UNU Hosts Panel Discussion on Modern Diplomacy

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  • 2013•05•02     Tokyo

    In this video, filmed after the panel discussion reported below, UNU Rector David M. Malone, Dr. Jorge Heine and Dr. Sadaaki Numata reiterate their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities presented by shifts in contemporary forms of diplomacy.

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    Are we seeing the end of diplomacy? On Thursday 2 May 2013, UNU Rector David M. Malone hosted Jorge Heine (CIGI Professor of Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario) and Sadaaki Numata (Japan’s former Ambassador to Pakistan and Canada) to discuss this and other critical questions before an audience that included a number of representatives of the diplomatic community in Japan.

    With the publication of the Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy (edited by Andrew Cooper, former UNU Vice Rector Ramesh Thakur and panelist Jorge Heine), scholars in international affairs now have an excellent new companion text, and the event’s panelists and audience took great advantage of this occasion to discuss the pressing matters of diplomacy today.

    The panelists observed that the session’s provocative title was intended to highlight the possibility that a certain type of diplomacy was coming to an end. The Rector stressed that diplomacy today is a “much more diverse game” than 30 years ago, and all the better for it. The gentlemen’s club days have passed, and the ambassadors in the audience were a much better illustration of the younger, female, and more varied diplomatic corps of today. Equally, the days when economic matters were of secondary importance and handed off to more junior staff are long gone. Little is given more emphasis now, and modern foreign services must balance all their responsibilities with ever-dwindling economic resources.

    For Dr. Heine, the main question to be considered was whether diplomacy was shifting from the closed “club” model to open “network” diplomacy, and this idea sparked an involved and fruitful discussion in the room. Ambassador Numata highlighted how Japan had initially been sceptical about the development of a larger network such as the G-20, but its tradition of developing coalitions of consensus had prevailed, highlighting an advantage Japan holds in a world of network diplomacy.

    Jorge Heine

    Dr. Jorge Heine. Photo: C Christophersen/UNU

    Ambassador Numata referred to a colleague in the Japanese diplomatic corps who used to compare the role of an ambassador to a gardener: constantly watering the flowers and plants, or tending to relationships. Ambassador Numata also argued that in diplomacy there are many stakeholders and a diplomat is always under pressure, and the ability to communicate effectively and clearly is paramount.

    Rector Malone emphasized that while diplomacy takes many forms, its goals also vary from country to country. Governments must make strategic choices about collaboration and cost-sharing, and find a balance between hard and soft power. All these aspects are in flux, but a key goal must be to pause and listen. “Diplomats must be curious and interested in understanding others”, said Rector Malone

    While there is no doubt that the balance between the paymasters at home and the diplomats in the field is difficult, Dr. Heine underlined the idea that increasing global economic flows had only made the work of the diplomat more important, and that foreign ministries have failed to adequately realize this. In the same vein Dr. Malone emphasized that politicians, especially in these challenging times, are more involved in a cost dialogue with domestic constituents than they were with their counterparts abroad.

    Ambassador Numata, expressed that part of the problem is that public diplomacy does not provide the instant gratification, or easily quantifiable results that would make it easy for politicians to support it. Diplomacy today involves more prominent actors than ever, with central banks and other financial institutions in discussion with each other, and with emerging countries becoming ever more important. Dr. Malone noted that the industrialized world had yet to truly adjust to the growing presence of emerging countries on the diplomatic scene. In the same context, Ambassador Numata re-emphasized the importance of curiosity, as well as translating soft power assets, like cultural and scientific capital, into bona fide soft power.

    From left to right, UNU Rector David M. Malone, Dr. Jorge Heine, and Dr. Sadaaki Numata. Photo: C. Christopherson/UNU

    The panel moved from its spirited discussion to open the floor to questions. In response to the issue of whether moves to larger networks like the G20 represented simply larger “clubs” or true “networks”, Dr. Heine stressed that while both elements are still in play, network diplomacy had become more dominant at the bilateral level. In Dr. Malone’s opinion, the old Eurocentric or transatlantic paradigms simply no longer operate.

    Similarly, in these days of 24/7 global media coverage, Ambassador Numata indicated that there is no choice for modern diplomats but to move first and fast. Although they may be put in positions where information travels outside the diplomatic sphere faster than embassy cables, diplomats should not be afraid to confront issues as best and as quickly as they can — to use the information they have and be honest when it is flawed, but most of all, to communicate.

    For all the panelists, curiosity, communication, and a clear-eyed acceptance of today’s diplomatic landscape were emphasized as key to success.