Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:57 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:57 | SYDNEY

Diplomacy: Sniffing the intellectual winds


Sam Roggeveen


20 May 2008 12:09

Bloggers and media commentators are fond of spotting social and political trends where there really are none. The tell-tale sign is the reference to a 'mood' or 'feeling', followed by two or three anecdotal examples.

So with that said, I don't want to suggest there is a new trend afoot in international political thinking. But building on my previous post about the uses of diplomatic power, I do want to suggest that we ought to keep an eye out for further indicators of a new intellectual — ahem — mood. I would define that mood broadly as consisting of a willingness to give greater weight to diplomacy as a tool of statecraft.

A key progenitor for such a change of mood — dissatisfaction with the status quo — does exist. That is to say, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, there is every reason to doubt that the application of force can bring about desired foreign policy objectives. There is also ever reason to believe the application of force brings about a good number of undesired outcomes. Reinvigorating diplomacy is an obvious response to the failures of the use of force in international relations.

Of course, governments routinely speak about the importance of diplomacy, as do academics and think tankers, so you could argue there's nothing new here at all. But on top of the two data points I cited in my previous post — the Gates speech and the New Zealand example — let me offer one more.

Barack Obama has for some time argued that as president, he would favour sitting down and talking with American adversaries like Iran and Cuba. Republican candidate John McCain disagrees, saying a presidential meeting will only bring prestige to those regimes. What's impressive about the latest stoush in this debate is the confidence with which Obama defends his view, even goading McCain by suggesting he is motivated by fear and lacks the courage of Reagan and Kennedy. I think Obama is right on the merits of the debate, but more importantly, if he turns out to be right in the eyes of American voters, we might then be able to talk more confidently about a 'mood' for diplomatic enlargement.