• SHARE

The business of the world has changed almost beyond recognition over the course of the last 100 years. At the turn of the last century, Japan was the first country outside Europe to break into the ranks of the great powers. Yet even until World War II, international affairs were largely Eurocentric in composition, concern and agenda.

There are many more actors on the world stage today, and their patterns of interaction are far more complex. In 1950, the soldier and the diplomat could still be said to symbolize the two lead actors. In 2000, the international peacekeeper, financier and NGO activist have noisily clambered aboard as well — not to mention the terrorist, the drug smuggler and the currency speculator. The national bureaucrat must work alongside the international civil servant.

Diplomacy is undergoing revolutionary change in consequence. For example, last year in Seattle an odd alliance, including environmental and human-rights activists, organized labor and cultural and economic nationalists, helped to defeat efforts to begin a new round of world trade talks. Trade may be global, but politics is still local, and the alliances of convenience forged to frustrate the World Trade Organization proved more effective than the standard model of diplomatic negotiation among governments.

At the every end of the millennium, the same government in India that ordered nuclear testing found itself negotiating with a handful of airplane hijackers. This was a spectacular demonstration of the complete irrelevance of nuclear weapons to the types of security threats confronting countries today; and of the complex demands on modern diplomacy.

Foreign policy attention to child soldiers, children as war victims and child poverty represent another element of a shift from “national security” to “human security.” This shift presents a great challenge to national diplomats, NGOs and the U.N. to work in partnership with one another. They are required to reinterpret and use the U.N. Charter in pursuit of security for the peoples of the world, sometimes if necessary against the member-governments of the U.N.

For diplomats, the old order of state-to-state relations, pursuit of national interest and formal alliances is giving way to ad hoc “coalitions of the willing” in pursuit of agreed international goals. Middle powers and small states are called upon to take initiatives, sometimes over the objections of great powers. This year, NATO will review the role of nuclear weapons in the alliance, for example.

“National security” is now more of a slogan for political mobilization than a helpful concept. It breaks down when the state itself becomes a threat to the security of its citizens. When the pursuit of national security by Serbia and Indonesia threatened the human security of Kosovars and East Timorese, the outside community felt compelled to intervene. Prolonged civil wars and failed states totally undermine the concept of national security.

“New Diplomacy” has been impelled by a growing intensity of public impatience with the settled pace and contours of traditional diplomacy. On environmental and human-rights issues in particular, the people of the world, in whose name the U.N. was founded, have grown tired of years of negotiations leading to a final product that may be accepted or rejected by countries. They look instead for a rolling process of self-adjusting agreements that can respond quickly to growing scientific understanding. This also means that New Diplomacy has a feel of improvization about it as officials scramble to cope with the rapidly changing diplomatic terrain from one issue and region to the next.

Human security gives New Diplomacy a template for international action. Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has declared that the concept will be one of the essential principles for the conduct of Japanese foreign policy. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, acting in concert with NGOs and like-minded countries, is among those who seek to embed in international institutions the idea that the state exists for the security and well-being of its citizens.

The paradigm shift to human security also underlines “soft power.” Countries that lead by example will be more successful than those relying only on coercion or bribery. A plural society rich in knowledge and skills will prevail, at least in the leadership contest, over an authoritarian regime.

An enduring basis for stable world order lies not in the threat or use of military force, but in the patient building of institutions which embody norms and behavior that ordinary people and countries value and seek (New Diplomacy) — backed if necessary by properly authorized force (traditional diplomacy). Changes are under way. Change offers new opportunities to move beyond the bloody nationalisms of the past century, to a new century of peace based on the welfare of people, not states.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW