Old and New Diplomacy

Old and New Diplomacy

Conventional wisdom holds that the main experts providing their nations with specialised information regarding foreign countries are the diplomats. They also offer information on relations with other countries or global affairs (Geoffrey, 2011). However, diplomacy in this dispensation is developing faster. Today, the knowledge and contribution which helps in shaping public policy are offered by different non-state across including NGOs, churches, multinational firms, and celebrities among others. The old diplomacy is now changing. On the other hand, ambassadorial diplomacy is not the main statecraft anymore. More significance has been attached to political communication between nations and between nations and the public. Though the old diplomacy is still in existence, it has to work with the new actors in the global arena. The new diplomatic strategies are leading to increased transparency (Barston, 2006). However, when it comes to diplomacy, increased transparency might not often be desirable. This paper analyses the extent to which non-state actors can be considered as diplomats in their own right and their impact on the conduct of diplomacy.

International relations entail the relations between countries. For those who view the world from a state-cantered approach, non-state actors play a secondary role compared to national governments (Jean-Robert, 2008). Both the state and non-state actors live in two separate worlds where little interaction occurs between them. However, so as to understand political change, the relation between countries and other actors must be analysed. Companies and NGOs wield a lot of influence in the global system. Others only operate in one nation while some are international non-governmental organisations like Amnesty International. The culmination of the Cold War was a major political change as regards the transformation of the state. According to Viola (2008), this transformation implied a relocation or decline of the old foundations of state power. This paved the way for new actors to get into the state of global politics. It now became possible for a state to increasingly work with transnational organisations, actors in the civil society and private business. The transformation of the state triggered a change in the nature of diplomacy. The main impact was an increase in the number of non-state actors involved in diplomacy. One of the most significant organisations through which NGOs could access international diplomacy is the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). There has been increased growth in NGOs from the beginning of the 1990s.the ECOSOC has accorded the NGOs consultative status. Viola (2008) noted that more than three thousand organisations enjoy this status today. These NGOs are taking part in conferences (Kelley, 2010). For instance, for the very first time in the year 1996, the World Trade Organisation permitted more than a hundred NGOs to participate in a ministerial conference.

The number increased to more than 750 during the Geneva conference that was held in 2008. On the same note, Viola (2008) is quick to point out the numerous NGOs that have forged working relationships with different governments and programs. There is great diversity in the diplomatic activity undertaken by the non-state actors. First and foremost, they serve as advisers when it comes to government delegations. Furthermore, they act as observers, gather information regarding the views of the public and even work as lobbyists (Brian, 2011). Non-state actors lack a formal voice in the area of diplomacy. However, they are changing the old diplomacy. Diplomacy in this dispensation has grown out of the state and beyond it. Diplomats were traditionally perceived as experts who provided specialised information to their countries for dealing with tough challenges (Langhorne, 2005). However, this information is increasingly offered by the non-state actors like NGOs. In other instances, NGOs take part in negotiations. They serve as watchdogs in the course of these negotiations. They are able to address delegates in the process and have access to information on these meetings.

Despite this, there are roles that cannot be undertaken by diplomats. One of them is mobilizing public opinion. The other is raising awareness. Non-state actors stand closer to the people (Berridge, 2010). In addition, they can ensure that civil society is part and parcel of the agenda setting process. Their independency of governments is the main strength associated with these non-state actors. Moreover, they can offer local and specialised information to the states, a task that was previously undertaken by the diplomats. It appears that the non-state actors are now taking the place of the diplomats. However, it must be emphasised that this is not the case. It is not in dispute that these changes are ensuring that diplomacy becomes transparent (Geoffrey, 2004). However, it does not say much about its ability to operate in an effective manner. There is need to be critical given that more transparency does not necessarily translate into positive results. It could impact the manner in which negotiators act. In this regard, diplomats strive to be flexible and welcoming to creative solutions during negotiations and this increases the probability of agreement. According to Viola (2008), the public lacks influence in private negotiations, thus it restricts the political accountability. Furthermore, it is important to consider that non-state actors do not represent a large section of the population. In other words, they only represent a small special interest group. The other problem that must be taken into consideration is accountability. As opposed to democratically elected governments that must be open and above board in all that they do, non-state actors are not accountable. This might trigger challenges when government negotiators are limited by groups that do not represent a large section of the population (Viola, 2008). It is, however, important to understand who the new diplomats are and their impact.

The new diplomats could be defined as an entrepreneurial component of the civil society undertaking diplomatic roles by embracing their behaviour. According to Kelley (2010), they can shape and impact state behaviour. This can be achieved by setting the agenda and taking part in negotiations at greater levels. It is also important to establish whether the actions of the non-state actors can be referred to as diplomacy. Though they are not official, they demonstrate that they are skilful in their operations. Moreover, they show that they are effective in striking a balance between official and unofficial settings (Richard, 2005). This is what distinguishes them from advocates. New diplomats as has been established include NGOs, churches, multinational firms, religious leaders and celebrities among others. They merge moral legitimacy on one hand with access to political change on the other. In addition, they are able to act where governments show failure. New diplomats pose a major problem to state dominance in the diplomatic arena and must be viewed as such. They can mobilise the public and deal with issues that are not in line with the national goals of the state, and concentrate on international issues. There are similarities shared by the new and the old diplomacy, though are very distinct. Where old diplomats have the task of forging coalitions between countries, new diplomats are operating within transnational advocacy chains through the use of their information and values to encourage political action. Furthermore, they try to acquire the help of powerful institutions. The concern over legitimacy is crucial. As noted by Kelley (2010), new diplomats are motivated by moral legitimacy which is provided by a collective will to overhaul the ethical pillars of states and transform state behaviour in a manner that is acceptable to the represented movement.

Old diplomats are supported by political legitimacy in addition to their link to the rule of law. So as to get political representation, non-state actors like the NGOs and the celebrities, derive their legitimacy by striving to achieve desirable goals (Langhorne, 2005). Given that access to information now easier compared to the past, it is also easier to establish networks. In this regard, the public will offer its legitimacy on the basis of what is desirable. The other shortfall of the new diplomacy as noted earlier is their accountability. It is important to understand who is responsible the actions of the new diplomats go wrong. When dealing with pace and efficiency, non-state actors have an advantage over the old diplomats. A perfect case in point of the achievement made by a diplomatic process that excludes the state was the 1997 Ottawa Treaty. Here, representatives from 156 countries and NGOs took part in the conference. They represented a coalition of global social action network (Kelley, 2010). The treaty was spearheaded by Princess Diana of Wales. She launched a strong campaign against landmines.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines had established a network of more than a thousand NGOs from more than sixty nations. This network created political pressure for nations to accept and support the ban. Before the creation of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the issue was never placed on the international agenda (Kelley, 2010). Perhaps this would have been the case had the International Campaign to Ban Landmines been absent. Another question to be addressed is whether the non-state actors mark the end of the old diplomacy. This answer is yes. However, it must be emphasised that the old methods of diplomacy are still in existence and not being replaced. There is cooperation between the old and new diplomacies. The old type of diplomacy has been able to integrate the new type. This cooperation is expected to grow stronger in future.

In conclusion, non-state actors should be viewed as an addition to the old diplomacy and an integral component of public diplomacy. Their functions in the international system are quite distinct from official diplomats. There are only a few activities of the non-state actors which interfere with the old diplomatic culture. Therefore, there is ground to believe that involvement of non-state actors in diplomacy poses a threat to official diplomacy. This is attributed to the fact that public diplomacy had been introduced earlier. It was meant to impact or inform public opinion via media, TV, and radio. By attracting attention, non-state actors can create the political will to do something about an issue. Moreover, the presence of non-state actors in the global arena demonstrates the adaptive quality associated with diplomacy. Non-state actors have defined a sense of purpose, the ability to network, access to global leaders and a global reach. This implies that they can break down diplomatic barriers. There is one area that they differ from official diplomacy. This is in the area of representation. In other words, they are not formal diplomats. The question, therefore, is who they represent. Therefore, it is not possible for them to claim that they are representing a certain group or fighting a certain cause. Official diplomats are able to work with professionals. However, they lack skills in attracting the attention of the public. Furthermore, they operate through government agencies instead of using extended networks. Based on this, they complement one another.  Most important is that official diplomacy requires this type of non-state actors in order to discharge their tasks.









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Geoffrey, W 2004, Polylateralism and New Modes of Global Dialogue in Christer Jönsson and Richard Langhorne (eds), Diplomacy: Volume III: Problems and Issues in Contemporary Diplomacy, [online], Available at https://www.un-ngls.org/orf/pdf/polylateralism_and_new_%20modes_of_global_dialogue.pdf [accessed 9 March 2017]

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Viola, L 2008, The Reinvention of Diplomacy, WZB-Mitteilungen, 121, pp. 22–25


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