Int. Herald Tribune
Defining new goals for diplomacy of the 21st century

By Ramesh Thakur and Steve Lee

Paris, Wednesday, January 19, 2000


TOKYO - Diplomacy is undergoing a revolutionary change. For example, last month, at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, an odd alliance of opponents including environmental and human rights activists, organized labor, and cultural and economic nationalists helped defeat efforts to begin a new round of negotiations to liberalize world trade in many areas.

Trade may be global, but politics is still local, and the alliances of convenience forged in Seattle to frustrate the World Trade Organization proved more effective than the standard model of diplomatic negotiation among governments.

Not long after the Seattle battle, the same government in India that conducted controversial nuclear weapons tests in 1998 found itself negotiating with a handful of airplane hijackers. The hijacking showed the increasing irrelevance of nuclear weapons to the types of security threats confronting countries today. It also illustrated the complex demands on modern diplomacy.

Foreign policy attention to child soldiers, children as war victims, and child poverty represent another element of a shift from ''national security'' to ''human security.''

This shift presents a great challenge to national diplomats, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations to work in partnership. All three sets of actors are being challenged to reinterpret and use the UN Charter in pursuit of security for the peoples of the world, if necessary against the member governments of the world body.

For diplomats, the old order of state-to-state relations, pursuit of national interest and formal alliances is giving way to ad hoc ''coalitions of the willing'' in pursuit of agreed international goals.

''National security'' is now more of a slogan for political mobilization than a helpful concept. It breaks down when the state itself becomes a threat to the security of its citizens.

When the pursuit of national security by Serbia and Indonesia threatened the human rights of Kosovars and East Timorese, the outside community felt compelled to intervene.

To many Tamils in Sri Lanka and Muslims in Kashmir, the state is the principal security threat.

To others who are the victims of secessionist violence, the failure of state protection is the basic threat to personal security. Prolonged civil wars and failed states undermine the concept of national security.

When rape is used as an instrument of war, or when thousands are killed by their own security forces, then the concept of national security is immaterial and of zero use.

Being wedded still to national security may be one reason why half the world's governments spend more to protect their citizens against undefined and improbable external military attack than to guard them against the omnipresent enemies of good health.

On environmental and human rights issues in particular, the people of the world, in whose name the UN was founded, have grown tired of years of negotiations leading to a final product that may be accepted or rejected by countries.

They look instead for a rolling process of self-adjusting agreements that can respond quickly to growing scientific understanding.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan has declared that human security will be one of the essential principles for the conduct of Japanese foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy of Canada, acting in concert with nongovernmental organizations and like-minded countries, is among those who seek to embed in international institutions the idea that the state exists for the security and well-being of its citizens.

The shift to human security also underlines what Joseph Nye of Harvard University calls soft power, or the attraction of a way of life and the supremacy of the liberal internationalist ideology as embedded in major multilateral institutions like the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In today's world, the cogent marshaling and clear communication of ideas and information are as important to international leadership as are military firepower and gross domestic product.

Countries that lead by example will be more successful than those relying only on coercion or bribery. A plural society rich in knowledge and skills will prevail, at least in the leadership contest, over an authoritarian regime.

An enduring basis for a stable world order lies not in the threat or use of military force, but in the patient building of institutions that embody norms and behavior that ordinary people and countries value and seek, backed if necessary by force.

The changes in international diplomacy offer new opportunities to move beyond the bloody nationalisms of the past century, to a new century of peace based on the welfare of people, not states.

Mr. Thakur is vice rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo and Mr. Lee is executive director of the Canadian Center for Foreign Policy Development in Ottawa. They contributed this personal comment to the International Herald Tribune.




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