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The Evolution of multilateral diolomacy
[ ] 05.01.2009, 13:40
The Evolution of multilateral diplomacy


DIPLOMACY ("Multilateral Diplomacy and the United Nations Today"

by James P. Muldoon Jr.)


Diplomacy is the method by which nation-states, through authorized agents, maintain mutual relations, communicate with each other, and carry out political, economic, and legal transac­tions.

Although the roots of diplomacy reach back to the beginning of organized human society, the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 is generally believed to be the origin of diplomacy as an institu­tion, since it marked the beginning of the European nation-state system (which initially consisted of twelve well-defined sover­eign states) and codified the rules of conduct among sovereign and "equal" states. The Westphalian principles of sovereignty and the territorial state that were established in the seventeenth century are the foundation of today's multilateral diplomatic sys­tem.

The history of diplomacy is commonly divided between the "old diplomacy" that reached its zenith in the nineteenth century and the "new diplomacy" of the twentieth. The "old diplomacy" or "bilateral diplomacy" was dominated for almost three hun­dred years by the "French system of diplomacy", which estab­lished and developed several key features of contemporary di­plomacy-resident ambassadors, secret negotiations, ceremonial duties and protocol, honesty, and professionalism. Old diplo­macy was predominantly limited to the conduct of relations on a state-to-state basis via resident missions (embassies), with the resident ambassador being the key actor. The "new diplomacy" that emerged in the nineteenth century and found its fullest ex­pression in the twentieth is distinguished from the "old" by two themes: "First, the demand that diplomacy should be more open to public scrutiny and control, and second, the projected estab­lishment of an international organization which would act both as a forum for the peaceful settlement of disputes and as a deter­rent to the waging of aggressive war".

The vestiges of the "old diplomacy" rapidly faded into the background after World War II, when the "standing diplomatic conference" (or, as it is more commonly known, international organization) and multilateral diplomacy blossomed. By the mid­dle of the twentieth century, the international arena had become too big and too complex for traditional bilateral diplomacy to manage, unleashing the unprecedented drive of the past fifty years to build international and regional organizations with defined rules of procedure, permanent secretariats, and permanently ac­credited diplomatic missions and gradually shifting the empha­sis in diplomatic method from traditional bilateralism to multi­lateralism. This was a particularly important development in in­ternational relations.

As a consequence, the "new" diplomacy, especially as it is manifested in the United Nations, broadened the tasks of the pro­fession, subtly changing how diplomats conduct their trade. To­day, the tasks of a diplomat include: (1) formal and substantive representation (the former involves presentation of credentials, protocol and participation in the diplomatic circuit of a national capital or an international or regional institution, while the latter includes explanation and defiance of national policies and ne­gotiations with other governments); (2) information gathering (acting as a "listening post"); (3) laying the groundwork or pre­paring the basis for a policy or new initiatives; (4) reducing in­terstate friction or oiling the wheels of bilateral or multilateral relations; (5) managing order and change; and (6) creating, draft­ing and amending international normative and regulatory rules.

Multilateral diplomacy emphasizes diplomats' public speak­ing, debating and language skills since communications are con­ducted principally by means of verbal, face-to-face exchanges rather than in the predominantly written style of bilateral diplo­macy. The expansion and intertwining of political, economic, and social issues and concerns on the agenda of multilateral di­plomacy have pushed diplomats towards greater specialization, and increased involvement in external affairs of domestic minis­tries, such as those concerned with agriculture, civil aviation, finance and health. As Sir David Hannay, former permanent rep­resentative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, points out: "You have to have a reasonable spread of specializations. You now certainly have to have military advice. And on the de­velopment side, you have to have people who know something about environment, who know something about population con­trol, who know something about wider development policies". Also, multilateral diplomacy has overlaid the task of the interna­tional system on the diplomats' traditional function of advancing and protecting national interests within the system.

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