In my case, traveling has transformed from purely cultural, often leisure experience to much broader search for knowledge and interesting lectures that I cannot find at home. During my recent stay in Zurich, Switzerland, I had an opportunity to attend an excellent talk on the challenges to global diplomacy organized as part of Global Negotiation Conference 2018. It was held by Baroness Catherine Ashton at one of the best universities in Europe - ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).
A few words about Baroness Catherine Ashton. She is a former Vice President of the European Commission and former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She is also the first woman to be appointed a British European Commissioner. Best known particularly for her role in bringing Serbia and Kosovo to an agreement in 2013, the list of her achievements can go and on and on. She is a truly amazing and inspiring lady, and today I would like to focus on some of the main points that she brought during the Global Negotiation Conference in Zurich.
Starting from Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, to Iran, Middle East and finally reaching further to Venezuela, Brazil, East Asia, Rohingya and North Korea, there are so many crisis in our modern world that it is virtually impossible to focus on one problem, as we try to find solutions to many. Before getting to the main challenges to global diplomacy that Catherine talked about, it is important to discuss the role of media in modern conflicts. Without a doubt, we live in a truly digital world. We know about key events, the moment problems have erupted. We not only follow the stories, like in the case of Thailand cave rescue. We demand action. Whether it is for satisfying our curiosity, a little bit like waiting for the next episode of your favorite series, or by a genuine care, we want to see things happening right now regardless if it is beneficial for the course of action taken by groups working to resolve a conflict.
Diplomacy finds itself on the the other side of the spectrum. It usually happens under the radar, quietly and gradually. In times when all we want is transparency in every area of life, we need to understand that sometimes behind closed doors means opening the new ones. Again, where there is a demand for media presence, the media companies will certainly supply it. Sometimes it occurs in the process of negotiations, which have not yet been finalized. Often driven by our own interest, we need to get smarter about diplomacy. Catherine mentions five main challenges to global diplomacy that she thinks are vital for its ultimate success.
Collaboration. In the interview that Catherine gave in 2013 during Brussels Forum, she said that Europe was doing really well on economic issues by using its self-power and working collaboratively. She also suggested that this system could be applied on a global scale in foreign policy to tackle major issues. In Zurich she repeated that point in the context of diplomacy and how effective collaboration and partnership drive the best results. The goal is to bring leaders from across the sectors and disciplines to engage in a problem and give a light to many issues it can comprise of.
Comprehensive Approach. During the 22 years of civil war in Somalia, one of the problems that hindered its solution was the piracy off the coast of Somalia. Intervention groups needed to tackle it simultaneously to get to the core of a national problem. The issue of piracy also hindered the education development for children and it is when the slogan 'Give up guns and go to school' was created. This example shows us that we should never look at a problem in isolation. Analyzing other flashpoints in the country of concern, show us real causes of the conflict, like chronic unemployment and lack of prospects for youth.
Economics meets Politics. Taking as an example Arab Spring in Tunisia and the different phases of the political transition - from the demanded departure of President Ben Ali, to a reduction of women's rights, to finally building foundations of a sustainable democratic and inclusive political system, the country's political instability went hand in hand with a serious economic drop. Catherine pointed out that in resolving that conflict, it was equally important to bring business leaders that would help to identify investment opportunities and build systems that would lift the economy and help it to recover after major political crisis.
Patience. Patience is of crucial importance in diplomacy. In the process of negotiations, all sort of things can happen before they are finalized. Starting from a disruption of other conflicts that can take the attention away from the main problem, to media interruptions, to finally external factors that can impact adversely leaders' decision to cooperate, we cannot take things for granted before the agreement has not been reached. Another thing is what Catherine call sdrip-drip of diplomacy. With the issues so fragile, the process is likely to be the long-haul, even though the time is short.
Trust. Trust is a fundamental value in all areas of life but comes fore in the international relations handled at the most critical level. Different theories like realism, rationalism and constructivism perceive trust differently but what is really important, especially in diplomacy, is that it is simply about being honest, and not about getting what you want. Both of the parties engaged in negotiations need to be aware and likewise, sure about that.
Diplomacy is based on trust and collaboration. Collaboration builds a basis for a more comprehensive approach, including detailed analysis of crisis running alongside the main conflict and bringing leaders across the sectors and disciplines to tackle them. Business leaders and economists are part of this equation. When talking about challenges to diplomacy, we also need to take into consideration cultural norms and social attitudes. Very often seeing two opposing leaders sitting in one room is perceived as a betrayal and encourages distrust in the society. This, in turn, can lead to internal riots and therefore disruption of minor crisis that I mentioned before. The cycle is hard to stop. Finding itself in the media spotlight, it is even harder to continue with negotiations at a pace, that it requires. Problems which are complex are often made simplistic by the media and so are the endeavors of diplomacy. I hope that by reading this brief summary you have a better idea of what diplomacy is really about and what challenges does it face in the light of our changing society.
Somalia: From piracy to education