Modern Diplomacy
Modern Diplomacy in an Unstable Global Order: Emotions, Obstruction and Coercion


As the 21st century has progressed the world is witnessing a watershed moment unfold before our very eyes. The United States’ unipolar and Western-centric order is in decline in terms of its influence and power in shaping global politics, economics and international relations. In its place is a non-Western-centric multipolar global order, which is visibly increasing in its ability to pursue its own interests and objectives. The world order is visibly in the process of being challenged and transforming in all aspects of organised human life. Such changes and transformations in an established global order tend to create instability and increased tensions, not least owing to the hegemon’s desire not to lose their global status, together with its associated privileges and power.

The theoretical means for managing and regulating the quality and nature of international relations is through the lens of geopolitics, which is meant to ensure one’s own interests and goals and maximized and to reduce the opportunities for competitors and opponents. However, one of the practical means of achieving these goals is through the use of different forms of diplomacy. The art of diplomacy is creating the facade of nicety and decorum in international relations through generating what is meant to be seen and heard by the intended audience(s) superficially all the while pursuing specific geopolitical and geo-economic goals. All of these variables and aspects become more acute during periods of crisis and instability in international relations, where a crisis in the physical realm is accompanied by a parallel crisis in the information realm that shapes and influences perceptions of the associated risks and threats that emanate from the event. 

Information and knowledge is used selectively and highly subjectively as a means to enable the engineering of audience(s) consent to the narrated and constructed crises of this moment in time.
An image of a plausible crisis is constructed, and the means of its construction is to have the public accept the old adage, “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

In other words, audiences need to believe that the times are not ordinary, but extraordinary, in order for them to accept the already prepared extraordinary foreign policy measures. This is where orthodoxy of knowledge is used to support obstructive foreign policy. This is the practice of conscious and deliberate communication of information and knowledge as a means of creating a consensus upon a certain constructed iteration of reality. Of course, this does not mean that this version of reality is the most objective one, but rather perceived as the most plausible and believed by an audience. 

There is a complex patter of relationships and effects when bringing together the constituent parts mentioned above. Orthodoxy of knowledge is used to support diplomacy, which is in itself a means to realise the goals of obstructive foreign policy as the mechanism for geopolitical and geo-economic goals and interests of international relations actors. Obstructive foreign policy is a key defensive policy resource, especially if a power is in decline. The objective of obstructive foreign policy is to reduce the access of rising or competing powers to the resources and means that will aid their increase in influence and power on the international stage. It does not concern enabling the foreign policy success of the actor using obstructive foreign policy, but to be able to deny the target country’s ability to reach their foreign policy goals. 

It has become very noticeable to those astute observers of international relations, geopolitics and modern diplomacy, there is an increasingly emotional and coercive ‘game’ being employed by the Western powers and the United States in particular. 
 Although, through the orthodoxy of knowledge, the US has branded itself as a beacon of hope  to the rest of the world and not an empire,  regardless of their favoured brand image hegemons do not go quietly into the night when they decline and their decline invariably causes a chain-effect on the international order. 

 The current sets of changes and transformations, where divisions in the global order are accelerating, means that changes to modern diplomacy are inevitable in an environment of increasing vulnerabilities for the US unipolar order, where uncertainty and time constraint to mitigate the effects before it is too late, run amok in the minds of those policy makers and practitioners tasked with maintaining the US-led order. 

Throughout the course of organised human history there has been a place and a role for emotions and their use in diplomacy. However, as we enter further into the second decade of the 21st century there is a much greater and more widespread use of emotions and especially where specific emotions form the basis for the operationalisation of fear. The emotion of fear can be operationalised when the target audience is scared of something or someone, and belief that it can negatively affect them personally. Fear is the foundation of creating a herd mentality  in the audience, where critical individual and rational thought is replaced by uncritical and emotional acceptance of an ascribed ‘remedy.’ 

Asia and Eurasia
Great Power Politics and the Ukrainian Issue
Timofei Bordachev
The movement of troops is combined with the threat of economic sanctions, and the appeal to international law and institutions are combined with clear examples of disregard for weak states. Indeed, it was worthwhile for international politics to accumulate such experience and tools over several centuries in order for us to wait for a crisis where all these measures would become available to an interested observer, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
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This form of ‘diplomacy’ is seen currently on the international stage, used by the United States in different settings and against different international actors, but with the same goal in mind – the obstruction of the opponent by operations through the information realm that are intended to affect the cognitive realm of the various stakeholders and engineering their consent to a course of action that favours US interests and objectives. In each case, the US and its allies seek to project themselves as honest brokers in international relations, and not the powerful brokers that they are attempting. There is a tendency for the US to bundle different geopolitical and geo-economic issues together in order to enforce or coerce the other side into an unfavourable and deeply asymmetric transactional form of ‘negotiation.’ 

There are some similarities of approach in the diplomatic communication of the US’s obstructive foreign policy, whether this concerns the recent renegotiations of the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) with Iran or the trade wars with China or the Ukraine ‘crisis’ with Russia. These separate events can be perceived as brought together under the umbrella brand of international geopolitics, the New Cold War, an attempt to shape the cognitive realm of target audiences to accept a simplistic and binary geopolitical depiction of international affairs based deceptively on the association of the good West versus evil East narrative of the old Cold War era. The script being the ‘diplomatic’ efforts of the US-led West to uphold the norms and values of peace and stability or liberal democracy against those classified as ‘rogue’ or ‘revanchist authoritarian’ powers that seek to undermine it (and US global hegemony). This is clearly visualised in the rhetoric employed by Western politicians, diplomats and their dutiful liberal mainstream media.

The parallels between the echo chamber of calls concerned an “imminent” Chinese attack  on Taiwan or an equally “imminent” Russian attack on Ukraine, but the strategy and intended results are designed for the same effects.
These false assertions are meant to brand the reputation of China and Russia as unreliable and dangerous actors in the international system as a means of isolation and containment as a means of regulating the transformations taking place in the global systems of power and influence.

This threat narrative is also tied to the punishment narrative, to engineer public consent and maybe even demand for the apparent need for action to prevent the ‘inevitable’ within a cognitive environment of a herd mentality. The unnecessary and risky may not only be accepted, but welcomed. It is where geopolitical excuses of Ukraine or Taiwan or the South China Sea are used as a means to strike the actual intended geo-economic targets and the assed more significant threats of Russia’s Nordstream-2 pipeline or China’s Belt and Road Initiative. An excuse is manufactured for creating the perceived context for sanctions against these economic targets as a source of fuelling further influence and power, for something that has not happened or is not happening in the way its is depicted. Something that appears to be good and just, when in fact its real intention is to render those main challengers to US hegemony into a passive and reactive foreign policy posture, the intention is the US retains relative as opposed to total dominance over any one power in any one region. 

This contemporary deeply undiplomatic form of diplomacy that is being waged by the US-led West is not done so from a position of strength, but rather from a position of declining influence and power. It is akin to a global and very high stakes game of geopolitical poker, where the actor to blink first loses, and where the perception of reality and facts are far more influential than the actual reality and facts of the environment in question. Being a righteous and diligent actor in international relations does not matter or count if another actor is perceived as being diligent and righteous, while you are not! 
Modern Diplomacy
Can Russia Deliver on Its Threats?
Andrey Sushentsov
The lack of attention to Russian proposals and objections was the result of a distorted perception in the West about the goals of Russian policy. The main assumption in such a speculative scheme was that Russia cannot behave rationally, that it is just an ever-expanding expansionist power without logic or pragmatism. Such an assessment is very comfortable, but it is inadequate even when analysing the simplest questions, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.