Thursday 16 July 2015

Meet A Guerrilla Diplomat

Should diplomacy come out of the shadows?

Diplomacy has to change in today's world

Daryl Copeland has served in the Canadian Diplomatic service for almost three decades and has traveled on six continents as a backpacker. He sees the traditional diplomacy institutions as not being able to cope with the complexities of a global world and suggests a radical approach in his book, Guerrilla Diplomacy. In this interview he talks about where diplomacy should be going

The central theme in your book is that diplomacy needs to change. In what way does it need to change?
If diplomacy is going to be effective, relevant and capable of transforming the world into a better place, it will have to take on board this; if development is the new security in the age of globalisation, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy. I think governments have been all too prone to reach for the largest policy instrument which is the military, when if fact the sorts of issues that represent the most profound threats to human survival in the 21st Century are not suited to the use of armed force. you can’t garrison against pandemic disease, you can’t call in an air strike on global warming. These can only be approached through diplomacy.

Like the Churchillian maxim that “jaw, jaw is better than war, war”. But there is more to it?
There is, but the underlying approach is that talking is better than fighting but it is also a more cost effective instrument for the management of international relations. I think the reason we’ve carried over this knee jerk reaction to reach for the gun is that the Cold War has morphed into the long war, that is the war on terror. We carried over three pieces of inappropriate intellectual and psychological baggage from the Cold War; One was a binary view of the world, black and white, good and evil, with little in between, no room for subtlety or nuance.

Secondly, there is a characterisation of the threat. During the Cold War communism was seen as universal and undifferentiated. We saw no difference between Soviet, Chinese or Nicaraguan communism. The red menace was omnipresent and all the same. In the present world, the threat of religious violence and terrorism is seen in exactly the same way. Thirdly, the response has been to militarise policy. In the Cold War it was containment and deterrence. Now its the global war on terror. The underlying structures have stayed the same and this has got us into a terrible mess.

There are also ongoing and intractable conflicts in the world, like Sudan, Cyprus etc. How would a guerrilla diplomat approach these problems?
This is where you get into the fundamental distinction between policy instruments and the difference is that diplomacy, and guerrilla diplomats act smarter, faster than traditional diplomats, tend to be extremely cross culturally enabled, with a skill set that includes language and detailed knowledge of cultures and peoples that allows them to sink down into local systems of power and influence, navigating pathways that are closed to others. Its a grass roots networked-centric approach that doesn’t require the overheads of state centered diplomacy. we would find a group of practitioners that have acuity, agility and autonomy. They are very high functioning, adaptable and can solve problems without constantly referring upwards.

Current practice is authoritarian, inflexible and this produces people who are risk adverse. Autonomy means that diplomats enjoy the confidence and trust, not just of their superiors, but also of their clients. I’m not talking about rogues or secret agents, but people who have some traditional skills like tact, discretion, but operating withing broad parameters, they are trusted to get results.

A diplomat also needs to have authority. Are states ready to allow diplomats to act more independently?
I haven’t seen much evidence of it but I think it’s inevitable because at the moment diplomacy isn’t working. It has been sidelined with disastrous results so I think the transfer of authority is bound to come, not least because nothing else is working.

Is this also a call for outsourcing diplomacy, with the arrival of organisations like Independent Diplomat?
Diplomacy is an approach to management of international relations, using negotiation and dialogue. It is also connected to government and the achievement of policy objectives. This does give us room for maneuver and allows us to enter into partnerships with a wide range of actors who don’t work for government, like ID, NGO’s, business people.

How well is your message going down with policy makers and diplomats?
I have to say, very well. People seem keen to hear me. Amongst practitioners there is pretty wide ranging recognition that these reforms are necessary, but at the political level, I’m less sure.

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