Art Diplomacy

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Observer Culture
Museum Diplomacy: Could Islamic Art Inspire Middle East Peace?
US ambassador Samantha Power takes diplomats on a tour of the Met
By Pamela Falk • 06/16/16 10:15am

Visitors from around the world flock to the Met to view art history’s great masterpieces and attend fashionable galas, but to negotiate international relations is surely a first. New York’s premier museum recently became the unlikely venue for a high-security, invite-only meeting organized by Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the United Nations. Mixing business with pleasure, the U.S. ambassador invited key international diplomats to tour the museum’s newest exhibition of Islamic art.

Joining Power to see “Court & Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs,” an exhibition of artifacts from a short-lived Turkic dynasty, were diplomats from 15 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Senegal and Palestine. Power’s hope: the historic artworks would provide the edification needed to soften the tone of regional discord. Just a day before the museum tour, Syria’s besieged city of Aleppo was plunged into chaos.

Ambassador Power was once a trusted campaign policy advisor to President Obama, and served as a member of the National Security Council before heading to the U.N. in 2013. With only six months left on at her current post, the ambassador is looking to create legacy results.

“She does a lot of events outside of Turtle Bay,” said Rae Lynn Wargo, an aide to Power.

The ambassador has found taking discussions away from the occasionally numbing rhetoric of the U.N. has proved effective for diplomacy. In the past, Power has sparred on Twitter with outspoken Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin regarding her meeting with the punk band Pussy Riot, played basketball with Arab and Israeli youth, and sung karaoke at the South Korean ambassador’s residence. She frequently brings her work home with her to the Waldorf Tower penthouse she shares with her Harvard professor husband Cass Sunstein.

As it turns out, Power’s tour is not the first time the museum has hosted VIP politicians. When the U.N. General Assembly is on, small groups of government representatives have been known to swing through. Notable visitors included Secretary of State John Kerry and Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, according to the museum’s vice president of communications Elyse Topalian.

The exhibition at the Met includes exquisite relics from an ancient culture that once occupied the now war-torn region spanning Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria from the 11th through 13th centuries. In the show’s catalogue and in an earlier book, historian A.C.S. Peacock wrote that the Sunni nomadic group, who briefly captured Mosul, Iraq, suffered from divisions during its short dynasty, which is best known for its literacy, innovation and religious tolerance.

“In the Middle Ages, many Muslim societies placed great emphasis on learning and had large libraries and great respect for our shared history,” Met Museum president Daniel Weiss said.

Diplomats spent two hours in the galleries, sharing perspectives on the Seljuqs and, it seemed to this reporter (the only member of the media invited), they managed to find some common ground.

Sheila Canby, curator of Islamic art, directed the visiting diplomats to view a 13th century basin from Jazira. “The relationship,” she said of the ancient Muslims and crusaders, “was complicated,” with some conquest and some cooperation.

“It is important to show that Islamic history is not about fanatics waving flags,” said Weiss. “Most people get it that Muslim world history and culture is not about ISIS.”

Amr Al-Azm, an anthropology professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio who specializes in the region, joined the tour. “I am like a kid in a candy shop, these are treasures of Islam,” said Al-Azm, an anthropology professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. “A people without their history are lost.”

Al-Azm told the group that Aleppo’s ISIS brigades, such as the Zangids, take their names from ancient civilizations.

“Those who choose those brigade names, are they on the extremist side? On the al-Nusra side or ISIL?” Power asked, intrigued.

“More on the al-Nusra side,” Al-Azm answered.

“This is not the Security Council,” Jordan’s ambassador Dina Kawar chimed in, eliciting laughter. Evoking candor was the point of Power’s tour.

“The exposition shows a period of our history where cultural influences were able to produce the epitome of beautiful artistic pieces,” said Kawar. “When you see the exposition and you watch D’aesh [ISIS] destroying our cultural heritage, claiming it as unreligious, you realize the urgent need to unite against such a dark force…Cultural diplomacy is certainly the most effective and the most necessary at this stage”

Power pushes hard but artfully, and she may be on the right track. Some of the biggest breakthroughs in diplomatic relations since World War II have occurred outside the hallowed halls of government: in the bucolic estate of Bretton Woods, Camp David, the Wye Plantation, and Potsdam. There has been Henry Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” and Richard Nixon’s “ping-pong” diplomacy. Whether Power’s “museum diplomacy” will help mend Middle East fences is hard to predict, but she succeeded at focusing diplomats on history and art. Not a bad place to get the conversation started before she exits the corridors of the U.N.

“Court & Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs,” is on view at the Met Fifth Avenue through July 24.

Habitat III and Mrs. Dalloway

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An interesting recent article about the UN’s Habitat III global summit and the confluence of old and new diplomacy

Habitat III impasse resolved with Mexico, Philippines to lead talks
Still, observers increasingly worried about time lost for New Urban Agenda negotiations.
Greg Scruggs
June 9, 2016

UNITED NATIONS — A political impasse that had stalled progress on negotiations toward the New Urban Agenda, the outcome strategy of this year’s Habitat III conference on urbanization, has been resolved with the appointment of diplomats from Mexico and the Philippines as co-facilitators of the talks.

Starting immediately, their task is to shepherd the delicate process of transforming the first draft of the document into a text ready to be negotiated word by word in the hopes of reaching consensus by the time the conference begins in October. Such an achievement would allow the gathering in Quito, Ecuador, to serve largely as a victory lap focused on implementation rather an ongoing exercise in hard-nosed diplomacy.

The selection resolved a two-week stalemate that prevented the preparation of an updated version of the New Urban Agenda following the first round of intergovernmental negotiations last month. Thus far, the Habitat III process has been guided by France’s Maryse Gautier and Ecuador’s María Duarte, who are the co-chairs of the 10-member Habitat III Bureau and had also been serving as co-facilitators.

During last month’s negotiations, however, a Nigerian diplomat called for new co-facilitators with the autonomy to take the reins of the negotiating process. That request, which the Bureau acceded to, prompted a search that did not immediately yield fruit. As early as this past Friday, Citiscope confirmed that the Philippines had taken the job on behalf of the Global South. But a counterpart — traditionally, for balance, a country from the Global North — was not forthcoming.

Sources close to the process indicated that Italy, Norway, Sweden, Romania and Australia had all been considered or were asked directly. But each either was deemed unsuitable or rejected the offer.

“It’s not that simple to jump into a heavy process,” European Union diplomat Isabelle Delattre told Citiscope by way of explanation for the difficulty in finding a second co-facilitator. In other words, it would have been easier embark upon a leadership role from the outset, rather than joining in partway through when much of the work has already been done by other parties.

By late Tuesday night, the Bureau had successfully convinced Mexico to step into the role. While not a traditional Global North country, Mexico is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); it is also the only Latin American country other than Ecuador to have hosted two Habitat III meetings.

The announcement came just in time, as the second round of informal negotiations was scheduled to begin Wednesday. With Mexico on board, those talks were able to proceed, with the two new co-facilitators taking the dais and the Bureau co-chairs formally stepping aside from the facilitation role. (Gautier was present; Duarte was not.)

No new draft

The two co-facilitators bring significant diplomatic experience to the process. Lourdes Ortiz Yparraguirre is the permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, having come to New York after an ambassadorial post and several stints as permanent representative to U. N. agencies in Vienna. Dámaso Luna Corona, the adjunct director general for sustainable development in Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, was his country’s lead negotiator during the Rio+20 process that led to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Yparraguirre immediately called for this week’s negotiations to result in “a meeting of the minds” that would yield “converge points”, or agreements between member states, in order to form the basis of a constructive way forward.

Luna Corona reminded delegates, “The New Urban Agenda must fit into the SDG framework, and all of its provisions with regards to sustainable development need to complement the SDGs over the next 20 years.”

While the appointment of co-facilitators points to a way forward for the Habitat III process, member states were swift to make their displeasure known about the delays. Based on terms announced by Gautier during the May negotiations, a new draft of the New Urban Agenda had been expected by 27 May.

In turn, that document should have served as a basis for this week’s three-day negotiating session. Instead, all that was delivered to delegates ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of talks was a 104-page compilation of inputs received thus far. Member states said this was a useful reference but hardly equivalent to a revised negotiating text.

“We cannot neglect the significance of not having a revised draft declaration for this meeting,” said Canada’s Berthe Bourque. “Canada must stress the importance of the Bureau in playing a leadership role in ensuring that the negotiations of the New Urban Agenda proceed, and we look forward to continuing this process in a timely manner.”

The European Union and the Group of 77 developing countries (G77) plus China — traditionally opposed blocs in U. N. negotiations — struck a note of agreement on this topic. “It is regrettable that we have lost precious time in the last weeks,” said Delattre. “It is time that we make the best use of the negotiations to come up with an ambitious New Urban Agenda.”

Thailand’s Thanavon Pamaranon, speaking on behalf of the G77, said, “The Group is of the view that given the time limitations, we urgently need to change gear and significantly accelerate our progress towards the final Quito outcome.” Thailand currently is the head of the G77.

However, with no new text to work from, member states were forced to refer to the New Urban Agenda’s first draft, which was published in early May.

A few countries did offer some enhanced comments. Jamaica’s Nicola Barker-Murphy, notably, provided detailed tweaks to the preamble, which it is coordinating for the G77.
Yet the overall sentiment was one of frustration with the lack of a new draft. “At this point we should be negotiating the text word by word, paragraph by paragraph, something that will not be done this week,” said Brazil’s Carlos Cuenca. “I must stress that we don’t want the intergovernmental process to somehow get derailed.”

Slowed by ‘distrust’

While there are bumps in any political negotiation, seasoned U. N. observers have expressed concern about the state of affairs in which Habitat III finds itself.

“We’ve had lots of dysfunction in every process,” said Christopher Dekki, a policy officer with the Communitas Coalition. But in the case of Habitat III, he said, “Distrust pervades the process.”

In Dekki’s estimation, “blame should be equally shared” for the current negotiating climate. The recent impasse was the result of a “collective problem”, he said, not the fault of any one party.

In recent negotiations that Dekki has followed closely, such as those around the SDGs, he said he observed more mutual respect and genuine dialogue between member states and non-governmental stakeholders. By contrast, he said: “I feel like everyone involved in [Habitat III] is talking past each other. It seems the urgency of the topic is being missed.”

Meanwhile, stakeholders who have spent months preparing for this moment with the hopes of influencing the New Urban Agenda have also struggled with the muddled situation. During last month’s negotiations, for example, the Russian Federation questioned the participation of stakeholders in the process, despite a U. N. General Assembly resolution on Habitat III authorizing their role.

That issue remains unresolved. In her opening remarks this week, Yparraguirre said that stakeholders would be given the floor. But later the negotiations were temporarily halted at the request of the G77 — which may affect that plan.

“Compared to other processes, it’s concerning that we are not clearly applying the agreed procedure and protocol,” said Katia Araújo, who has eight years’ worth of experience in following U. N. negotiations on behalf of NGOs.


The new co-facilitators are also fighting the clock, as the Habitat III conference is now set to start in just over four months. A more immediate deadline is the third and final preparatory meeting — the site of formal negotiations — in Indonesia at the end of July.

Many hope the Indonesia sessions will be able to make as much progress as possible on finalizing the New Urban Agenda, in order to avoid having the text come down to the wire in Quito. Yet the less progress that is made in New York in the coming month, the more the Indonesia talks will be forced to take on.

Yet the time currently on the diplomatic calendar to negotiate the New Urban Agenda is limited. Given that this week’s negotiations are not working from a revised text, actual line-by-line negotiations will have only three days of informal negotiations — currently scheduled from 29 June to July 1 — as well as three days in Indonesia. With four more days available in Quito, that’s a total of just 10 days to finalize a major negotiated document — one that is supposed to set the global urbanization agenda for the next two decades.

It is possible that member states will call for additional informal negotiating days, but that remains to be seen.

It is useful to compare the current process with the last Habitat conference, which took place in Istanbul in 1996. At this stage in the run-up to Habitat II, there were 26 more negotiating days still on the calendar — both the third preparatory negotiations and Habitat II itself included 10 such days each. That said, the document that emerged from Istanbul was the 109-page Habitat Agenda, versus the comparatively leaner 22-page New Urban Agenda first draft.

Such a calculation may ultimately provide enough negotiating time for the New Urban Agenda to maintain its current format — a preamble, a declaration, and a detailed implementation plan including follow-up and review. But structural adjustments to the document could also be in the cards.

Whatever the outcome, the most vocal member states are repeatedly urging that the process move forward, because time is of the essence. The United States’ Ian Klaus used a literary allusion to make that point.

“The ringing clock of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” that tracks the movement of time in the city continues apace,” he said. “This negotiation is an opportunity for the member states to take leadership on how urbanization will happen. Unnecessary time lost on politics and process is time lost on delivering an ambitious New Urban Agenda which can helps shape the future of urbanization.”

Review of R. Kolb, Commentaire sur le Pacte de la Société des Nations

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Robert Kolb, dir. Commentaire sur le Pacte de la Société des Nations (Brussels: Bruylant, 2015).

Reviewed by Steffen Rimner, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

This book belongs to that rare and virtuous type of scholarship which delivers more than it promises. It represents the only comprehensive study of the League of Nations Covenant since 1939 and one of the most critical guides to the foundations, activities and lessons of the League of Nations in general.[1] Although the commentary is chiefly directed at scholars and practitioners engaged in international law and international organizations, first and foremost in the orbit of U.N. agencies, historians will not regret receiving this tome of 1,410 pages as a gift to their profession, for nothing less it is. To most historians, it will be a gift from strangers. The majority of the contributors hold positions in law across universities and institutes in France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and Germany. Of special note is Francophone Switzerland which stands out as a research hub and where the mastermind of this project, Robert Kolb, serves as Professor of International Public Law at the University of Geneva. Much to its credit, the collection eschews Eurocentric analyses, despite the contributors’ distinctly European affiliations. Given that the Asia Pacific region is currently facing challenges eerily similar to those confronted by the League of Nations, the frequent and fitting appearances of Japan and China are as welcome as they are essential.

Whereas the quality of the analyses is high throughout, the length of the chapters is more uneven. Some contributions offer succinct commentaries of a Covenant article on ten pages. Giovanni Distefano’s interpretation of Article 22 features a miniature monograph across more than 160 pages, emphasizing that the “sacred trust of civilisation” that assigned colonies to the Mandate System remains as relevant to international law and politics as it is to international history.[2] Each chapter provides a commentary on far more than the production and initial purpose of a Covenant article. The discussions assess the changing uses and the political significance of each article, with a focus on transitions to the U.N. system. All analyses draw extensively on historical literature. The bulk of referenced articles and books stems from the 1920s and 1930s. Numerous chapters connect those historical discussions to legal scholarship from the post-Cold War era. Overall, the references are dominated by the much-ignored universe of Francophone literature on the League.

This collection teaches us far more than a formalistic understanding of the twenty-six Covenant articles. Supplementary chapters discuss the League’s own documentation machinery, public opinion, juridical personality, economic and financial organization, the League’s initiatives in world health and environmental law, the protection of minorities, direct territorial administration, the pacific settlement of disputes, the legitimacy of national self-defense and peacekeeping. This panoply of international and transnational politics across the twentieth century speaks to the current concerns of global historical research. One example among many is the intersection of regionalism and global governance, illustrated by the long series of League withdrawals of Costa Rica in 1925 and Brazil in 1926, followed by Paraguay in 1935, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in 1936, El Salvador in 1937, Venezuela in 1938, Peru in 1939 and Haiti in 1942.

The Covenant of the League of Nations, contrary to the clichés attached to the institution, has not altogether vanished from contemporary world politics. As the more than thirty contributors argue convincingly, the Covenant represented the founding document of “international organization,” a concept, we might add, that was more capacious and less “beleaguered” than the postwar idea of global governance. The negotiations over competing Covenant blueprints provided a crucial template for creating the U.N. Charter. As Florian Couveinhes-Matsumoto explains, the French Covenant proposals exerted greater influence on the U.N. Charter than on the Covenant itself (74-75). After the Second World War, initiatives in multilateral economic stabilization, crisis resolution, arbitration and elsewhere drew actively on League precedents, even if international publicity and international history has largely avoided acknowledging the historical element in policy planning and privileged instead its novelty and real-time response. By way of serving as a serious reminder of youthful aberrations, however, the League framework possesses a legacy that could be considered posthumous, if that term would not reassert the now almost proverbial, if misleading, morbidity of the institution. Even the roads not taken by the League continued to inform the contours of postwar international cooperation. Of equal significance for historians and political scientists, the critical engagement with League weaknesses by officials in Geneva, member states around the world and outsiders like the United States defy the caricature of interwar idealists blinded by their own love of international peace and harmony. Starting with the Paris Peace Conference, continuing throughout the life of the League and surviving into the U.N. era, the questions of adjudicating international justice, of ameliorating the abuse of economic and political power in a hierarchical world and of the military means necessary for international security were subject to intense, professional and protracted negotiations. The rigorous evidence conveyed in this collection does not confirm a League roused from its naïve slumber when Japan, Germany and Italy decided to take the world apart. It had been awake since its birth and remained so for years to come.

Every scholar and practitioner engaged in the study of sovereignty, international conflict and cooperation, the fragmentation of international law, human rights, global justice and a host of other problems of our time will benefit from this reference work which is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon. The fact that the only English chapter is surrounded by more than three dozen in French should not deter readers. This book offers the opportunity for scholars to break down barriers of active and passive isolationism and to recognize that international, interdisciplinary and multi-lingual cooperation is very much in their own interest, just as it was for officials at the League.

Emotional Diplomacy

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Todd H. Hall Emotional Diplomacy: Official Emotion on the International Stage (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015).

Reviewed by Steffen Rimner, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

With a study that is rife with political lessons and rich with analytic achievements, Todd H. Hall has done more than one profession a great service. Combining rationalist and constructivist political science with contemporary history, he defines “emotional diplomacy” as “coordinated state-level behavior that explicitly and officially projects the image of a particular emotional response toward other states.” (2) Hall’s concept expands the study of state-level encounters, specifically among heads of state, by focusing on the premises, expressions and consequences of emotional practice as an element of political competence. The analysis can be summarized as follows. Before an official consensus or a shared perception between two or more officials has necessarily emerged, the initial act of emotional diplomacy communicates “that a normatively significant boundary has been crossed.” (4) This signal prepares the ground for the practice of emotional diplomacy, on the premise that the recipient does not discount it “as strictly instrumental” (8). At its most basic, then, the book points to the trust that can bind the signaler and the recipient (or “target”) into communicative engagement, with the hope of reaching a normative rapprochement. That trust does not prevent but rather enables the further, political use of emotional diplomacy. Targets can choose to “discredit it or elicit further substantive action, or alternatively […] to entrap its authors.” (6) In other words, emotional diplomacy can be both the quid and the quo of a quid pro quo; its deployment is interactive rather than unilateral.

To the author’s credit, the book travels between the lofty heights of conceptual abstraction and the empirical ground where case studies test political performance. Emotional diplomacy – “a completely different animal from personal emotion” – forages through a variety of habitats. Following a conceptual outline, Chapter 2 on “the Diplomacy of Anger” presents a lucid reconstruction of the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-96. China’s military response to the visit by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to Cornell in June 1995 was a response rife with the Chinese vocabulary of indignation (bianyici such as fenkai and yifen). The chapter identifies the factors that raised and lowered the political temperature and explains the long-term impact of the crisis. Chapter 3 on “the Diplomacy of Sympathy” reminds us that the first international leader to call the White House after 9/11 was none other than Vladimir Putin. His expression of solidarity was replete with the international vocabulary of condolence. Condoleezza Rice recalled in her 2011 memoirs that “I thanked him, and for one brief moment the thought flashed through my head: the Cold War really is over.” (80)

In many ways at the heart of this book, Chapter 4 reevaluates the history of the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952. Held in secret to prevent assassination plots by Jewish extremists, as Hall tells us, the diplomatic agreement brought together Israel’s foreign minister Moshe Sharett, Nahum Goldmann of the Jewish Claims Conference and Konrad Adenauer, the German chancellor. It designated 3.45 billion Deutschmarks worth of goods and services to flow from Germany to Israel with the explicit purpose of making amends. Needless to say that the human lives and suffering of the Shoah cannot be smoothly translated into monetary value, if they can be translated at all. The strictly political significance of the Luxembourg Agreement, however, is undeniable. How exceptional was the agreement? Hall’s more recent forays into its applicability to East Asian reconciliation still leave open many questions about the cross-cultural conditions of political lessons.

In his last chapter, Hall offers useful forays into the further potential of emotional diplomacy, providing snapshots of the Cambodian attacks on Thailand’s embassy in Phnom Penh in 2003 and Ecuador’s protest against Colombia’s attack on a FARC insurgent camp in 2008, among others. Throughout, his questions and explanations draw our attention to the very terms of political engagement and why these terms can shift substantially during and after experiences of crisis. In political emergencies, above all, the stakes for all sides are higher than during intervals of perceived routine. In such moments, the absence of an appropriate signaling of emotional diplomacy can carry greater risks, chiefly because the state primarily affected by the emergency finds itself already in an emotional mode of heightened sensitivity.

Curious historians, in particular, may wish to know by whom emotional diplomacy is “coordinated.” Which advisors, confidantes, friends or spouses help invent, recommend, mandate and synchronize emotional diplomacy, prior to the regular, top-down missives by a head of state that Hall aptly calls the script? Who wrote the script? Human beings, as Hall reminds us, “do not divest themselves of emotional experience by becoming policymakers.” (8) Even so, not all official emotion necessarily finds its way directly from the presidential heart to an ambassadorial assignment of appropriate behavior. It is, however, in the very interest of those compelled to deploy “emotional diplomacy” to keep the deliberate dramaturgy and the bureaucracy of emotional decision-making off the record. Sincerity and strategizing are uneasy friends, if they are friends at all. The less the “target” – and the public – knows about the managerial aspect of policy-planning in emotional diplomacy and the more strategic intentions recede backstage, the greater are the prospects of emotional diplomacy to succeed.

The bibliography ranges across scholarship and sources published in English, German and (simplified) Chinese. An unfortunate error is the repeated misidentification of NATO as the “North American Treaty Organization.” Readers in doubt will be reassured to know that the acronym still stands for the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” This book will appeal to scholars interested in ritual as a sociological concept, in the behavioral edge of political psychology, the history and analysis of international relations and the vastly unfamiliar terrain between these fields. Undoubtedly, the performance of emotions has been for a very long time the heart, if not the pulse, of diplomacy. This book was published before the Paris attacks. The international responses unraveling since give us more reason than ever to utilize the important findings here.


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An interesting look at the diplomatic role played by some scientists:

When Scientists Do What Diplomats Can’t

The scientific world’s quiet influence over foreign policy

Audra Wolfe
The Atlantic | September 26, 2015

Last Thursday, Senate Republicans failed in their third bid to block the nuclear deal with Iran. Signed in July, the agreement between Iran, the United States, and the five other PN+1 countries gradually eases economic sanctions on Iran in return for strict controls on that country’s nuclear-weapons program.

Virtually all of the debate surrounding the agreement has focused on the political and economic scorecard. Obama wins, as does the Iranian economy; hawks, in the United States and Iran, lose. Behind the scenes, though, a number of participants are also claiming a quieter victory for scientists.

Scientists have been involved in the international politics of atomic weapons since the fall of 1945, when veterans of the Manhattan Project, led by the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, attempted to convince the U.S. government that world security depended on the international control of fissile materials. In the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. policymakers experimented with a more formal role for scientists in international relations, installing science attachés and technical advisors in key embassies. Sometimes as private citizens, and sometimes as government officials, American scientists participated in the negotiations that produced the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) of 1972, and many more.

The popularity of “science diplomacy” has waxed and waned, but the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz’s role in promoting the Iran deal surely heralds its return. In practice, science diplomacy can mean any number of things: Scientists might serve as technical advisors to a government agency with international responsibility, or they might participate directly in negotiations. But because scientists routinely cross international borders to attend conferences and to work with foreign colleagues, science diplomacy also has a more informal mode, something more akin to “building fellow feeling.” Think of American astronauts exchanging “handshakes in space” with their Soviet counterparts after docking their Apollo and Soyuz capsules in July 1975.

Think of American astronauts exchanging handshakes in space with their Soviet counterparts.

Since 1950, when a report by the physicist Lloyd Berkner urged the State Department to incorporate science into its regular operations, the concept of science diplomacy has mixed an optimism associated with the most idealized visions of scientific behavior with raw cynicism about scientists’ access to people and information. At the moment, optimism is ascendant, thanks in no small part to the role of scientists in the nuclear negotiations.

This spring, several reports noted the odd, and yet somehow inevitable, coupling of Secretary Moniz and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. The two men both spent time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s: Moniz as member of the physics faculty, Salehi as a graduate student in nuclear engineering. Although their paths didn’t cross in Cambridge, they shared the language of science and mutual acquaintances. By late March of this year, Moniz and Salehi were on a first-name basis, “disappearing for hours at a time,” according to The New York Times, to discuss centrifuges and plutonium production.

Richard Stone, the international editor for Science magazine, credits the scientists’ participation with “getting the negotiations back on track.” Stone has been covering science in Iran since 2005, and has recently interviewed Ali Salehi.

In the interview, Salehi makes bold claims not only for the importance of technical expertise at the negotiating table, but also for being able to communicate with Moniz, scientist-to-scientist. As he told Stone, “We tried to be logical and fair. We understood each other.” Their national commitments “did not prevent either of us from being rational.” (While the Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment for this article, a spokesman confirmed the broad outlines of Salehi’s account of events for Science.)

While acknowledging that both parties represented their own national interests, Stone says he finds the general sentiment credible. “Thanks to their scientific track records and their personalities, they respected each other and could ultimately reach compromises on a number of sensitive technical issues—compromises that had eluded the political negotiators.”

“Scientists can show technical solutions are possible if the political will is present.”

This idea—that the language of science can achieve what political negotiation cannot—comes up again and again in conversations with advocates for science diplomacy. As Sandra Butcher, the Executive Director of the Pugwash Conferences, an international group devoted to bringing a scientific perspective to global problems, said, “scientists can show technical solutions are possible if the political will is present.”

The physicist Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former seven-term Congressman for New Jersey, agrees that scientists’ participation was critical. Aside from the closed-door meetings between Moniz and Salehi, Holt points to the work of the broader scientific community in suggesting alternative solutions. “In the months leading up to the agreement,” he says, “unofficial American scientists were proposing in print and in private discussions with Iranian and American leaders specific proposals, such as changing the core of the plutonium-generating reactor and limiting not only the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges but a combination of centrifuges and uranium supply.” Both of these proposals made it into the final agreement.

Of course, scientists are people too, and not necessarily people with the political savvy necessary to conduct international negotiations. “It would be naïve,” Butcher says, “to think that scientists themselves are personally neutral.” Moreover, she notes, scientists from different countries often have “varying levels of independence” and access to different levels of classified information.

On the whole, though, science diplomacy has few contemporary detractors. Those who oppose the Iran deal oppose its politics, not the role of scientists in making it happen. As Stone puts it, “It’s amazing how bona-fide scientists, no matter where they are—Pasadena or Pyongyang, Toledo or Tehran—can come together and bond over a common cause.”

Stone’s reference to Pyongyang is not coincidental: With the U.S.’s relationship with Iran set to improve, advocates for science diplomacy are wondering what the approach can accomplish in North Korea. Vaughan Turekian, the State Department’s new science advisor, has participated in several events sponsored by the US-DPRK Science Engagement Consortium, a group co-founded in 2007 by Linda Staheli to promote a better relationship with the secretive North Korean regime. Whether science can accomplish more than attempts at informal engagement remains to be seen, but it surely can’t be worse than, say, Dennis Rodman’s attempts at hoops diplomacy.

Education Diplomacy

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Our friends at the DiploFoundation blog have published an interesting thoughtpiece about education and the New Diplomacy:

‘New diplomacy’ has become somewhat of a buzzword. In its current form it mainly describes new actors becoming more visible in the diplomatic process. We have also seen new terms such as health diplomacy being used more frequently. Here, I am wondering about the potential of so-called education diplomacy.

DiploFoundation and the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) are working together to develop an online course which is scheduled to run this fall. Having been inivited to speak at ACEI’s Global Institute for Education Diplomacy (March 5-8, Washington, DC), I presented some thoughts on the nature of diplomacy and the emerging concept of education diplomacy. In the following, you can find my remarks at the panel. Further comments are more than welcome.

Someone once said that “[e]ducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I am sure most of you know which important global leader I’m quoting here. Let us take this as a first point of motivation when critically engaging Education Diplomacy.

The first and most obvious question to raise is: what is diplomacy? For a scholar of diplomacy, one well-learned and often rehearsed answer immediately springs to mind: diplomacy is the management of international relations by negotiation. It is undertaken by designated state officials who enjoy privileges and immunities when abroad.

While text book definitions such as this one are designed to make the world look simple, we all know that it is rarely that simple. But moreover, for practitioners and those interested in change, it is paramount to not only question the received wisdom, but to eventually move beyond it. The parameters of diplomacy are enshrined in international law, most importantly in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. However, first and foremost, diplomacy is a practice. And it is only through its practice that diplomacy comes about, is sustained – but also changed. This is an occasion to reflect on this practice and its changing nature.

Over the last two decades we could see many examples that can be taken as a challenge to the definition of diplomacy I just gave. We have seen the emergence of non-state actors on the diplomatic playing field and the rise of so-called soft issues – such as health, the environment, and education to name a few. Some have coined this ‘new diplomacy.’

One of the questions in this regard is to what extent non-state actors can influence global agendas, decisions, and implementation. This needs to be carefully analysed on a case-by-case basis. And I would like to raise a first point of caution here. While non-officials and non-state actors have become more prominent, more visible in the diplomatic process, we need to wonder to what extent they influence decisions. Non-state actors are often associated with technical and specialised expertise. They are seen as partners in setting the agenda and in implementing decisions. However, we need to wonder: to what extent can decisions be influenced by these ‘new diplomats.’ ‘New diplomacy’ can all too easily become a buzz word that hides that not much has changed, that the game in town is essentially still the same – a game dominated by officials representing powerful states. That is why we need to be careful not to mistake facades that are painted in friendlier colours with real change.

Keeping that in mind, there is a second highly important point of departure for those interested in education diplomacy. In addition to asking ‘what is diplomacy,’ we need to start by asking about our motivations and goals with regard to developing and using education diplomacy.

I would argue that education diplomacy has a very strong normative dimension that takes us quickly beyond national interests, narrowly conceived. We cannot escape this normative dimension when speaking about education diplomacy and frankly we should not try. To do so would hollow out the concept and practice before we have even begun to embrace it.

I am sure many of you will agree that education is the foundation, the foundation for many other positive achievements. Education is a fundamental human right. At the same time education is fundamental to human rights – their enjoyment, their defence, and calls for their actualization. Education is part of many development cooperation initiatives, yet it is also the foundation for development. I am sure this hardly needs to be emphasized before an audience like you. Rather, my point is that this normative dimension, and maybe the more institution-specific and even personal goals we have, cannot be written out of an understanding of education diplomacy. On the contrary, they need to be embraced. But let me also point out that what I have just said does not square well with the more traditional perspective on diplomacy I alluded to earlier.

So far, we have two ingredients: an understanding of diplomacy and an understanding of the normative dimension of education. Now, I would like to add a suggestion why bringing the two together matters. Hence, why education diplomacy matters.

From my perspective, it matters because decisions are taken at a global level that influence the work on the ground, that influence the possibilities within classrooms everyday. The Millennium Development Goals are one example familiar to many. The second Millennium Development Goal sets the ideal of universal primary education. This specific focus of MDG 2 on primary education has profound consequences. Many efforts, many successful efforts, have been made to increase enrolment rates and access to primary education – especially in the global South. However, critical voices argue that this came at a cost. The cost was that the focus shifted away from the quality of education to the quantitative measure of enrolment rates. Further, education after the primary level tended to be put on the back burner. This means that as we move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 development agenda, these problems need to be addressed. To me, it seems that education diplomacy will be crucial here.

This brings me to my last point. I would like to conclude by asking the most important question: what is education diplomacy?

Once we start looking, as I began to do more closely in October last year, we begin to see education and its relevance everywhere. If we are interested in developing the concept and practice of education diplomacy, this is a challenge.  Everywhere very quickly can mean nowhere. This is where I would like to add my second point of caution for today. When we speak of education diplomacy we need to use the term carefully and deliberately. It is clear that the term goes beyond traditional understandings of diplomacy. Yet, we need to take care in delineating it in some way.

One way to start is by listing practices we can consider education diplomacy.

Suggestions I came up with include:

•   activities of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),

•   various world summits such as the World Summit for Children [and the World Conference on Education For All in 1990, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the 2000 World Education Forum],

•   the negotiation and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (especially goal two calling for universal primary education) and the work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (especially goal four),

•   negotiations within the World Trade Organization (WTO), in particular as they relate to education as part of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS),

I am sure, from your own experience, there is a plethora of examples to be added here. It will be great to debate these and enrich the list over the next days. However, looking out there in order to find examples of education diplomacy is one thing. As I said in the beginning, we need to keep in mind that we are talking about a practice. This means that our very own actions sustain it but can also change it. In a sense, we create education diplomacy through our very actions.

“Attention Deficit Diplomacy” Revisited

Posted by Kenneth Weisbrode in New Diplomatic History Blog · Comments ( 0 )

How Diplomacy Fails

Remarks to the Hammer Forum Review of the Diplomatic Lessons of 1914 for 2014

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

The Hammer Museum

Los Angeles California, 19 August 2014

We are here to discuss what we can learn from the failure of diplomacy to prevent, halt, and wrap up World War I.  We just heard a masterful review of what happened from Geoffrey Wawro.  He has already said most of the things I wanted to say.  So he’s left me  with no alternative but to actually address the topic I was asked to speak about, which is the failings of today’s American diplomacy in light of the deficiencies of diplomacy in 1914.

There are in fact some very disquieting similarities between the challenges statecraft faced back then and those it faces today.

The eve of World War I was also a time of rapid globalization, shifting power balances, rising nationalisms, socioeconomic stress, and transformative military technologies.  The railroad networks, barbed wire, dynamite, repeating rifles, machine guns, long-range artillery, aircraft and submarines that altered the nature of war then are paralleled by today’s cyber and space-based surveillance systems, drones, precision-guided munitions, sub-launched and land-based anti ship missiles,  missile defense and penetration aids, anti satellite missiles, cyber assaults, hypersonic gliders, and nuclear weapons.  Changes in the European political economy set the stage for World War I.  Changes in technology made it different from previous wars.

Armed conflict between major powers today would reveal that warfare has again mutated and developed new horrors for its participants.  But some factors driving conflict now would parallel those of a century ago.  In 1914, as in 2014, a professional military establishment, estranged from society but glorified by it, drew up war plans using new technologies on the fatal premise that the only effective defense is a preemptive offense.  Then, as now, these plans evolved without effective political oversight or diplomatic input.  Then, as now, military-to-military interactions within alliances sometimes took place without adequate supervision by civilian authority, leading to unmanageable policy disconnects that were revealed only when war actually broke out.

As the 20th century began, successive crises in the Balkans had the effect of replacing the 19th century’s careful balancing of interests with competition between military blocs.  This conflated military posturing with diplomacy, much as events in  the East and South China Seas, the Middle East, and Ukraine seem to be doing today.  Then, as now, decisions by the smaller allies of the great powers risked setting off local wars that might rapidly expand and escalate.  Then, as now, most people thought that, whatever smaller countries might do, war between the great powers was irrational and therefore would not occur.  And then, as now, the chiefs of state and government of the great powers practiced attention deficit diplomacy.  They were so engaged at the tactical level that they had little time to give full consideration to the strategic implications of their decisions.

Ironically, in light of what actually happened, few would dispute that the factors inhibiting war in Europe in 1914 were greater than those impeding it today.  European leaders were not only personally acquainted but, in many instances, related to each other.  They and their diplomatic aides knew each other well.  There was a common European culture and a tradition of successful conference diplomacy and crisis management for them to draw upon.  European imperialists could and had often solved problems by trading colonies or other peripheral interests to reduce tensions between themselves.  None of these factors exist today to reduce the likelihood of wars between the United States and China or Iran, or NATO and Russia, or China and Japan or India – to name only the pairings warmongers seem to enjoy talking about the most.

On the other hand, alliances today facilitate cooperation.  In practice, they no longer, as they did in 1914, oblige mutual aid or embody preconcerted common purposes.  This welcome but dishonorable fact reduces the moral hazard implicit in American defense commitments to weaker allies and diminishes the prospect that they might act rashly because the U.S. has their back.  It also reduces the danger of automatic widening and escalation of local wars.

No one wants war of any kind.  But, as events in Europe in the summer of 1914 remind us, discounting the possibility of war and not wanting it are not enough to prevent it from happening.  And, as the president suggested in his commencement address at West Point this May, we need to find alternatives to the use of force to advance our interests in the 21st century.  That means strengthening our capacity for diplomacy.

It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  But it is equally true that those who learn the wrong lessons from history must expect reeducation by painful experience.  So it’s not surprising that, since the end of the Cold War, American diplomacy has suffered repeated rebuke from unexpected developments.  Some of these have taken place in the Balkans, where World War I was kindled – and where we have arranged a ceasefire, installed a garrison, and called it peace.

But most challenges to our problem-solving ability are coming from other places and are producing still worse results.  Consider the north Korean and Iranian nuclear issues, Israel-Palestine, 9/11 and our ever-intensifying conflict with militant Islam, regime change in Iraq, the Russo-Georgian war, the Arab uprisings (including that in Syria), “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, the “pivot to Asia” amidst tussles in the South and East China Seas, the collapse of Sykes-Picot and the rise of Jihadistan in the Levant, and the Ukraine crisis, among other tests of American statecraft.  It’s hard to think of anything that’s has gone right.

It’s worth asking what we have got wrong.  Clearly, military strength alone is not enough to guarantee international order or compel deference to U.S. desires.  So Americans are looking for a more restrained and less militaristic way of dealing with the world beyond our borders.

The president nicely captured the national mood when he said that “our military has no peer,” but  added that: “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

That insight implies that we should be skilled at measures short of war, that is: diplomacy.  For many reasons, we are not.  To set aside  militarism and redevelop the capacity to shape events abroad to our advantage without a feckless resort to force, we need to unlearn a lot of bad habits and to reexamine some of the presuppositions guiding our approach to foreign affairs.   Military overreach cannot be offset by diplomatic incapacity.

Part of what is required is correcting dysfunctional assumptions about how to deal with ornery foreigners.  Denouncing them and breaking off dialogue with them is petulant.  It doesn’t solve  problems.  Refusing to meet with another government until it accepts and meets our moral standards is a sure recipe for impasse.  “Come out with your hands up or we won’t talk to you” is not a persuasive way to begin negotiations.  Declaratory “diplomacy” and sanctions entrench confrontation.  They neither mitigate it or address its causes.  We are seeing that effect now with Russia in Ukraine.

Short of the use of force, without tactfully persuasive conversation very few people and no nations can be convinced to change course.  It is difficult to get an adversary to yield when he believes his political survival as well as his dignity depend on not surrendering.  So as long as we know what we are going to say and what effect it is likely to have, it is better to talk than not to talk.  Those with whom we disagree need to hear directly and respectfully from us why we think they are wrong and harming their own interests and why they are costing themselves opportunities they should want to pursue and risking injuries they should wish to avoid.

It takes time to establish the mutual confidence necessary for such dialogue.  It is counterproductive to stand on our side of the oceans and give other nations the finger, while threatening to bomb them.  It does not make sense to react to problems in other nations by severing communication with them.  As Winston Churchill observed, “the reason for having diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment but to secure a convenience.”  Yet, for example, we routinely withdraw military attachés following military coups.  Since our attachés are the only American officials who know and have credibility with the new military rulers, this is the equivalent of gagging, deafening, and blinding ourselves – a kind of unilateral diplomatic disarmament.  Our diplomatic technique badly needs an upgrade.

But the more fundamental problem for U.S. diplomacy is the moral absolutism inherent in American exceptionalism.  Our unique historical experience shapes our approach to our disadvantage, ruling out much of the bargaining and compromise that are central to diplomacy.  In our Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, we demonized the enemy and sought his unconditional surrender, followed by his repentance, reconstruction, and ideological remolding. The American way of international contention formed by these experiences is uniquely uncompromising.   Our rigidity is reinforced by the mythic cliché of Hitler at Munich. That has come to stand for the overdrawn conclusion that the conciliation of adversaries is invariably not just foolish but immoral and self-defeating.

The Cold War reduced most American diplomacy to proclaiming our values, holding our ground, containing the enemy, and preventing inroads into our sphere of influence – the zone we called “the free world.”  Despite occasional talk of “rollback,” with few exceptions, our approach was static and defensive – the diplomatic equivalent of trench warfare.  In this formative period of American diplomacy, our typical object was not to resolve international quarrels but to prevent their resolution by military means.  So we learned to respond to problems by pointing a gun at those who made them but avoiding talking to them or even being seen in their company.

Without our realizing it, Americans reconceived diplomacy as a means of communicating disapproval, dramatizing differences, amplifying deterrence, inhibiting change, and precluding gains by adversaries.  For the most part, we did not see diplomacy as a tool for narrowing or bridging differences, still less solving them by producing win-win outcomes.  We seem to be having trouble remembering that diplomacy’s usual purpose is  to do these very things.

The experience of other nations causes most to see diplomacy and war as part of a continuum of means by which to persuade other states and peoples to end controversies and accept adjustments in their foreign relations, borders, military postures, and the like.  Given Americans’ history of isolationism alternating with total war, we tend to see diplomacy and armed conflict as opposites.  We describe war as a failure of diplomacy, not as a sometimes necessary escalation of pressure to achieve its aims.

Americans suppose that diplomacy ends when war begins and does not resume until the enemy lies prostrate before us.  We imagine that wars end when the victor proclaims his military mission accomplished rather than when the vanquished is brought to accept defeat.  Lacking a tradition of war termination through diplomacy, we have great difficulty successfully ending wars, as Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya all attest.  We have yet to internalize the need to reconcile enemies to the political consequences of military outcomes and to translate these outcomes into peace agreements – binding acceptances of a new status quo as preferable to its overthrow.

The failure of diplomacy in World War I left most Americans with a very jaundiced view of it.  Will Rogers summed this up when he said “the United States never lost a war or won a conference” and added “take the diplomacy out of war and the thing would fall flat in a week.”  As a nation, despite our seven decades of superpower status, Americans still don’t take diplomacy seriously.  Most of us see it as an expression of weakness – so much namby-pamby nonsense before we send in the Marines.  And, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, we still seem convinced that diplomacy is an amateur sport.

We show this in how we staff our country’s statecraft and diplomacy.  Our military and our spies are professionals.  But, for the most part, our foreign policy is crafted, led, and executed by ambitious amateurs – ideologues, the paladins of special interests, securocrats playing games of musical sinecures, political spin doctors, and the occasional academic.  Our ambassadors in important capitals are selected as a reward for their campaign contributions, not for their experience in diplomacy or competence at advancing U.S. national interests abroad.  All too often these days, our politicians fiddle while the world turns, leaving the diplomatic ramparts unmanned as crises unfold.  As an example, we had no ambassador to Moscow for the five months in which Russophobes and Russians pulled down an already rickety Ukraine, detached the Crimea from it, and reignited East-West confrontation in Europe.  On August 1, the U.S. Senate cast its last votes of the season, leaving 59 countries with no American ambassador.

America’s dilettantish approach to national security is unique among modern states.  We get away with it – when we do – mainly because our diplomacy is supported by very bright and able career officers.  But our foreign service works in an environment contemptuous of professionalism that more often than not leaves its officers’ potential unrecognized, unmentored, and underdeveloped.  (If the highest ranks of the diplomatic profession in the United States are reserved for men and women who have made a lot of money in other professions and avocations, why should our most talented young people – even those who want to serve our country – waste time apprenticing as diplomats?  Why not do something less dangerous and more lucrative, then buy your way in at the top?)  Under the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that the United States has come to be known for its military prowess, not its foreign affairs literacy, the wisdom and imagination of its statecraft, or the strategic sophistication and subtlety of its diplomacy.  This is proving dangerous.  In an increasingly competitive world, diplomatic mediocrity is no longer good enough.

Americans must now consider whether we can afford to continue to entrust our diplomacy to amateurs.  Hastily-arranged presidential phone calls, hopscotch huddles with foreigners by the secretary of state, scoldings of foreign leaders by U.S. spokespersons, suspensions of bilateral dialogue, sanctions (whether unilateral or plurilateral), and attempted ostracism of foreign governments are racking up a remarkably poor track record in the increasingly complex circumstances of the post-Cold War world.  So is the dangerous conflation of military posturing with diplomacy.  If we Americans do not learn to excel at measures short of war, we will be left with no choice but to continue to resort to war to solve problems that experience tells us can’t be solved by it.

To prosper in the multipolar world before us, Americans will need to be at the top of its  diplomatic game.  We are a very long way from that at present.  And time’s a wasting.

When States Change Shape

Posted by Kenneth Weisbrode in New Diplomatic History Blog · Comments ( 0 )

These days when columnists announce the beginning of a new thirty years’ war in the Middle East, the redrawing of the Sykes-Picot map, and even the anticipated departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom, it is worth asking about the diplomatic implications.

Where do diplomats fit in the history of border and boundary changes, state breakups, secession, unification? Diplomacy is usually depicted as the handmaiden of such changes—that is, helping to make them peaceful, or otherwise coping with the aftermath.

What of their effects upon diplomats and the diplomatic profession? What happened to the embassy, for example, when an ambassador to the Soviet Union suddenly became accredited to several new “independent” republics? Or when Czechoslovakia or Sudan split in two and sister embassies had to be established; or one embassy had to mediate a division of interests between two states? Were diplomats more the objects or the agents of change? In what particular ways did they condition it? How were the ways themselves conditioned?

It is tempting to start by drawing typologies. For example, there is a literature that examines the relationship between diplomacy and size. These are more or less synchronic studies. There is less written on the diachronic effect of territorial redefinition upon diplomacy.

There are a couple of possible avenues for pursuing it. One is the long standing interest, especially in the history of borders, boundaries and borderlands, in the role of “local diplomacy” in large, loosely governed territories that gradually consolidate. Another is the growing attention to the regrouping of foreign representation, especially in a regional manner that claims to be self-consciously “post-Westphalian.” In 2010 the Swedish foreign ministry announced that it would close five of its embassies in the EU and instead rely upon roving emissaries whose home base became Stockholm. Redrawing bureaucratic maps—pragmatically or otherwise—is not exclusively an EU phenomenon. The United States’ European Command (EUCOM) found dealing with several dozen national governments across Europe, Eurasia and Africa to be too big of a burden. So it divided its responsibilities by sub-region. The job became much easier, and has inspired a further, even more ambitious effort at reorganization.

Political scientists have begun to look harder at these subjects. Diplomatic historians also could have much to contribute to understanding what happens when states change shape.

The Courtiers of Civilization

Posted by Kenneth Weisbrode in New Diplomatic History Blog · Comments ( 0 )

Sasson Sofer has written a superb primer on the history and mission of modern diplomacy. It is a short book that can be read in a single sitting, its subject’s vast scope notwithstanding.

Sofer has traced diplomacy from its antecedents in the Near East (with the briefest of nods to practices elsewhere—China & India, for example) before a discussion of modern Western diplomacy as it evolved from the Byzantines to the Venetians and then to the rest of Europe. The story is a familiar one to specialists, though probably not to most present-day professional diplomats or to the general public. All three groups of readers would benefit from the succinct description and categorization which go beyond the two branches of diplomacy named by Harold Nicolson: the mercantile and the heroic. Sofer has identified four traditions: the realist, the integrative, the institutional and the inclusive. He describes them through the words of their best known chroniclers, from Machiavelli, Commynes and Richelieu to Callières and Satow as well as Nicolson (17-18).

As useful as this primer is for students of international relations, its main value, I think, comes from the musings about the roles and identities of diplomats that are scattered throughout the book, especially in its latter half.  Members of NNDH will appreciate Sofer’s emphasis on diplomacy as “a way of life” whose study requires a “pluralistic approach” to the relevance of “the concepts of social distance and estrangement” (xi.) His own choice of “courtier” uses the term in its active sense: diplomats are handmaidens, attendants, servants to their sovereigns and courts, but are also bulwarks of civilization itself, “messenger[s] of an ethically redeeming mission” (xiii). That is, “the good diplomat is the courtier of civilization by being a symbol of peace, a custodian of public virtues, and the flag bearer of the practices of a functional and civilized international society” (55).

Sofer’s short study provides a nice antidote to the widespread mischaracterization of civilization as Kultur, thanks to the self-fulfilling acts of conceptual vandalism by the late Samuel Huntington and others after the end of the Cold War. To Sofer there are not multiple civilizations in conflict with one another (and, by implication, with few intermediaries or common interests) but a single civilization that is greater than the sum of parts whose movements are managed by diplomatic professionals. Just as it is common to misconstrue the meaning of civilization, it is the curse of diplomacy to be reduced to caricature. “Diplomats’ political weakness, but also the fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of diplomacy, impede and hamper their ability to be efficient moral agents of international society” (ix).

This small book goes far in ameliorating that condition. It deserves a wide audience.

NDH at the American Historical Association

Posted by Kenneth Weisbrode in New Diplomatic History Announcements, New Diplomatic History Blog · Comments ( 0 )

Network members and others who may be at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C. are encouraged to attend the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s panel, which will explore aspects of diplomacy in light of global history. All are welcome:

The Intersections of Global and Diplomatic History

Toynbee Prize Foundation
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Chair: David Ekbladh, Tufts University
The Age of Complexity: America and the “New Era” of Transatlantic Relations in the 1970s
Ariane Leendertz, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung