What Is A Diplomat?


What is diplomacy or, more relevant, what is it like to be a diplomat? The question is important and lies at the heart of my discussion earlier in the summer with Katharina Hone about the plethora of new diplomacies. My objection to such a new or hyphenated diplomacies is not just the lack of intellectual rigour that most display (the inability, for example, to distinguish between agency, process and subject matter), but also the risk of emptying out the concept diplomacy. If everything is diplomacy then nothing is. One solution, favoured by more conservative colleagues, would be to argue that diplomacy is only done by government diplomats. But, given the irruption into international affairs of so many new state and non-state actors, this minimalist approach strikes me as unsustainable. Nevertheless, if we want to admit the possibility that some non-state actors maybe diplomats or do something we want to call diplomacy, then we must have a clear idea of what diplomacy is, what it is like to behave in a diplomat-like way. The answer may have important implications for how we do international relations the 21st century.


One approach is simply to list the activities undertaken by diplomats. Indeed Katharina tried this in her response to my rant against new diplomacies (https://www.diplomacy.edu/blog/would-real-diplomacy-please-stand). It is not a pointless task, not least because it reminds us of the continuities as well as the changes in what diplomats do. But it does not solve the problem, as pretty much all the things that diplomats do are also done by other actors whom we would not want to call diplomats (and who would not thank us if we did). Thus journalists and geopolitical risk companies collect and analyse political intelligence about foreign countries. Travel insurance companies and travel agents assist distressed citizens abroad. Corporations and lawyers negotiate international contracts and agreements. Lobbyists and public affairs companies seek to influence the decisions of foreign governments. CSR consultants and marketing companies seek to influence public opinion. Indeed the only diplomatic function that seems to belong exclusively to diplomats is representing their country abroad, which again restricts the concept of diplomat the government diplomats. Nor does it help to say that what distinguishes a diplomat is an accumulation of these functions. Very few diplomats perform all of them in a single posting, or even in any entire career.


The key question we need to answer is what is it about the activity of a non-state actor that would allow us to say they are behaving like a diplomat. To give a concrete example, I’ve recently been doing a lot of work on business diplomacy. I have argued that modern corporations have to analyse and manage geopolitical risk, engage with foreign governments and international organizations, and participate in multilevel regulatory networks. But even if they are doing all these things, are they doing them in a way that could be described as diplomatic? Or are they buying political reports from consultancies, employing lobbying companies to influence governments, appointing retired ambassadors to the boards of directors, using marketing companies to influence foreign public opinion and contracting security companies to protect their staff abroad? If business diplomacy is to survive as a subset of diplomacy it must be more than this. The same arguments apply, mutatis mutandi , to other would-be non-state actors (including different levels of subnational government – much so called city diplomacy seems to be more about tourist promotion than diplomacy).


An important aspect of diplomacy which we need to capture is its intentionality: diplomacy is a set of activities or processes aimed at achieving objectives. In the case of government diplomacy, diplomats seek to achieve the policy objectives laid down by the government. Diplomats (and diplomacy) do not necessarily seek to promote international peace and understanding, unless they are the policy objectives of the government. The role of Russian diplomats within hybrid warfare strategies may be seen as aiming to secure freedom of movement for their military colleagues. In 2003 British diplomats did not seek to avoid war with Iraq, but rather secure broader international support for launching it (not to mention Bismarck’s diplomacy in the 1860s). This intentionality of diplomacy links it with strategy (in its non-business school sense). The government decides policy objectives and diplomacy is one of the resources or practices available to be pulled together in a strategy to achieve them. A link to strategy and policy objectives is a necessary element in deciding if an activity counts as diplomacy. Non-governmental actors also have policy objectives and strategies to achieve them. If an activity is diplomatic, it must set itself within a strategy for securing policy objectives. Gastrodiplomacy without strategy is just lunch.


This raises an interesting question. If diplomacy must form part of a strategy to secure policy objectives, do all the activities of government diplomats qualify as “diplomatic”? While it is clear that political or public diplomacy (“engaging with foreign publics to generate a political and social environment favourable to specific policy proposals”) qualify, does consular protection or issuing visas? It is interesting that, in the British system at least, visa operations are often semi-independent from the rest of the embassy and staffed by Home Office officials. Tensions arise between diplomatic officers trying to encourage foreigners to visit and engage with Britain and immigration officers who often seem to be trying to keep them out. Consular protection is more complicated. Issuing an emergency passport or visiting an arrested citizen may be difficult to link to any broader diplomatic strategy. But to the extent that the government has laid down a policy objective relating to the protection of its citizens abroad and a strategy has been developed (implicitly or explicitly) to meet it, much of consular work is indeed diplomatic. A good consul, for example, will network as much as a political officer to ensure that he has the contacts that will enable him to help his fellow citizens when in distress.


But being part of a strategy to secure policy objectives is not a sufficient criterion of diplomatic activity. Warfare (cyber all real) and Geoeconomic tools are equally available to governments pursuit of policy objectives. We need something else. Paul Sharp’s concept of the diplomatic community (from his wonderful book “The Diplomatic Theory of International Relations”) may help in identifying what it is like to be to be a diplomat. Sharp argues that diplomats from whatever country have much in common with each other which allows them to function as diplomats. Diplomacy as an activity is a way of being in the world (Heidegger) or a life-form (Lebenform – Wittgenstein). Diplomats become socialised in certain ways of behaving and thinking which they share with other diplomats, but not necessary with other people including fellow nationals. This enables them to maintain the conversation with other diplomats including from hostile countries in a way that others, for example politicians, cannot. This way of being or life-form also shapes the policy recommendations they make and their approach to implementing strategies to secure policy objectives.


As a former diplomat, and with experience of dealing with theoretically hostile diplomats in the Cold War and the Balkans Wars, this approach makes intuitive sense. There is undoubtedly a camaraderie among diplomats from different countries, and a sense in which this distinguishes them from non-diplomats. Attitudes or ways of seeing the world shared within the diplomatic community includes a tendency towards realism and a tendency to see the world in shades of grey rather than black-and-white. Diplomats tend to be satisficers, looking for outcomes that are good enough, rather than maximisers insisting on optimal solutions. Indeed diplomats generally think in terms of managing international relations rather than resolving international problems. They prioritise long-term engagement rather than short-term wins. Unlike many traditional companies, who are focused on year end financial results, diplomats know, or think they know, that they are in it for the long term. Empathy, the ability to see the situation with the eyes of the other, including an enemy, is seen as a key quality.


These qualities and attitudes of professional diplomats (their life-form or Lebensform) may be essential to maintaining the diplomatic conversations that have a moderating impact on international relations. This shared diplomatic life-form allows diplomats even from hostile countries to talk to each other in a way that politicians and soldiers cannot, and can thus contribute to reducing conflict and increasing international understanding (thus peace and international understanding come back into diplomacy not as an objective but as a byproduct of the nature of the diplomatic community). However, the nature of the diplomatic life-form also causes problems. Wittgenstein argued that understanding the language requires participation in the language game underlining it (grasping the rules of the language game, social and cultural as well as linguistic). As Wittgenstein famously said, if a lion could talk I wouldn’t be able to understand it. This may explain why diplomats are so often accused of going native (the odd sensation as a diplomat that you are more trusted by other diplomats than by your own government). The politician confuses empathy with sympathy. The ambassador is seeking to explain the foreigner’s understanding of the situation to his government. The government thinks that he’s supporting the foreigner. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, if and diplomat could talk, a politician wouldn’t be able to understand her.


If diplomacy is a Lebensform or life-form or, more prosaically, a shared set of attitudes of ways of seeing and thinking about the world, it offers a way of deciding if different activities are diplomatic or if different actors are behaving like diplomats. I do not necessarily insist on the list of attitudes and characteristics above as being definitive (this is an area for investigation). But in principle any activity would be diplomatic if it meets two criteria: it is part of a broader strategy to secure policy objectives (whether set by state or non-state actors) and if it is being done in a diplomatic like way. Likewise an actor would be a diplomat if she was pursuing policy objectives as part of a broader strategy and doing so in a diplomatic like way. Returning to my earlier example of business diplomacy, it would not be sufficient that the company was gathering and analysing political information when negotiating with a foreign government. To be business diplomacy, the company would need to be doing so as part of a strategy to secure its objectives and in a diplomatic like way. Otherwise it is Public Affairs, lobbying or some other Business School inspired activity.


Thinking of diplomacy as a life-form raises another issue that may prove crucial in the 21st century. If there is a diplomatic way of being which, through seeing the world in shades of grey and satisficing , moderates and reduces international conflict and tension, what happens if an increasing number of new actors (state or non-state) do not share this life-form engage with international affairs. As already discussed, many companies focus on short-term wins rather than long-term engagement. Many NGOs definitely do see the world in black and white. They insist on optimal solutions rather than managing acceptable outcomes (one of my Accidental Diplomatist blogs recounts a, slightly, fictionalised example: http://www.shaunriordan.com/?p=396 ). As more of these new actors engage in international debates, will they become socialised into the diplomatic life-form (as were the diplomats of revolutionary regimes like the Soviet Union andChina)? Or will they retain their black and white views and their increased engagement in international affairs lead to greater volatility and more conflict. This may prove the major diplomatic challenge of the 21st century.


The True Lessons of the G20 Summit


The immediate reactions to last week’s G20 summit focused on the isolation of Donald Trump and particularly the 19+1 communique. But they have missed the deeper points: the bifurcation of international relations and who, if anyone, can fill the shoes of the US. The actual G20 communique is, of course, of little importance in itself. These documents are confected in such a way as to include everyone’s pet themes, but in such a way as to cause no offence. Countries sign them with little if any intention to carry through the commitments (e.g. Russia on climate change, China on education). The document’s shelf life is so short that no-one notices. Which makes it all the more surprising Trump couldn’t find a meaningless form of words to sign up to.


Turning to more the more significant aspects, there were two very different kinds of activities going on at the summit. On the one hand, there was the summit itself. The G20 met to tackle a broad range of global issues such as climate change. I have argued elsewhere that this amounts to the New International Security Agenda (https://www.clingendael.nl/sites/default/files/20041100_cli_paper_dip_issue95.pdf): key issues include climate change, poverty, pandemic disease, financial stability etc. Although governments remain key players in this agenda, they cannot resolve these issues on their own. Collaboration must extend beyond governments to a broad range of state and non-state actors, including international organisations, NGOs and companies. This is the Networked world of multi-stakeholder diplomacy. This agenda provided the issues for the G20 communique (although, as suggested above, getting your pet issue name-checked in the communique doesn’t amount to much, unless you use it as a pretext for pushing on hard).


The second kind of activity were the series of bilateral meetings held in the margins of the G20, for example the much touted meeting between Trump and Putin. Although global issues may have been name checked (“please, President Trump, think again about Paris”), these meetings focused on more traditional geopolitical issues: N Korea, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, interference in US elections. These are issues diplomats a hundred years ago would recognise. These are also issues where states remain the main players, in large part because they still deploy the greatest capacity to apply violence. Interestingly, the cyber world, and in particular cybersecurity, looks to reinforce rather than undermine the role of the state.


Ironically, and not altogether politically correctly, the geopolitical bilaterals were more significant than the G20 plenaries (perhaps symbolised by the presence of Ivanka Trump in the US seat in the plenary). This is not to say that the global issues of the New International Security Agenda are not important. They are existential for human kind. But they exist in an almost parallel universe from the geopolitical agenda. Say whatever they say, most governments give priority to the geopolitical agenda because its issues have the greater short term impact. The multistakeholder and multilevel diplomacy associated with global issues contrasts strongly with the bilateral diplomacy of the geopolitical agenda (and it is bilateral – multilateral approaches emerge from bilateral ground work). Geopolitical issues distract from, and undermine dealing with, the global issues.


This bifurcation between the two agendas risks tearing diplomacy apart, with the result that neither agenda ultimately is dealt with. The challenge for diplomacy is to evolve structures and techniques that allow both agendas to be tacked together, and in ways that are self-reinforcing. Ironically it may be the Russians that point the way: what is hybrid Warfare but the application and techniques of the Networked Age to the geopolitical agenda?


The other significant aspect was the vacuum left by the lack of US leadership. I wrote some time ago about the schoolbus whose US driver got off at the last stop (see the home page to this blog). But Trump has accelerated the process. Apart from driving this lesson home, the G20 Summit was an audition for those aspiring to fill the leadership vacuum. None convinced. China has too many enemies and rivals on its borders (see its latest confrontation with India in Bhutan), and is not trusted (even by the Europeans). The EU is more divided than the current bromance between Macron and Merkel suggests (how long will Merkel put up with Macron’s Napoleonic pretensions?). It is any case militarily weak, and talk about a new European defence union will change little in the medium term. Russia, of course, is economically too weak, as is India. Randall Schweller’s prediction (in his excellent “Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple”) of an entropic world system of continual, and increasing, low-level conflict and disorder, looks ever more on the money. Welcome back to the 16th Century.


Diplomats in a Networked Age


Tom Fletcher has launched another thought provoking blog on the world (https://blog.oup.com/2017/06/digital-diplomacy-law/). But I wonder, if this time, his enthusiasm for new technology (https://youtu.be/sWtNgVykELY) has got carried away. The networked world he describes, where new technologies undermine the power of the state and empower citizens, for good or bad, to shape their world directly, may be further away than he thinks.


The blog makes a series of important claims: “technology gives the prospect of the world’s population having an instant, global and unfiltered means of communicating, of consuming information, of forming opinions, preferences and communities”; that this could be a force for global development, but also leave us feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable to corporate algorithms; and that as a system based on states and hierarchies weakens, the role of Diplomats becomes more important. Against this background, Tom sets three challenges for diplomacy: using social media in massive campaigns of influence; thinking about the implications of AI, not just for diplomacy itself but more generally for our societies; and digitising service delivery. It is a fun vision, but raises a number of problems.


Firstly, it exaggerates the extent to which ICT is undermining the authority of the nation state. This was a common position some years ago (Manuel Castells and Parag Khanna have much to answer for). But since then the nation state has made something of a come back. It is not only that authoritarian states like China and Russia increasingly control cyberspace within their sovereign territory, putting the globality of the internet at risk. Developments in cyberspace, and especially cybersecurity, are reinforcing the role of the state. Recent cyberattacks (http://www.shaunriordan.com/?p=481) make all too clear the limits of technical perimeter defences, against even relatively unsophisticated attacks. Discovering intruders once they are inside a system is not easy (on average it takes companies over 150 days to realise that their systems have been penetrated). The most effective form of cyber defence in the future may be the penetration of the computers of would be hackers to explore their capabilities and intentions. Governments already do this (Ben Buchanan’s “The Cybersecurity Dilemma” explores some of the IR implications of these defensive penetrations). But companies may lack both the technical capacity and legal cover for hacking potential hackers. They may end up as dependent on government for security in Cyberspace as they are in physical space.


Secondly, although it does mention the risks of corporate algorithms, it may underestimate the extent to which algorithms already mediate our online interactions. Far from an “unfiltered” means of communication and interaction, our interactions are shaped and limited by the algorithms that drive platforms like Facebook, Google or Twitter. These algorithms reinforce echo chambers, distort the information (news) we receive and insure that our personal networks consist of the like-minded (and similarly prejudiced – Facebook will never suggest I be friends with a Trump supporter). Some lobby groups already know how to manipulate these algorithms (e.g. the Neo-Nazis who gamed Google to give prominence to holocaust denial webpages). We may already have lost this game. Liberal idealists may want to fight against the algorithms to secure the unfiltered communications they yearn after. But it is not clear why diplomats would want to. Algorithms should matter to them, whether using then to analyse big data or understanding how they shape foreign public opinions (even learning how to game them), but as part of broader diplomatic strategies in pursuit of policy objectives.


This raises the main problem (and one I seem to be banging on about too much at the moment). Nowhere does Tom say what he means by diplomats and diplomacy. At one stage he seems to mean government diplomats. But it is difficult to see why government diplomats are particularly well placed to help us manage the challenges of cyberspace (“shape debates on how to protect our basic human needs in the Networked Age?”), especially if the role of state’s and governments is being undermined. If by “diplomacy” he means something that goes beyond government diplomats, then he needs to say what it is, what it is like to be a diplomat and why this is relevant to meeting the challenges of a “Networked Age” and managing AI in our societies. It is the same point I’ve made on “new diplomacies”: if we want to extend the concepts of diplomat and diplomacy beyond governments without emptying the concept of meaning we need to have some idea of what makes a government employee a “diplomat”.


I will conclude where I agree with Tom. Cyberspace poses a series of challenges to governments and their diplomats, and so far they have not done very well. It is not just a question of improving services to citizens, although that certainly needs to be done. But it also needs intellectual rigour. We must not confuse the better use of digital tools in pursuit of broader diplomatic strategies with the use of diplomacy to tackle the problems arising in cyberspace. If Tom is right that now we need more diplomacy, it is because the techniques and mindset of diplomats can be successfully adapted to managing the latter.

Gastronomic Diplomacy Without Strategy Is … Lunch


Katharine Hone (https://www.diplomacy.edu/blog/would-real-diplomacy-please-stand) and Charles Crawford (http://charlescrawford.biz/2017/07/01/the-rise-of-faux-diplomacy/) have both responded to my earlier blog on multiplying “new diplomacies” (http://www.shaunriordan.com/?p=497). This blog is by way of reply, and of clarifying some issues in my original blog. If I focus more on Katharine it is because I largely agree with Charles.


Using hyphenated diplomacies is not necessarily unhelpful, provided we don’t turn them into separate diplomacies in their own right. Thus referring to public or digital diplomacy can sometimes be helpful in limiting what we are talking about, provided we understand that both form part of a broader diplomatic strategy to secure policy goals. They are not ends in themselves (sadly too often today that is what they become). Likewise, distinguishing between economic (governments negotiating the frameworks for international trade), commercial (governments promoting their companies) and business (companies acting like diplomats – if they do – see below) diplomacy can be useful. But not, as Charles says, if the terminology becomes too rigid.


Charles is right that non-governmental actors in international relations are nothing new. Nor are diplomats capable of networking with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental actors (see the diaries of Ivan Maisky, Soviet Ambassador in London in the 1930s). But two developments have increased the importance of such non-governmental actors: new information and communications technologies (ICT), which have enhanced their capacities both to gather information and influence decision-making; and the emergence of a global issues agenda including climate change, internet governance etc. Diplomats do have to interact with non-state actors, whether NGOs or companies, more than in the past. But this does not make such non-state actors diplomats.


Katharina’s response is thoughtful, but unfortunately repeats much of the confusion I complained of in my original blog. Firstly it confuses different kinds of new diplomacy. I would argue there are three kinds: agency (focused on who is doing the diplomacy, e.g. business or NGO diplomacy), process (tools which can be used to promote broader diplomatic strategies) and substance (areas or issues which diplomacy can/should address). Thus when talking about digital diplomacy, Katharina appears to be talking about diplomacy being used to address issues arising in cyberspace, whereas most scholars talk about digital tools being used to advance broader diplomatic agendas (I addressed this distinction in a CPD blog: https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/cyber-diplomacy-vs-digital-diplomacy-terminological-distinction). A similar confusion arises over “environment diplomacy”, which apparently combines both the subject matter to be addressed (e.g. climate change) and a new kind of diplomacy needed to address it. Apart from this category confusion, it is not at all clear what this new “kind” of diplomacy would be.


I do agree with Katherina that thinking of diplomacy only in terms of the Vienna Conventions is too limiting (most western diplomats tend to live in breach of Article 41 anyway). I would not exclude the possibility of non-government diplomats. But simply asking what diplomats do, and then assigning the title of diplomat to anyone else doing it (or describing as “diplomacy” anything where people are doing diplomat-like things) won’t wash. Many people gather information, communicate, represent and negotiate (I am not sure what “reproduce international society” means). Some people do all of them, but without being diplomats. For example, private sector lobbying companies do all of these things, but without being diplomats. Most multinational corporations do these things, but without being diplomats. If we want to apply the term “diplomat” to non-government actors without emptying the term of all meaning, we have to start thinking about what it might be like to be a diplomat. It is not just what diplomats do, but the diplomat like way in which they do them, or the diplomat like way in which they see the world while doing them. The key question then becomes not “is a non-governmental actor doing the same things as a diplomat?”, but “is the non-governmental actor doing it in the same way as a diplomat?”. For reasons I will save for another blog, this could one of the key questions in 21st century international relations.


I suspect that only diplomacy scholars fear diplomacy becoming anachronistic. Real world diplomats are too busy managing the changes in global affairs (they were, after all, crucial to the Paris Climate Change Accords). The greater danger is that Diplomatic studies is losing the link between diplomacy, strategy and policy objectives. Diplomacy as practiced is not some kind moral activity aimed at international peace and understanding. It is an approach to securing policy objectives established by the authorised decision makers. It combines in strategy with other approaches (e.g. warfare, economic or cyber coercion). This will not change if we accept that non-governmental actors are “doing diplomacy”: their authorised decision-makers will similarly set policy objectives which their diplomacy will be deployed to promote. The promotors of the “new diplomacies”, by treating them as ends in themselves, break this link to broader strategies and objectives. Cultural diplomacy does not promote a country’s culture as an end in itself, but to increase that country’s influence and thus its ability to secure its policy objectives. A football match without any broader diplomatic strategy is a football match. Gastronomic diplomacy without any broader policy objectives to promote is lunch. Talking of which ….


Stop Inventing “New Diplomacies”


We must end the obsession with creating new “types” of diplomacy. It was probably a mistake “inventing” public diplomacy and digital diplomacy. It undoubtedly led both scholars and practitioners into unhelpful, and potentially harmful, cul de sacs like nation-branding or the obsession with social media presence. But now a plethora of new kinds of diplomacy are being offered up, ranging from education diplomacy, via sports and science diplomacy, to gastronomic diplomacy. No doubt such concepts are useful for securing academic funding and publication in academic journals. But they are frequently conceptually confused, risk these new kinds of diplomacy being seen as an end in themselves, rather than as part of broader diplomatic strategies, and, more seriously, risk emptying the concept “Diplomacy” of any meaning.


The conceptual confusion arises from the failure to distinguish between tools that can be used as part of a broader diplomatic strategy and the subject matter of diplomacy. Thus education diplomacy confuses educational networks as tools that can be used in the pursuit of broader diplomatic strategies with the application of diplomacy to resolve or manage issues arising in international education (e.g. the impact of Brexit on European educational exchange programmes). Likewise, science diplomacy confuses the use of networks of scientists to advance broader diplomatic agendas (e.g. during the Cold War) with applying diplomacy to international scientific issues (e.g. Climate Change). I have previously pointed out the same confusion in digital diplomacy (https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/cyber-diplomacy-vs-digital-diplomacy-terminological-distinction), suggesting the term “digital diplomacy” be confined to the use of digital tools in support of broader diplomatic strategies, while the term “cyberdiplomacy” be used to describe the application of diplomacy to problems arising in cyberspace. Failure to make this distinction between tools and subject matter does not create new kinds of diplomacy. It merely causes confusion.


Equally, these new “kinds” of diplomacy frequently lack any context. Diplomacy does not exist in a vacuum. Nor is diplomacy an end in itself, divorced from all other activities. Diplomacy is a way of achieving broader objectives, set from outside diplomacy. Diplomacy does not itself have content. It is not the pursuit of peace and international understanding. It can be, if that is what their political masters instruct the diplomats to pursue. But equally diplomacy can be used to provoke war, or secure better conditions for fighting one (think Bismarck in 1869 or Blair in 2003). In governmental diplomacy, which remains the most common kind, diplomacy, together with Warfare and geoeconomics, comprises one of the ways in which governments can pursue their policy objectives. Public diplomacy is a subset of diplomacy, which seeks to help pursue those policy objectives through influencing foreign (and domestic) public opinion. By and large the new “kinds” of diplomacy are no more than subsets of public diplomacy, offering thematic areas and tools to help influencing foreign public opinions. Like diplomacy itself, they can be coercive. For example, sporting boycotts can be used to pressure just as sporting links can be used to attract. But it only makes sense to talk about sporting (or educational, or scientific, or gastronomic) activities if they form part of a broader diplomatic strategy in pursuit of policy objectives. Otherwise it is just sport, education, science or lunch.


There is understandable enthusiasm for extending the concept of “diplomacy” beyond government diplomats, reflecting the plethora of new state and non-state actors participating in international relations. But the lack of intellectual rigour with which this is often done risks emptying “diplomacy” of all meaning. When courses on diplomacy seriously discuss diplomacy in the family context, then diplomacy ends up meaning little more than getting what you want through negotiation or manipulation, rather than just thumping someone. If everything is diplomacy, then diplomacy no longer means anything useful, and we can give up using the term (and presumably close down the diplomatic studies courses).


Similarly, it is not clear if all those new state and non-state actors participating in international affairs do so as diplomats. They may be doing similar things to diplomats, or participating in the same activities, but are they doing so in the same way as diplomats, or with the same world-view? Is there a diplomatic way of doing things, or thinking about the world, which allows us to distinguish between diplomats and non-diplomats doing diplomat-like things? The question is crucial. If, as some have suggested, it is the pragmatic and almost amoral world view of the diplomat (seeing the world in shades of grey) that allows them to mitigate international conflict, what happens when international actors with less morally flexible world views (e.g. NGOs, seeing the world in black and white) multiply? These are questions for another blog, but which show up the lack of intellectual rigour behind the invention of new “kinds” of diplomacy. Meanwhile, let’s be done with these “new diplomacies”.

Five Challenges Confronting the New British Prime Minister


The priorities confronting the new prime minister will to some extent depend on who it is. While it seems likely that the Conservatives will form a minority government, it is not clear who will lead it. While a Labour-led coalition is unlikely, it is not impossible.Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have a different focus on what matters most to the UK. Moreover, the priorities of the new government will also be shaped by the extent to which it has to depend on other parties, and which ones, to secure a majority. But certain challenges will be common to whoever wins.

Flag of EU with Big Ben in the hole


Theresa May claimed that she called the snap election to secure a solid majority and the authority to allow her to negotiate the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union. It is therefore ironic the extent to which Brexit has not featured in the election campaign. The focus on security issues was inevitable given the Manchester and London terrorist attacks. However, the extent to which the opposition were able to play up the national health service and social issues in general was the fault of Theresa May herself. One consequence has been that the British voters are no clearer now on what Brexit means than they were at the start of the campaign. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn have explained in detail how they will approach the Brexit negotiations, or indeed what their priorities or red lines would be. The inevitable suspicion is that neither is all together clear themselves.

Whoever forms the next government will have to name their negotiating delegation, and formulate both their objectives and their negotiating strategy. Although initial negotiations are scheduled to begin this month, in practice they will have until the German elections in the autumn to sort out their detailed positions. The preconditions laid down by Brussels for the negotiations (that negotiations on a trade agreement can only begin once the terms of Britain’s exit have been agreed; that the position of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU must be established; that Britain must pay a divorce settlement; and that the position of the frontier between Northern and Southern Ireland be agreed) may prove less difficult for a new British government than many have thought. Indeed, one of the major reasons that Theresa May has not wanted to go into detail about her negotiating position may be that she is willing to concede most of this, haggling only about how much money Britain must pay. Whoever forms the new government will lack the clear negotiating mandate that Theresa May sought.



Britons, possibly because of the history of IRA terrorism, have a tradition of taking terrorist attacks in their stride. They are willing to be convinced that Islamic terrorism, although awful, is not as bad as the IRA and Palestinian campaigns of the past. However, the three attacks in the past few weeks, two within a week of each other, have significantly changed attitudes. While the Conservatives have sought to take advantage of the attacks by stressing Jeremy Corbyn’s controversial record on security issues, the opposition parties have focused on cutbacks in police budgets and numbers. The security services have come under pressure in the media to explain why Islamic extremists already on their radar were allowed to carry out the attacks. The British public will expect the new government to launch new initiatives on security.

What these new initiatives will be will depend on who forms the government. Theresa May has made it clear she will take a hardline on Islamic extremism, cracking down on those who preach or support it. She has stated publicly that she is willing to curtail human and civil rights if this will improve security. In contrast, the opposition parties argue that the government and the security forces already have all the surveillance and other powers they need. To curtail human or civil rights would be to do the terrorists’ work for them. A non-Conservative government would, therefore, put the stress on increasing police spending and numbers and following up on the security services’ own reviews of their recent performance.


The Special Relationship

The special relationship with the US is in trouble. It did not appear that way in January. The inauguration of President Trump promised to be a major support for Britain’s exit from the EU. Trump himself an opponent of the EU, applauded Britain’s decision. During Theresa May’s visit to Washington he assured her that a free trade agreement with Britain would be a priority for the new administration. In return, Theresa May offered him a full state visit to the UK. Since then, it has all gone wrong. Trumps brutish behaviour and withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement is difficult for even a British Conservative government to swallow (much as the right wing of the Conservative party might applaud it). The leaks of intelligence in the US following the Manchester bombing infuriated the British security services. The criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan (implying he was complacent about Islamic terrorism) following the London Bridge attack has caused real offence in Britain, and not only on the centre-left. There are calls from across the political spectrum to cancel the invitation for a state visit,. Even if it goes ahead, it is possible that the Commons will block an address to both houses of Parliament.

The new government will need to decide how to recalibrate its relationship with the US, taking account of the risk of isolation given its withdrawal from the EU. The essential options are to line up with other “civilised” nations in isolating the Trump administration, maintaining a distance while out waiting Trump, or collaborating the Trump White House despite any distaste in the hope of bilateral benefits. The new government also want to take into account the risks to security and intelligence collaboration, all the more so if collaboration with EU countries weakens following Brexit.


Scotland and the State of the Union

Brexit has renewed the challenges to the British constitutional settlement, both in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Nicola Sturgeon has argued that Scotland should hold a new referendum on independence once the outcome of the Brexit negotiations are clear. Theresa May appears to have accepted this, which would mean a new vote in late 2019 or early 2020. However, the poor electoral results of the Scottish nationalists may reduce pressure for a new referendum. If there is one, the new British Prime Minister will hope that economic uncertainty and the doubtful prospects for an independent Scotland entering the European Union will convince the Scots to vote to remain in the Union. At the very least, the British Government will need to devolve further powers to the Scottish government. But the new Prime Minister will also have to finesse the issue of why Scots get to vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the rest of Britain does not. The new Prime Minister will not want to risk the legal and constitutional limbo that a new general referendum on Brexit could produce if Britons vote against the terms of the divorce, but the calculation will again depend on how a new government is formed in Westminster and how long it lasts.

In Northern Ireland, the nationalist Sinn Fein has argued that Brexit has re-opened the question of unification. Like Scotland, N Ireland voted in favour of remaining in the EU (albeit by a smaller margin). The largest party in N Ireland, the Unionist DUP favoured Brexit. But following recent elections to the N Ireland Assembly, and with serious disagreements between Sinn Fein and the DUP, there are difficulties in forming a government. Post-Brexit, the border with the Republic is a major challenge. Although no one wants to reintroduce a hard border, reaching sustainable arrangements may prove difficult, especially if Britain ends up outside the EU Customs Union. But the costs of getting it wrong, including a return to violence, could be high. Finding a solution may be even harder if a new Conservative government in London is dependent on the votes of the DUP for its majority.


Health and Education

Although foreign audiences focus on foreign policy and Security challenges, the main preoccupations of the new Prime Minister are likely to be domestic. Despite Theresa May’s determination that the election campaign should focus on Brexit, her own mishandling of her manifesto proposals on financing social care made domestic social and educational policy more central. There is a wide feeling in the UK that the health and education systems are broken, and need both reform and increased funding. Any new government will be well aware how these issues appear to have resonated with the voters in the election campaign, especially among younger voters. Getting these issues right will be as important to the success of the new government as meeting the external challenges.

The challenges confronting the new Prime Minister amount to nothing less than redefining Britain’s identity and positioning in the world post-Brexit. Getting it right can offer new relationships with the EU, the US and the rest of the world. Getting it wrong risks isolation and decline.

Ransomware: Diplomatic Approaches Must Complement Techie Solutions


The Ransomwhere attack of the weekend has brought home to the public the vulnerability of our information systems. In Britain much of the National Health Service has been brought to a standstill, with appointments cancelled and surgery postponed. Spain’s main telecommunications company Telefonica was infected, and other major corporations were forced off-line to protect themselves. In Russian the Interior Ministry admitted that one thousand of its own computers were hacked. In fact, despite the scale of the attacks, it appears relatively low-tech and unsophisticated. Unless more damage is revealed when computers are turned on at the beginning of the week, the impact has been limited, with the hackers estimated only to meet some $20,000. This pales into insignificance compared to the $1.1 million the “Business Club” group of hackers made from an earlier ransomeware attack in 2013 (not to mention the hundred million which this group made from cyber theft from banks). But the 2013 attacks were barely reported. They did not target anything as prominent as Britain’s National Health Service or Spain’s main telecommunications company.


The techies are now working hard to repair the damage of the ransomware attacked. Some will be uploading patches on to computer systems to protect them against renewed attacks. Others will be trying to unblock access to the data that ransomware has frozen. Others will be searching for backup files trying to recover essential information. Most people see cyber security as a technical issue with technical solutions, and as something that can be left to the techies. They are wrong on both points.


Technical measures are only a part of cybersecurity, albeit an important part. Too many companies depend on perimeter security, confident that their technical protection will keep hackers out. History says that this confidence is misplaced. One of the problems is that perimeter security systems tend to be designed to resist the last hack, whereas the hackers are constantly looking forward. In the arms race between cybersecurity and the hackers, the hackers seem to have the advantage. More sophisticated cyber security, for example in the military, accepts that hackers can access their networks, but focuses instead on defensive measures with in these networks, tracking hackers’ movements, building internal defences, and launching countermeasures against the hackers. But such sophisticated defence requires identifying when the hack takes place. Most companies don’t even know that. Recent studies suggest that financial companies take, on average, 98 days to identify an intrusion on their network. Retail companies, on average, take 197 days. One would not anticipate the NHS performing much better. In the ransomware case the intrusion was immediately obvious because of its method of operation (it also appears not to have targeted a specific victim). but you cannot depend on technical solutions if you don’t know if you’ve been hacked.


Believing that cybersecurity can be left to the cyber technicians is like not locking your house because it is the responsibility of the police to protect you against burglary. We all now live in a digital ecosystem and must take responsibility for our digital lives as for our non-digital lives. Unfortunately the creation of cybersecurity departments in large corporations, or the designation of someone responsible for cybersecurity in smaller companies, encourages most employees to ignore their responsibilities. However, it is unlikely to be the cybersecurity expert opens up the attachment from an unknown source or who succumbs to the phishing attack. Beginning my career as a diplomat in the Cold War, it was dinned into our heads, not always successfully, that we were all responsible for security against the Soviet threat, not just the security department. The same is true now.


In the 19th century the Prussian Army held a military exercise that went disastrously wrong. The blame was pinned on a major, who claimed that he had only obeyed orders. The General retorted: “the Kaiser made you an officer because he thought you would know when not to obey orders”. Out of this exchange grew the concept of Mission Command, or Auftragstaktik, that made the German army such effective military machine, even against overwhelming odds. The core idea of Mission Command is that all junior officers, and non-commissioned officers, should understand thoroughly the mission that the army is trying to implement, and within that mission they have extensive latitude to achieve their objectives as they see fit, taking account of local conditions. This makes for considerable flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Mission command could been designed for the digital age. Just as I have argued elsewhere that every executive should be a business diplomat, so every employee should be a cybersecurity officer. Just as in the cold war it was the closest colleagues who would spot the lifestyle changes that indicated a possible betrayal, in the digital ecosystem to the closest colleagues who spot the behaviour that leads to digital exposure.


The upshot is that technical approaches to cybersecurity, while necessary, are not sufficient. They need to be complemented by Business Diplomacy approaches. Business Diplomacy, adapting the techniques and mindset of the diplomat to the needs of the company, can support cybersecurity in six specific areas:

1: Hacker profile analysis of the company: adversaries include state actors and non-state actors; their skills and capacities are wide-ranging, from amateurish hacks using simple tools to highly sophisticated operators. Their motivations vary widely, as do the level of resources they have to pursue their objectives. An analysis of the activities, profile and reputation of the company can help to identify the kinds of hackers who might attack a company and their motivation. This can be reinforced through scraping information (data mining) from hacker (and activist) blogs and chatrooms. Software has been developed to support the latter.
2: Anti-hacker strategies: adversaries will perform malicious activities as long as they perceive that the potential results outweigh the likely effort and possible consequences for themselves. If the motivation of the hack is non-monetary (e.g. ethical or political) business diplomacy strategies can be developed to reduce the company’s vulnerability to attack. These can include developing networks of influence and information among relevant activists and NGOs. These can be used to assess the likelihood of attack, reduce the negative profile of the company, divert attention to other companies (who may be worse), reach out to the hackers or isolate and marginalise them within the ethical or political communities where they seek respect and recognition.
3: Public Diplomacy strategies: A major problem for companies is that public opinion, and its own stakeholders (including its clients), will blame the company for the result of any hack, rather than the hackers themselves (we are already seeing this in the UK, with attacks on the government for not funding the NHS sufficiently to pay for the software upgrades). Hackers seem almost able to achieve a kind of Robin Hood status in the public mind. Marketing or communication campaigns after a hack are doomed to failure. More effective are public diplomacy strategies, using the full range of public and digital diplomacy techniques, designed to shape the political and social environment in such a way that when a cyber attack is launched the public, including the company’s stakeholders, are already siding with the company against the hacker.
4: Collaborative working strategies aimed at government and other companies: collaboration between governments and companies in fighting cyber attacks remains inadequate. There is a need to recognise that as technology cross-connects the risks as well as the benefits are increasingly interconnected. Too often companies react to a cyberattack on a rival with Schadenfreude. Companies can use networking and coalition building to promote the collaborative practices with both governments and other companies to promote a more effective defence against cyberattacks.
5: Collaborative working strategies within the company: as we have seen, in too many companies cybersecurity is left to the technical experts. Protective agencies with an organisation often lack strategic influence, operating independently of one another, conflicting over areas of responsibility and resources. Vital information is not shared across the company. Individual employees do not “own cybersecurity”, not seeing it as their responsibility. By insisting on a holistic approach which integrates communication, corporate reputation and public affairs departments together with cybersecurity, Business Diplomacy strategies break down these silos, improving cyber management across the company.
6: Business Continuity: through developing networks of influence and information among key stakeholders, companies can enhance their business continuity in the event of a cyber attack, minimising the damage, financial or reputational, that a hack can entail, and ensuring a resumption of operations as soon as possible.


Business Diplomacy strategies are no more a one stop solution than technical cybersecurity, any any more than diplomacy can deliver world peace without support of armed force. They complement and reinforce each other. Businesses must learn that cybersecurity is not just the preserve of the technical experts, but the responsibility of all departments and all individual employees, from the Board downwards. Not all of the business diplomacy capacities identified above would have been relevant in the Ransomware case. Where the hackers are criminals interested only in financial gain, strategies to isolate them may be less effective. However, the distinction between criminal, ethical and political hackers is not always clear cut. Eugeniy Bogachev, the Russian hacker behind the Business Club bank thefts and Ransomware four years ago, appears to have been collecting information for the Russian intelligence services as well (possibly without the knowledge of his fellow criminal hackers).


Macron’s Victory: The EU Ducks Another Bullet


Europe has ducked another bullet. Following the poor showing of the far right in the elections in the Netherlands, Macron’s victory last night in the French presidential election means that the European Union has again avoided a meltdown moment. Not many more to go this year. It does not, however, mean that the EU is out of the woods yet, or that it has resolved any of its crises. Nor does it amount to a decisive defeat of right-wing populism in favour of a return to liberal progressive politics.


At first sight Macron’s victory is decisive. But a more careful examination of the data tells a different story. Defeating Le Pen by a margin of 65-35 is not the humiliation her father suffered in 1982 against Chirac. 11% of those who voted spoiled their papers or left them blank. A further 25% of eligible voters did not bother to vote. Given that many of those who voted for Macron did soi to block Le Pen rather than because of any liking for the youthful candidate, it hardly amounts to a resounding endorsement of his reformist policy agenda. Indeed in the first round of the election, when voters voted for the policy agenda they most supported rather than to block Le Pen, three quarters of voters rejected Macron’s reformist agenda.

French President elect Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Trogneux celebrate on the stage at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris

Much in that agenda is unpopular across the French political spectrum. France may need labour reform, but French voters don’t want to give up their social and economic model. While Macron looks youthful and fresh now, he is still a member of the French administrative elite (enarque and former investment banker. Unless he delivers quickly the lustre he enjoys now will swiftly fade. It will not be easy. He may find it difficult to construct a parliamentary majority folllowng the Assembly elections. His economic and social policies will come under attack from Le Pen on the right and Melanchon the left. Given his lack of political experience, there is every chance that Macron may be little more successful as president than his one-time mentor Hollande. In that case, Europe may not so much have ducked the bullet, as postponed it for five years, when reinvigorated far right and far left contest the next presidential election.

French President Francois Hollande reacts leaves a polling station in Tulle, during the second round of the 2017 French presidential election

Even if Macron is able to construct a de facto coalition in the National Assembly for his domestic reform agenda, it will still leave the EU confronting multiple existential crises, which will require more than the leadership of Macron to resolve. The recent Commission White Paper offered a number of options for going forward, none of which offer straightforward further integration. Managing multiple speeds and geometries would test far more competent leadership than the Commission enjoys. Brexit risks becoming a dangerous distraction from developing effective foreign, security and foreign policies. Reconstructing the Franco-German axis will be essential, as will be revamping the European commission. What a new Franco-German axis will look like will not be clear until after the German elections in the autumn. However, who ever wins those, there will remain fundamental differences between Paris and Berlin, especially over long term solutions for the Euro Zone. Macron’s election victory against Le Pen did not solve any of these problems. At best it has bought the EU time to begin tackling them. The question now is whether the other European leaders have the ability or the will to do so. The omens are not great.


The Geopolitics of May’s Snap Election


This morning, inspired by an episode of Dan Snow’s wonderful History Hit podcast, I posted a picture of Theresa May meeting President Erdogan recently, accompanied by a text about the trade agreement Elizabeth I signed with the Ottoman Sultan Murad III in 1580. That trade agreement, which amazingly was repeated until 1922, was initially based on the sale of British arms to the Ottoman Empire and aimed to counterbalance the power of Catholic Spain. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The message of continuity in British foreign policy is unmistakable.


I had barely finished posting my previous blog on Spanish foreign policy when Theresa May announced that she was calling a snap general election in Britain on 8 May (actually, following the legislation adopted by the coalition government in 2010, she will ask Parliament to vote for a snap election). While there is clearly considerable electoral opportunism behind this (given the way the polls indicate a clear Conservative victory), there is also a strong geopolitical context. Theresa May aims to reinforce her position in three directions. Firstly she wants to reinforce her position domestically in Parliament. Secondly she wants to reinforce her position in relation to the Scottish government. Thirdly she wants to reinforce her position in in the Brexit negotiations with the European Union.


Theresa May’s position in Parliament is not comfortable. She has only a narrow majority, and a significant number of her own Conservative MPs who are strongly opposed to leaving the European Union. Her position in the House of Lords is even worse. Although she was able to get through the legislation authorising the signature of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, she remains vulnerable to internal party rebellion on specific aspects of the negotiating process, for example the rights of EU or British citizens and access to the single market. She also has a legitimacy problem. Not only has she not won a general election, she was not even elected as party leader )her rival pulled out). Trusting in disarray within the Labour Party and the pollsters, she is convinced that this is the best opportunity to win a powerful majority in the House of Commons (some polls suggest she could win a majority as large as 200 over Labour). This would leave her authority in Parliament, and her strategy for Brexit, unquestioned and unquestionable.


This is the most likely outcome. However, she is still taking a risk. The greatest threat to her position may come not from Labour but from the Liberals. The Liberal leader Tim Farron has already announced his intention to convert the vote into a new referendum on Brexit. If a sufficient number of Britons still care about remaining inside the European Union, and if they are motivated enough to demonstrate this by voting for the Liberals regardless of their previous party affiliation or sympathies, this could significantly increase support for the Liberals performance. But it is unlikely to be enough. The nature of the British “first past the post” electoral system means that May should still secure a large majority in the House.


May’s announcement has put Scottish National Party leader (and Scottish First Minister) Nicola Sturgeon in a difficult position. Since the Brexit referendum, it has become clear that SNP voters are deeply divided on the issue, with a significant number in favour of leaving the EU. On the other hand, the official party position is that Scotland, after gaining independence from the UK, would rejoin the EU. If Sturgeon joins the Liberals in making the election a new referendum on Brexit, she risks her more Eurosceptic voters being drawn away by a resurgent Scottish Conservative Party. If, on the other hand, she ducks the Brexit issue and focuses instead on Scottish independence, she risks her more pro-EU voters has been tempted away by the Liberals, you have traditionally been strong in Scotland. 2015 was the best ever SNP result in a general election. Anything less than that will be seen as a defeat, and weaken Sturgeon’s position in relation to May. However, with the SNP increasingly divided over Brexit, and both the Conservatives and Liberals resurgent in Scotland, it may be hard to repeat the 2015 success.


If May’s (pretty limited) gamble comes off, she will also reinforce her position in relation to the EU. Not only will she enter the negotiating process with a united parliament and government behind her, she would also be dealing with European leaders who themselves have been weakened by elections. Even if Macron wins the presidential election in France, he is unlikely to have a working majority in French National Assembly, and likely to find most of his policy proposals under attack from both left and right. Holland’s centre-right may have held off the challenge from Geert Wilders on the far right, but it will still take time to form a new government, and it has been forced to move to the right to keep Wilders out. Germany’s election looks too close to call still, although Angela Merkel’s CDU seems to be recovering from earlier wobbles. However, all the polls suggest that whatever government emerges in the autumn will be weakened. As the long list of European elections this year seem only to increase uncertainty and undermine Europe’s ability to respond effectively to outside challenges (and it is still not clear whether or when Italy will hold elections), May believes that the elections in the UK will end uncertainty and increase her authority and effectiveness. She is probably right. But the language of the election campaign is likely to be bitter and intemperate, and the election itself divisive.


Spain’s Foreign Policy – A Lost Opportunity


In the 16th century Felipe II committed the classic strategic blunder of allowing his policy objectives to diverge too far from his geopolitical realities. At that time Spain enjoyed two important areas of influence: Latin America and the Western Mediterranean. Latin America, despite the best efforts of English sailors, was a major source of wealth for Felipe’s Spain. In the Western Mediterranean Aragon had long had an important commercial empire. Nevertheless the central focus of Felipe’s foreign policy was to maintain his control of the low countries. This meant constructing and maintaining the Spanish road connecting the low countries to other Habsburg territories and going to war against England. The costly, and ultimately futile, effort to hang onto the low countries drained Spain’s coffers of Latin American silver, resulting in Spain declaring bankruptcy no less than three times. Felipe’s strategic blunder condemned Spain to centuries of progressive decline as a European power, from which, arguably, it began to recover only at the beginning of this millennium.


Oddly Spain’s political leaders in the 21st century have seemed determined to commit their own version of the same blunder. Since Felipe Gonzalez left office in 1996, successive Spanish governments have paid little attention to either Latin America or the Mediterranean, and in particular North Africa. Aznar was obsessed with the transatlantic relationship with the US, and the hope, as futile as Felipe’s hope of holding onto the low countries, of replacing London as Washington’s bridge to Europe. Similarly Rajoy focused on the relationship with Germany and his determination that Spain should be seen as a northern European country. Zapatero did at least launch the Alliance of Civilisations with then Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, but he too ignored the rest of the Mediterranean and Latin America, while the Alliance of Civilisations ultimately amounted to little. The upshot is that Spain has allowed its political relations with Latin America and North Africa to wither on the vine.


In fact it is worse than that. To a large extent Spain seems to have given up on foreign policy altogether, replacing it with an obsession with national brand. Nation branding was an unfortunate result of a renewed interest in public diplomacy at the beginning of the 21st-century. It is a boneheaded concept. Nations cannot be branded like commercial products. Their reputation abroad growth from their reality and what they can offer international community, not self-conscious advertising campaigns. I once demonstrated this to young Armenian diplomats by showing them clips of nation branding advertisements for both Armenia and their rival Azerbaijan,. With the text removed, the students could not distinguish between them. Even one of the originators of the concept of nation branding has now recognised that it was a mistake. Nevertheless the Spanish government continues to devote considerable resources to, and maintain a High Commissioner for, Brand Spain (Marca España).


All this matters. The neglect of the political relationships in Latin America have left Spain’s considerable corporate investments without a broader context. It appears that it has also undermined Spain’s ability to analyse effectively political developments there. The upshot is that Spanish corporations are seen locally as asset strippers and left exposed to populist measures by Latin American governments. In the broadest sense it affects Spain’s reputation and influence in the world. All countries need calling cars to justify their access to the great geopolitical debates. These calling cards can include economic or military power, geopolitical situation or knowledge and influence about particular regions of the world. Despite the economic recovery, Spain is never going to be driving European economic growth and development. Spain’s military is too small to be relevant. Spain’s calling cards are its historical relationships with Latin America and its geopolitical positioning in relation to the Mediterranean and North Africa. By neglecting them it has undermined its standing and influence in the world. It is a player in the major strategic debates because it has little original to contribute.


This is a shame because Spain is missing out on an enormous opportunity in north Africa and the Mediterranean. Euromed, subsequently the Union of the Mediterranean, is headquartered in Barcelona. And yet, despite the geopolitical and economic instability of the Mediterranean area, the organisation is all but moribund. Europe as a whole seems to have no coherent strategy for the Mediterranean as a region, despite the flow of migrants that threatens to destabilise several European countries and promote the rise of populist politicians. While some northern European politicians may see the Mediterranean as a distraction from their concerns with confronting Russia, they are severely mistaken, as shown by the increasing Russian presence in North Africa. Meanwhile competing national interests in former colonies further undermine efforts to secure a common European position. Libya demonstrate the problem. While Italy desperately tries to protect its national commercial interests and recover political influence in a former colony, Europe as a whole continues to support a government of national accord which has, to all intents and purposes, collapsed. At the time time the Russians are increasingly working with the Egyptians to support general Haftar’s anti-Islamist militia. Europe is confronted by the risk of Russia acquiring a naval presence in the Western Mediterranean to complement that they already enjoy in the Eastern Mediterranean.


There are more encouraging signs, at least in terms of the Spanish foreign policy. The new Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has recognised the political importance of Latin America for Spain’s position in the world (possibly not unrelated to him being a professional diplomat rather than a politician!). Spain still has the opportunity to lead an initiative in the Western Mediterranean. But it will need to be bold. If the EU is to avoid catastrophe and irrelevance in North Africa and the Middle East it must start thinking, and talking, of the Mediterranean as a common economic area. This could be the opportunity for Spain, working through the Mediterranean Union, to establish its role in an area of key importance for the EU’s future. But to do so, it must abandon its obsession with Marca España , and its High Commissioner, and return to Foreign Policy.