Emerging Diplomatic Trends: Diplomatic Fads for Solutions for Future Problems?
High-profile political events and issues have many scholars, practitioners, and observers wondering how diplomatic approaches can be better crafted for today’s world which is full of new threats and problems.
Track II and Track III approaches to diplomacy have been the most successful when traditional diplomacy has failed. There have been new and numerous attempts to develop new approaches to combat the long-last problems such as ethnic tension, extremism, promoting economic growth, and raising awareness on global crises. Developing new diplomatic approaches for global development has been the hardest. Some of the emerging diplomatic trends have potential to solve problems, but can they really guarantee results or are they diplomatic fads that will go out of style as the diplomatic community is faced with more complex challenges?
Track II and Track III approaches to conducting negotiations and reaching peace have become increasingly popular as many view regional and global institutions such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) ineffective as the organizations are too big and do not represent those struggling with most of the world’s issues—Africa and the Middle East. Elements of Track II can be seen in many conflicts as governments have begun to negotiate with opposition groups to reach a decision instead of the internationally recognized governments. An example of this would be the Syrian National Council which has provided to be a better alternative and avenue for peace than the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
Track III diplomacy is more focused on grassroots efforts and are what most informal diplomatic initiatives are categorized. Track III diplomacy typically includes local professionals, community activists, local clergy, organizers of grassroots NGOs. Track III efforts focus on reducing prejudice, stopping the cycles of violence and retribution, and attending to immediate needs of refugees and IDPs and building broad-based reconciliation processes. Track III diplomatic efforts are ran by small groups or by individuals under an idea which is to bring peace by building relationships overtime, not necessarily under a concrete and established social movement or a global development campaign.
The emerging diplomatic trends are a way to incorporate existing social trends into the diplomatic and peace making process. The use of social media, television, and culture make certain international causes more appealing to the world’s younger and more diverse groups. This increasingly includes also what prof. Anis Bajrektarevic calls ‘datafication of human behavior (meta-data hovering) for the sake of timely and precise economic or political risk analysis’. (1) Many organizations have been highly successful in meeting global and diplomatic challenges by using media.
Fashion diplomacy is an emerging trend that has been in existence for 20 years, but has come to the forefront due to it successes. The NGO, Fashion for Development, uses fashion as a way to create businesses and to bridge cultural gaps. With support from the UN, Fashion for Development or (F4D), has global initiatives active on multiple continents ranging from Afghanistan to Egypt to the United States in the key focus areas of: production/trade, promotion, skills/training, health and education. The group also seeks to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of fighting poverty through creating entrepreneurial opportunities, sustainable economic growth, promoting gender equality, and enriching and empowering the lives of women around the world. The group’s mission according to their website is “to harness the power of the fashion and beauty industries and implement creative strategies for sustainable economic growth and independence for communities worldwide through the Expression of Fashion.”(2) The fashion industry has come under harsh scrutiny for “fast fashion,” and for allowing workers to work in deplorable conditions; these items made under poor labor conditions are for export. F4D focuses on local garment making that is distributed locally. F4D is also focused on reaching the UN’s MDGs by developing economic solutions and how to make the fashion industry safer for garment workers and for the environment.
Sport diplomacy has been somewhat of a staple in American diplomatic techniques as the U.S. has used culture and sporting figures/ideas to improve diplomatic relations. Football (or soccer) diplomacy is aimed at reducing ethnic ties between ethnic and social groups and Secretary of State Kerry has called football a “very strong language.” (3) Football around the world is very much a unifying sport and the main sport in Europe, Africa, and one of the more popular sports in Asia. Football also creates a transnational society where international cultural exchanges are possible. Through soccer diplomacy, China developed better relations with African countries. China’s so-called “Stadium Diplomacy” has allowed China to invest in the infrastructure of African countries such as Angola, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea by building soccer stadiums.(4) Gabon received, “40,000 capacity stadium built by the Shanghai Construction Group” and was entirely funded by China. (5) The stadiums are a symbolic reminder of Chinese assistance and illustrate China’s diverse aid programs that are more than loans, military aid, and support for leaders and democracy as compared to “traditionally Western forms of aid such as loans that specify the proper usage of funds or require certain democratic reforms.” (6) They are focused on rebuilding parts of the country that can be used to promote a country and increase its participation in a region.
Basketball diplomacy was also a mildly successful form of diplomacy as Dennis Rodman, a former American basketball team play for the Chicago Bulls, was granted unprecedented access into North Korea (or the Hermit Kingdom) and unprecedented access to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un (KJU). Rodman was the only American to met KJU and the American diplomatic “community pressured Rodman to play diplomat—Rodman refused. Rodman, in his “diplomatic capacity, asked KJU to do him a “solid” and release Kenneth Bae.(7) Kenneth Bae was finally released in early November 2014. To say that Dennis Rodman had improved U.S.-North Korea relations is short-sighted as North Korea has lashed out calling the US a racist country in defense of itself after a UN resolution was approved referring North Korea leader to the International Criminal Court for its gross human rights violations.
Digital Diplomacy has become a method of choice as social media has become part of the diplomatic community’s repertoire. Social media thus has provided countries with more information to solve social problems. Populations in conflict areas use social media to drum up support, organize protests, communicate, and inform the world know of events in their countries as their media is subjected to blackouts and censorship. A successful example of this would be the Arab Spring protests in Egypt and the EuroMaidan protests in the Ukraine. Digital diplomacy has brought world leaders to the United States such as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Silicon Valley to gain inspiration for Russia’s own Silicon Valley in Skolkovo in hopes of boosting the Russian economy through innovation and technology investments. This was part of the public diplomacy effort to forge a U.S.-Russian “reset.” These efforts were mildly successful until the re-election of Vladimir Putin which saw the re-emergence of a more assertive Russia. Social media engages those in the diplomatic community, and builds stronger relationships between the diplomatic community, technology, and academic firms and institutions respectively. The Government of Sweden set up the Stockholm International Initiative on Digital Diplomacy to address these issues and for state actors to stay connected to their people. A broader understanding of digital diplomacy is using the internet to achieve diplomatic goals.
Social media campaigns are highly effective in generating media coverage, raising awareness of an issue or issues, and pressuring governments. Social media also plays a large role in human rights monitoring to track violations in otherwise closed countries and to provide news alternative to the often state-owned news outlets which are heavily restricted and peddle state propaganda. However, social media has its weakness such as whether the information is accurate, determining validity sources and reducing anonymity, and is reliant on cell and internet networks in often underdeveloped countries or countries that have wobbly infrastructures.
Due to technology and complex crises, nontraditional diplomatic efforts are becoming the norm. The diplomatic, stabilization, and peacekeeping communities are looking to NGOs, cultural exchanges and other forms of cultural diplomacy to rebuild communities after conflict. The globalized community is also looking for ways to improve governance. Due to the corruption of many countries that are experiencing, approaches that incorporate tools to increase transparency, responsibility, accountability, civic participation and responsiveness are sought after and accepted. Maintaining freedom of speech and press is paramount to preserving good governance and explains the uproar over social media blackouts in semi-authoritarian, authoritarian or autocratic administrations.
The United Nations can greatly benefit from these emerging diplomatic trends as the United Nations has a reputation for being broken and ineffective. As many programs are funded by the UN, the UN can use these approaches to its advantages and apply them to other areas of need. Many of these emerging trends are already based on known solutions that work such as empowering the most vulnerable, creating sustainable economic solutions, fostering cultural exchanges, and improving governance. These initiatives (and trends) are conducted on the unit level and the micro level and are financed by governments, non-governmental actors, and individuals making the fastest impact while encountering little bureaucracy and avoiding complicated politics.
These emerging trends cannot replace the larger institutions and larger governments that are able to assist in dire complex humanitarian emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak, the looming global threat of Islamic State and the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war, and global hunger and malnutrition. Many of the non-traditional initiatives have been successful on a community-scale, but groups lack funding and manpower. Joint projects with Track II and Track III initiatives and larger institutions may be the key. Fashion diplomacy may be undercut by the cheap textiles produced by Southeast Asia countries. Digital diplomacy is susceptible to government regulation such as media and social media blackouts which have occurred in Turkey, Egypt, and Venezuela during times of civil unrest and protests. Sport diplomacy is subjected to the whim of country, country involved and their motivations, social attitudes of that time and who is involved. The world may require nascent and untested approaches as older traditional forms of diplomacy have not met the expectations of countries and groups of people in need.