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Modern diplomacy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3517 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In its simplest form diplomacy is the maintenance of peace and the avoidance of war. But this is too simple a definition and denies the complexity inherent to modern diplomacy. Berridge (2001:1) provides more substance, writing that in its most recognizable state form, diplomacy is ”the term given to the official channels of communication employed by members of a system of states.” Berridge (2002:1) adds that ”the chief purpose of diplomacy is to enable states to secure the objectives of their foreign policies without resort to force, propaganda or law.” While this is certainly true of state-to-state diplomacy such Satowesque 5 definitions of diplomacy are rather exclusive in that they suggest no other international actors practice diplomacy. Such parochialism has produced a backlash. John Hoffman (2003:525), a less than traditional diplomacy writer, claims that ”the state is incoherent, and this incoherence necessarily extends itself to statist diplomacy…traditional or conventional notions of diplomacy” must be avoided if the nature of modern diplomacy is to be truly understood. Diplomacy, Hoffman (2003:533) contends, ”functions much more fully and consistently in a stateless context than in a state centered one.” (Hoffman, 2003)

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These two opinions indicate that there is confusion in response to the simple question ”what is diplomacyr” In the twenty-first century, the traditional form of diplomacy is ubiquitous and increasing in practice. In addition, many nontraditional actors, such as NGOs, multi-national corporations (MNCs), and even individuals can be said to practice diplomacy. It is because of this plurality of actors that this article prefers Paul Sharp’s (2003:858) broad-and very diplomatic definition of diplomacy:

The way in which relations between groups that regard themselves as separate ought to be conducted if the principle of living in groups is to be retained as good, and if unnecessary and unwanted conflict is to have a chance of being avoided. Significantly, Sharp’s definition suggests that the modern diplomatic environment is not one dominated exclusively by states and their diplomats. A sketch of the modern diplomatic environment confirms this observation.

The Modern Diplomatic Environment

For most of the twentieth century, the state and its traditional diplomatic institution were the primary conduit for most matters international. However, a snapshot of the modern diplomatic environment suggests a more diffuse landscape. In addition, this snapshot reveals the limitations inherent to the traditional, statist way of thinking and writing about diplomacy. In the modern diplomatic environment the state is the most dominant political actor while its diplomatic institution (Jonsson, Hall, 2005) (centrally orchestrated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) remains the most visible diplomatic actor. In the physical sense, traditional diplomacy has ”become a growth sector” (Hocking 1997:169) and remains the ”engine room of international relations” (Cohen 1998:1). Currently, there are 191 states operating in the modern diplomatic environment, compared to 47 in 1950 and 26 in 1926.8 All of these states interact diplomatically, all need to represent themselves, and all need continuously to negotiate advantageous foreign policy ends in a competitive and occasionally hostile environment. With over three hundred years of related experience, the foreign embassy endures as the leading diplomatic actor, where ”the conduct of relations on a state-to-state basis, via formally accredited resident missions forms the bulk of international exchange” (Berridge 2002:105).

Therefore, a traditional approach to writing and thinking about diplomacy must not be abandoned. This approach, with an emphasis on the state and its diplomacy, is ubiquitous, valuable, and necessary for the diplomacy studies field. And in terms of one actor-the state-it is both sufficient and catholic. When attempting to understand modern diplomacy and international relations, it is important to remember that ”at the heart of any worthwhile theory of international relations must lie a theory of traditional diplomacy” (Sharp 2003:856).

But all is not well in the traditional backyard. In the face of ever-tightening budgets and shrinking numbers of overseas missions and staff, the reinvention of the t?aditional diplomatic institution is apparent. Now these institutions have to justify their relevance to a more informed domestic audience. This justification includes two-way communication processes with domestic and global publics (instead of the traditional one-way processes which reinforced the hermetic image of many institutions); the inclusion of many nonstate ”experts” into the sacred halls of diplomacy; and the shift in recruitment policies to build staffs truly reflective of the domestic societal strata they purport to represent, to name but a few changes. This snapshot suggests that the traditional ”gatekeepers” are struggling to maintain relevance and are reforming in a bid to hang on to the keys to the gate.

On the other side of the gate, energized, increasingly efficient, and numerous nonstate actors are gathering. There is a correlation between their rising numbers and growing influence. For example, the number of NGOs has risen from 997 in 1954 to 20,928 in 2005 / 2006 (Jonsson, 2005). The large numbers of MNCs is also noteworthy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century there are more than 53,000 MNCs, which have over 450,000 foreign affiliates (Kegley and Wittkopf 2003:173). These ever-growing numbers suggest that MNCs exercise significant clout in the modern diplomatic system, with global assets in excess of $13 trillion (USD) and global sales of more than $9.5 trillion (USD) (Kegley and Wittkopf 2003:173). And more than half of the world’s top economies are not countries but global MNCs, with waning affiliations to the nation-state. The growth of IGOs in the last hundred years is also significant. In 1909, there were 37 IGOs, by 1962 this number had risen to 163, and by 2005 / 2006 the modern diplomatic environment had 1,963 IGOs.( Jonsson, 2005) To representatives from this growing nonstate sector, the gate no longer looks so imposing o? absolute; there are many other paths around the side.

In the modern diplomatic environment, these nonstate groups have adopted basic diplomatic functions such as negotiation skills, visible representation, effective communication, filtered information, and political reporting from overseas and symbolism (the Greenpeace rainbow flag is instantly recognizable, as are the ubiquitous golden arches). Large MNCs, as one example, are learning of the need to ”develop their own task-defined diplomatic structures to serve their particular needs and develop local expertise that national diplomatic services find hard to rival” (Hocking 2004:149). Where before there was one path and one gate there are now many channels, networks and alternate environments through which to engage in diplomacy.

Myriad patterns of asymmetric and polylateral diplomacy are appearing, involving not only state representatives but also representatives from NGOs, transnational organizations (the External Delegations of the European Union, for example), (Hocking 2004:149) and even famous though hardly effective movie stars. The Ottawa Process, the Kimberley Diamonds Process, or the Nazi Gold settlement-success stories of ”unconventional” diplomacy-are regularly trumpeted and are used as evidence to suggest the ushering in of an era of ”new” diplomacy (again!).

Whether it is multi-lateralism or summitry or two individuals from different countries conversing on a plane, diplomacy is blossoming and clearly no longer axiomatically linked to the state. Traditional writing on diplomacy only tells part of this modern diplomatic story. It amply accounts for the historical and modern role of the state in diplomacy but fails to explain the proliferation and impact of unconventional, ”new” diplomatic actors. A glance at the canon of diplomacy studies suggests that the traditional way of thinking and writing about diplomacy is being challenged.

Beyond Modern Diplomacy

Viewing diplomacy in representational terms provides a richer understanding of what diplomats do than does the conventional account of it as “one of the lesser tools of foreign policy.” The diplomats of the modern state system claimed that no one else occupied the position of detachment from the international society of states, or performed the role of representing its members to the world and the world back to them. Now, it is becoming increasingly plausible to claim that more people are so employed and more are “diplomats.” An obvious extension of the approach of viewing diplomacy as representation is to apply it to the “new” diplomatic actors of contemporary international relations. To what extent does their “becoming diplomatic” involve these actors accepting and internalizing the professional and political worlds as these are presented by diplomacy in the narrow senser To what extent do they bring something new to itr Could humanitarian agencies parlay a local and temporary acceptance, based upon expertise, knowledge, and control of resources, into a more lasting and extensive legitimacy-one recognized by states but not derived from statesr

An obvious expectation of the approach outlined above is that the new diplomats, like the diplomats of revolutionary regimes before them, will do much adjusting. Their ability to bring about change in the professional and political universes of diplomacy will be limited. This is not an argument in any simple sense of that term. New actors do not have to conform to the rules of the game as it is played by old acto?s (read rich and powerful) because that is what the old ones want. rather, it is the representatives of actors for whom unity, autonomy, and identity remain important. They face similar predicaments, whether they represent the old or new, the rich or poor, the strong or weak. All face the problem of contributing to the production and reproduction of the identities they represent in, and by, their relations with one another. Other games-economic, military, political, and social-are going on too, but their significance varies by actor, policy, and context. representation, as already discussed, is common to all actors in international relations and is particular to it. This is not as big a claim as it may sound. The question of whether new diplomatic actors accept the political and professional worlds of diplomacy acknowledges that they also function in a wider world of international thought and action in which these other actors try to function with their own universesand associated operational codes. Consider two established concepts, sovereignty and nation. Both appear as prominent bricks in the edifice of diplomacy’s professional and political worlds, yet both also belong to other worlds where the systemic and moderating preoccupations of diplomacy seem to have very little place.

In addition to how diplomacy tames, manages, and uses these two ideas for itself, it is worth examining how diplomacy copes when others have different conceptions and priorities.

As James Mayall notes, diplomacy was one of the few international institutions to survive the onslaught of popular sovereignty and nineteenth-century nationalism. (Mayall, 1990) Mayall’s diplomacy, and nearly everyone else’s, is the diplomacy of the modern territorial state, with a practical and clearly identifiable sovereign site. We take this so much for granted that we may ask whether diplomacy in the absence of sovereigns may be properly termed “diplomacy.” Instead, we might ask, How did diplomacy survive modernityr Clearly the answer is adaptation.

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How will diplomacy survive encounters with concepts beyond which it has traditionally not claimed, such as race, class, gender, and civilizations (not Civilization)r It is beyond my competence to speak about these ideas, other than to note that even at conventional conferences on diplomacy, papers on issues like “the problem of spouses and partne?s” are often presented Mayall, 1990). Discomforting though these approaches are to some of the participants, neither these themes nor the universes of arguments and assumptions about social life from which they stem will go away. Establishing an effective diplomatic mission today involves addressing patriarchy and identity issues, as well as the problems posed for security and institutional memory by electronic mailing systems. The study of diplomacy and what diplomats have to say about it will appeal neither to structuralists nor to constructivists in their respective strong forms. Diplomacy presumes that structures do not explain all outcomes, nor even just the important ones, but it also takes existing structures seriously. Structures may be constituted by the practice of agents. In acknowledging this, diplomats are unlikely to concede that we have learned much about the likelihood of particular structures cohering, evolving, or collapsing-even if their own instinct is to bet on cohering.

And Outcomes Of Diplomatic Interaction

The outcomes of diplomatic interaction between governments and NSEEs vary enormously, primarily according to how powerful the particular state is, and seconda?ily according to whether the NSEE is an MEI that holds heavy purse strings on which a government may depend. Weak states and developing countries are often in the position of supplicant before MEIs such as the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks, whose representatives often wield great power over developing countries’ domestic economies (Strange, 1996). On the other hand, powerful states and creditor nations interact with NSEEs more as equals or as masters. In terms of power relations and accompanying diplomatic practice, governments of states view MEIs not as a global government, so the analogy is not that of U.S. states or German Länder dealing with their respective Federal Governments. Nor can MEIs any longer be seen as uniformly subordinate bodies to nation-state governments, so a Federal Government to U.S. state or German Land analogy, in which administrative considerations might tend to predominate over the political, would be equally off the mark.

NSEEs are likely to view governments according to whether the government is a net provider or recipient of the institution’s funds. A better analogy for NSEE-government interaction would be the way that nation-state governments regard other governments: each pairing of governments will reflect a different distribution of power, both relational and structural, between them, a different historical and cultural background to the relationship, a different institutional evolution of the relationship. Hence diplomacy between nation-state governments, considered as a group, and NSEEs, considered as a group, is likely to varry in terms of power distribution, institutional compatibility, and other relevant variables in much the same way that diplomacy as traditionally conceived between nation-state governments varies.

An understanding of how diplomatic interactions between NSEEs and governments translates into outcomes requires drawing upon the range of theories of power from the International relations/International Political Economy literature. Theoretical approaches such as Neoliberalism and Institutionalism are well adapted to diplomacy between states and non-state economic entities because they presuppose the role of institutions in promoting cooperation between states. A Neomarxist-Gramscian approach’s understanding of the material bases for state power offers a way to differentiate between the power of states, and its logic of transnational historic blocs seeking the consent of the governed can explain the motivation to create NSEEs to facilitate diplomacy and one of its main objectives, cooperation and the consensual exercise of power. From Social Constructivism we can draw upon ideas of how states and NSEEs alike c?eate and re-create their identities through their public presentation of themselves and through negotiations, which in turn can shift power between them (Ford, 2002). From Postmodernism/Post-positivism, conceptions such as time-space compression can explain how the institutional organization of representation has changed and how the speed of diplomatic interactions has accelerated, each of which favour some actors at the expense of others (Harvey, 1990).

Neorealism’s state-centric focus applies less well to the explanation of power in a diplomatic system in which states themselves do not speak with one voice to NSEEs, and at the same time NSEEs are both venues for multilateral cooperation and actors with agendas and objectives distinct from those of any state. Despite being difficult to place within any single theoretical tradition, Strange’s notion of structural power as power to shape the parameters within which others must make decisions seems particularly useful in explaining power in government-NSEE diplomatic interactions (Strange, 1994, 1996). Using Strange’s four interlocking structures of knowledge, production, finance and security one can account for disparities of power between states, the particular power of MEIs concerned with global finance, and even the impact of the variability in skills of diplomats on different sides of a negotiation. For example, Strange’s approach would expect MEIs to tend to prevail in negotiations with developing countries.

Conclusions: Power as Mobilization

While the scope and visibility of what I have termed the new public diplomacy is novel, the mechanisms that it employs are not. Persuasion, framing, and agendasetting are the basic tools of political influence. However, focusing on them tends to change our understanding of how power operates. The changes in the political and communications context of international politics change make their operation more visible and accessible to more agents. Power is not a magic bullet that can render the interactions of international politics immediately comprehensible, but serves as short hand for what agents do. The analysis presented above suggests that we have been looking for power in the wrong places. IR theory tends to start from the presumption that military power is the ultimate determinant of the outcomes in IR. This military bias results in power being thought of in terms of confrontations between well defined positions. The image of power can be illustrated if we think of the forces needed to move a huge boulder securely embedded in a mountainside. Yet if the boulder is already rolling down the mountain, the forces needed to push it in a new direction are very much less. We may be unable to move the boulder, but if it is already in motion, we may be able to move it onto a new course. Human society (and particularly the small sections of it that represent political organizations) are already (and always in motion), thus, a relatively minor impetus delivered at the right place and time and can change outcomes.

To think in terms of processes is to see that the mechanisms of soft power are not exceptional but the normal tools of politics. All that the new public diplomacy is doing is allowing more people to use them in a more public way. The consequence of the age of mixed media is that more people can do this changing the dynamics and the outcomes of politics, and that is no small thing. Anthony Giddens treats power and, by extension, agency, in terms of the capacity to use the rules and resources that exist in any social context to produce effects. What the new public diplomacy indicates is the way in which technological and political change is changing the possibilities to act within world politics. Power needs to be treated in terms of mobilizational processes rather in terms of structures or agents. The changes in the global media environment affect the political strategies adopted by both states as well as non-state actors. Analysis of these developments suggests that power in the information age cannot be understood solely in terms of resources or structures without consideration of process issues such as mobilizing strategies and the ability of agents to set agendas and influence the framing of issues via the media. Such a perspective explains the ability of resource poor actors to exert influence in particular circumstances and the limitations of this influence.


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