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Diplomacy for the 21st Century

Diplomacy, in recent years, has been neglected, if not scorned by journalists, think tanks, international relations scholars and, most surprisingly, by governments. That neglect, acute since the events of 9/11, has proven costly. Recent experience with the unsuccessful use of armed force by the USA in Iraq and NATO in Afghanistan suggests that the case for revisiting diplomacy is compelling. With the arrival of the Obama administration and departure of the neoconservatives from Washington in January 2009, that stage appears set for change.

Timing, however, will not be enough to effect a diplomatic renaissance, because the world’s second oldest profession has serious problems of both image and substance. Diplomats are widely viewed as irrelevant and ineffective, and the profession has not adapted well to the imperatives of globalization.

At a higher level of analysis, however, the profusion of global challenges and unaddrressed threats in an increasingly heteropolar world suggest that the case for advancing diplomatic alternatives – and alternative diplomacy – is gaining momentum.

The abiding need to rethink key elements of international relations – security and development – from the perspective of diplomacy in the age of globalization provides is clear. It must be asked: does diplomacy still matter? Yes, but the entire diplomatic edifice is in crisis and radical reconstruction is required. Viewed through the lens of those who favor talking over fighting, dialogue over diktat, and negotiation and compromise over compulsion, too many governments are still relying on armed force as the foreign policy instrument of choice, with calamitous consequences.

Diplomacy can help make the world a better place, but it has failed to come to terms with the requirements  of world order management in the 21st century. It has been sidelined. If this is to change, grand strategy will have to be de-militarized, and all elements of the diplomatic ecosystem – the foreign ministry, foreign service and, most crucially, diplomatic practice – re-imagined and transformed from the ground up. This will involve addressing both the immediate and underlying drivers of insecurity and underdevelopment by generating better intelligence, working smarter, engaging strategically, and… by building a better diplomat.

Diplomacy’s front lines are now far removed from quiet clubs or closed meeting rooms, grand hotels or formal chancelleries. Today’s diplomatic encounters tend to take place publically and cross-culturally: in a barrio or a souk, in an internet chat room or a blog, on main street or in a Quonset hut set astride the wire in a conflict zone. Unlike all too many serving envoys, the guerrilla diplomat will know how to swim with comfort and ease in the sea of the people rather than flop around like a fish out of water, and prefer to mix with the population rather than mingle with colleagues inside the embassy walls. Thoughtful readers will enjoy meeting this renaissance polymath – part activist, part analyst, part alchemist – and seeing the pearl and pin-stripe archetype punctured by the characterization of a street-smart policy entreprenneur toting a Blackberry in sandals and denim.

Guerrilla Diplomacy sketches the erstwhile global village, showing that it has come to resemble a patchwork of gated communities surrounded by a roiling sprawl of shantytowns. The volume demonstrates that the conventional causes of conflict, such as ideological rivalry and territorial conflict, have been displaced by a raft of transnational issues, many rooted in science and driven by technology. To be sure, criminality, terrorism and religious extremism remain in the mix, but the more profound threats are represented by climate change and diminishing biodiversity, resource scarcity and environmental collapse, pandemic disease and genomics, state failure and weapons of mass destruction.

In mapping the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age, the book traces the transformation of traditional, Westphalian-style, state to state relations, with all of their associated conventions and rigidities, to a post-modern politics dominated by new actors from civil society, supra-national bodies and the private sector. Guerrilla Diplomacy concludes with an analysis of the conceptual, institutional and practical tools required to identify the vectors of insecurity and underdevelopment and to manage the spectrum of current global crises and challenges. Those convinced by the guerrilla diplomacy thesis will be left feeling both an urgent need for collective, non-violent action and a deeper understanding of contemporary international relations.

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