I had the distinct honour and pleasure the other day to welcome the class from Kyiv’s distinguished Diplomatic Academy to the Apostolic Nunciature in Kyiv; it was part of their program of visits to embassies here in the capital city of Ukraine. I gave them a talk on how the Holy See structures its diplomacy. I discussed the exercise or practice of the art of diplomacy in ordinary times, which should always take precedence, but added the fruit of my reflection on how diplomacy works out or should work out in troubled times such as ours here in Ukraine. There is not only a certain advantage to playing off the common description of diplomacy in peace time against that of diplomacy in times of war and domestic crisis, both of which are applicable to Ukraine, I would say that comparing the two is almost obligatory.
Needless to say, I drew on some of the material I had already shared on this blog, such as the standard, but perfectly acceptable, dictionary definition of what is commonly referred to as diplomacy:
di·plo·ma·cy \də-ˈplō-mə-sē\ : the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries. Regardless of its specific content, diplomacy is still basically acting in the name of the sending country to cultivate good relations with the receiving country or entity. If you had to rate an ambassador as good, better or best according to standard criteria, you would be voting on intangibles. Even if war should break out between two countries, it is hard to see how you could ever blame an ambassador for such an occurrence, that is, for having failed to promote good relations.
The reasons for the involvement of the Holy See in the world of secular diplomacy all boil down to an accident of history. When the Roman Emperor moved east to Constantinople, he effectively abandoned the western part of the empire and so the Popes of Rome ended up, like it or not, filling an administrative gap for a greater or smaller territory, which was eventually reduced to what were called the Papal States. This temporal role was secondary, but not irrelevant, to establishing reasons for diplomatic exchanges between the crowned heads of Europe and His Holiness, the Vicar of Christ on earth. The origins in the Western world of bilateral diplomacy are to be found in the stable exchanges between His Holiness and Their Majesties, his beloved sons and daughters in the faith. No other Christian community has found itself in a comparable position over the course of history. Apart from the Pope’s dignity, there is simply the fact that for much of the Christian era His Holiness was also a temporal ruler.
With the French Revolution, the gradual disappearance of monarchies or their transformation into constitutional rulers, and the evolution of nation states, notions changed and theories developed which associated the power of sending and receiving ambassadors with temporal power per se, the ties of religion took a backseat to power and position. Though not an absolute dogma or doctrine, this notion of temporal power and sovereignty being synonymous went unchallenged until Italy unified itself by force and deprived the Pope of his States. Thereafter the Roman Pontiff remained a self-imposed prisoner of the Vatican from the time of the unification of Italy until the various international treaties making up the Lateran Pact were signed in 1929. For nearly 60 years, however (1870-1929), though deprived of territory, the Pope/the Holy See continued to send nuncios and receive ambassadors.
Why then does the See of Rome continue to send and receive ambassadors even though it lost its temporal power in 1870? The Holy See and its Nuncios have remained an integral part of world diplomacy, in part at least, because diplomacy resists change and clings jealously to its customs. What was once typical of the Holy See by reason in part of the temporal power it exercised over territory in central Italy has carried on through force of habit and the legal interpretation of the same. I guess that is what you would call precedent, resulting from the Pope’s prestige as Vicar of Christ and of his being co-opted into the feudal system.
What are the duties of diplomacy in the face of foreign aggression? As a “peacetime only” definition of diplomacy would be too restrictive, it must be conceded that crisis management is a part of what we mean by diplomacy. Before the age of rapid communications and travel, the fine art of diplomacy was principally the provenance of ambassadors; today it seems as though nothing extraordinary gets done until people of ministerial rank get into the picture and start shuttling around the globe. At one point in the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv, we had three European foreign ministers up all night with President Yanukovich and his staff: top level, seemingly, or not at all. In a sense, I suppose, it is all theatre which could not be accomplished without the ambassadors and supporting staff working behind the scenes. I think one could easily argue that traditional residential ambassadors are a key component to the whole equation, even if our work is not all that factor-able.
In summary, as essential components of secular diplomacy, in good times and in bad, I would name three pillars on which diplomacy stands: 1) respect for the natural law (basically a moral code founded on right reason); 2) a firm commitment to uphold international law; 3) the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military force, but also economic sanctions), to be exercised when all else fails to defend the common good and human rights and dignity. What is meant on a bilateral level by recourse to this third pillar of diplomacy is plain enough and multilaterally (as in the UN) the parties have to be willing to share common political stances having, if need be, a coercive effect on the outlaw, who refuses to be bound by the commonly held values of the international community or that body of customary law which governs the intercourse between nations and powers. There is then no inherent contradiction to the notion of a “peace-keeping force”.
Peace, concretized in good relations between sovereign entities, and not diplomacy as such, is the higher goal. Diplomacy cannot be considered an a priori or a sine qua non; it is a construct which has served with slight modifications over the course of centuries to foster harmony among peoples and nations by binding sovereigns or the constituted leaders of the same closer together in accountability to each other.
Time and again here in Ukraine, people ask me for an authoritative intervention of the Holy Father which goes beyond the assurance of his prayers and his calls that people reopen the lines of communication in the present situation of conflict in eastern Ukraine. As force is not an option for the Holy See, I really believe that speaking out on principle must be a diplomatic option. That is to say, I do think the Holy See could make a valuable contribution to world order and the cause of justice by clearly taking a well-articulated stance based on principle. Reasoning, fostering clear and distinct ideas, is of the utmost importance.