By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Given the current state of global affairs, the need for diplomacy is greater than ever before, yet its crucial role in helping to resolve international conflicts is increasingly diminishing.
Notwithstanding, common threats for all nations are mounting, and require the shared efforts of the international community.
But what exactly is the role of a diplomat in today’s world, where direct-line phone calls – or even what’s app messaging – between heads of state seems to have replaced the need for personal emissaries and ambassadorial go-betweens? And what will its role be tomorrow?
The answer is not easy because, like the international world itself, the art of diplomacy is constantly changing as international relations evolve and the perception of threats to peace and global security are altered.
Peacekeeping, peacemaking and the building and maintenance of security have always been and will always be the core objectives of the wider diplomatic and political exercise.
In a world where terrorism threatens virtually every nook and corner of human existence, diplomacy must now involve new diplomatic skills and methods of approach, as well as the adoption of innovative strategies to achieve the ultimate objective of peace, something that can best be described as preventive diplomacy.
In today’s world, even the concept of peace has been redefined to mean more than just the traditional notion of absence of war. It is the ability to create pathways for alternative solutions to military actions.
By the same token, the forums in which diplomacy takes place have also changed. Multilateral venues and mechanisms such as the United Nations and G-20 have replaced traditional bilateral encounters.
Regional organizations open new corridors for more cooperation and interchange.
These changes in the approach and style of diplomacy have contributed to a need for a substantial and far-reaching revamping of the profession of “the art of the possible.”
During the Cold War era, with its sharply demarcated ideological barriers and rigid strategic concerns, diplomats were constrained by imposed political constraints and restricted inside the confines of a bipolar world.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s and former enemies became uncertain allies, new opportunities – and hurdles – developed for the erstwhile diplomat.
Many ambassadors adopted new roles, becoming cultural envoys, business promoters and public relations faux pas-menders.
Diplomacy, once a discrete profession practiced in seclusion behind closed doors, is today scrutinized by the media, and every word uttered by or action taken by a diplomatic becomes public fodder for debate..
Diplomacy is under constant scrutiny and criticism, which only makes the art of finding amiable solutions to unamiable conflicts all the more difficult.
There are those who believe that in today’s world, diplomats are anachronisms, relics of a bygone era.
But the role of today’s diplomat – albeit a different one from what it may have been a century or even a decade ago – is more crucial than ever before.
At the core, a diplomat’s job is the same: to find peaceful resolutions to differences in order to avoid military escalation of political or territorial disputes.
Using words instead of weapons, diplomats can help to weave the fabric of global understanding and cooperation.
It is substituting the pursuit of military solutions with the option of open dialogue.
And as long as there is dialogue, there is hope for a peaceful resolution.
Talk may be cheap, but it is a much better option than gunboats.
Despite all the changes that diplomacy has undergone in recent years, it is still a slow and tedious process.
But when it comes to international conflicts, diplomacy is the only viable alternative to military solutions.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.