Olivier Roy on Diplomacy

A newly translated book of interviews by the French philosopher and writer Olivier Roy contains this gem of a summary of the diplomatic mind and method:

“For a long time, the diplomatic method seemed rather vain (in all senses) to me. In a situation when it’s clear that no agreement is possible for reasons X, Y, Z (for example, one party is convinced it’s going to win), what good is it to spend hours elaborating instruments for understanding or interim declarations that are gone over comma by comma within interminable and repeated rounds of negotiations?… [but] little by little I understand that the goal of such negotiation is not to resolve a crisis at the top but to put in place a framework for formulating the problem, inventorying the possible solutions, defining the stakes and possible ensuing scenarios. In short, it’s conceiving of a sort of screenplay whose goal is not so much realism or pragmatism as it is an opening onto a possible imaginary—in other words, to make it so that everything is possible, while testing, through dialogue, the possibility of a solution. Diplomacy has an extraordinary vocabulary for describing transformational paradoxical oxymorons: a ‘verbal note’ is always written; a ‘nonpaper’ is an argument scrupulously written down on paper; an ‘exercise’ is an impossible negotiation that takes place anyway. What appears as simulacrum is more simulation, in the sense that one is eliciting possibilities…. Of course, later on it’s always a series of external events that ultimately decides the shape of things: a military defeat, fatigue, a new threat, an economic crisis, a coup d’etat, a revolution, and so on. But when this event requires finding a true solution, then all these diplomatic exercises, which may have been going on for years, find their usefulness, even if none of the imagined solutions are taken into account because the reality took place faster.”

In Search of the Lost Orient: An Interview, trans. C. Jon Delogu (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 182-83.