Long Live Diplomacy: Multilateralism in 21st Century

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To start off the discussion, Amb. Albrecht Conze declared
that, currently, “multilateralism seems useless”. He said
the European Union failed to convince the majority of the
states about its significance and to stop Britain from exiting
the organisation (BREXIT).
He also took a dig at the UN, stating that the organisation
is run by five privileged countries and yet they do not
represent the five most important issues of today. He was
making reference to the five permanent members of the
UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United
Kingdom and the United States. “I do not think there are
any countries in the world that are up to the promises they
make; multilateralism has failed.”
However, Amb. Domenico Fornara disagreed, noting that a
lot of changes have occurred in the last 75 years of UN’s
existence. “We have improved tremendously because
we have instruments that we didn’t have back before
World War II. We have agencies and offices, which deliver
humanitarian aid, mediation, economic aid that did not
Multilateralism or diplomacy is how comprehensive
national power is applied to the peaceful
adjustment of differences between states. It
may be backed by the threat to apply punitive
measures or to use force but is overtly nonviolent.
Betty Bigombe said that while diplomacy is good, it should
be backed by power, honesty and the commitment of
parties involved in conflict. “The role Kofi Annan played
in Kenya was big; perhaps Kenya would have gone into a
full-scale war if the diplomacy had not worked to end the
conflict.” Former UN secretary general Annan played a
big role in mediating and ending the bloody post-election
violence in Kenya in 2007/8.
Olivier de France said diplomacy is no longer a prerogative
of nation-states but it is for everyone. “Diplomacy is too
important to leave to a diplomat,” he asserted.
Bigombe agreed, revealing that sometimes countries point
to their sovereignty as a reason to shun diplomacy. “I have
seen this in the South Sudan conflict mediation where the
government is accusing the governments of UK, USA and
Norway of wanting regime change.”
The panellists also concurred that social media
has changed the way leaders communicate and
how the public receives, processes and shares
such information. They, however, called for
cautious and responsible use of the platform.
Bigombe said that “tweet diplomacy” ensures immediate
feedback, can be used to mobilise people for universally
advantageous causes, creates space for dialogue and
keeps citizens in touch with their leaders. She, however,
advised leaders to use Twitter with caution. “Tweet
diplomacy needs to be used carefully because it can
trigger conflict and chaos.”
Amb. Fornara concurred, and urged diplomats to doublecheck
content before sharing it “to avoid being dragged into
a discussion where no one is winning”. He said that unlike in
the past where leaders could write letters whose content
was checked and verified, today everyone is a researcher, a
communicator and a publisher, thus increasing the chances
of unchecked information getting to the public.
Several world leaders have taken to Twitter to communicate
major political and economic actions, sometimes straining,
rather than maintaining, diplomatic ties.

Meet the Panelists