Each age believes its time is unique, a paradigm change from the past. But as ancient Indian sages proclaimed, “Change is the only constant”. What then is so special about the twenty-fi rst century? These essays provide an answer. I believe we are justifi ed in the assertion that the start of the twenty-fi rst century is a time of paradigm change in the way international relations are conducted. We examine the change elements, looking at the way states deal with one another, in what has become globalized diplomacy. Today, “world affairs is about managing the colossal force of globalization.”
In the midst of a regional summit meeting, the head of government of a Southeast Asian state sends an SMS (text) message to another leader in the same room. Obtaining his concurrence to a proposal that he has just thought up, he then sends two more SMSs to canvass support from other counterparts; before his own offi cials realize it, a new initiative has been launched, with no offi cial record of the exchanges, or how they came about. A number of major Western leaders are in frequent direct contact with one another via text messages, cutting through diplomatic formalities.
On another continent, a Western envoy is frustrated with stonewalling by the local government, in his attempts to prevent local action that seems to hurt the interests of the receiving country’s minority indigenous native population; even his own government seems reconciled to this impasse—perhaps appreciating that this is a matter for that nation’s domestic policy. Not satisfi ed, this envoy uses the internet to “unoffi cially” alert several international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work in that country; they in turn quietly warn their partner agencies in that country that they will hold back some aid projects; that does the trick, and the action that triggered the problem is scrapped.
Elsewhere, a developing country association of industries, after gaining credibility in support of the home country’s ecopolitical diplomacy, launches a series of bilateral country dialogue groups, where captains of industry, former offi cials, and public fi gures meet annually to discuss the full spectrum of that relationship, to recommend initiatives to the two governments. Their motive: a realization that sound economic relations are intertwined with politics, security concerns and soft power; this industry body sees itself as a stakeholder, with ownership in the nation’s foreign policy.
The common thread in these three incidents—each factual—is that diplomacy now involves many different players; it works in ways that were not envisaged by the framers of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the bedrock of interstate diplomacy. The modern foreign ministry, and its diplomatic service, has to accommodate itself to the changed circumstances, in the knowledge that it remains answerable for failings, even while control over the diplomatic process has been fragmented.