chapter  7
26 Pages

Diplomacy diffused

Sovereign states have never had a monopoly of diplomacy. Even in nineteenthcentury Europe, where formalized diplomatic practices were generally accepted and respected, governments had recourse to unofficial intermediaries and non-state institutions for the achievement of foreign policy objectives. But the two decades which have elapsed since the end of the Cold War have witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of international actors whose role and influence extend beyond the traditional confines of the state. The collapse of once firmly established hierarchies has, as so often in periods of rapid political change, been accompanied by a broader dispersal of centres of power. Cultural, ethnic and religious movements have acquired a new global significance; civil society organizations (CSOs), be they charities, professional bodies or single-and multi-issue pressure groups, have assumed a higher profile on the world stage; and transnational banking and business corporations have tended increasingly to look towards states as facilitators rather than regulators of their otherwise independent actions. As a result there has been a further and dramatic diffusion of the way in which peoples and polities deal with each other. Government departments and agencies have grown accustomed to addressing their foreign counterparts directly, sometimes bypassing completely regular diplomatic channels, and businesses and CSOs are now in dialogue with them, among themselves and with a range of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Institutions have taken on global functions never envisaged or intended by their founders. This diffusion of diplomacy may in part be attributed to advances in com-

munications technology. Satellite and digital networking has encouraged and permitted instant dialogue among groups and individuals, unimpeded by either distance or frontiers. The relative ease with which international

commercial and financial transactions can be completed is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the current phase of globalization. However, the trend towards a more diffused diplomacy long preceded the invention of the computer. Indeed, but for the Cold War and the rigidities of the bipolar system on which it was based there might have been more innovation in diplomacy. It is therefore perhaps all the more appropriate that as the Cold War drew to its close Western foreign ministries should have seized the initiative by making the fullest use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ease and encourage transition in the communist East.