GSJ Article
7 January 2009
Issue 13

Diplomacy in Times of Global Change: A Lecture

Harald Braun

German Foreign Office
Abstract: President Barack Obama’s first trip to Europe in April 2009 provided a paradigmatic example of international diplomacy in the making. In five days, Obama visited five key countries and addressed bilateral issues as well as key international concerns such as climate change, economic crisis, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism. Following Obama’s diplomatic tour, the article reviews the history and scope of the international organizations involved — G20, NATO, European Union, and United Nations — and argues that regular diplomacy is increasingly challenged by new global issues like climate change and non-traditional political actors. Thus, global change is forcing us to retool the practical art of diplomacy.
Keywords: diplomacy, European Union (EU), G20 (Group of Twenty), global change, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Obama, United Nations (UN)

Introduction by Wolf Schäfer

Learning from history is arguably more important than ever — let us ask Ambassador Braun therefore, how does diplomacy for the global age differ from earlier diplomacy or diplomacies? In June 1900, the Century Magazine distinguished “right” and “wrong” diplomacy by saying “The right diplomacy is not trickery or deception; it is not violence or bombast; it is the application of a sweet reasonableness to the settlement of vexed international questions by men trained in mind and in temper for the purpose” (vol. LX, no.2, p. 310). How would one define that difference today? We all know a few of the basics: The world stage is cluttered with potent players. Civil society, NGOs, multinational corporations, and non-state terror groups have broken into the traditional political management of well-behaved and well-dressed diplomats. So what does it mean for contemporary diplomacy then if states are not the only decision makers in the events that determine the path of history?

One can begin to answer this question by looking at recent events. The United States under President George W. Bush tried, and failed, to redirect the currents of globalization and regionalization. Not content to be a nation with an impressive array of high globalities, the US acted since 2001 as if it were the only global nation. Attempting to act unilaterally on its presupposed global hegemony, it strove for preclusive military preponderance, eschewed multilateral cooperation, ignored global climate change, bestowed unique historical significance upon itself, and began the creation of what might be deemed a “global empire” under the convenient cover of the serious provocation of 9/11. Deceiving itself as omnipotent and able to dominate the planet’s complex and coupled human and natural systems, the US tried to disregard ecology and overpower enemies and friends alike. In due course, the country managed to overreach, underperform, and outwit itself. Bush and his vice president Cheney did not ask any of the following questions:

  • How independent can a hegemonic power be in a globalized world?
  • Can one run a global empire while being ignorant of local cultures in such an empire?
  • Is a democratic empire sustainable?
  • Can one safely reject multinational agreements on nuclear non-proliferation and environmental protection?
  • Is it possible for the US to live beyond its means, cut taxes, and fight several wars simultaneously?

While these questions may not have been asked, the answers came in the form of international scorn, financial collapse, ballooning national debt, and electoral defeat.

Now the US is struggling to undo the damage and, in the words of Barack Obama, “lead once more.” According to the new American president, the time has come to “leave Iraq,” “work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat,” “roll back the specter of a warming planet,” restore power “through its prudent use,” and recognize “that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world” (Obama 2009a). Of course, the full implementation of this seemingly reasonable program lies in the future, but a couple of things are promising. Firstly, Obama’s post-conventional political experience and globalized familial connections portend a new approach to foreign affairs. Growing up without privilege and having lived in truly different parts of the world (Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya, and Altgeld Gardens, Chicago) have made him globally and socially literate. Secondly, since Obama is willing to listen and understands political “self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others,” he may be able to initiate America into an era of global multilateralism.

Harald Braun formulated requirements for the latter in our conference on The New America. In a “European Wish List” of eight points, he summarized “what the allies expect of the US in a globalized world” (Berlin, September 2005):

  1. Act globally—but not without thinking globally. Study cultures, civilizations, and languages.
  2. Accept global responsibility and help set joint global rules. Revive the Wilsonian tradition, support UN reform.
  3. Respect, develop, expand, and enforce international frameworks and treaties, specifically, support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
  4. Honor the International Court of Justice.
  5. Ratify the Kyoto Protocol, or come up with a better treaty to fight global warming for the period after 2012.
  6. Act multilaterally, not unilaterally.
  7. Consult before you act. Talk with your allies before decisions are finalized in D.C.
  8. Use your allies’ expertise in world regions where your own experience is limited.

This list was a good preview of Obama’s program. Looking at recent history, Braun and Obama seem to have drawn similar conclusions. — Let’s hear Ambassador Braun on Diplomacy in Times of Global Change.

* * *


In early April 2009, Barack Obama made his first overseas trip as President of the United States (US). In the space of five days, the new president visited five countries (United Kingdom, Germany, France, Czech Republic, and Turkey), and participated in three major international diplomatic events: the Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in London, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) anniversary summit in Germany and France, and the annual European Union-US summit in Prague. His visit to Turkey coincided with the second Annual Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations that took place in Istanbul. Though President Obama was invited to the forum, he instead decided to send a representative. While all of these are major international summits, they possess four different scopes: the G20 is concerned with economic and financial stability; NATO is dedicated to collective security in the North Atlantic basin; the European Union (EU) is the United States’ major regional partner in the world; and the Alliance of Civilizations advocates the global spread of democracy under the aegis of the UN.

Why was the President of the United States, after only 70 days in office, venturing outside the country for a week while the American economy is in urgent need of his full attention? Obama answered this question in an editorial published in over thirty papers around the world a few days before his departure to Europe, writing:

Once and for all, we have learned that the success of the American economy is inextricably linked to the global economy. There is no line between action that restores growth within our borders and action that supports it beyond. If people in other countries cannot spend, markets dry up … which has led directly to American job losses. And if we continue to let financial institutions around the world act recklessly and irresponsibly, we will remain trapped in a cycle of bubble and bust. That is why the London Summit is directly relevant to our recovery at home (Obama 2009).

We all learned during the Clinton administration (1993-2001) that “It’s the economy, stupid!” Obama’s lesson for the second decade of the twenty-first century might read, “It’s the globalized economy, stupid.” The word “globalized” marks a tectonic shift in focus and orientation from the Clintonian formulation of nearly two decades ago.

Diplomacy in the Making

When President Obama toured Europe, we were able to observe international diplomacy in the making. The president’s one-on-one meetings with European leaders coincided with carefully planned events that were scheduled to coincide with the US president’s visit to the Continent, thus sparing him multiple crossings of the Atlantic. Behind the scenes of the forums, public appearances, and press opportunities were teams of diplomats who made it happen and determined the content of the statements. Diplomats are, simply speaking, experts in international relations who represent nation-states. They go to work whenever there are issues that transcend national boundaries. In the current global age, such issues have multiplied, and continue to expand at a breathtaking rate. Part of this change is based on non-state actors’ use of the world stage to make their voice heard. Consequently, diplomats increasingly communicate and cooperate with international affairs experts employed by major corporations, interest groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks, and other non-state entities. These interactions are often referred to as “non-traditional diplomacy” or paradiplomacy. High profile forums like the above-mentioned events of early April 2008 are paradigmatic of classic diplomacy; however, there is a wide array of other “diplomatic” tasks to be performed on a daily basis around the world, requiring professional diplomatic staff.

Returning to President Obama’s tour for a moment, let us take a closer look at his itinerary, the pertinent issues related to it, and the international institutions and gatherings he visited and in which he participated. His first stop was London on April 1-2, 2009. The visit included a much-photographed meeting with Queen Elizabeth II (Barack Obama was the twelfth US President the monarch received during her 57-year reign); however, the real purpose of the stop was the G20 summit.

The G20

The G20 was established in 1999 to bring together the world’s most important industrialized and emerging economies to discuss key issues in the global economy. The inaugural meeting of the G20 took place in Berlin, Germany, on December 15-16, 1999, and was jointly hosted by German and Canadian finance ministers. The G20 emerged in response both to the financial crises of the late 1990s and to a growing recognition that key emerging-market countries were not adequately included in the core of global economic discussion and governance. Prior to the G20’s creation, similar groupings to promote dialogue and analysis had been established at the initiative of the G7 (later becoming the G8 with the inclusion of the Russian Federation).

The G20 is comprised of 19 states, representing the major national economies of six continents (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the US) plus the EU; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Collectively, member countries represent between 85 and 90 percent of global GNP, 80 percent of world trade, and as two-thirds of the world’s population. The G20’s economic weight and broad membership give it a high degree of legitimacy and potential influence over the management of the global economy and international financial system. The G20 operates without a permanent secretariat or staff; its chair rotates annually among the members and is selected from a different regional grouping of countries. The G20 normally meets at the level of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. Only under exceptional circumstances are meetings of heads of state called, as was the case in November 2008 when the group met in Paris, and again more recently in London. Such high-level meetings attest to the gravity of the current global economic crisis and the determination of the group members to fight its consequences.

The international media quickly labeled the outcome of the G20 summit in London as “significant” due to agreements on the following:

  • better regulation of financial markets, particularly better oversight of hedge funds, investment firms, and rating agencies
  • clear limitations on tax havens and sanctions for non-compliance
  • the creation of a Financial Stability Board (FSB), whose task it will be to develop a warning system to detect financial crises earlier and take preventive action
  • $1 trillion of additional funds for the IMF to stabilize failing economies, help developing countries overcome the effects of the financial crisis, and provide incentives for trade negotiations in the Doha Round of the WTO.

However, the G20 is an informal forum whose decisions are not automatically binding. Results reached at the conference in London will need to be implemented by national legislation and domestic regulatory bodies. Hence, the success of the London summit shall be judged by the degree to which participants act on their April 2009 commitments.

Similar to the preparation phase of the meeting, which ran from December 2008 to the start of the conference, the main duty to implement decisions made at the summit falls to “sherpas” and their staff. Diplomatic sherpas are individuals charged with both preparation and follow-up of major international events. The success of the most recent G20 forum puts a big question mark over the fate of the G-8. This grouping, formed in 1975 and comprised of the four largest European economies (Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom) plus the US, Canada, and Japan, seems to have outlived its existence, despite its inclusion of Russia in 1998. The fact that it does not include China or India, or other emerging economies of the southern hemisphere, such as Brazil, shows that it is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the global age.

Global Change

The changing nature of the global economy is painfully evident in the current financial and economic crisis. The downturn began in 2008 when  problems in the US’s subprime real estate lending market began to trigger wider ramifications in the banking and financial industries. Today, the crisis affects all major and many lesser economies around the globe. In addition to complex economic interdependence, significant global change is also evident in other arenas, such as climate change, energy production and consumption, international terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy, arms proliferation, to name but a few. All these change-processes need to be managed, both on the domestic level by national and local governments and on the global level through state-to-state cooperation, multilateral forums that include non-state actors, and supranational as well as intergovernmental organizations.


On April 3, President Obama flew to Germany to celebrate NATO’s sixtieth anniversary. The following day, he traversed the Rhine River separating France and Germany via a footbridge into the province of Alsace and its main city, Strasbourg, accompanied by the leaders of NATO’s other 27 member countries. The 2009 NATO anniversary summit in Kehl and Strasbourg was, for the first time in the alliance’s history, organized jointly by two countries (Germany and France), with meetings in both countries.

NATO’s primary charge is security and defense. The fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries on both sides of the Atlantic through political and military means. Founded in 1949 to counter the Soviet threat, the Western alliance’s original intent, according to Winston Churchill, was “to keep the United States in, Russia out, and Germany down in Europe.” The original membership consisted of ten Western European countries, the US, and Canada. Through several enlargement rounds, both before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the alliance has grown to include 28 members. NATO is primarily a political organization that possesses a military arm; it is not, in fact, a combined task force of military units. Its mission is to discuss, decide, and coordinate security and defense policies of member nations, and should the need arise, to defend them jointly.

The keystone of the alliance is Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

In short, if you attack one of us, you attack all of us, and we will hit back together.

The common assumption throughout the Cold War was that the US and Canada would come to the aid of their European allies should they be attacked or invaded by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. However, Article 5 was activated only once in the Alliance’s 60-year history: after the events of September 11, 2001. When these happened, ironically and contrary to the common assumption, the US was attacked. On September 12, 2001, the NATO Council decreed that the 9/11 terrorist acts in New York and Washington constituted an attack on all NATO members in North America and Europe, and hence all European members and Canada decided to take action in solidarity with the United States. Outside the scope of Article 5, NATO has participated in conflicts in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Serbia – all in the Balkans/South-East Europe. Today, NATO-led forces are helping to bring stability to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Darfur region of Sudan.

The sixtieth anniversary summit in Germany and France brought about a far-reaching commitment for continued and expanded engagement in Afghanistan. Further results of the NATO Anniversary Summit were as follows:

  • endorsement of a “Declaration on Alliance Security,” and agreement on a group charged with drafting NATO’s new strategic concept
  • enlargement of the Alliance by two new members (Albania and Croatia), as well as France’s full return into NATO’s integrated military structure after four decades
  • the designation of Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO’s new secretary general.

European Union

On April 5, President Obama flew from Strasbourg to Prague to attend the annual EU-US summit. Prague was the site of the meeting as the Czech Republic holds the rotating EU presidency during the first half of 2009; the immediate presidential predecessors were France and Sweden.

With 27 members and a formal structure and institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg, the EU is the world’s largest and most closely linked regional grouping of countries. It is a unique economic and political partnership which promotes peace, prosperity, and freedom for almost 500 million Europeans, as well as generating the world’s largest GDP ($ 15.3 trillion, according to 2008 IMF figures). The EU accounts for about 31% of the world’s total economic output. Sixteen of the 27 member states have adopted a single currency, the euro, managed by the European Central Bank.

The EU started out in the 1950s from rather humble beginnings. Its point of departure was the idea, in light of the terrible devastation of World War II, to end war in Europe once and forever – and to do so by pooling the economic interests of former adversaries. The first industries to be jointly managed were coal and steel, later followed by nuclear energy. In 1957, the European Community (EC) was founded through the Treaties of Rome, establishing the so-called “Common Market.” France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were the original members of the grouping. Subsequently, the precursor of the EU grew through several enlargement rounds to a current membership of 27 states. In 1973, the EC was enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (Norway had negotiated to join at the same time, but a national referendum rejected membership). Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain enabled eastward enlargement: in 1990, German unification folded the former East Germany into the EC, and five years later, the neutral states of Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined the renamed European Union. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date, when Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary joined the union. On January 1, 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the EU’s most recent members. The regional organization remains attractive to prospective members, and continues to receive applications for accession agreements (currently Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, and other Balkan countries are on the list of prospective member states).

Through a number of treaties, the so-called “deepening process” enabled the EU to become a community of nations that today pools sovereignty and coordinates key areas of domestic and international policies to an extent that is unique in the world. This is most obviously expressed in the “single market,” a common economic space in which there are no tariffs or customs, and which allows the free movement of goods, capital, and labor (similar to the situation that exists within the fifty United States of America). The Schengen agreement further linked the countries by abolishing passport controls between most member states of the EU (excluding Ireland and the United Kingdom). In 2002, euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in twelve of the EU’s member states; since then, the “Euro Zone” has increased to include 16 EU countries. The EU also has a parliament and a supreme court. Decisions that bind all members are made by the European Council (that is, a meeting of heads of state and government) and executed by the European Commission, the executive branch organized by departments in Brussels.

In hope of capitalizing on its tremendous success, evidenced by its enlargement and deepening over more than 50 years, the EU moved to create a constitution to adequately represent its peoples and conduct business legitimately and democratically. After a first attempt at a European constitution failed, the European Council adopted the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007, which is currently in the process of being ratified by all 27-member countries. Once enacted as basic law of the union, the constitution will create the offices of an EU President and Foreign Minister, as well as a European Foreign Service (consisting of professional diplomats). This will finally solve the problem voiced by veteran American policymaker Henry Kissinger, “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” All this may sound rather cumbersome and sometimes overly technical, yet in the evolutionary process within the EU, I see nothing less than history in the making. Eventually, the European Union will become something akin to the United States of Europe.

Germany and France in the EU

A core element of the EU is the close partnership between France and Germany. Over the past several centuries, these two nations in the heart of Europe have repeatedly gone to war, with increasingly dire consequences, culminating in the disastrous outcome of two world wars during the first half of the twentieth century. Through the creation of the EU, it was possible not only to end war between these two countries forever, but also to set up a unique and mutually beneficial partnership. More than 2,000 towns in Germany and France are twinned; last year more than 170,000 French and German youngsters took part in school and holiday exchanges; and there exists a vast list of cross-border activities on all levels, both official and private. Germany is trying to copy this recipe for success with its eastern neighbor Poland. Beginning in 1991, a series of collaborative projects was initiated among the so-called “Weimar Triangle” (France, Germany and Poland).

United Nations

On April 6, 2009, President Obama’s European tour reached its final destination of Turkey; as stated earlier, his visit coincided with the Second Annual Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Obama gave a remarkable speech before an audience of 30,000 in Ankara, in which he reached out to Muslim countries and Islamic movements. The forum in Istanbul was one of many activities under the auspices of the United Nations.

The UN is certainly the most inclusive and important international institution; however, it also remains perhaps the most controversial. It has its roots in President Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points, delivered to the Congress in 1918 to justify Washington’s engagement in the Great War. To have a peaceful world after the Entente’s victory, he called for the creation of an “association of nations.” This idea led to the foundation of the League of Nations in 1920. Wilson’s great idea of peace through collective security attracted a membership of 58 nations, which during the 1920s and 1930s included most of the world’s nations, although the United States never joined. The US Congress denied its president membership in the organization he had helped create. However, the League of Nation’s collective security system dramatically failed without the participation of the US, resulting in the Second World War (WWII). Nevertheless, a successor organization, the United Nations, was founded by 50 countries in San Francisco in 1945. This time, Congress confirmed American membership; the United States even became host to the UN headquarters, and nominated Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s widow, to be her country’s first permanent representative.

Currently, the UN has 192 members, making it the most inclusive and representative of all international organizations. The United Nations consists of five principal organs: the General Assembly; the Security Council; the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the Secretariat; and the International Court of Justice (ICJ); four of these are located in New York City, while the International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Other major agencies are based in UN offices at Bonn, Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, and Vienna; these include the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN, after approval by the Security Council, sends peacekeepers to regions where armed conflict has recently ceased to enforce the terms of peace agreements and to discourage combatants from resuming hostilities. Since the UN does not maintain its own military force, peacekeepers are provided by its member states on a voluntarily basis. The peacekeeping forces, colloquially known as the “Blue Helmets,” received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

The founders of the UN envisaged that the organization would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible. Such notions proved naïve, and the continuing proliferation of interstate and civil wars have resulted in calls for reform of the UN, particularly the Security Council. The problem is compounded by the current make-up of the Security Council, which reflects the state of the world in 1945. The permanent seats (and thus veto power) remains the monopoly of the victors of the WWII (Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, and the US). Furthermore, the power structure does not reflect the new, global realities of the twenty-first century. As an agency for achieving world peace in the strictest sense, the UN has failed in light of several dozen ongoing conflicts that continue to rage around the globe. However, in 2005, a RAND Corporation study found the UN to be successful in two out of three peacekeeping efforts. It compared UN nation-building efforts to those of the United States, and found that seven out of eight UN cases are at peace, as opposed to only four out of eight US cases (RAND 2005).

Changing Diplomacy

Encyclopedia Britannica defines diplomacy as “the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue,negotiation , and other measures short of war or violence.” Writing more than two millennia ago, Publius Terentius Afer, also known as Terence of Carthage, stated, “He is wise who tries everything before arms” (Afer 150 BCE). This statement underscores the fundamental law of diplomacy. The term diplomacy is often used as a synonym for foreign policy , which in colloquial use can be tolerated; however, it is important to distinguish these terms, as they are not identical. Diplomacy is the primary, but not exclusive, instrument of foreign policy. Political leaders, who are advised by and direct the actions of diplomats, determine foreign policy, which also includes military action and the exercise of economic power.

Diplomacy is, at its root, a practical skill. However, over the centuries, theories of diplomacy have been the subject of intense interest in and outside of academia. Only in the last decade has academia approached diplomacy through the lens of interdisciplinary research. Specialized research centers in Europe, the United States, and, more recently, Australia are undertaking academic studies in diplomacy. Universities around the world are opening their curricula to this new field of study, promoting a resurgence of interest in diplomacy as a consequence (Bolewski 2007: 3).

Practicing diplomats have little time to peruse the vast literature associated with the study of their discipline, and most theorists have inadequate notions of the actual work performed by diplomats in real-time settings, or the complexity of such work. As a result, there is a gulf between theorists and practitioners. However, the latter would gain by relating their experience to such theory, and use the lessons offered to sharpen their skills (Bolewski 2007: 4).

Diplomats are the primary – but not exclusive – practitioners of diplomacy. They are specialists in conducting talks and negotiating adjustments in relations – and the resolution of quarrels – between states and peoples. Their tools are words, backed by the power of the state or organization they represent. Diplomats help leaders to understand the attitudes and actions of foreigners and to develop strategies and tactics that will shape the behavior of foreign governments and non-state actors. The effective use of diplomats is a key to any successful foreign policy. However, diplomacy does not end there. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, German foreign minister at the time of his country’s reunification, defines the actual challenges for diplomacy as follows:

We need reliable global framework conditions for transparent financial markets, fair regulation of global competitiveness, and we must say good-bye to the notion that the North can import the South’s resources cheaply forever. The dramatic shifts ahead must be mastered in concert. Does anyone believe that all this could be achieved on a level playing field, particularly without dialog with countries like Russia, China, or India? Is it realistic to aim for a solution to global climate change or the world’s energy problems without international cooperation? (Genscher 2008).

Contemporary diplomats share a sizeable portion of the burden faced by states in dealing with the pressing issues of our time. Some actors have international mandates to manage failing states or countries in post-conflict situations. Thus, you find diplomats on international post-conflict management and nation-building missions. Ryan C. Crocker, a seasoned state department official, was sent to Iraq after the initial military campaign to rebuild a civilian administration and thus improve living conditions for a war-stricken population. Joachim Ruecker and Werner Wnendt, two colleagues in the German Foreign Service, did the same in Kosovo. At present, Ambassadors Richard Holbrooke of the State Department, Bernd Mützelburg of the German Foreign Office, and a number of international contact group colleagues are trying to gain new momentum in the highly problematic Afghanistan–Pakistan region (“AfPak” in diplomatic lingo).

In addition to the historical concerns of diplomacy such as conflicts over resources, territory, or ideology, current diplomatic challenges include a host of new issues. For instance, international trade issues like fair regulation to ensure competitiveness in the global marketplace now occupies the minds of diplomatic staff around the world. Addressing environmental issues is also important, especially given that the Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change will end in 2012 (though negotiations were started in Bali, Indonesia in 2007 with goal of a new agreement by the end of 2009). Additionally, energy provision is a major concern. While transit routes for gas and oil from Central Asia are being negotiated and built, ongoing conflicts in the Middle East continue to plague energy prices. As a result, diplomats — as well as the publics they represent — are beginning to recognize the importance of non-fossil-based, alternative energy sources and economic and political necessity of reducing traditional forms of energy consumption.

There are host of other global issues that require analysis and treatment by those involved with foreign policy and diplomacy, including technology transfer, pandemics, international migration, new demographic trends, national security and terrorism, sustainable development, human rights, international law, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The list does not end here. These matters are further complicated by the fact that non-traditional diplomatic actors are increasingly entering the stage. Transnational corporations, scientific and special interest organizations, and NGOs are examples of entities that are engaged internationally and need paradiplomatic staff to deal with global responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges. With these players entering the field, the term diplomacy itself is in need of retooling to accommodate the increasingly global nature of the work we do.


This is a revised version of the Provost’s Lecture that Ambassador Braun delivered at Stony Brook University, April 14, 2009. The event was cosponsored by the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies and its Center for Global & Local History.


Afer, Publius Terentius. Ca. 190-158 BCE. Quoted after John Bartlett, “Familiar Quotations….” 17th ed. [Citation owed to Dr. Eckard Wimmer, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology, Stony Brook University.]

Bolewski, Wilfried. 2007. Diplomacy and international law in globalized relations. Berlin: Springer.

Genscher, Hans-Dietrich. 2008.“Wir sollten uns am Bau einer neuen Weltordnung beteiligen,” Tagesspiegel, Berlin, April 10 (translation by the author); see,2510114 (accessed 4 May 2009).

Kissinger, Henry A. 1994. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Krekeler, Heinz L.1965. Die Diplomatie. Munich: Olzog Verlag.

Obama, Barack.  2009a. “Inaugural Address,” January 20, 5 May 2009).

Obama, Barack.  2009b. “A Time for Global Action,” March 24, (accessed 4 May 2009).

Plischke, Elmer (ed.). 1979. Modern diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute Studies in Foreign Policy.

RAND Corporation. 2005. “The UN’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq.” Available at (accessed 29 April 2009).

Copyright © GSJ & Author(s). ISSN 1557-0266