Permanent missions will become increasingly important in the post-COVID-19 era, and their modus operandi will change as they become a key segment of ‘hybrid diplomacy’ (i.e., diplomacy that combines onsite and online diplomatic meetings).
These were the underlying messages of DiploFoundation’s WebDebate entitled ‘Permanent missions at global diplomatic hubs: More or less relevant in 2020?’.
The rich discussion led by Amb. Asoke Mukerji (Former Permanent Representative, UN, New York) and Ms Maricela Muñoz (Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to UN, Geneva) involved a wide range of discussants from diplomatic services and research communities from around the world.
The webinar kicked off with a poll asking whether or not permanent missions to multilateral hubs will become more important in the coming years. Although the majority of participants gave their votes to the increasing relevance of permanent missions in the months to come (as illustrated in the photo below), the discussion took many turns.
To illustrate, a few speakers spoke of the counter-intuitivity of the poll results in an era of online and hybrid diplomacy, given that officials from capitals can now participate virtually in most meetings held by international organisations. To that end, they raised the following question: Why should countries have diplomats in New York, Geneva, or Vienna if they can participate online?
This argument was challenged despite the opportunities offered by technology which do not necessarily translate into diplomatic reality. Several main arguments were marshalled in favor of greater relevance of permanent missions in the time to come.
Discussants also provided reflections on some of the emerging aspects of hybrid diplomacy and the new role of permanent missions.
Online meetings are ‘power equalisers’. Namely, it is much more difficult for major actors to project in an online setting. In virtual meetings, these actors do not have their large delegations sitting behind them. Online meetings can therefore contribute towards balanced and inclusive global politics.
Diplomacy is often portrayed as a slow-changing profession, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the opposite. Diplomatic services and international organisations adjusted quickly to the new circumstances by shifting most of their work to the online space. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) new modus operandi will be analysed as a case study of the fast and efficient adaptation to dealing with crisis and the many unknowns.
As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, the creative and agile dynamics absorbed by multilateral diplomacy should further accelerate. As the old saying goes, ’A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’
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