The New World Disorder: A Challenge for Nongovernmental Diplomacy

By Mathews, David; Slim, Randa M. | National Forum, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

The New World Disorder: A Challenge for Nongovernmental Diplomacy


Mathews, David, Slim, Randa M., National Forum


The end of the Cold War and a new world order have not brought much order to international politics. For forty years, the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy has been rivalry with the former Soviet Union. The locus of this rivalry has been Europe: the place where the Cold War began and where it has now ended. In the words of Norman Ornstein, author of "Foreign Policy and the 1992 Election" in the Summer 1992 issue of Foreign Affairs, ". . . the departure of anticommunism as a serious force has left Americans without either the negative bond of a common enemy or the positive momentum of a sense of common purpose to unite them." We are now at the crossroads between international paradigms, moving from one pattern to another. At such a critical time, we need to pay careful attention to the developing international order and to devising ways for living together that fulfill our need for security, identity, and acceptance.

At these crossroads, two trends are now simultaneously evolving on the international scene. (1) Such political issues as AIDS and the greenhouse effect are crossing national boundaries. International events are having more impact on day-to-day domestic events than ever before. (2) Simultaneously, the locus of conflict is moving from the international to the intranational and communal realms. The current strife in Yugoslavia, for instance, could be an ominous sign for further Balkanization of Central Europe, with fragmentation increasing along ethnic lines. So what we see evolving is a two-way link between the international and domestic realms.

In accordance with these changes, diplomacy, which in the past has been the exclusive function of diplomats and governmental representatives, has changed. New players have appeared on the international scene: multinational and regional organizations, citizen alliances, associations of scientists and academics, student organizations, and a host of political coalitions. These nongovernmental organizations and their international activities have become a fact of life, and they are likely to proliferate in the future.

To be sure, as Harold Saunders, a former assistant secretary of state, has pointed out, there are dangers and limits to nongovernmental diplomacy. The relationship between nations is often highly sensitive, and citizens who insert themselves in delicate international situations can do irreparable damage. Citizen diplomacy is not a substitute for official diplomacy.

One special form of nongovernmental diplomacy is supplemental diplomacy, which does not attempt to do the work of governments but tries to augment what officials do by offering insights into ways in which dysfunctional relationships can be improved. It will be the central example in this essay's analysis of the trend toward increased use of nongovernmental exchanges.

The growth of nongovernmental diplomacy makes imperative to be as clear as possible about how the various programs work--to lay out the assumptions behind the exchanges, to "name" the practices that develop, and to be explicit about the kind of results each program hopes to achieve. Carefully analyzing what has been tried in nongovernmental diplomacy can build a solid foundation for what is needed now: responsible experimentation in unofficial diplomacy.

What Is Supplemental Diplomacy? Supplemental diplomacy has been defined as nongovernmental diplomacy characterized by sustained policy dialogues among leading citizens of two countries on major political, military, and economic issues. Its focus is the relationship among nations, which evolves out of ". . . a political process of continuous interaction among significant elements of policymaking and policy-influencing communities." One program that falls under the rubric of supplemental diplomacy is the Dartmouth Conference series, unofficial, off-the-record meetings between knowledgeable citizens in leadership positions from the United States and the former Soviet Union. …

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