Editor’s note: Deborah Winslow Nutter is Senior Associate Dean at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The views expressed are her own.
Diplomacy is dead, at least according to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writing earlier this year. His claim certainly sparked a great deal of discussion. But as someone who studies and teaches about foreign policy leaders, I would argue that the question is not so much whether diplomacy is dead, but how effectively diplomats – with their tradition of solving problems peacefully, creatively and innovatively – can collaborate with a growing number of governmental and non-governmental actors in an increasingly complex world.
I began my career as a political scientist specializing in great power relations at a time when two diplomats could still solve problems between their countries. Multi-lateral diplomacy – conferences, summits and concerts – was merely an extension of this with more diplomats and more countries involved, and the Cold War era was replete with bilateral and multilateral diplomacy – the SALT treaties, for example. The ending of that era involved classical cases of bilateral diplomacy between leaders, such as between Gorbachev and Reagan, as well as multilateral diplomacy, such as the agreement on the reunification of Germany, together bringing about monumental shifts in our international landscape.
But a number of factors these days make it difficult to undertake old-fashioned diplomacy. My colleague, Daniel Drezner, says the opening up of internal politics throughout the world has made doing diplomacy today more complex. You can add to this the rise of non-state actors in international security issues, the effect current American domestic politics has on the ability of the United States to punch its weight internationally, and the multiplication and amplification of voices outside governments. All this means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to solve global issues state-to-state.
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