Archives for posts with tag: diplomacy

So have said many a twitter wag since the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union was announced on the morning of June 24th – but for the record I give credit to @JamieDalton82. Fast forward to today (has it only been twenty odd days?) and @GavHutchinson surmised

So we live in interesting times, that much is clear. So interesting in fact that according to Matthew Goodwin:

But as interesting as Stock Market volatility, Article 50, a possible second Scottish independence referendum, mooted attempts to annul the June 23rd referendum, the leadership contests for the Conservative, Labour and UKIP and the publication of the Chilcot Report (!?) have been, it’s fair to say people have been somewhat astonished by the new Prime Minister’s appointment this evening of the Member for Uxbridge & South Ruislip as Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs.

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New Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson welcomed to the Foreign Office by @SMcDonaldFCO (official photo) – Not pictured @DiploMog

At this point I am tempted to say that there has been a firestorm on twitter, or that it is having a field day, but when is it not? Clearly though in amongst the myriad references to Foreign Secretary Johnson’s legion gaffes and activities, some comic, others as dark as they are revealing, the prevailing view was that such an appointment was ridiculous and as such must have been forced on Theresa May.

Now full credit here to the more learned people that I follow on twitter as from them a contrary view soon emerged which I summarise below. *Remember it wasn’t me that spotted this* but rather I’m channeling @Peston and @FraserNelson – click their handles for their own analysis.

So Theresa May is keenest to immediately balance out the Brexit/Remain camps since she a Remainer (albeit quiet) is now leading Brexit Britain and there’s a clamour to ensure “Brexit means Brexit” and maybe even trigger Article 50 ASAP.

To wit of the Great Offices of state she’s got in place; Philip Hammond (Chancellor), Amber Rudd (Home) and herself (PM) i.e. three remainers. So she needs to keep Brexiters happy which she has done by giving top jobs to Liam Fox (International Post EU trade deals), David Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the EU) and Boris Johnson (FCO is the last of the four Great Offices).

Away from this balancing act there is the “house of cards” politics of it all. Except here the view is not that Johnson has somehow dictated the terms of a deal with May. Recall that the evening of her appointment, Theresa May is at the height of her powers – just look what happened to George Osborne.

Instead there, consider May’s position. Appointing Johnson as Foreign Secretary will keep him out the country and overseas i.e. away from the grass roots (where he is famously/allegedly feted) as well as any plots. Then there’s the fact he’ll be jet lagged when he’s actually here. Although I suppose Whatsapp could be a way around this…

Some (Peston) have noted the similarities to Barack Obama making Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State in 2009 – this was a convenient/respectful way to deal with a vanquished rival. For all Johnson’s political capital seemingly collapsed with Michael Gove’s betrayal, as others have noted, his supposed idol, Winston Churchill also bounced back after a prolonged spell in the political wilderness albeit thanks to a particularly ugly gathering storm.

Lastly and most importantly there is the  role of Foreign Secretary  itself. The actual Brexit negotiations will be led by the new Government Dept. headed by David Davis (who was Europe Minister for three years under John Major) whilst the key EU summits (remember the UK is still a member) will be at a Prime Ministerial level where May herself represents the UK.

More broadly in terms of UK foreign policy it’s Downing Street and the PM who lead in a crisis. Otherwise, and although it’s not my own area of expertise (see my friends and colleagues Victoria Honeyman, Stuart McAnulla, James Strong, Tim Oliver for more) it’s a fair observation that strong Prime Ministers run their own foreign policy rather than leaving it to their Secretary of State.

So this leaves the Foreign Secretary as a sort of showman to talk up Brexit Britain and show Brexit was a positive choice where we turn away from the EU institutions rather than the continent and instead towards the wider world. The point here being (made most eloquently by Nelson) that this ideally needs someone who supported Brexit to sell it to the world. Even if the rumours abound as to whether Johnson actually truly supported Brexit.

So yes, being Foreign Secretary is an important job, but perhaps it’s more prominent than it is powerful in its own right. And of course with every gaffe Mr Johnson makes he becomes less of a threat to her leadership, and if he really screws up, well she could always sack him?

Now all of this (which recall I got from elsewhere) comes with a huge caveat. A caveat  in fact perhaps worthy of Vote Leave or British Intelligence circa 2002-3. Namely that this is a blog about international society and all that I’ve written above pertains to how Johnson’s appointment fits with UK domestic politics and the machinery of the British government.

Simply put, yes some of us in Britain may express a weary sigh if not wry smile at Johnson’s Have I Got News For You persona. But how will the rest of international society react to Britain’s new chief diplomat? I’m thinking here (purely off the top of my head) of his remarks about US President Obama’s “part Kenyan heritage” and the poem he authored abour Turkish President Erdogan. For the avoidance of doubt, the UK’s relationship with these two countries is what we academics refer too as of strategic significance.

Again, this is perhaps more an issue of foreign policy analysis (not my expertise) or indeed one for colleagues who assess how personal relationships between leaders – the presence or absence of trust – affect their dealings.

Alternatively the rejoinder could be made that even phenomenally popular state leaders cannot translate international goodwill into their favoured outcomes (see President Obama at the failed 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to pick but one example). At the very least therefore another blog post beckons if not quite a PostDoc (without the EU funding of course).

But what I will say in closing for now is that the UK’s image on the world stage, its place in international society is being very closely watched, and the perceptions of our international peers (not least the rest of the P5) are of great import.

As I wrote on the morning of Brexit, in my view, Britain’s post war history has been the story of collectively assuming rather than critically interrogating, the fact we’re still the Great Power we were before the war.

Like Dean Acheson said back in ’62 we lost an empire but were yet to find a role. We’ve leveraged some crucial but essentially limited capabilities to maintain an enlarged role for these islands in international society.

Our influence is not just a product of material might (such as we have it) but also the regard (rightly or wrongly) we are held in. We’ve talked the talk but otherwise it’s been the emperor’s new clothes.

As such, to my mind, we’ve not had a conversation about what our role should be in the world as it is now, and not as it once was. Something tells me we’re about to confront the reality we’ve been dodging all this time, and is reasonable to ask what sort of role Foreign Secretary Johnson, can, will or should play in this most complex, overdue and important of conversations.

When friends and colleagues ask me what I think about such matters I often begin with or indeed entirely focus on what I’ve read and what I’ve made of this. Ask me what I think and I’ll tell you who I’ve read. It’s surely up there with answering a question by critiquing the original question. Clearly my friends and colleagues are patient and forgiving people.

Implicitly of course my choice of who I’ve read and what I’ve taken from them, tells you what I think, but i rarely begin by explicitly setting out my stall. This could be why my university debating career stalled, but it is definitely a function of my abiding suspicion of claims to certainty in a world of complexity.

David Mitchell comments on this same point today and Bertrand Russell beat us both to it when he said; “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.” Matt Frei’s similar (and perhaps less elitist) conclusion in the  immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks was that “nuance dies on days like these. What course then for the wise or nuanced? Hedley Bull suggested that; “It is better to recognise that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.”

But to be fair to David Cameron, unlike me who can get away with reading, reflecting (and occasionally even writing) about Syria, he is expected to do something about it. Syria is a moral and yes an academic issue for me. For millions on the ground (or on boats to Europe) it is a living nightmare and for world leaders it is a problem which we expect them to practically address irrespective of all the light, darkness, (un)certainties, knowns and unknowns. I can critique the murky reality of foreign policy. David Cameron has to navigate it…against the clock.

So do I think Britain should bomb Syria? Or to put it in more deliberate and less emotive language – Should Britain extend its anti ISIS air campaign from Iraq into Syria? Sadly as with our politics generally, public discourse here is organised around simplistic to the point of false and also gendered dichotomies – doing something as opposed to nothing, taking “tough action” rather than “being weak”.

I supported the 1999 Kosovo intervention in spite of the fact it had no explicit UNSC sanction. Something I excoriated Tony Blair for four years later in Iraq 2003, and then was particularly impressed by come Libya in 2011. However I am acutely aware of the riposte that reliance on the UNSC means Britain’s foreign policy is outsourced too/held hostage by the veto wielding powers (i.e. China and Russia) dependent as it is on an alignment of national interests or otherwise polite indifference.

Yet Council authorisation – for so long so central to the response of international society to Syria – of a sort now exists (although S/RES 2249 (2015) doesn’t invoke Chapter VII). So a legal case and thus international legitimacy as with Libya 2011 (in the early stages) are less in question now. Although here it would be wise to note there remains (as Ian Clark points out) the issue of whether legitimacy is purely the outcome of the Council’s decisions or whether it informs them. I.e. Council action is always legitimate, or the Council acts only where it is legitimate.

But away from the international diplomacy and these questions of legitimacy, should *Britain bomb Syria*? The concerns I have – and which lead me to agree with those who say we should not – stem from efficacy. The lesson of Iraq 2003 is not never to use military force (and so here I probably part company with the certainties of Stop The War) but rather that before we do so we must consider carefully our end objectives, our means and whether these are appropriate and in alignment.

Essentially when we use military force, what are we trying to achieve, why are we doing it, are either of these appropriate, how are we going to do it, is there a reasonable prospect for success and in so much as we can determine, what are the forseeable consequences of action/inaction? There’s probably a separate blog post on this combination of realist and just war reasoning alone, but this is not it.

The analysis I’ve read so far (including Stephen WaltDan Jarvis, Patrick Cockburn (here and here), Jason Ralph and Paul Rogers) suggests to me that the purported aims of British action (which Cameron has said must not be confined to just air strikes) are unfeasible, unrealistic and unclear if not counterproductive.

Unfeasible because the 70,000 coordinated  moderate ground forces who will take the fight to ISIS are proving elusive and somebody’s ground troops are needed yet none are forthcoming. As Rafael Behr writes this is “the weakest link in his [Cameron’s] chain – an expression of wishful thinking and heroic ambition as much as a credible argument.” Indeed the “global coalition” isn’t evenly sharing the burden of the existing air campaign as it is which is just one indicator of the vexing agency problem – who is acting in Syria and why?

Unrealistic as it speaks confidently of concrete signs of political progress at the Vienna talks to end the Syrian Civil War, yet for which there is precious little evidence. Some sort of compromise resolution of the Assad Question would do much to end a conflict which ISIS has been able to so effectively (and destructively) exploit, yet even where the West to amend its position, would the Syrian opposition?

Unclear if not counterproductive because there *a lot* of competing national, regional and sub national/sectarian interests at play in what is both an intra state and a proxy war. Beyond the usual “fog of war” (for which read Russian and Western air forces providing tactical support to opposing sides with all the risks this runs) are the multiple alliances of convenience which begs the question of what kind of Syria emerges and what will the consequences be for the region, its states, peoples and refugees.

Where does this leave us? Complexity is no friend of action but nor is it an excuse for inaction. I was struck by the comment in the days following the Aylan Kurdi tragedy that “we mustn’t do the wrong thing for the right reason”.

Likewise the Syrian Civil War and the threat posed by ISIS – both to The West but foremost Syrians and Iraqis – does mandate an international response but not I suspect this one.

I guess it could come in handy as a queue skip?

So I managed eleven official meetings and hopefully have four more phone interviews in the pipeline. I have yet to type up all my notes but one estimate would be that they come to 30,000 words.

All told I met with academics, advocates, policy experts and diplomats. Especially interesting was the mixture of anecdote and analysis whereby personal reflections and recollections marry with or elucidate official positions.

More than one interviewee had studied to an advanced level themselves, so it’s always nice to see life after the PhD, but on a more serious note this added something to the discussions in that they could better see where I was coming from and perhaps even interpret the questions better than I could, given their dual perspective.

You definitely grow in confidence over the course of conducting such research, you get used to some nuances and come to recognise different types of interviewee. Besides the dual academic/diplomat are those who offer expansive and varied answers, those who tend to repeat or emphasise a single theme throughout and those who are too senior to interrupt.

Whilst I am still typing up all my notes, one immediate recollection is that every interview contained at least one nugget or specific insight. Whether it was about Council dynamics; keeping on side of the P5; problems of institutional memory; open secrets; flawed processes or frank disagreements. Some of this confirms or corroborates what I’ve read elsewhere, others were more surprising.

It was also terrific to visit the Dag Hammarskjold Library and thank those in person who I have been emailing all year. True to form having innocently discovered some digest documents on Security Council activity for 2013 at an info desk (perhaps the world’s most informative info desk?), colleagues there were able to show me where to find them online. Then in response to my vague question about any good books to read for more information on the Council or interpreting resolutions, they excelled themselves with their recommendations. In general the library really gives the impression of an official authoritative source, if it isn’t there not only does it not exist but it doesn’t matter.

People have asked what it’s like wandering about the UN itself in what with it being a landmark but also a working organisation. What struck me on my 2009 visit was just how low key it was in places, that it had the look of a 1960s office complex in places i.e. lots of wear and tear.

Whilst some of this remains despite a lot of extensive (and ongoing renovations) this time as a visiting researcher and not just someone on a tour, I was struck more by the sense of purpose around the building. This was most notable not in the official settings such as the Council or General Assembly, both of which appeared to me quite choreographed, but in the Delegates’ Lounge, canteen, library and foyers.

On one occasion in the canteen I overheard a particularly frank discussion out loud about the problems in Afghanistan, on another in the library I heard that “the Russians are very upset” but that someone is trying to “defuse” things, and in the Delegates Lounge I went to sit down only to have my chair taken thus nearly provoking a diplomatic incident.

There’s also something to be said for an organisation that manages to have Nobel Peace Prizes stashed away in obscure corners, an impressive array of murals and an exhibit on landmines which yes, I did accidentally stray into.

So going forward my immediate priorities are to contact all my participants as agreed in the consent process, hopefully get a few clarifications or additional questions answered (especially now that I have read all the participants responses); do some more research around the areas that cropped up and above all else get writing…

The Secretary General's Bulletin (ST/SGB/259) requires that bearers must wear their ID cards visibly while on United Nations premises

“The Secretary General’s Bulletin (ST/SGB/259) requires that bearers must wear their ID cards visibly while on United Nations premises”

It’s been five years since my first and last trip to New York where i visited the United Nations for a guided tour.

This morning I came to begin research interviews for my PhD with staff from the Permanent Missions complete with (temporary) security pass.

I am conducting 15-30 semi structured elite interviews, or informal guided conversations. The people I intend to talk with are insiders with knowledge and whilst they may not be decision makers, they are a defined elite who “do” and “see” the day to day practices of international society. In speaking to them I want to check/corroborate/falsify my understandings, allow for any bias on my part and check their “internal understandings” of my research i.e. what do they think about what I think.

Given that I am already reflecting on the reflections of others through document analysis, in asking them what they think of my reflections I appear to have entered the film Inception.

Essentially I am researching norms – intersubjective shared understandings – and these are the people who share them/contest them/deliberate with them on behalf of the society of states, so who better to talk to?