The Advent of Geodiplomatics

by | May 7, 2008

One more post on last week’s Transformational Public Diplomacy symposium (see the others here and here), where the most incisive presentation was given by Sir Peter Marshall, the UK’s perm rep to the office of the UN in the 1980s, and now on the staff of the Diplomatic Academy of London. Sir Peter argued that:

Whereas it is traditionally thought of as the conduct of relations between sovereign states, each acting in pursuit of its own self-defined interests, diplomacy must now be increasingly regarded as the collective management of a global nexus, according to the values which we hold in common.

According to Sir Peter:

The transformation in diplomatic conditions can be summarised in the impact, individual and collective, of six factors, or vectors, – “forces which have both magnitude and direction” – namely: the transition from World Economy to Global Village; the transition from Zero-sum to Positive-sum Game in relations between states; the prominence of values as well as interests in the conduct of foreign policy, of which the well-being and the treatment of the individual everywhere is the focus; governance as well as government, implying the active participation of a large number of non-governmental entities; intense public scrutiny of this “broad band” diplomacy; and the vanishing distinction between internal and foreign affairs.

The whole is not so much the sum, as the product of its far-reaching parts. We do not just add the vectors together; we have to multiply them one by another.

Globalisation is ‘intricate’ and ‘delicate’, Sir Peter believes. It can only be managed through an outward-looking and alert diplomacy, able to cope with cascading complexity and wider participation. The new diplomacy should be increasingly public and increasingly interactive – evolving into what he calls ‘geodiplomatics’.

The alternative is a growing ‘delivery deficit’:

On the one hand, collective aspirations inspired by the potentialities of interdependence are right and proper: eg the Millennium Development Goals. But the dangers of shortfall, disillusion and recrimination cannot but be acute. A premium is set on diplomatic efficiency in both its advisory and executive aspects.

I think that’s right. Many global risk resemble slow motion car crashes, unfolding over the years to the accompaniment of much hand-wringing, but little action. How long can this last before people start losing faith in the world’s ability to collectively manage its increasingly intricate systems?


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

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