Where is the diplomacy?

4 Sep

A curious aspect of the European refugee crisis is the absolute lack of diplomatic urgency in dealing with the core problems: conflict in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. There is some pan-European diplomatic action to manage refugee flows. But where is the diplomatic activity that is attempting to deal with the civil war in Syria, the absence of government in Libya, the rise of IS and the sectarian dysfunctional government in Iraq, and the disaster that is Afghanistan?

Syrian is the calamity of our era: a pernicious regime grimly hangs onto power in an extremely sensitive region of the world. The fall-out is placing immense strain on neighbouring states. The civil war has provided space for fundamentalists to emerge from the shadows and control territory and people. And the international response is…. Pathetic. We have a UN Secretary General who we all have to pause for a second to remember his name. States that have showed no compunction in dispatching troops to the wars of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq are avoiding getting embroiled in Syria. They are content to bomb IS from afar, to arm various uncontrollable factions to the hilt, and keep strangely silent on the war itself.

I can think of no case where a war has ended as a result of condemnation. Condemning wars and instability in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan will do little other than encourage some actors to redouble their efforts to engage in violence. Bombing from afar simply does not work – and there is lots of testimony from Kurds on the frontline with IS who will attest to this.

What is palpably lacking is diplomatic leadership. The US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and a number of other states are unafraid to give the impression that they are the rulers of the world. Britain and France still reckon it is 1945 and cling onto UN Security Council seats without embarrassment. But where are the diplomatic initiatives? Where are the political leaders (I fear the term ‘leaders’ is actually misplaced) who are going to take the risks and offer negotiated options to IS, the Taliban, Assad and all of the others who seem ‘beyond reason’?

It is too easy to say ‘these people are fundamentalists’ or ‘there is no common ground with these people’. It will take real effort to find such a common ground. It will take risks, bravery, creativity, patience, emotional intelligence. Yet, politicians seem much more comfortable offering material answers: the UK ‘donating’ an enormous anti-migrant fence to France, the US and others dispatching drones and warplanes to the skies above Syria, the Saudis bombing Yemen etc. Actions such as those are relatively easy – and require no bravery at all. They play well to home audiences.

But where is the diplomatic leadership? Part of the problem – as I have argued in this blog before – is that the UN has been systematically undercut by the US, UK, Russia and others. They have left the organisation with limited legitimacy as they have pursued their own unilateral or coalition goals. Part of the problem is also the domestic political scenes of the US, UK, Russia and elsewhere. They reward the ‘action’ of dispatching the military rather than the talking and patience of diplomacy. And part of the problem – I suspect – is that the political leaders in many so-called leading states do not actually understand what is going on in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and other places. The leaders are surrounded by small coteries of advisers – most of whom can read the overnight domestic opinion polling but none of whom have the regional specialism required to understand Syria or Yemen.

So are we supposed to wait until the last man, woman and child in Syria is killed? I suspect we are.


One Response to “Where is the diplomacy?”


  1. Where is the diplomacy? | Security, Conflict and International Development (SCID) - 07/09/2015

    […] Source: Where is the diplomacy? […]

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