At the recently concluded Munich Security Conference, delegations from across the world discussed world problems but were unable to come to a consensus on any specific issue. Is this the end of diplomacy and what are the repercussions for that?
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. The act of conducting negotiations between two persons, or two nations at a large scale is essential to the upkeep of international affairs. Among the many functions of diplomacy, some include preventing war and violence and bettering trade. The creation of international bodies like the United Nations was due to countries recognizing the role played by greater diplomacy to prevent wars.
The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations. Diplomats are the oldest form of any of the foreign policy institutions of the state, predating by centuries foreign ministers and ministerial offices. They usually have diplomatic immunity.
The Munich Security Conference is an annual conference on international security policy that has taken place in Munich, Bavaria since 1963. It is the world's largest gathering of its kind and it has become the most important independent forum for the exchange of views by international security policy decision-makers.
The 54th Security Conference was held between February 15th to February 18th, 2018. The conference is seen as a gathering to further international diplomacy and exchange ideas. The latest iteration saw luminaries discussing on the topic, “To the Brink and Back?”
It became clear at the end of the three-day conference, that experts across the world are unclear if the world is back from the brink and much of that had to do with decreased diplomacy across the world. "I was hoping when I opened this conference on Friday that, in concluding the conference, I would be able to say we can delete the question mark. In other words: 'We are back from the brink,'" former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger said in closing remarks. "I'm actually not sure we can say that," he added.
Through the three days, delegations from across the world were unable to come to a consensus on any issue. In fact, the entire event seemed to have contradictory, isolated and seemingly irreconcilable narratives. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir all offered public statements that were starkly contradictory. Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki caused controversy when he spoke about “Jewish perpetrators” during the sidelines at the event. This elicited a sharp rebuke from Israel.
Since 2017, the United States has radically reduced its capacity to conduct diplomacy. US President Donald Trump has increased funding for the military while also leaving key diplomatic positions vacant including the position of Ambassador to South Korea. In 2013, his own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis told Congress that it was important to fund diplomacy. He had said, “If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it's a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department's diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”
Our assessment is that decreased diplomacy does not just mean decrease in civility between nations but also presented increased chances for conflict. There are a number of conflicts taking place across the world and the progress for most has completely stalled. There has been no tangible development in the impasse between Qatar and Saudi-led bloc of nations. The war in Yemen seems to have escalated in the recent weeks and there are humanitarian crises taking place in regions like Syria, Sudan, and Somalia and more. There are also increased concerns regarding the tense developments in Israel and Palestine.