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Diplomacy by non diplomats




By Darynell Rodríguez Torres.


Program Manager Policy and Advocacy

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, GPPAC


The traditional practice of diplomacy has been structured mainly around key functions performed by diplomats: representation, communication, information gathering and negotiation. These functions contribute to articulate what Hedley Bull called the ‘society of states’, facilitating interactions and minimizing tensions among countries. But no longer the states are the exclusive actors in international relations, nor are the government diplomats the exclusive agents of foreign policy.


In November 2012, the prestigious Clingendale Institute for International Relations issued the report ‘Futures for Diplomacy: Integrative Diplomacy in the 21st Century’ at the request of the Government of Finland. While the report acknowledges that government diplomats will remain central in international relations, it also warns that increasingly they will have to adapt to sharing their space with other governmental and non-governmental actors.


There is a growing number of people in businesses, think tanks and NGOs doing some work very similar to that of government diplomats and increasingly influencing policy debates. Some private companies even offer a full portfolio of ‘diplomatic’ services. Take for example the Independent Diplomat, a consulting firm with offices in New York, London, Brussels, Sydney, Juba and Hargeisa.  The company presents itself as an advisory group providing confidential advice and practical assistance in diplomatic strategy and technique.They have allegedly been active behind the scene in high profile negotiations such as the independence of Kosovo or the accession of Croatia into the European Union.


Along government’s diplomacy there is an emerging trend towards ‘citizens diplomacy’ or ‘people’s diplomacy.’ This concept refers to average citizens engaging as ‘champions’ of a cause or creating spaces for interaction among people from different states, specially when official channels are closed and formal diplomatic relations are broken. The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, GPPAC, a global network of civil society organisations working in the field of conflict prevention and peacebuilding, has been at the forefront of some of these initiatives in different parts of the world.


GPPAC members have facilitated dialogue processes between experts from Russia and Georgia following the 2008 war between these two countries. They have promoted exchanges between academics from the United States and Cuba and provided policy recommendations to advance towards the normalization of relations between the two countries. GPPAC is currently promoting greater exchanges among civil society leaders in North East Asia to discuss security concerns in the Korean Peninsula, opening new spaces for interaction amid the stalled six party talks. While some of these initiatives are discreet (quiet diplomacy), they do not seek to replace or interfere in official diplomatic efforts but rather to reinforce,  potentiate and complement them. Acting outside the official channels allow these ‘citizen diplomats’ to reach there where officials have difficult access or are constrained by their mandate.


There is an increasing number of risks that need to be collectively managed and diplomacy needs to provide viable, effective and acceptable options on how to do it. Managing collective risks from the perspective of both, states’ interests and people’s interests, will require government diplomats and citizens diplomats to act as social entrepreneurs and forge collaborative alliances to be able to provide creative responses to global challenges.





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