Postmodern diplomacy : Nepal is lagging far behind

Nepali authorities need to keep a close tab on the evolving diplomatic patterns to keep themselves updated on emerging trends. The world over, increasing empowerment of the common people is wresting power away from the state in every sphere. This, in turn, has made every sensible government shed some of its power to the people. Consequently, it is increasingly becoming clear that only the policy of liberalisation will help keep pace with the sovereign desire of the public.

Diplomacy, previously considered the sole preserve of official, government designated diplomats, is steadily moving towards a people-inclusive approach, an essential feature of postmodern diplomacy. Now, the theatre of diplomacy has shifted to non-state arena. This irresistible phenomenon is certain to stay as genuine democratic practice and it assumes predominance with the empowerment of individuals. This new development has become irresistible with common people’s desire to remain unfettered and untrammelled being manifested openly. Developments in techno-political field have also helped change the equation.

Cyberspace has bestowed tremendous power on its users by bestowing them with adequate information and knowledge on international affairs. Certainly, the possession of relevant information and knowledge is making internet users more powerful than any other organisation, even the state. So much so that, in many cases, internet-based power is now considered more potent than territory-based power. It is merely a truism to state that Netizens have emerged as a great force in the conduct of diplomacy.

Alongside this trend, the role of the media in diplomacy is increasing too as print and electronic media outlets proliferate. This has led to perceptible subordination of official diplomatic channels. Today, no diplomat, however well informed, can work without the information disseminated by the media. Because of its widespread tentacles, the media can provide essential information which the official authorities cannot, however smart they may be. This is how a parallel diplomacy is being carried out by the non-state actors.

Myriad INGOs are also affecting the field of diplomacy. Their number has swelled into thousands across the globe and they are playing a substantive role in maintaining socio-economic connectivity and politico-security linkage. Some of INGOs have even been playing the role of real embassies. To traditional diplomats, though unsettling it might be, there is no denying the fact that the INGOs can influence the dealings between various independent states. Their importance cannot be underestimated, nor reduced in societies with weak governance and inherent inefficiencies like Nepal.

Eminent persons in the international arena can exercise considerable influence on inter-state relations and even issues of domestic concern. This is proved by the global clout of heavyweights like Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela who not only excercise big influence inside their own countries, but around the world. Individual effort of such great personalities carried out from outside the direct sphere of their governments exemplify the development of postmodern diplomacy. On numerous occasions diplomatic initiatives and related actions by non-governmental organisations and individuals have sidelined the official diplomatic apparatus. Return to traditional diplomacy is hence impossible and reliance only on traditional means futile.

However, as long as sovereign states remain on the scene, the concerns of state secrecy and confidentiality will remain a raison d’etre of residential embassies maintained by states, including Nepal, which is now in great difficulties. Residential embassies will hence retain their relevance in the immediate future.

Nepal’s diplomacy, notwithstanding the sea-change in domestic politics, remains entrenched in age-old practices, whether the issue is of assigning ambassadors or providing them with sufficient knowledge to function in modern-day international arena. Most importantly, the twin capability to correctly understand the emerging trends and conduct official diplomacy are vital in the making of successful diplomats.

It is deplorable that there exists no appropriate mechanism to acquaint the aspiring diplomats with newer practices and trends emerging in international diplomacy. People with extensive knowledge and flair for diplomacy, at both official and people’s levels, and accustomed, with intensive use of the internet, to establish effective diplomatic channels are much in demand today.

However, the paucity of such persons is hobbling Nepali diplomacy. People with desired capabilities cannot be found readily. It remains to be seen in the days ahead how the embattled eight-party interim government with divergent views and differing interests meet the emerging challenges of modern-day diplomacy.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official