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.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022

In the FCDO’s Outcome Delivery Plan 2021 to 2022 there is some quite exciting stuff.  I’ve cherry-picked the bits I like best:


Our ambition for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is to maximise our global impact in the service of British interests and values – working together with our partners and allies as a force for good in the world.

We want to see a world that is safe for open and free societies to thrive, where we benefit from technology while maintaining our security and freedoms, where countries come together to tackle the biggest global challenges for the benefit of everyone.

We will be a force for good in the world, getting COVID-19 vaccines to the poorest countries, shifting the dial on climate change, tackling poverty, giving girls in the poorest countries a proper education, and standing up for democracy, freedom and human rights when they come under attack.

A. Executive summary
Vision and mission

The FCDO will pursue our national interests and project the UK as a force for good in the world. We will promote the interests of British citizens, safeguard the UK’s security, defend our values, reduce poverty and tackle global challenges with our international partners.

C. Priority outcomes delivery plans

Outcome evaluation

The outcomes are linked to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Priority Outcome 1: Shape the international order and ensure the UK is a force for good in the world by supporting sustainable development and humanitarian needs, promoting human rights and democracy, and establishing common international standards

This is aligned with these SDGs:

  • SDG 1: No Poverty (Target 1.3)
  • SDG 2: Zero Hunger (Targets 2.1, 2.2, 2.5)
  • SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being (Targets 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.7, 3.8)
  • SDG 4: Quality Education (Target 4.5)
  • SDG 5: Gender Equality
  • SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy (Target 7.a)
  • SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth (Target 8.4)
  • SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (Target 9.5)
  • SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities (Target 10.2)
  • SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (Targets 11.5, 11.b)
  • SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production (Target 12.2)
  • SDG 13: Climate Action (Target 13.1)
  • SDG 15: Life on Land (Targets 15.5, 15.a)
  • SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Targets 16.1, 16.2, 16.3, 16.7, 16.10, 16.a, 16.b)

Outcome strategy

The FCDO will play a critical role in strengthening international security and making the UK safer and more resilient to global threats. Our capacity to prevent, deter, respond to and mitigate most threats relies on our relationships and influence abroad. We will coordinate the delivery of activity and relationships overseas to protect and promote UK resilience and a resilient global system.

We will develop clearer areas of UK specialism in addressing conflict and instability, better aligning our tools and capabilities. We will lead and contribute to effective international efforts to prevent, manage and support transition out of conflict, as a force for good.

That is only one part of the much larger plan.  And this is the part I find most exciting – something I would like to be a part of.