformed into international policy entrepots for the management of globalization. Making a priority of Science & Technology, which is the engine of globalisation, could jump-start that process.
Foreign policy is the poetry of internal relations, and that is the province of our elected representatives. Diplomacy, however, is the plumbing, and it is for officials to ensure that when the faucet is turned on, something comes out. Provided with the resources required to get the job done, foreign ministries can be restored as dynamic catalysts of grand strategy and broadly-based international policy development for the 21st century.