Reflections on Diplomacy

I wrote this short essay on 4th September 2022 as part of my work on the University of London’s Coursera course Global Diplomacy – Diplomacy in the Modern World.

This essay argues that diplomacy is even more a key part of our world today than it was in the past.  This will be substantiated with claims that diplomacy occurs on more levels than before, that it is active locally and even within society both at home and abroad.  It uses arguments from Brown, Laffey and Rudin who say diplomats work ceaselessly, that their role has expended to include international development and that it has become more complicated.  It concludes by speculating about challenges for diplomacy in the future.

Diplomacy is, in part, discussions between states to form international agreements, such as the European Union, the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations.  These organisations are an increasing part of our world, so diplomatic interaction with them is ongoing.

Diplomacy has a mediation role, maintaining relations with other states whether an outcome is achieved or not.  As nation states continue to be the structure we have in the world, so diplomacy between states will continue to be needed.

Diplomacy occurs in multi-national organisations such as continents (African Union), regional (League of Arab States), global market (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC), religious (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), military (NATO), pacifist (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons), research (International Space Station), health (World Health Organisation).  As we go from nation states interacting to these multiple layers of interaction, so the need for diplomacy is increasing.

In addition to international relations, diplomacy can produce and maintain global agreements such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the Geneva Conventions, and the International Standard Book Number (ISBN).  It ensures USB plugs go into USB ports and that passports are recognised around the world.  It gives a means to negotiate the protection of endangered species, reductions in carbon dioxide production and the sharing of Covid-19 vaccines and other medication.  As greater awareness of issues arises in the public globally, so there is greater need for collaboration on these issues, thereby increasing the demand for diplomacy.

It is assumed that when violent conflict breaks out that diplomacy has failed.  What is rarely appreciated is that every conflict ends when the participants talk and listen to one another: every conflict ends in diplomacy.  As long as conflict continues, there is a need for diplomacy.  And since good diplomacy is invisible, just because it is not apparent does not mean it is not not happening.  So much current diplomacy is invisible while it is happening; it continues to be a key part of our world.

There are major conflicts going on in the world.  Some are violent such as that between Russia & Ukraine.  Others are cold but high risk, such as that regarding North and South Korea.  Diplomacy is vital in managing the situation around these encounters, either by stopping them getting worse or keeping a door open for talks.

One can also ask if diplomacy is a key part of our world today locally?  In the UK we have Brexit causing issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol and risking sectarian unrest and potentially either new outbreaks of The Troubles or serious problems with the relationship with the EU.  The UK is part of the united response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  It has also recently hosted a convention regarding the international agreements to reduce CO2 before we kill all life on the planet.  Diplomacy is vital to the well-being of the UK in the near and long terms.

Dr Martin Brown refers to how, when communication with Iran was difficult, discussing sport such as weight-lifting and wrestling gave a way to allow the communication to continue.  It is important that diplomats keep open the lines of communication despite it appearing that there are irreconcilable differences between states.

We still have nation states which are concerned with their own agenda and these differ by nation.  As long as this situation continues, there will be a need for diplomacy.

Diplomacy can also be applied be within society, as expressed by Omah Salha whose interest is the integration of Moslems into British society.

As Dr Mark Laffey says, “diplomacy’s about maintaining communications and contact in the midst of on-going disagreements”.  He says diplomacy is increasingly about trade and economics relations.  Indeed, in the UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (created in 1782 as the Foreign Office) has in 2020 been merged with the Department for International Development to become the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.  This is very relevant in the UK as it renegotiates trade deals with the rest of the world post-Brexit.

Public diplomacy is where a state tries to influence the view of people in another state; it is not dissimilar from propaganda.  As shown in the Middle East about the USA, the behaviour of a state on the world stage – how it implements its foreign policy – has a huge impact on how that state is perceived, despite efforts to give an impression to the contrary.

In 1956, an article by Harry R Rudin in Political Science Quarterly lists a number of reasons why diplomacy in the 20th century was far harder than in the 19th century.  In the 21st century technology is moving even faster, communication is faster, easier and far less controlled and there are multiple strata in the communication layers between people, groups, states and whatever cross-sections of society one might care to imagine.  Trade has become more globalised.  International corporations are more powerful and wealthy.  New factions have arisen in global society such as religious extremists using terrorism, a global drugs trade, ecoterrorism starting to appear and organised crime being able to use the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies to operate globally but beneath the radar.  Meanwhile demand for finite resources such as fossil fuels, cash crops, rare minerals for high tech good production, water and even land to live on mean increasing conflict between states and societies.  Diplomacy has become exponentially more complicated since the early Cold War years.

Not only is diplomacy as important now with regard to international relations as it was in the past, it now is more broad and deep in how societies interact, both within nations and at supranational levels.  It is a key part of our global economy, especially now as states are less self-reliant and more dependent upon trade with one another for their essential food, energy and goods.  The global impact of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has made this clear with rising prices globally and the many negotiations being conducted internationally to manage food stocks and energy distribution.

As everything becomes more interconnected over time within nations and societies, the role of diplomacy can only increase in the foreseeable future.  Whether existing institutions such as the United Nations and trade cartels will be sufficient to provide the infrastructure for diplomats needs to be seen, and whether diplomacy needs to become a formal profession.

(1,150 words)

References omitted to hinder plagiarism.

Security & Safety Challenges in a Globalised World

I have just completed and passed Leiden University’s Security & Safety Challenges in a Globalied World course on Coursera.  I started it on 17th April 2023.  I got 98.5% 🙂

A simple Mindmap of the content (click to expand):

Mindmap of the course contentComplex security challenges can be global in impact or reach (e.g. nuclear reactor meltdown or refugees from a war) or global in scale (e.g. climate change).  ‘Glocal’ = local and global.  Examples of problems that are local in scale but global in impact or reach are terrorism, war, conflict and cybersecurity risks.

Societal problems, which includes complex security challenges, are often ‘wicked‘ problems. You cannot try lots of things to see what happens. The rules are not clear. Opinions differ on societal issues. Gaining agreement on a solution is difficult.

Safety’ and ‘security’ have different meanings around the world and both are ‘contested concepts’.

Safety is related to things of value being harmed by flaws or mistakes.  It can be about protection from accidental harm, such as lightning.  It is protection from undesirable outcomes caused unintentionally.

Security – relates to things of value being harmed intentionally by people. Deliberate actions by a person or group comprise a security threat.  Security is protection from harm by people.

Both safety and security are about potential or actual harms.  The difference lies in the nature of the threat: unintentional versus intentional.

Securitisation: labelling challenges, issues or subjects as security issues.  This politicises them, meaning they get priority and prominence.  It also legitimises measures to address them, which may exceed ordinary measures.  Because they have been politicised and given precedence, they than shape how safety and security are defined through a process called ‘mutual shaping’.

Because what we value changes with time and culture, so what we consider risks, threats and vulnerabilities can change.

That was just the introduction.  It then got into integrative perspectives on security and safety.  Then the multi-level perspective.  Risk management and the risk continuum.  Multi-actor responses, how we live in a risk society and risk management.  Risk identification, assessment and mitigation.  Objectivity and quantifiable risks and risk as a social construct.

The Explore / Understand / Do approach was used to analyse a number of events to determine to what extent they were safety or security issues or both.  This is a very useful tool that encourages one to use a multi-actor perspective and move away from traditional national or single-sector views.

The relevance of this was to (a) prove to myself I can still study and (b) better understand globalisation and its relevance to understanding conflict.

Student Loan

Had an email from the Student Loan Company saying they’ve listened to my feedback (no, not mine, they did not ask me) and decided I don’t want paper statements any more.  One has to log in.  Finally managed to log in and, bearing in mind I earn slightly more than the UK national average salary and I’m working full-time:

2020-21 summary

This summary shows any repayments you’ve made along with any interest added to your account since 6 April 2020.

Salary repayments

Any repayments made through PAYE/Self
Assessment within the UK

Interest added +£721.02

I think we can safely say this debt will never get paid off, merely continue to grow.

On looking at how the payments are divvied up, the undergrad loan has an interest rate of 2.6% and the payment rate is set to be a bit less than the interest rate.  The postgrad loan has an interest rate of 5.6% and again the payment rate is set to be a bit less than the interest rate.  This is a shyster arrangement, specifically designed to maximise the interest and minimise the chance of reducing the debt.

No wonder they don’t want to send out annual paper statements, highlighting this egregious arrangement.

I have submitted my dissertation

Yesterday I submitted the dissertation for my Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies.  If it gets a pass, I shall have an MA,  If it fails, I do not know what happens next.

Seven years ago I researched peace sector jobs and they were all asking for an MA in Peace Studies; it is the entry-level qualification for the sector.  So if this passes, it is the end of those seven years of academic work.

Studying away from university and home

So I studied with the Open University as a distance learning student.  I never attended any OU premises; all lectures were in schools or other universities’ sites.

I attended university in Lancaster.  This gave me face-to-face access to tutors and meant I could study on campus in any of the study areas.  Initially this meant the Graduate College IT Study Area they call their PC Lab.  After the first few months I migrated to studying in the library as I had access to the bookstock and it was more convenient for lectures.

When we moved to Milton Keynes it meant I no longer could study in the Lancaster University library.  I have tried studying at home but, with the usual domestic stuff and unpacking to do, there were too many distractions.  So I have looked into alternative places to study.  The nearest public library is in the town centre where parking must be paid for.  Others have restricted opening hours. The nearest university library is … the Open University library.

So I arranged access through the SCONUL mechanism and today I have visited to see how suitable it is.  I had a wander round and, crikey, the place is like an oven above the first floor.  A member of staff told me that is a design flaw that has been there since construction, so won’t be fixed any time soon.  The 1st floor is the silent study area and it is unbearably hot up there.  That is a shame as it is where the study carrels are.  The 2nd floor study area is less formal but is also very hot.

The ground floor comprises a selection of ‘comfortable’ seating areas which means they will be uncomfortable after a while trying to use a laptop.

Parking is free and there were a couple of empty spaces behind the library.

There is a tepid tap water fountain but no cups. I must bring one next time.  On this occasion I paid £1 for a tea from the vending machine.  Wow!  A new standard in awfulness for vending machine tea.  That is remarkable since it was even worse than the foul browness provide by ICL’s data centre vending machine in Enfield circa 1999 which was considered a prime example of the art form.  Trying to stir in the floaty bits did not make any difference to the appearance.  It tasted like chilli-laced brick dust.  I had to throw away the translucent ochre fluid from the cup, then rinse out the grit from the bottom, so I could use it as a receptacle for the drinking fountain.  As I went to do so, someone else was sucking from the tap as he had neither cup, class nor consideration.  Discovering the water was tepid assured me any germs contained thereon would be fit and healthy.  I should bring my own refreshment in future.

There are some PCs provided in the study areas.  It won’t let me access Lancaster email as it hijacks the Outlook requests and redirects it to the OU.  I did not bother trying out any apps on there; documents would need to be saved to USB and it was too hot to investigate further.

I must remember to bring tissues, if only to wipe the sweat from my fevered brow.

But there is nothing to do here to distract me; not even other students I have studied with.

So I might end up completing my dissertation at the OU as a Lancaster distance learner!

Poor government support for careers

Does the government provide poor careers support because civil servants have jobs for life and politicians have no work experience?

When I started my career change it was early 2012.  At that time the government careers service was NextStep.  That was changed to the National Careers Service.  So I created an account on there in April 2012 and used that instead.

Over time it became an excellent resource for hundreds of different jobs.  It had all sorts of facilities for self assessment.  I made a lot of use of it.  It came with a Lifelong Learning Account.  It allowed one to:

  • update and store your CV, skills health check, action plans, and course searches to help you as you progress through your learning and working life
  • access your qualification details from your Personal Learning Record and track what financial contributions have been made towards your learning
  • manage the information you have gathered to help you make the right choices
  • build a personal profile and receive information more tailored to your needs and situation

I made full use of the Skills Health Check Tools and Action Plans and uploaded CVs.

But it has all changed, presumably to fit into the web sitre structure, which does not suit it at all.  There used to be loads of job market analysis for the roles but that has gone.

It now seems no more useful than the useless ‘careers advice’ we got at school: “What do you want to do?  Oh, we don’t have that on the list.  How about train driver, policeman, typist or nurse?  We have those.”  And the information and advice they provide on searching for jobs and filling in forms could be put on a couple of sides of A4.

So it seems the Lifelong Learning Account and National Careers Service have survived for less time than it has been taking me to change career.  I started my research before it opened, have done an undergrad degree and not yet completed my postgrad degree and the Account and Service have gone.

What a shame.  And waste of taxpayers’ money them constructing it all in the first place for it to be switched off again before people have finished with it.

Fortunately, the Lancaster University Careers Service is superb and has provided me with huge amounts of advice, information and support so I’m OK.  But that does not help the millions of people out there who must be coping with leaving education, being laid off,  wanting career change or just being unemployed and wanting to explore their options.

The Lancaster Award; I’ve submitted my application

Lancaster University runs an award scheme that runs alongside, but separately from, the degree programmes.  It is all about ensuring graduates have skills for the workplace and skills for finding work.  According to the number of activities one does, one can apply for a Bronze, Silver or Gold award.  I have submitted my application today, the day of the deadline.

This is the description of the Award for using on CVs and cover letters:

The Lancaster Award is a non-compulsory, assessed employability award that recognizes individual achievements and endorses the development of key employability skills developed through extracurricular activities.  It is evidence of motivation and commitment to personal development.

The level of Lancaster Award granted goes on ones degree transcript. The idea is that it helps with employability.

I’ve been quiet lately

I was expecting to be posting on my blog every day since September with updates and excitement about finally doing the course of study I have been planning and preparing for since 2012.

I registered to do my Master’s Degree in Peace Studies.  Things did not go well.  I have been misled and let down.  This has been a huge distraction for me.  I could not even write about it.

I’ve put a complaint in to the university, which has been accepted.  I am awaiting their response.

Master’s Degree Registration

I have received a “Preparing for Lancaster: Begin registration” email saying it is time to register as a student for my Master’s Degree.  So begins the next stage of my study so I can be eligible to work in the peace sector.

For the previous stage, Open University study to get an undergraduate degree, I blogged my progress on my OU blog site.  302 posts, 1,971 comments Although that will continue to exist for another 3 years or so, it will disappear.  So I think it is time to return here to record my progress and my reflections on learning.