Thursday, January 19, 2006

A search for transformational diplomacy

Condoleezza Rice is touting a “new” form of US diplomacy and she’s calling it transformational diplomacy.

Never having heard the term before, I had a number of questions about transformational diplomacy. What is it? How does it differ from the traditional forms of diplomacy? How is it put into action? What is its purpose? Finding the answers has proven very frustrating.

According to Rice herself, it is use of US diplomacy to promote democracy by “doing things with people, not for them”. Nice words, but not very explanatory. Do you mean “not for them”? or “not to them”?

The Center for Global Development makes an attempt at explaining transformational diplomacy

At its heart, the challenge of transformational diplomacy is to make sure that the State Department is properly organized and is using its skills, resources, and people as effectively as possible to promote democracy, development, and security around the world, particularly in those regions where weak or failed states are failing to exercise responsible sovereignty

Nope, still not getting it. This sounds more like a definition of a civil service shuffle.

Let’s try The Washington Diplomat a publication on diplomatic news. They ought to know what this new-fangled diplomacy is all about. Ambassador Katherine H. Peterson takes a shot at defining it:

Peterson explained that transformational diplomacy seeks to encourage and support governments to adopt more democratic institutions, with a view toward creating a more stable world that will benefit everyone.

This still isn’t telling me anything! Gotta go deeper. Try the State Department. Surely R. Nicholas Burns, US Department of State Under Secretary of Political Affairs will have his finger on the pulse of this elusive concept. In a June 2005 interview with Germany’s Stern Magazine, Burns reveals a bit more about transformational diplomacy:

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Transformational diplomacy as we see it, is a different way of looking at how a nation acts in the world. We can't be passive because we face an era of globalization where there are all sorts of global challenges -- global climate change, narcotics trafficking, international criminal gangs, certainly trafficking in women and children, proliferation of biological and chemical technology and terrorism.
What defines transformational diplomacy is that you can't -- no one country can fight these challenges alone. And so we need international cooperation. We need multilateral cooperation

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Transformational diplomacy is about international cooperation on a diplomatic level to fight the various forms of evil that plaque this poor world. Sounds like a new direction for US diplomacy – actually talking to and listening to the rest of the world. Now that’s what diplomacy is all about.

Ooops. I may have spoken too soon. A little further along in the interview, Burns accidentally lets the cat out of the bag. He uses NATO and the United Nations as examples of how this diplomacy is being put into action.

We certainly want to strengthen NATO. And we Americans are trying to use NATO more often. Sometimes Europeans resist us using NATO. Europeans want to act sometimes unilaterally.

Resistance is futile? Oh dear, not sounding good. Maybe the United Nations is a better example of how the US is going to diplomatically cooperate with the world.

And now we have a lot of American ideas on how to reform the UN to make it better, to strengthen it.

American ideas??? American? What about the rest of the world?

All right, time to give up. So what exactly is transformational diplomacy? It’s nothing more than impressive sounding term that has no meaning at all. Nothing changes. US diplomatic tactics remain the same – it’s not about the US cooperating with the world, it’s about getting the world to cooperate with the US. Transformational diplomacy?..more like transformational coercion.

Same fleas, different dog.

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