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21St Century Diplomacy

Ernst Sucharipa

To Abba Eban, the late great Israeli statesman and diplomat, we owe the rediscovery of the following statement which he attributes to President Jefferson: ”For two years we have not heard from our ambassador in Spain; if we again do not hear from him this year, we should write him a letter”. Many things have changed in diplomacy since then. And yet, the diplomat’s craft has an astounding potential for survival. Its more or less imminent death has been predicted many times, mostly in the context of revolutions in communications technology. Today, of course, we think of the World Wide Web and its consequences for a profession, which relies so much on words and knowledge management. But in all likelihood the advent of the telegraph was even more decisive. When the first dispatch sent by cable reached his desk in Whitehall, Lord Palmerston is reported to have exclaimed: ”This is the end of diplomacy”. Similarly, Queen Victoria, when consulted whether the British Legation in Rome should be elevated to the status of full Embassy, is said to have immediately rejected this proposal because, in her assessment, given the new telecommunication techniques, the time for ambassadors, their pretensions and privileges were definitely over. Here, of course, Her Majesty was wrong.

Diplomacy today is vastly different from what it was in the 19th century; it will continue to evolve and change. Tomorrow’s diplomacy will be even further removed from the famous pictures of the dancing Congress of Vienna, where the foundations for the structure of diplomacy for many decades, indeed for two centuries, were laid. At the height of the rigged elections in Zimbabwe earlier this year, the International Herald Tribune carried a picture that contrasts perfectly with the images the Congress of Vienna has left on our minds. It shows Pierre Schori, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN and former Secretary of State for Development Affairs, who was head of the EU election-monitoring group, after his eviction from Zimbabwe.[5] He is in jeans and leather jacket, one hand grasping a wad of documents and in the other his mobile phone, standing all alone on what is obviously a busy London street, reporting to his EU superiors on the situation in Zimbabwe. Modern diplomacy will be more of this than the dancing type.

This contribution will deal with the following issues:

– what has changed, what will continue to change in diplomacy as a profession and in the environment in which it operates;

– what are the requirements for diplomacy in a ”globalized” world;

– how does modern information technology effect the organization of foreign services;

– what will the future of European diplomacy look like; what are the tools for the diplomat in the new 21st century, what qualifications must he (or increasingly often she) bring to this profession; what do they have to be taught, what do they have to train themselves in?

Changed interstate structures

With recent additions, the membership of the UN now totals 191 Member States, nearly four times the number at its foundation in 1945. This multiplies the instances of possible interactions between states, still the primary, but no more the sole subjects of international relations. At the same time some traditional categorizations have lost their meaning (East versus West) or tend to forego significance (North versus South). Others are becoming essential: rich versus poor, inclusion or exclusion from the process of globalization; good governance versus undemocratic, dictatorial regimes.

More and more states are members of an increasing number of international organizations to which they delegate – to varying degrees – the administration not only of foreign policy but also of economic, social, environmental issues and other areas hitherto exclusively in the domain of domestic politics. Some states have clear federative structures and their federal entities are also, at least to a limited extent, active on the international scene. Regional structures often transcend national boundaries and become internationally relevant.

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