About Us Speeches

Korea Herald Young Diplomats programme at Yonsei University Global Campus

Back | Print

Korea Herald Young Diplomats Programme
(Yonsei University Global Campus,SONGDO)

Speaking Notes: What is Diplomacy and why is it relevant.


1) Negotiation, compromise and settlement are the essence of social behavior. We do it as individuals; as businesses, or in any form of social interaction.

2) When taken from the level of individuals to societies, we call it “diplomacy’’

3) Commitment to finding peaceful solutions, delivering on national interest, and finding anegotiated settlement of issues is what we do as diplomats. Contrary to the image of a diplomat as someone who ‘lies abroad’ for the sake of his or her country. Also contrary to the image in movies. Neither is true.

4) Because ours is a connected world, we cannot live in isolation. We depend on this connected world to secure the movement of people, goods, services and ideas. Even the most isolated State in the world needs to deal with the world.

5) In short, we live in a world where there is no alternative but to deal with the rest of the world. Therefore diplomacy, however you define it, is inevitable in today’s world.

6) Diplomacy is more relevant than ever, as our world is more anarchic than ever before. And unprecedented connectivity spreads anarchy just as effectively as it spreads new ideas and new products.

7) We are at an inflection point in international relations, when the international system is changing rapidly, the post-WWII western “liberal” world order is no longer effective, and we seem to be entering into a Hobbesian world — a world where it is every man for himself, where might is right, where anarchy rules — where, as Hobbes said, man’s life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, a state of "warre of every man against every man”.

8) 2017 promises to be a year of resets in relations among all the great powers. Faith in international institutions like the UN is at an all time low. The rise of China and India has changed the balance of power;  the world economy has yet to recover from the 2008 crisis and seems destined for a long period of slow or flat growth; and, authoritarian, centralising, conservative leaders rule most major powers.

9) So how do we ensure security and prosperity such a world?  This is why we all have foreign policy. Because the answer to a brutish world is not become poorer, meaner, or nastier than the others in that world. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “the trouble with an eye for an eye is that it ends by making the whole world blind”. The end result of pure anarchy, where might alone is right, is not good for anyone, not even the strongest, who fears the emergence of a peer competitor or an alliance that is stronger than him.

10) It is clear that absolute security for one State would mean absolute insecurity for all other states in the international system. As for prosperity, economics and trade are not zero-sum: they benefit both parties to the transaction. So cooperation is in the interest of all those who wish to improve security and prosperity.

11) And it is the skills of negotiating interests and finding common ground that diplomats practice which become all the more essential in a hyper-competitive world.

12) What the diplomat does is to make cooperation possible and to make cooperation work. Success is not guaranteed. And the word for diplomatic failure is conflict.

13) How does a diplomat succeed? Here’s what I’ve learnt from some of my justly-famous seniors:

* Credibility is critical. Honesty is really the best policy. Even if you think that you can put one over your interlocutor, you can never be sure that you will not be caught out. Most of the factors you are dealing with are outside your control. The only real weapon you have is your credibility, that people believe you and therefore act on your words. If that credibility goes, you might as well hand over your job to the men with guns who have other means of persuasion. The best way to be credible is to be true to your values in your day to day dealings, to question everything and to speak truth to power. These increase your credibility. The world and others recognise sincerity immediately.

* Always give your interlocutor something to leave the table with. If he sees no advantage to himself he will have no incentive to implement what you might agree or force on him. The best case study for this is the Treaty of Versailles after WWI which led, within 20 years to another world war. To practice this, you must understand your counterpart’s (Not opponent) motives and condition, and what is important to him.

14) Remember thatforeign policy does not offer simple (binary) win-lose, true-false choices. Instead, in the fog of events, we try to maximise gain and minimise harm.

15) For realists, states are amoral actors. But there are always ethical choices to be made in statecraft and diplomacy.

16) Often, the ethical rather than the realist choice is proved right over time. (Hungary 1956; China during the Cultural Revolution)

17) What I am trying to say is that in order to pursue your own interest—whether you eventually work for your Government or for a company, or a University-- you have to work with others. When you do,  you need toensure that the outcomes you create are also in the interests of your counterpart. Else that outcome will only last as long as you can compel it to do so.

18) And that is what I hope to leave you with: a sense of the potential, and of the utility, of negotiating and creating solutions to problems together with others who may not always or entirely share your outlook and interests.