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Foreign Policy goes national

Today, foreign policy issues tend to dominate the newspapers in Europe, but more and more so also in the United States and elsewhere. Foreign policy actors have become public figures. Foreign policy is open to day-to-day public scrutiny and criticism. For the diplomat this means that she or he is also becoming more or less directly answerable to the public. The public expects explanations, journalists need to be given background interviews, Parliaments ask for information. Many foreign policy issues have fully entered into the domain of national and even regional and local politics. Foreign policy today has to do with many issues in our daily lives. What used to be ”low politics” (as against ”high politics”) has become normal work for the foreign policy agent: regulations for trade and investment, addressing environmental issues, regulating entry into the country and dealing with problems of migration, finding solutions to questions of road transit often endangering the living conditions of many people.

At the same time, for all these issues there are domestic ministries, experts in other government offices who increasingly are also establishing foreign contacts. They are directly interacting with their homologues in other countries and are regularly traveling to international conferences. This situation is bound to clash with the traditional ”gatekeeper” function of foreign ministries, which hinges on the (false) assumption that domestic and international affairs are conducted in two very different political arenas. In the age of globalization foreign ministries would be ill advised if they tried to maintain this claim as justification for their existence. If insisted upon too long, other ministries will simply bypass Foreign Affairs. It is not realistic to assume that in today’s world the Ministry for the Environment or the Ministries for Justice and for Home Affairs, just to take a few examples, will not have international contacts and that a modern diplomat can be an expert on detailed issues of environmental policy, or judicial and home affairs.

But the diplomat has to be able - on the international level - to assess the political consequences and possible trade-offs of a specific action or non-action in those areas of policy. This assessment can then lead to instruments of traditional diplomacy, e.g. if certain measures have to be explained or a demarche has to be delivered to the host country. Diplomats have to learn this new mode of cooperation with their colleagues from other ministries. Modern diplomats must learn to share their competence with other officials if they do not want to become redundant[14]. They have to take great care to make clear to their colleagues from line ministries what exactly the added benefit they can provide is.

Managers of globalization

The globalization of international relations, the internationalization of national policy areas and the growing awareness, that global problems require global solutions signify new important functions for diplomacy. Diplomats have become ”managers of globalization”; they are tasked to manage the ”global village” in which we live. Disarmament, arms regulations, the fight against international terrorism, crime and drug abuse, the protection of human rights, the prevention of climate change and desertification, the promotion of sustainable development, conflict prevention, development cooperation, peace keeping, peacemaking, and peace enforcement, the protection of foreign investments, foreign trade issues… the task list for these ”managers of globalization” appears to be endless. The concept of ”Global Public Goods” developed recently by Inge Kaul and others, which would typically include issues like disease control, crisis prevention, harmonization of norms and standards, helps to explain the workload of diplomats in the 21st century.

Diplomats need to follow developments in these fields proactively, to shape them, to involve public discourse and to give advice to decision-makers on the political levels. They need to be aware of global trends and interests and what they mean for their home country. These tasks are carried out through a combination of bilateral, multilateral and ”polylateral” diplomacy (Wiseman), the latter including - in some structural way – NGOs, advocacy groups and other non-official entities. This development again calls for efforts to bridge the traditional divide between domestic and foreign affairs with foreign affairs moving beyond “gate keeping” to “coordinating” cross border relations.

In the context of multilateral diplomacy the current stage of transatlantic relations is a cause of concern for many intellectuals on both sides of the ocean. There is a real difference in the approach to international law, international organization and multilateral diplomacy. This divergence of views can be exemplified by a number of examples. Among them: reduction of environmentally harmful CO2-emissions (Kyoto Protocol); the establishment of an International Criminal Court; the right of diplomatic protection for citizens of one state, living in an other country,[19] unlawful trade restrictions (WTO-rulings against the United States); and last but by no mean least: the issue of international legality in dealing with Iraq’s program of weapons of mass destruction. On all these fronts we witness an increasing continental drift.

Certainly this tendency has been reinforced by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that struck US territory and US but also many non-US citizens. Immediate reactions worldwide and specifically in Europe left no doubt about the general condemnation of these atrocious acts and about the willingness to combat, jointly with the US, all manifestations of terrorism. NATO, for the first time in its history invoked Art.V of its constitution, the Washington Treaty of 1949, declaring these attacks an attack on all NATO members. More than a year later, it appears that this chance for a truly common approach - for reasons that still need to be scrutinized - was not used to the full extent. Too many misunderstandings have been assembled on both sides of the Atlantic. They need to be thoroughly discussed in order to achieve not only a better understanding of each other’s positions but also to bring both sides back to resolute action on the basis of their shared common values. The core of the transatlantic ”malaise” (to use a diplomat’s word) can be found in the perception of the USA as a truly exceptional country, or Polis, as the ancient Greek would have said. This ”city on the hill” (or as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used to say ”the indispensable nation”) will not easily succumb to international regulations, that is regulations among peers. This common American view contrasts with the Westphalian European model of an international system constituted by sovereign equals.

The most obvious manifestation of these two different models can be seen in the approach to the possible use of force outside a Security Council mandate. In the eyes of most Europeans, rule of law is paramount also on the international level and the UN’s Security Council holds the ultimate legal power to legitimize the use of force against a state that breaks international rules and regulations. For the ”exceptionalist” United States such subordination is neither conceptionally right nor politically practical. Hence, the impression, generally shared in Europe, that Washington - while not totally averse to multilateral action - is only willing to engage in a policy of ”multilateralism à la carte.”

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