Diplomacy In Democratic Age


Madhavji Shrestha

The steady evolution of diplomacy and diplomatic practices from the modern times to most recent democratic days is indeed spectacular and noteworthy. Its closer study is educative as well as value-adding to those who have been practicing diplomacy and aspires to embrace diplomacy as a career choice for a span of life-long profession. Today diplomacy is seen as a widely-spread practice going down to various levels of society across the width and breadth of the world at large.

In these early years of the 21st century, democracy has taken deeper roots irreversibly in the majority of member-states of the United Nations. Out of 193 member-states of the United Nations more than 11 dozens have adopted the elected system of government. As a consequence, a vast majority of peoples in the world live under the democratic way of life.

However, there still are big and resourceful countries mainly located in Asia, West Asia and Africa without practice and pursuit of democratic system. Most importantly, some important political thinkers and political scientists predict that in the long run, the whole humanity would move towards adopting their way of life under the rule of law and the predictable condition, which means a sort of democratic practice despite the absence of electoral system as enforced in the western world. The extent and degree of democratic practice may differ from country to country and continent to continent. But the progression towards embracing democracy and its core norms and values is certainly apparent.

 It is a matter of universal truth and of human reality that any dictatorial system may control individual liberty in some period of human history. But it must be taken for granted that every soul has its own sense of identity and individuality that cannot be controlled forever. The root of democratic feelings and sense lies in every human being.

In the past two and half centuries, democracy has been spreading in every nook and cranny of all continents of the world. Reversing its trend is beyond stop. It has made extensive and intensive impact in all branches of life. The history of democratic movement and its expansion is both proof and evidence all across the globe.

The entrenchment of democratic norms and values in the human lives and day- to- day practice has brought in immense changes and development in all spheres of life. Diplomacy and its emerging practices are no exception.

Only half a century ago, the diplomatic profession and its practices were taken as a job and responsibility of the elites of society solely entrusted to work as national diplomatic representatives to carry on the businesses and activities of diplomatic dimension and diplomatic nature. But the strong push from the bottom of the level of common people has nudged the diplomatic behaviour and attitude to become more open and people-centric. In the past, the elites were much used to carry on diplomatic duties and functions in secrecy as their exclusive sphere of action, not allowing the people of the country to know about their impact and effect in their lives. Bilateral and multilateral treaties and pacts were signed in secrecy and at the back of the people. Such diplomatic dealings have greatly damaged and rendered irreparable loss to the massive numbers of people and a huge destruction of property. The First World War (1914-18) and the Second World War (1939-45) decimated immense masses of humanity and vast portion of property in the world. Had there been democratic practices adopted, there would not have come out most feared persons like Kaiser William II and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Lively pursuit of democracy might have prevented the outbreak of highly disastrous and destructive wars like the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century.

We could see and observe how the steady development of democratic dispensation has explicitly contributed to adopting democratic behaviour in the international dealings. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States made great efforts to establish the League of Nations in Geneva of Switzerland in 1919 soon after the end of the First World War. He emphatically pleaded for any open covenant openly arrived at, thus putting greater importance to the conclusion of any international conventions and treaties done openly without maintaining any secrecy. This gave birth to the democratic dealings in the field of the diplomatic behaviour in those years.

However, the United States itself could not become a member of the League of Nations, because his treaty with other member-states of the League of Nations could not get through the constitutional process of ratification in the Senate of the United States due to the loss of a majority by his Democratic party. Although a big setback to the then President Woodrow Wilson, his motto of open covenant arrived at and gained momentum as a step forward for democratic victory in the international system. This needs to be considered as a genesis of democratisation in diplomatic dealings relative to bilateral and multilateral dealings.

Now, when we come down to the years of the 21st century, there appear the emergence of two kinds of diplomacy which are currently much in vogue. According to the experts of diplomatic affairs, ‘club diplomacy’ and ‘network diplomacy’ have come out in the diplomatic domain in most recent years. Club diplomacy is conducted as a conventional way of diplomatic practice carried on by the diplomatic elites of the country as done in traditional way, whereas network diplomacy is much practiced by civil societies, professional organisations, media people and celebrities mostly through the Internet. Club diplomacy still enjoys a position of respect in the official and governmental businesses, but network diplomacy has come to occupy its own space in bringing close contacts and cooperation among the people of various societies, thus encouraging people-to-people activities in international arena. The latter type is now playing both complimentary and supplementary roles in assisting official diplomacy.

The past one and a half decades have  witnessed the perceptible development of public diplomacy as an explicit consequence of the strengthened democratic dispensation in democracies of the world. Public diplomacy is primarily intended to take into count the public opinion and voice of the people at home before conducting the diplomacy with any nations or regional and international organisations. For greater good of the people at home, diplomats assigned abroad to genuinely represent their government need to have access to the people and their clubs, associations, organisations to build good image of their country. Everyone interested in the international affairs knows well that the nicely conducted public diplomacy is a highly useful means to win hearts and minds of the people of the country where they are assigned.

A well -known expert of diplomatic affairs Jorge Heine comments “Twenty-first century diplomats must effectively engage the society in which they reside, not just the government to which they are accredited. They must look for ways to project their own nation upon the one they are posted and try to make a difference.”

Mere desk-bound diplomacy has now become less and less effective tool to serve the interest of the country and society. No one will question now that democracy has won the day; hence the importance of democratic practice in diplomacy is on the increase ever since. No one dare sideline the evolving development embraced by democratic countries.

We have seen that the persistent demand for democratisation in international, regional and bilateral relationships is gaining ground in recent days. This does not mean every member of the international community is equal in power and voting rights everywhere, but what it means is that every nation, whether powerful or weak, the principles of international law be followed, dealings be done in equal footing, treaties be concluded openly or without prejudice to any, no secret agreement concluded at the back of others, and above all the sacrosanct notion of sovereignty of each independent be respected in full. There is a great need of democracy and democratisation in the external dealings and transactions of each nation whatever strength and resources they have at their disposal.

At present, Nepal and its society have adopted democracy as a political leverage, however feeble and fragile that may be. If the international community is continuously advancing their efforts for democratisation in external dealings, why should Nepal lag behind in asking for democratic ethos in dealings with neighbours and other friendly countries while there is a pressing urgency to maintain its long existing sovereign legacy of its own making?

Democracy has wider human dimension with human rights protected and respected for each individual and each citizen. In similar spirit, national diplomacy has its own human dimension with national rights of independent Nepal safeguarded and promoted. Truly democracy and diplomacy go side by side as twins. Disrespect to either one would kill both. There is neither alternative to nor escape from the path of democratic practice to conduct diplomacy in these democratic days. Learn we must to engage ourselves in the democratic ventures in the diplomatic domain.



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