The decline of diplomacy

Published 10:00 am Friday, May 3, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


In the 2023 Netflix drama, “the Diplomat,” Keri Russell plays Kate Wyler, a career State Department officer who finds herself made ambassador to the UK after an attack on the British aircraft carrier in the Middle East. While it’s over the top in the way it chronicles a U.S. diplomats’ life, the series is surprisingly refreshing in the way it depicts negotiation and peacemaking in a heroic light.

One thing the show gets right is in having some characters criticize the fact that so many high ranking officials from Western governments, especially the United States, are not skilled diplomats with expertise regarding their posts but political appointees, who are rewarded with their positions for being major donors to one of the country’s two major political parties. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Even in terms of the nation’s top diplomat, the last two American Secretaries of State, Mike Pompeo and Anthony Blinken, are both better known as political animals rather than experts in foreign affairs.

In recent weeks there have been two major incidents that show the dwindling importance of diplomacy in the real world. Both set terrible precedents for one of the fundamental pillars of international relations: the protections afforded to embassies and consulates enshrined in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

On April 5  at the Mexican embassy in Quito, Ecuador, a former vice president of that country accused of corruption by the current government who had received asylum in January was pulled out of the building by security forces during a raid in which they scaled the walls of the compound. It was a startling violation of the sovereignty of Mexico and resulted in that country bringing a case to the International Court Of Justice and the suspension of relations between the two countries. 

Even more immediately serious was an attack blamed on Israel on an Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1, which reportedly killed 7 people, including two Iranian generals. This sparked retaliation from Tehran on Saturday, April 13. Thankfully, this turned out to be a show of force spread around Israel resulting in no deaths as the reliance on cheap drones and older hardware rather than its arsenal of newer missiles showed that Tehran was not overplaying its hand. Soon after, the Islamic Republic’s government relayed that it considered the issue closed.

Nonetheless, the Israeli government didn’t take long in firing back but also seemed measured in terms of its response six days later. Whether Tel Aviv, which has seemed to be working to provoke a wider war through attacks on Syria, Lebanon and now Iran to draw the United States and other allies into a greater conflict will at some point succeed at this is anyone’s guess.

One thing that has been reported is that prior to the events of October 7, 2023, a series of tit for tat exchanges between Iranian proxies and the American military had for the most part ended as the likely result of back channel diplomacy, once again proving that mediation can be just as, if not more, effective than displays of military force. 

During the final episode of “The Diplomat” one of the major characters makes a speech talking about how nations need to always be talking, especially with those they may see as rivals or threats or even terrorists, summing up the importance of such meetings, saying, “Diplomacy doesn’t work… Until it does.”

In a world engulfed in conflict, governments around the world need to be reminded of this simple truth.

(Derek Royden is a Canadian journalist.)