By Javier Vallaure, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain.
Globalization and its impact on international relations: challenges and opportunities for XXI century diplomacy.
The nation-states system which was inaugurated by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) belongs to the past. Globalization is eroding the central role of the state, highlighting the growing interdependence of international society.
Nowadays, no state alone is capable of responding effectively to current transnational challenges, such as climate change, epidemics or security. Advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are radically changing the speed of information and the way we relate.
The importance of Western civilization in the international realm is decreasing because of a shift of political and economic power to Asia which coincides with the current crisis in the European and American economies. “When China awakes, the world will tremble”, predicted Napoleon. China’s rise occurs together with an Islamic religious revival in several of the countries that have undertaken revolutions. The revival of a more radical Islam (at odds with moderate tendencies within) and the economic crisis that is hitting those societies overshadows the hopes for transition to democracy.
The increasing role of international organizations and the rise of multilateral diplomacy is another factor that is changing the physiognomy of diplomacy. Nowadays, a diplomat must have a solid background and be a generalist, but at the same time he has to specialize. The complexity of the diplomat’s task is clearly reflected when he has to defend the national interest while participating in formulating the opinion of an international organization. At European level, diplomats contribute to formulating Community policies while still defending the national interests of their states.
Is traditional diplomacy doomed to gradually disappear? Or is this an opportunity to strengthen its importance? Has diplomacy changed completely or is it essentially the same?
We should analyze the changes that are transforming the way diplomats operate today.
The technological revolution has meant that any news travels fast anywhere around the world. This raises questions about one of the diplomatic functions, namely: observing the developments in the country in which the diplomat is stationed and reporting about these developments to his own country. It has been said that diplomats nowadays compete with the media to inform their governments. However, this affirmation needs an explanation. A diplomat must always try to be well informed, and therefore, he has to analyze the situation, taking into account certain distance from the various sources consulted and, quoting Talleyrand, “anticipate the unexpected”. On the other hand, diplomats normally have access to official information from the authorities of the country they are stationed, information hard to get for the media. So the access to these communication channels and the transmission of that knowledge are essential functions of a diplomat’s task that no doubt will survive.
The instantaneity of communications and the development of commercial aviation have provided a more direct contact between leaders, who, according to some people, depend less on the messengers. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that direct contacts between Presidents and Prime Ministers are usually preceded by hard work behind the scenes of diplomats, establishing fluid communication channels, advising and negotiating.
In the framework of the European Union, the creation of the External European Action Service (EEAS) deserves special mention. As a matter of fact, the EEAS started its work in July 2010, as a result of the complex negotiations under the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (and materialized in the Council Decision of 26 July 2010). The EEAS allows the EU to speak with one voice in the world and its aims to counteract the loss of weight of this region in the international scale. With more than 500 millions of citizens, solid democratic institutions and an economy, that could be branded as a free market economy, the EU is one of the most prosperous areas in the world, despite the current economic and financial crisis.
Moreover, the EU is a peaceful region since the 50’s, when two historic rival countries, France and Germany, decided to bury their past and inaugurate a stage of long-lasting peace. Not in vain, the EU was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, as recognition to the contribution during more than sixty years to the progress of peace, democracy and human rights. In spite of some clearly improvable aspects of the EEAS (like the expected rotation of diplomats from the Member States services, whereas it is not established for the civil servants of the European Commission and Council, or the transmission of instructions coming from two different organs, for instance, in the development cooperation field the instruction comes from the Commission and in other areas it comes from the EEAS central services), it will have an impact on the Member States diplomatic services. We cannot forget the fact that the geographic working groups are headed by the EEAS and the labour of diplomats becomes more complex having to defend their national interests and participating in formulating european policies. Certainly the EEAS has huge challenges ahead but the principles and values at stake deserve all the efforts.
On the other hand and as Permanent Representative to the OPCW in The Hague, I have to mention the growing importance of the international organizations, where more and more States have to agree in responding to global challenges. In my experience as Permanent Representative, I have seen how the dynamism of the multilateral activity is influencing our profession and has contributed to important achievements such as the universality in the acceptance of the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons or the commitment with international peace and security.
I would like to mention as well the important milestone that has represented the incorporation of women to diplomacy, although this fact has not modified the contents of the function of a diplomat.
However, the fact that people nowadays are better informed has made the agendas of foreign policy more open to social demands and diplomats have to be more flexible and constantly in contact with their Parliaments. This characterizes more and more current diplomacy.
The dichotomy between classic diplomacy and modern diplomacy does not exist as such. Hence, even if diplomacy changes adapting to the evolution of the society in which it lives, it still remains the same in essence. Indeed, the main features of a diplomat are the same as the classic ones, such as being a good observer, smart, patient, discreet, honest, skilful in negotiations, a good communicator, swift in his/her judgments but slow in making decisions (aside from also being able to adapting to others’ mood). Certainly, the diplomatic ceremonial and protocol still plays a capital role in our profession. Distinguished manners soften roughnesses and politeness wins everything. I always like to remember that “protocol is the plastic art of power”. One may acknowledge that the use of ICT, leadership, going out and taking the society’s pulse and of course a balance between a general background and a specialization are all of them essential features of the diplomat. As the French diplomat Jules Cambon said, “new diplomacy, old diplomacy are words that correspond to nothing real. But the substance will always be the same because human nature does not change, nations will continue to have but one way to solve their differences, and the word of an honest man will always be the best tool available to a Government to defend its points of view”.