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Diplomacy In the 21st Century

Diplomacy is commonly understood as a political art that aims to protect national interest. Throughout history, this discipline evolved due to technological advances and new approaches to conflict resolution.


If at first, due to the clash between superpowers, bilateral negotiation was used as a practice, now, the focus has shifted to multilateralism. This need stems from the huge increase in global issues that require cooperation and organization. The creation of a diplomatic agenda that includes a coherent and shared modus operandi is one of the prerogatives we are witnessing in the 21st century. As a result, diplomats are fully involved in projects and programs concerning regional issues, humanitarian crises, economic, and environmental cooperation and all the subjects that are actually posing a challenge to the international community.


Since diplomacy is no longer to be identified as a discipline used exclusively by the state and, given the large number of actors involved, it is important to distinguish the three typologies of diplomacy:


- Track I diplomacy refers to official government’s channels and negotiations.

- Track II diplomacy operates in an unofficial way, professional non-governmental bodies strive to find solutions referring to conflict resolution.

- Multi-track diplomacy promotes constructive dialogue between governing and non-official bodies.


Multi-track diplomacy is certainly the most contemporary. The inclusion in mediation and negotiation dialogues of unofficial bodies, such as private citizens, religious bodies, companies, and experts in the field, is a priority of the international community to enhance democratic progress and to increase civil participation. Multi-level discussions consider the needs of many categories, but further complicate the decision-making process due to the wide variety of interests involved. The extreme importance of coordination towards the actors involved in multi-track diplomacy is indisputable even though domestic actors’ claims often constitute an obstacle to international cooperation.


Therefore, the aim of diplomacy is to achieve a “balance of interests”. Despite this, some peculiarities of track I and track II are to be emphasized. In the first type, the concept of “geoeconomics diplomacy” is applicable. In official dialogues, a powerful state can use its economic power to influence negotiations or take coercive measures. Multi-track I is proper for commercial and nuclear agreements, economic measures, and conventions. Multi-track II, on the other hand, aims to operate in areas more prone to political and social instability to prevent an escalation of violence or to remedy a conflict situation. For example, NGOs intervene here, which through their work and analyses on the field, propose sustainable solutions.


Inevitably, with the extension of the concept of diplomacy to unconventional actors, risks associated with this feature increase.


First, the media spotlight is constantly on the consequences of diplomats’ decision-making. The advent of the internet and an increasingly frequent predisposition towards sharing data and news, establishes a sort of competition between diplomats and journalists as regards the collection of information and the proposition of policies.


Furthermore, in a century where diplomatic roles are also played by self-organized interest groups, the use of social media as a terrain for criticism and manipulation of public opinion is an established trend. Public opinion shapes needs and places urgency on unresolved issues, and the poor temporal preparation of state bodies leaves the space open for non-state actors to propose their own visions and solutions.


In this regard, contemporary conflicts are subject to considerable media exposure. For several weeks, news was populated with images regarding the humanitarian conditions in Ukraine and the brutal actions of Putin. Thanks to online-sharing, NGOs and private citizens demanded a strong intervention from the international community. Given the current condition of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, it is understandable that this intervention was not proportional to the drastic situations of emergency.


Diplomacy unfortunately is prey to populist threats. In those countries where extremist movements arise and who consider the diplomatic art as an impediment, the risk of authoritarian regimes is real. This current thought has been helped by the progressive inefficiency of the institutions, and the lack of response to urgent community situations. What emerges is a framework of general mistrust, where private citizens are ready to present their grievances to non-state actors who, being closer to the citizen, better satisfy the subsidiarity criteria.


Current historical conjunctions recognize diplomats belonging to state bodies, international organizations and groups of people who protect the interests of self-organized groups. Due to the change of how diplomacy operates, it is intuitive that the ideal profile of the modern diplomat should include skills that are not limited only to mediation and negotiation, but which concern specific issues of international interest (environmental sustainability, protection of human rights, export of democracy, social and economic progress, etc ...). This polarization hides ideals and values that are inversely proportional to the achievement of community goals. Nonetheless, diplomacy remains one of the most important means of progress. The recent agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons and on climate change are proof of this.


To sum-up, international relations feed on diplomacy, the debate focuses on which actors should be involved. Less participation would guarantee faster decision-making but at the same time would not guarantee civil participation in peacebuilding projects, with risks of future tensions. Even if the aim is to streamline the consultative and decision-making apparatus, the available tools would help the actors to propose their own requests.


Multilateralism has become the current model, and the European Union has been the first international organization to support this kind of modus operandi.


The role of digitization has accentuated the tensions between individual and state needs (also considering international duties) and the urgency of shared visions is recurring. At the same time, the promotion of activities that encourage civil society to participate in governance mechanisms seems to be a fundamental prerequisite for the efficiency of multi-track diplomacy.



Regarding the evolution of the doctrine of conflict resolution, diplomats are the main actors who intervene in cases of tension. The shift in conflict prevention requires the ability to find common beliefs and objectives between the factions involved. This concept includes a series of agreements by heterogeneous actors on political, environmental, social, and economic topics. The role of the 21st-century diplomat is predominantly to focus community efforts on creating an inclusive society as a deterrent to the outbreak of conflict. D

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