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Faced With a Changing World, Diplomacy Needs to Evolve

by Bhimanto Suwastoyo

Jakarta Globe
November 26, 2013

While the world has undergone rapid changes and become increasingly globalized, diplomacy has mostly remained entrenched in old practices and therefore needs to undergo drastic changes to be able to stay relevant, a Canadian political analyst and career diplomat said on Monday.

“I think diplomacy really has an image problem, a substance problem, because it has not really adapted or evolved very well, to the challenges of the globalization age,” said Daryl Copeland, the author of “Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations.”

He said because it had remained mostly unchanged, most people did not view diplomacy as a non-violent international political communication, or as an approach to the management of international relations.

With some three decades of diplomacy behind him, Copeland, who is now an analyst, speaker and educator in diplomacy and international policy, said diplomacy should be characterized by dialogue, a two-way communication where give and take takes place, compromises are agreed on, and where outcomes provide win-win situations.

In the contemporary environment, diplomacy should also be characterized by the use of knowledge-based problem solving and complex balancing of powers.

Knowledge-based problem solving, copeland said, “is becoming more important if we are going to address the sorts of issues that are putting the planet at risk at the moment.”

And while statecraft has always been about balancing power, the nature of power in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the past.

Copeland said while in the past security equated to military power, security nowadays “is not a martial arts and has very little to do with generals and admirals, bombs and guns.”

In the 21st century, he said, development has become the new security.

“Put in another way, there are no military solutions to the real threats and challenges that are besetting the planet — climate change, diminishing biodiversity, food and water insecurities, environmental collapse, public health, pandemic diseases, genomics. Any of these things can take down the planet, if things go badly,” Copeland said.

With development becoming the new security issue in this age of globalization, diplomacy must replace defense at the center of international policy, he said.

“If the real threat is not military, if there is no military solution to these big issues that take on the planet, why is it that the lion’s share of resources is still for defense? This is a question that should be put to every government,” he said.

Another facet of power nowadays, he said, also had to do with prevailing economic interests as globalization was in large part driven by trade and finance, and everyone had their own economic interests to advance.

He said the problem now was how to translate economic changes, including in prosperity, into political power.

New diplomacy, Copeland said, accordingly should be “driven by intelligence, market intelligence, cultural intelligence, linguistic capacities, awareness of who your partners are, really knowing how to deliver results, and building relationships, which is fundamental especially in Asia.”

Copeland also said that the role of the state in diplomacy was getting relatively less important, as power shifted to supranational institutions and international organizations, or to executive offices or to sub-national actors such as provinces, districts, cities, nongovernmental organizations and even individuals.

“Naturally the job of diplomats, who represent the state, has got to change, taking into account this transformed operating environment,” Copeland said.

Diplomats, he said, now needed to deal directly with foreign populations, engage in partnership with civil society and be aware of the need of the strategic use of both conventional and new media.

“We have moved from traditional diplomacy to public diplomacy, as the new diplomacy,” he said.

“I think we have got to take diplomacy to places it never has been before and practice it in ways in which it has not been practiced before.”

Copeland argued that diplomacy should no longer be confined to the chancery and closed environments such as saloons and meeting places, but should move to the streets, the kampongs and barrios, the markets and conflict zones.

Diplomacy, he said, should also be practiced in a way that was sharper, faster, lighter and more agile, as well as in a more flexible and adaptable manner rather than the pin-striped diplomacy most of the public still associate it with.

Foreign ministries, he said, in particular need to undertake a cultural revolution.

“They are conservative, they are change-resistant, they are very hierarchic, they are kind of rigid, they are authoritarian and they are entirely bureaucratic, and standard procedures and convention are really important,” he said. The age of globalization, he said “is all about being unconventional. It is also about being innovative, fast, leap-footed, agile, supple, going with the flow and not being rigid. It is talk, not fight.”


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