My end of Module Assignment for Global Diplomacy — Module 1: The Art of Negotiation

Yalcin Arsan
Feb 3, 2016 · 12 min read

Question: To what extent is Diplomatic practice relevant to contemporary international affairs?

Introduction: Berridge defines diplomacy as “an essentially political activity whose chief purpose is to enable states secure the objectives of their foreign policies without resort to force, propaganda or law.” (Diplomacy: theory and practice, 2005, G.R. Berridge). Oxford Dictionary defines diplomacy as “The profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad.” Further definitions can be explored but they all revolve around the idea of a process that takes place between nations (and/or their diplomatic representatives) and whose purpose is to execute foreign policy.

Argument: In today’s modern world and within the context of its classical definition, Diplomatic practice is relevant only to a limited extent.

Analysis: Since the introduction of the concept in the 16th century, Diplomatic practice has been central to international relations around the world. According to Berridge, it not only shaped the communication between governments but also referred to many activities including promoting foreign policy, gathering information, clarifying intentions and engendering goodwill. Together with the balance of power, diplomacy and politics are the most important institution of our society of states.

Today it is even bigger that what early theorists envisioned. It is politics that enables many of the world’s critical systems to run: For the governments to function, legal system to work, the economic system to produce and distribute the outcome, the educational system to train, the technological system to innovate. If these parts of the whole stopped working, the world would practically come to a halt.

And it is not only the main engine that makes the world tick, it is also a means of resolution. Forums, panels and global summits to discuss social, economical or environmental world issues are all advanced forms of Diplomatic practice. These are where important decisions with significant impact on the world are made. Peace talks, treaties, conventions all use diplomacy as their core function. Without Diplomatic practice there would be no structured way to debate on or deal with contemporary problems.

As for the executives of the Diplomatic practice, the situation is similar: Politicians are placed at the top of the society all around the world. They possess highest levels of authority of any public position. Technically, diplomatic practice is the top of the world order.

But what about the practical level?

What does ‘relevancy’ mean for Diplomatic practice?

Relevancy is a term used for a concept that is applicable, appropriate and pertinent to the the matter at hand. According to the definitions introduced earlier, the debate on the relevancy of Diplomatic practice needs to focus on answering the following questions: Is the world’s international affairs skilfully managed, are foreign policies properly executed, its objectives successfully achieved and in due course, can the leaders achieve these peacefully avoiding use of force, propaganda or law enforcement?

From this perspective, the modern world paints a worrying picture. Consider the following observations:

· Public is not safe: We may not have seen a 3rd world war but with regional wars and military conflicts as well as terror attacks consistently erupting all around the world, it is difficult to argue that the world is a safe and peaceful place.

· Environment is not safe: The environmental issues are more pressing than ever but even in the light of clear evidence, the world leaders (mostly for political reasons) chose not to act in time. Although some scientists believe it is not too late, many think that significant damage to crucial eco-systems is already done.

· Many homelands are inhabitable: Either due to local military conflicts or severely unfavourable economic conditions, many people all over the world have found their home countries to be inhabitable and started fleeing in search of a new home. These local conflicts and unfavourable conditions seemed to be in distant locations; many of the western countries ignored the issue for years assuming it’s not their problem, only to find these people knocking on their doors as refugees asking for their asylum rights. Obviously now that it is not so distant, it’s everyone’s problem.

· Conflicting views of world’s problems remain unresolved: Take terrorism; states claim that terror is number one public enemy but those who are involved in this activity see themselves as fighting for a noble cause. Although not a direct failure of diplomacy, this growing difference of opinion is a sign of political leaders not being fully capable of dealing with controversial issues such as terrorism. The refugee problem is similar: It is mostly perceived as a humanitarian issue but with the start of violent acts by the refugees accepted into European countries, many politicians already started looking for alternative solutions.

· Despite being at the top of the public order, politicians are actually lower esteem than ever: Many recent public trust surveys not only show politics in general is losing reputation but also place Politicians at the bottom of the scale compared to other professions.

One can easily grow the number of similar examples. Although it is not fair to jump to a conclusion just yet, there is a lot of reason to question the relevancy of the concept.

The shortcomings:

In his book The Leaderless Revolution, a former UK diplomat Carne Ross focuses on shortcomings of diplomacy as a system. The first is the fact that it is limited to take place between nations states and the interest of the state can be (and usually is) different from the public (Leaderless Revolution — How ordinary people will take power and and change politics in 21st century, Carne Ross, 2012 p 139–140):

Diplomacy and international relations are, by their nature, about nation states. The United Nations, the European Union, ASEAN, the World Trade Organization, the G20 are associations of states. My experience suggests that states, and their exponents, do not accurately reflect what humans are about, nor what they want. Thus, it is naive to expect that their machinations, in the form of interstate diplomacy, will produce results consistent with humanity’s needs in general.

Mostly based on his diplomatic career, Ross goes further than analysing the effectiveness of the Diplomatic system and provides analysis of the accountability concept for a typical Diplomat:

“In democracies, the international representative of the state is accountable to their home ministry, which is led by a politician who is accountable to the legislature, which is ultimately accountable to the population which elects its members. This is already a very long chain of accountability. My experience dealing with Iraq policy was that only the very small group had any hope of a comprehensive grasp of diverse issues at stake: WMD, sanctions, international law, the dynamics of the UN Security Council etc. My ministers, whose job was to explain and “sell” the policy in public and to Parliament, had only a very hazy grasp of the subject. During the four and a half years that I worked on Iraq policy for British government, I was never questioned by any MP about my work.”

Imagine a process designed to execute policy through peaceful and effective means but only works between some of the stakeholders, ignoring many other contemporary establishments as well as the community being affected by the outcomes of the decisions (public).

Then imagine the executional layer of this process, the individuals running the system, that are neither truly accountable for the results they obtain nor being properly judged to be fit for the job. That is not a convincing picture of an effective system.

With these dynamics in place, it is not surprising that the reputation of politicians is lower than ever. The 2014 Ipsos[1] survey for public trust place Politicians at the very bottom of the scale (https://goo.gl/MREloC). The 2015 version of the same research distinguishes between different occupations and still the ‘Government Ministers’ and ‘Politicians in general’ groups show as the least trusted professions (https://goo.gl/dXL6O6). Obviously, it is one thing to sit at the top of the society, quite another thing to have a matching reputation in the eyes of the public. People on the street do not trust the individuals running the Diplomatic process.

All these imply loss of ground on many important scales for Diplomatic practice: Power, impact and public trust.

Another author that studied this subject is Geoff Mulgan, an author and Professor at University College London and former Head of Policy for Tony Blair. Mulgan focuses on the degrading power and significance of diplomacy and produces ideas on what makes it vulnerable in the modern age. His book Connexity (Mulgan, Geoff, 1998, Vintage) is about the vast connectedness and complexity of the modern world and how these have rendered the political institutions mostly redundant:

“Politics, looks bypassed by the powers of a global economy, communication system and science. It seems locked into heavy-handed, bureaucratic forms of government and where once it seemed the best means of asserting human from nature, today politics just as often feels like a force of nature weighing down on the individual. Its mechanisms — the parliaments, parties, manifestos and politicians — hark back to an earlier time and define themselves by concepts that have become ‘plastic words’ drained of meaning.”

Mulgan argues that interdependence of the modern World & freedom of the individuals are two important factors that make the governments mostly irrelevant. Interdependence because the systems are too large and complex for typical governmental systems to manage, freedom because the citizens can purchase most of their basic needs (health, security, education, insurance etc) in transnational exchange systems.

The prime argument of this perspective is the gradual loss of significance of the nation state and its governing functions due to the complexity of the modern world. The logical progression of this idea is to draw attention to the emergence of new and globally effective systems growing to fill the gap. The ‘big business’ aka multinational / transnational companies are the first of that kind.

Jane Meyer’s recent book (Dark Money — The Hidden History of the billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Doubleday, 2015) examines how US republican party gained strength in the 1980 with the help of David — Charles Koch brothers (and their oil business) to set up a network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together. Thanks to Koch brothers’ devoted effort, a new Republican era started in US with Ronald Reagan’s presidency; a clear example of how forces of big business changed the course of the political scenery in US.

It is not only the big business that has the capacity to create change in politics. Add to that the ever growing number of influential NGO’s, pressure groups, lobbyists and other interest groups and the picture becomes clearer: These systems are gradually replacing the nation states and their governments. Their joint impact on modern world affairs is growing.

A world without diplomacy?

Where does all this leave Diplomatic practice? Losing impact is a negative factor in terms of relevancy but is it enough to render the whole concept totally irrelevant?

The issue here is that with all the new dynamics in place, classical definition of diplomacy is too limited to suffice for the contemporary world affairs. The way the world functions is considerably more complicated than the past. Every country, global dynamic and even individuals in far corners of the world depend on each other: The purchase of a sports shoe by a European consumer that is manufactured in China means employment for a Chinese citizen. The transport we use to do business contribute to the CO2 levels of the world that is in turn causing climate change. The security threat for a Syrian citizen is so big, he takes all the risks of travelling to Europe to find a new home, which means insecurity for the European citizen. Threat of malnutrition in Africa means new diseases are developing and spreading to the rest of the world. Slower economic growth in China means there are fewer wealthy Chinese investors looking to buy a house in central London.

Let’s re-visit Berridge definition of Diplomacy: “enable states secure the objectives of their foreign policy.”

The most obvious questions here are: “In a world that is so tightly connected, is there such a thing as foreign any more? How exactly are the global issues related with countries foreign policies? How much does it really matter for public?

For a more generic perspective, let’s turn to the dictionary definition: “profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad” How is it possible for a state to manage its international relations by using just their diplomats abroad? No matter how skilled they are, how effectively can the diplomat take care of the business implications of global affairs?

It is not the intent of the Diplomatic practice that limits its modern day relevancy, it is the assumptions of its original definition as a process. Many of today’s modern world problems are too complex to be addressed by foreign policies & diplomatic channels. Compared to previous centuries, the nation states have significantly less impact on the world and hence a process that is designed to take place between these institutions will struggle to provide solutions to many of the modern world problems.

And where there is struggle, there evolves a natural solution: Today it is mostly the preferences of big business that fills the gap, determining the course of actions for countries on many critical choices. There are many examples how much impact the big oil, pharma and military & aerospace industries have on their governments’ important decisions. This is now so common it even happens in industries as common as automotive sector. In a recent case the world saw how the German auto maker Volkswagen successfully lobbied to ease the audit process of the emission levels of the cars, eventually paving way for its engineers to find a way to cheat the system and manage to get away with it for more than a decade.

The article “The Future of Diplomacy? Five Projective Visions” (Henrikson Alan K., 2005) discusses possible scenarios where Diplomacy will either disintermediate (its formal institutions will be bypassed by multinational companies with their own business networks), Europeanize (convert to a more EU like nature), Americanise (approximate to the American system in which diplomats will function as lobbyists/advocates doing their own work instead of relying on representational systems), democratise (sovereign states will act like multilateral institutions such as the UN, listening to the diverse voices inside and out of the growing world) or thematise (deal with issues on a case by case basis, ie 9/11 and using “war” as a metaphor against challenges such as terror, disease, crime, drugs and other threats to society.) Henrikson argues diplomacy will improvise to rise to the challenges it is facing.

Conclusion

Based on the original definition created by theorists attempting to define it in the past, Diplomatic practice is relevant only to a limited extent in today’s highly inter-connected and complex world. The nation states and its foreign policies do not matter as much as they did in previous centuries and they are being overhauled by many other institutions such as MNCs, NGOs, pressure groups and lobbyists. It is the policies of these new and powerful institutions that are shaping the agenda for diplomats to work on, not the other way around.

However, Diplomatic practice is bigger than its original academic definition. Whether we realize or not, almost every social and public methodology utilized by today’s most successful institutions rely on diplomacy in one way or another: Global talks on social matters as well as the very concept of lobbying is based on the theory of “continuous negotiations” as defined by Richelieu in 17th century.

It is not fair to argue that diplomacy is the cause of all global failures. However, because it is the main tool for the political system and is being successfully utilized by many outside institutions (more than those who it is originally intended for), it is under strict public scrutiny. The lower than ever reputation for the typical politician is another a strong proof that diplomacy needs to make new connections. Governments and related systems of governance that touch the lives of the people needs to be reconnected to the public to restore trust. The relevancy of the Diplomatic practice is both a practical and a perception issue: Practical because it is already embedded in the daily routine of how the world functions and perception because in the age of modern communication public trust is the determining factor for any global concept.

This is not only a critical view but also of an evolutionary perspective for Diplomacy. The loss of relevance in dealing with current matters is frustrating but with a concept that is technically so powerful, this drawback is likely to induce change and a bring a period of adaptation. Once we realize that nation states are not the only critical actors, but a part of equation just as (but not more) important than any other stakeholder of the process, the relevancy of the concept will look more meaningful. What we’re looking at is not a world without diplomacy but one in need of a restructured and practical definition in terms of the way it functions. Once this new definition gets more real by including all the modern day stakeholders and comes to terms with the changing world, it will be more relevant than ever.

And this time this relevancy will be based on a strong sustainable basis: The capacity to adapt to a drastically changing world.

Bibliography and suggested readings:

  1. Berridge, G.R. (2005). Diplomacy : theory and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  2. Morgenthau, Hans J. (1946). Diplomacy. The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 55, No. 5 (Aug., 1946)
  3. Ross, Carne (2012). The Leaderless Revolution. Simon & Schuster.
  4. Mulgan, Geoff (1998). Connexity. Vintage.
  5. Mulgan, Geoff (2004). Connexity Revisited. Demos. 10/12/2015 from http://www.demos.co.uk/files/File/networklogic04mulgan.pdf
  6. Ipsos Mori Research / Poll (2015). Politicians trusted less than estate agents, bankers and journalists . 09.12.2015 from https://goo.gl/Y4W6Me
  7. Jane Meyer, (2015). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Doubleday
  8. Flores, A. Q., 2009, The Political Survival of Foreign Ministers’, Foreign Policy Analysis.
  9. Pilger, John (2002). The new rulers of the world. Verso.

[1] Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading full service UK research company with global reach — www.ipsos-mori.com

Yalcin Arsan

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