To celebrate the University of Bonn’s 200th anniversary and to address the growing uncertainties in international relations, the Center for International and Security and Governance hosted a lecture and panel discussion on November 19th 2018.
As Prof. James D. Bindenagel said in his introduction, diplomacy is the alternative to war. It is an established method of working with foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. Over the past few years, however, we have witnessed an ever-growing number of conflicts, division and challenges and the unraveling of the international liberal international order that diplomatic efforts haven’t been able to stop. Digitalization, globalization, and technology changes along with climate change are creating a set of more complicated, complex and dynamic security challenges while the will to cooperate seems to be decreasing. With challenges mounting, isolationism and tensions rising, the CISG invited a number of distinguished foreign policy experts to discuss what role diplomacy can play under today’s political conditions.
In his lecture that started off the evening, Elmar Brok, Former Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs and Member of the European Parliament, emphasized the role of diplomats for the maintenance of international stability and the prevention of catastrophic developments – even under today’s somewhat chaotic conditions. Diplomatic efforts maintain vital connections between actors and slow down processes of disruption and escalation, he said. The last NATO summit, for instance, “was less of a disaster because the diplomatic machinery still works.” With the EU focusing on itself, the current U.S. administration’s disregard for diplomacy and international tensions mounting, however, his overall assessment of diplomacy’s current state wasn’t a particularly positive one.
In the ensuing panel discussion moderated by the President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy Dr. Karl-Heinz Kamp, this conclusion was complemented with various other views. David Kramer, Senior Fellow at Florida International University, warned that Europeans and the U.S. may need to be careful: “Many parties, like Russia, are not actually interested in using diplomacy to solve conflicts,” he argued, adding that “for Putin, Diplomacy is meant to prolong the negotiation process to our disadvantage.” According to him, diplomacy has two distinct strands: the cultivation of close relationships with friends and allies on the one hand, and diplomacy in the face of crisis on the other – and both of these areas are cause for concern at present. His verdict was sobering: “If you can’t even agree on the basic values and fundamentals of what you are talking about”, he concluded, “then I don’t see what the point of diplomacy is.”
Dr. Amanda Sloat, Robert Bosch senior fellow on Foreign Policy and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department, for her part expressed her concern about current developments and the increasingly low morale at the state department. People there, she said, have always been extremely committed, non-partisan professionals who have served under many governments – but this is changing. As a result of the current U.S. administration’s limited appreciation for diplomacy, the U.S. State Department is currently losing a significant share of its highly qualified staff. She also stated that the troubling times for diplomacy are also illustrated by the fact that two years into the current administration, the U.S. doesn’t even have an ambassador in many crucial countries. Sloat finally warned that even high-ranking U.S. military officers strongly opposed Trump’s 30% cuts of diplomatic services. Without diplomats, she concluded, conflicts will rise even further and wars become much more violent. “If we believe in democratic structures and processes, we need people in place.”
This sentiment was echoed by Ambassador Tacan İldem, a senior Turkish diplomat and Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy at NATO. “I’m a true believer in diplomacy.” he said. “We have to draw our lessons from the past.” Drawing from his professional experience, Ildem agreed that the current political conditions are indeed posing a challenge for dialogue and diplomacy. According to him, however, not all is lost. The current challenges notwithstanding, İldem stressed the positive impact diplomatic efforts can have on mitigating tensions and accentuating commonalities even, and especially, in difficult times. “We need to keep the appreciation for a safe environment and peaceful coexistence alive,” he said. “After all, what we do share, beyond all differences, are some common values and goals on a very basic level that we should never lose sight of.”