Diplomacy, a concept to be rescued (2023)

"Statesmen will be judged by history on their ability to deal with change and, above all, on their ability to preserve the peace". Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy.

1. Introduction

In its classic meaning, "DIPLOMACY consists of bringing divergent points of view closer together through negotiation". And this, in turn, could only be exercised within the context of an international order recognised as legitimate.

Today's world is characterised by the absence of a stable equilibrium. There are various definitions of equilibrium, and one that seems to be given today is: "The state of a body when opposing forces at work in it compensate by destroying each other". However, there is another to which we should aspire; "Acts of appeasement, prudence or cunning, aimed at sustaining an insecure or difficult situation, attitude, opinion, etc.".

The balance of power system was not intended to prevent crises or wars because when it works properly it limits the ability of some states to dominate others and, at the same time, reduces the potential scope for conflict. Its goal is not so much peace as stability and moderation. The fact is that balance of power systems have rarely existed throughout history. Exceptions would be the balances between city-states in ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy and the one generated by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (states with equal power, governing the world order).

2. Where is diplomacy in both cases?

Diplomacy is a profession and this profession requires a long training period.Are there any valid interlocutors today to re-establish equilibrium? Is there today a Castlereagh, the English Foreign Minister, a craftsman of negotiation, or a Metternich, his Austrian counterpart, as at the Congress of Vienna in 1815? In other words, are there builders of a system where forces are balanced and a doctrine of legitimacy that advocates being the guardian of legitimacy?

We can point to some fundamental values that constitute the framework for diplomatic work. To make justice prevail over force, because force is the mother of anarchy and violence. The diplomat intervenes through discussion, negotiation, and patience. The essence of diplomacy is to understand the "other", whether it is a trading partner, a strategic adversary or an ideological ally, and it is always the "other" who is at issue. Whether negotiating, pressuring, threatening, trading or waging war, the state is always in relation to "the other". The privileged instrument for encountering the "other" is, on the international stage, diplomatic negotiation.

To be diplomatic is to put oneself in the place of one's interlocutor, and this, from the outset, is not the case and is an arduous task. It has been pointed out that war is self-determined, while peace, like any trade agreement, is negotiated.

To conduct an effective foreign policy, it is essential to be aware of the external character of other nations, of the fact that they have different goals and concerns, different experiences and hopes, different reflexes and memories. Skilful diplomacy not only knows how to circumvent hostile designs, but also how to exploit differences.

Diplomacy, a concept to be rescued (1)
Diplomacy, a concept to be rescued (2)

3. The Russian moment

"We are ready to negotiate acceptable solutions with all the actors involved, but it depends on them. It is not us who refuse to negotiate, it is them," Vladimir Putin insisted in an interview broadcast on Russian state television. (War in Ukraine. Putin says he wants to negotiate peace with Ukraine 22 December 2022).

Diplomacy, a concept to be rescued (3)

A difficult start to a negotiation and a challenge to diplomacy, if he ever really intended to initiate both, given that it was Putin who started the road to war. While he insisted that it was foreign plots and the West, he presented this aid not as the result, but as the cause of the conflict. Putin, who is the aggressor, now positions himself as the defender by presenting the attacked as the aggressor.

There is another important factor; the economic one, characterised by great stagnation. Moscow is simply not in a position to guarantee its citizens a provision of essential goods - prosperity and the prospect of progress - to match those of Western countries. As Gorbachev recognised, the USSR was not surrounded by invincible armies, but by superior economies.

"I have no way of defending my borders except by extending them' (Catherine the Great).

"Restore Russia to its historical status as an empire".

Zbigniew Brzeziński wrote it in the 90s: "without Ukraine, Russia is no longer an empire". Putin was well aware of this as the 2014 plan for Ukraine resulted in the annexation of Crimea, which he calls "New Russia", a term borrowed from the era of the 18th century colonisation of the South.

Russia was never part of Europe; according to some analysts, the Russian Empire has taken its military forces to foreign soil more than any other power. Sense of insecurity, messianic vocation? Are there geographical limits to the Russian nation? Like Europe, it will have to devote much of its energy to redefining its own identity.

The fact is that from Washington to Paris, from Berlin to Kiev, everyone keeps proclaiming that diplomacy must be given a chance. This language, in fact, is not even self-persuasive: it is reasonable to think that neither Emmanuel Macron, nor Joe Biden, nor Volodymyr Zelenskyy, actually believe that diplomacy has any hope of success. This current round of diplomacy has only one purpose: to buy time. It is not intended to solve the problems related to the Kremlin's aggression, but to slow down events to the point of postponing or abandoning a massive military strike against Ukraine.

According to Timothy Garton Ash, 'the worst thing we can do is to push for peace negotiations with Vladimir Putin; the best thing we can do for peace is to increase our military, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine, so that one day we can negotiate from a position of strength'.

4. Is there a need for a reconstruction of the international order and system?

This need is perhaps the ultimate challenge for statesmen of our time. The Europe of another time; the Europe that invented the concepts of nation-state, sovereignty and balance of power over the long period of almost three centuries, does not exist today. Today's Europe is compelled by its foundations to try to achieve a unified Europe, an effort that absorbs much of its energies.

The primary responsibility of the United States, Russia, China and I include the EU is to build a moderate international system; a Herculean task without statesmen who are prepared and conscientious to this end. And I say prepared because they do not exist today and those that do exist are not aware.

The threats come from the Russian and Chinese sides because we are in the hands of the two most dangerous corrupt dictators of the 21st century. But not even a military coup in Russia, I fear, would change the picture, for Vladimir Putin's possible successors are frightening.

Xi Pin is after seizing Taiwan and thus controlling the China Sea and its shipping lanes. The perception of China as a threat is not the same in Brussels as in Washington.

For Eastern Europeans, the war between Moscow and Kiev is central. For the Americans, the conflict in Ukraine is an epiphenomenon. The priority target of their entire strategy is China and the Taiwan problem. This difference in perception is important because it emphasises a point we have known for a long time: the Americans prioritise Asia, not Europe. So Westerners do not form a bloc and do not have the same strategic vision. Although there are also similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan as the two countries most directly exposed to the threat of authoritarian hegemony (high-intensity warfare for the Ukrainians, war of attrition, cyber-attacks, provocations by violation of their air and sea space for Taiwan), both nations have the misfortune of being ruled by two despots with no morals whatsoever.

But let's stick to the term diplomacy, which cannot rest on just anyone's shoulders.

5. The art of being a diplomat: persuasion, eloquence, knowledge and patience.

To be weak is to allow oneself to be destabilised by a situation. Diplomacy, on the other hand, means maintaining control, and that begins with maintaining control of oneself. Beware, therefore, of impulsive reactions. Diplomacy is primarily about knowing and listening to others. It requires real empathy. Learning to negotiate is fundamental to the diplomatic profession. Diplomacy is "the management of international relations through negotiation". Henry Kissinger will write that: "in its classical sense, diplomacy is the bringing together of divergent points of view through negotiation". You never stop learning when you are a diplomat. You have to start by knowing the specific interests of the country you represent. This sounds obvious, but it requires constant updating, as the interests of a state change over time.

Knowledge: Then, the diplomat must have a good knowledge of the country in which he or she is going to work, its history, its natural environment and its political life. It is impossible for anyone studying international relations to come to a meaningful conclusion without first identifying the historical context. History is the memory of states (H. Kissinger, LE CHEMIN DE LA PAIX. 1973).

Eloquence: Learning the profession of diplomacy also requires mastery of oral expression. As former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin rightly pointed out, " diplomacy is performative: its words are deeds. Words have important legal and political consequences". It is about conveying a message. And above all to avoid misunderstandings.

Patience: Mastering time in negotiation means knowing how to manage time. There are negotiations that last months, even years, alternating deadlocks and progress, and time is a negotiating ally.

Diplomacy, in the age of globalisation, is more useful than ever and learning it is even more necessary.

6. Diplomacy and public opinion

There is a new factor that complicates the development of this complex discipline: public opinion. Democratic regimes have been established in a large number of countries, and each government, in the exercise of its diplomacy, is forced to take into account its own public opinion. This public opinion conditions the normal conduct of diplomacy on many occasions, and it is unfortunately the case that those who allow themselves to be influenced by those who are not involved in the work and exercise of diplomacy are destined to fail in the exercise of their dynamic. Propaganda, therefore, plays a considerable role and sometimes seems to take precedence over diplomacy itself. But both cannot address national opinion alone: they find their repercussions even in the most distant countries. So, in the long run, with a well-informed public, a fundamental contradiction between diplomacy and propaganda would lead to a double failure: political at home and diplomatic at the global level. Therefore, we should be wary of the voices of those who are not trained in diplomacy, for we should not be swayed by "their talk", but should leave the real work to the diplomats, since the achievement of negotiation agreements and the position of any country vis-à-vis other nations is at stake.

7. Conclusion:

The mission of diplomacy is one of abnegation, sacrifice and silence. Solid prestige is not acquired through fictitious propaganda but through the accomplishment of deeds that will go down to posterity, and there is nothing more beautiful than serving the interests of your country, quietly and selflessly. (Francisco Gómez-Jordana Sousa; Militia and Diplomacy: The Diaries of the Count of Jordana).

Examining how statesmen have dealt with the world order and analysing what worked well and what did not, and why, is not the end of understanding contemporary diplomacy, though it may be its beginning. (Henry Kissinger ; Diplomacy)

I Henry A. Kissinger. Le chemin de la paix. Essay; Denoël Paris 1972.
II In the 18th century, Britain introduced the concept of balance of power that dominated European diplomacy for the next two hundred years.
III Catherine II of Russia. Under her rule Russia expanded on all fronts, gaining space in the Baltic at the expense of Poland and gaining access to the Black Sea at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. In the second half of the 18th century, under her rule the country expanded its domain and became the hegemonic power in Eastern Europe. But it also planted, wittingly or unwittingly, the seeds of many problems that would erupt in the future.
IV Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski was a Polish-born American political scientist. He was National Security Advisor in the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
V Henry A. Kissinger. Diplomacy 1996
VIFebruary 14,2022 Nicolas Tenzer non-resident senior fellow at ECA, is the editor of Desk Russie.
VII Timothy Garton Ash is a British historian, editorialist and journalist, author of eight books as a political analyst, documenting the transformation of Europe over the last quarter century.
VIII Henry Kissinger,Diplomacy 1996
IX Among the qualities of a diplomat, we can cite the ability to persuade, that is, the ability to convince the interlocutor of the merits of the position he or she is defending. But in order to persuade, one must know the person one is talking to, his or her political and cultural environment, his or her room for manoeuvre. Knowing their language is an advantage. So it seems that diplomacy is a body of knowledge combined with specific know-how.
X Claudio Julien. Le Monde Dilomatique
XI Spanish Foreign Minister. After the formation of Franco's first government in 1938, Gómez-Jordana became Vice-President of the government and Minister of Foreign Affairs, directing the foreign policy of Franco's incipient regime. He was removed from office after the end of the war, and in 1942 he returned to the foreign portfolio in the context of the Second World War.

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