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Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Malta-Bradford Diary

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Column on Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Foreign Ministries and Embassies abroad, The Vienna Convention, International Relations/Politics, Development Cooperation, Globalization & International Trade, International History, The Cold War, International Security Challenges, Migration, Terrorism, Energy Security, Conflict Studies & Analysis, Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Negotiation and Mediation, Peacekeeping, Humanitarian Intervention, the Media, Public International Law, the State, the International System, the United Nations and Regional Organisations – roles, functions and challenges etc.


This column will be discussing and sharing perspectives relating to international issues on past and contemporary international affairs. There are today significant changes in the international system. The end of the Cold War and the emergence of a single super-power, the global shift towards market-led economies, and the process of regionalisation, globalisation and liberalisation which are powering it, the shift from development aid to trade, greater embrace of democracy, the emergence of shared challenges such international terrorism, illegal migration, drug trafficking and the unprecedented phenomenal advances in information communication technology coupled with the far reaching global reach and effect of the media have all coalesced to fundamentally alter the international system. It is these issues that this column will attempt to engage, noting that global affairs are happening in a highly challenged and fast moving environment. I hope that through the shared views in this medium, the readership in academia, research, policy makers, practitioners and those who might read it for just leisure and knowledge will find this column, stimulating, interesting, insightful, relevant as well as motivating and inspirational to push further the frontiers, in search of Knowledge in its ever-expansive horizon. 

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This column’s deliberate title, “The Malta-Bradford Diary” is chosen simply because it was at the Department of Peace Studies, Bradford University where I cut my teeth in postgraduate studies in International Affairs in 2000-01 and it is in Malta where my teeth were sharpened in Diplomatic Studies, at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of 2013-2014. This partly explains why in this maiden article I am writing on Diplomacy and States’ Foreign Making. 



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Diplomacy and the determinants of states’ foreign policy making &  decisions in international affairs

Diplomacy is not foreign policy.  Diplomacy is an activity that could influence the direction and substance of the policy. So what is diplomacy about, how is it conducted and what are its essential functions. Also if diplomacy is not foreign policy, then what is foreign policy and what factors determine the foreign policy decisions and choices states make in pursuit of their national interest through their international engagements?  It is these two key terms in the studies of international affairs, diplomacy and foreign policy that this discourse will in essence attempt to discuss with a view to deepening understanding about them.  



What is diplomacy?

There are many definitions of diplomacy, however this writeup would present diplomacy to be the followings amongst others. Diplomacy is the conduct of relations between states and other entities with standing in world politics done by official representatives and through peaceful means. This definition is one of the broadest descriptions of the term diplomacy. Useful to note is the term peaceful means because it is usually said “war starts when diplomacy fails, diplomacy is on when war is on and diplomacy goes on when war ends”. Another way to describe diplomacy is to understand it as the management of international relations by negotiation; it is also the method by which these relations are adjusted by ambassadors and envoys. 


Diplomacy is also about the art of persuasion.  The art of persuasion depends on the individual personality.  It depends on the manner with which arguments are presented and to wear the counterpart’s shoes to understand better the other’s position.  In the toolkits of diplomacy one will find good analytical, negotiation and mediation skills. (These will be discussed in future articles in this column). 


Furthermore, diplomacy through dialogue represents the soft tone of governments and is used to promote a better understanding and the promotion of relations with other states.   It is often resorted to in order to explain the reason behind conflicting statements to avoid litigations with other states.    The term dialogue emphasises the need for more personal relationship, thus creating the right atmosphere between the parties in order to promote relations and avoid any misunderstanding that could come about as a result. 


Hence the art of diplomacy is also about the use of intelligence and tact in the conduct of relations between the governments of independent states, or, the conduct of business between states by peaceful means.  Thus, in sum, diplomacy talks about a kind of relation, relation between states, between state and other entities.  Therefore it can be said that diplomacy is about conducting relations between/among, involving the art of conducting dialogue, discussion, secrecy and confidentiality, convincing the other party, negotiating, desirably reaching a win-win outcome and reconciling differences. Therefore diplomacy is a major activity undertaken by all governments, small or big in pursuit of their national interest. Although regulated by custom, law, agreements, protocols and conventions such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, one of its vital features is its flexibility. 


Types of diplomacy

That said, diplomacy can also be defined or understood in its two main manifestations, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Bilateral diplomacy connects two states, or two governments. Multilateral diplomacy is relation between three and more governments, or states. Multilateral diplomacy can take place during different conferences or meetings. Meetings, conferences and summits at the United Nations General Assembly, Africa Union, OIC, Arab League, Ecowas, and EU states are some of the manifestations of multilateral diplomacy. It is not also uncommon today to see or hear about multilateral diplomacy played out through parliamentary diplomacy, the Ecowas and Pan-Africa Parliament, the EU Parliament, are cases in point where parliamentarians discuss and pursue their national interests within the ambit of over-arching regional or continental imperatives.


Functions of diplomacy

Looking at its functions essentially, there are 4 functions of diplomacy. The first function of diplomacy is that it makes easier the communication between the two sides, which can be two states or two governments. The communication between states is very important in world politics, because without it the international society will be highly charged. The second one is the negotiation function. It is essential that the states, or governments negotiate about different agreements. All the states have their own national interests, but to create an international relations, they have to compromise, and find a point where their own interests overlap. Third, the collection of information about different countries. All states should be aware of the culture and the development of other countries in the world. The fourth last function is the reduction of the tension in the international society. The negotiations between different states fighting for their own interests can create tension between the states. Diplomacy is used to minimize the tension and create a balance between both sides. 


To conclude on this discourse on diplomacy it useful to note that the role of diplomacy in directing and influencing foreign policy making and decision is very important. It is used to communicate, to form different deals and agreements, to help the relations between all sides, solve the disagreements, etc. Without diplomacy functioning in the world would be difficult. With diplomacy, the world is able to create the international society and the relations between each other. Today, just world since Westphalia 1648, needs diplomacy to manage relations between and among states in the face of ever increasing international challenges.


Today, international geopolitics is still dealing with the reminiscence of World War II, while an emerging new world order has yet to establish itself. In the last two decades since the end of the Cold-War, global issues that profoundly affect all countries and nations, manifest in acute, large-scale, recurrent crises and impacting on global security, politics, economics, finance and food security,  are common occurrences. In combination, these challenges have made the use of diplomacy in directing and influencing world events and affairs all the more imperative. States will attempt to manage and cope with these challenges with the use of their foreign policy agendas. It is to this second strand (foreign policy) of this discourse that I now proceed by looking at what factors determine the foreign policy decisions of a state.



Mr Sowe holds a double masters in International Affairs: An MA in International Politics and Security Studies from the Department of Peace Studies, Bradford University and a Master in Diplomacy pursued at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta. He also holds a first degree in International Development Studies, from the University Extension Programme, The Gambia.  Has strong research and writing interest in international (UN), continental (Africa & European Unions) and regional organisations (Ecowas), Mediterranean, Africa & international security and political affairs, conflict prevention, management and resolution having written two thesis on conflict prevention and management on Africa from the OAU to the AU’s attempts in last decade. His work experience covers work in Government, the United Nations, the NGOs, education and the banking sector. He is currently a permanent secretary in the service of The Gambia Government.


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