Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Three Pillars of Diplomacy

di·plo·ma·cy \də-ˈplō-mə-sē\
: the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries
: skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings [Merriam-Webster's online dictionary]

Someone by the name of Dmitri Tymchuk, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, writes regularly on Facebook about the crisis in Ukraine. In his summary review of 27 March, his list of the pluses and minuses of the day, this was his first point in the plus column:

"Good news:
1. The Resolution of the UN itself. We are supported by 100 countries. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is supported by all the civilized world. Only Russia and few of the world’s outcasts need a “referendum” at gunpoint and annexation of someone else’s territories.
We have yet to find out what to do with this resolution – it is purely consultative. The Ukrainian Ministry of International Affairs has stated that it can take other, more concrete steps within the framework of the international mechanisms based on this resolution. We will see.
In any case, we thank our diplomats. They are great."

One can understand his irony and frustration in the face of foreign aggression. I suppose, if we give the dictionary its due, crises really don't even fit the definition of diplomacy; diplomacy, through resident ambassadors, is meant to foster, maintain and strengthen the good relations already existing. The work of diplomacy is for the most part painstaking and painstakingly slow; it is at its best relational and bent on keeping open lines of communication between parties. Diplomacy, as such, is perceived as ephemeral and ends up being measured by rare or occasional results: treaties, pacts, troop withdrawals and in times of crisis the establishment or reestablishment of normal lines of contact between parties with strained or severed relations.

Nevertheless, a peacetime only definition of diplomacy would be too restrictive; 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 theater 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.

This reference to the work of diplomacy, especially against the background of crisis management, points out something which for me as a Catholic is troubling. Is diplomacy meant to be little more than socializing to keep channels of communication open just in case? Or is it an exercise in futility based on my best efforts to seek accord and argue my point, to communicate in the best sense of the word? By saying that, am I denying an essential component of the diplomatic equation, namely that aspect of diplomacy which over the course of history has indeed always carried the day, namely the convincing argument of deterrence through the menace or application of force? If asked to give a lecture in a diplomatic academy on the pillars of secular diplomacy, I'd almost have to exclude Vatican diplomacy as a model, in that cordiality is not quantifiable. As essential components of secular diplomacy, in good times and in bad, I would name three: 1) respect for the natural law; 2) a firm commitment to uphold international law; 3) the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military, but also economic), 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 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.

Up until 1870, it would not be hard to find instances where the Holy See had recourse to the third pillar of diplomacy and beyond threat actually did battle to protect its interests, always in the defense of the values enshrined in the other two pillars. Today, and for a very long time, despite the fact that a billion Catholics throughout the world would have recourse to the Holy Father as their leader, this does not mean that he could either raise an army or invite us to boycott, ostracize or otherwise tangibly penalize a misbehaving country or its ruler. This situation has led in recent years to calls for the Holy See to withdraw from the arena of secular diplomacy. I can remember somebody's lecture in the diplomatic academy in Rome even conceding this point, but urging caution simply because the present system facilitates the principal work of nuncios in the service of the Pope as guarantor of the unity of Christ's Church. It is a pragmatic argument which holds especially since the community of nations does not seem troubled by the presence of the Holy See in this arena, at least as far as bilateral relations go.

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. I don't think they are asking out of the kind of frustration which Dmitri registered over the results coming out of the UN. I guess we all wish that right reason and principle would play a bigger part in world politics. I guess what I am saying is that there are indeed three pillars to diplomacy and that in many cases justice and truth demand recourse to that third pillar also in defense of those who by reason of international accord or circumstance find themselves dependent upon others to deter the aggressor.

Diplomacy is not an a priori; 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 and the constituted leaders of the same closer together in accountability to each other. Over the course of nigh unto thirty years personal experience with applied diplomacy I have noted a progressive loosening of the institutional bonds which held together the corps of ambassadors in a given capital city; diplomacy is indeed changing. Where we might be headed is not mine to prognosticate. The relativism which afflicts much of society has certainly undermined the first pillar of diplomacy and many experts scoff at the notion that international law can be considered binding. Maybe the diplomats of the Holy See are there to shore up confidence in the first two pillars such that there might be, please, God, less need for recourse to that third one.

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