HomeOpEdImpact of Covid-19 on Diplomacy

Impact of Covid-19 on Diplomacy

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Timothy Mae Reyes

COVID-19 global health crisis has significantly changed our everyday life. It has demonstrated the vulnerability of our modern society that critically needs systemic transformation. Indeed, it has taught us several important lessons for dealing with the fundamental challenge toward the 21st century and beyond. Aside from personal life, other practices such as diplomacy – its method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples – have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The peace negotiations, foreign ministers’ meetings, and other diplomatic and international agendas such as in United Nations, Embassies, and other related institutions’ processes had impacted the approach to diplomacy had been before. Today, the new work setup of devices and distanced conversations of the diplomats presented challenges of implementation. This article aims to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on diplomatic protocols at various levels, some key takeaways, as well as the potential response of how should actors and the international community adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic emerged, global humanitarian situations were put on hold at the multilateral level. And because of it, global efforts to promote peace have slowed its progress while tensions among countries also worsened. For instance, with the unprecedented ongoing event, diplomatic attempts such as channeling political messages with other members of the UN Security Council took almost three months to resolve positively. Also, the international agenda had transformed since the end of the Cold War. Considerably, the multilateral processes including security, economic, sh the outcome of the pandemic, new ways had been employed. Diplomats had to adjust, adapt, and learn to live within the constraints of this new reality. Likewise, hybrid diplomacy is a kind of diplomacy that combines both traditional and innovative diplomacy. Virtual diplomacy was gradually adopted by diplomats as it influenced new working trends, both complex and promising that resulted in some unexpected yet favorable features. Time management was an advantage as it was handled in a much more efficient manner going forward and became its new normal for everyone, especially diplomats. Therefore, connections can be improved and less time pressure on diplomats, which likely progress on time. However, technology comes with limitations. Digital meetings cannot deliver the same as in-person communication, and with that, most diplomacy today often had an air of unfulfilled promises. As a result, it may not address the whole of the diplomatic craft, and genuine negotiations are less well served. For instance, to follow Covid-19 health protocols, it has been decided – eg. EU Council meetings – to separate virtual discussions and only conduct direct physical meetings when it is a high-level exchange that ministers could not finalize on the screen. For that reason, technological platforms have made it possible for diplomats from all over the world to continue discussions and advance the multilateral, and bilateral agendas. It shows an opportunity for diplomatic negotiations to have an applicable understanding of efficiency in time and expertise to the distinct stages of the diplomatic process.

As the pandemic goes by, no one knows what life after the pandemic will look like. Reflection on the situation can reveal pre-existing foreign policy fault lines. Diplomats may or may not revert to their former working routines. From the vulnerabilities and weaknesses exposed, the emergence of a more accurate understanding of the nature and purpose of diplomacy could lead to more effective diplomacy in the future.

From the consequence of the pandemic, this could set the agenda for revising diplomatic craftsmanship that can improve the time management of the diplomats (eg. make full use of existing resources) and new ways and means for strategic thinking. Time is important in every aspect of diplomacy. As such, increasing tension in countries like Myanmar and Afganistan, where there is an urge to conduct negotiations in a timely manner. The pandemic uncovered new possibilities for us individuals. Diplomats can modernize their trade, revise obsolete practices, and have the advantage of using new digital tools. Diplomats would efficiently allocate time both from digital conversations and physical meetings, and fulfill the final steps of negotiations face to face-saving time and money and focus on the relevant priorities. Therefore, with the effect of new practices from the pandemic, the contribution and work of the diplomats would anticipate and provide savvy strategic thinking that prepares various actors and the international community at the right level and in the relevant place.

That said, reflections on the pandemic provide a new sense of urgency. The possibilities introduced by the situation allow individuals and groups that will efficiently make use of available resources and strategic thinking to fulfill an objective, either personal or professional.

Transformation never comes easily. The pandemic caused a worsening geopolitical situation, and the uncertainty of the threat remains. In the 21st century and beyond, diplomatic service could come with a renewed strategic mindset, enhancement of foreign policy objectives, and effective use of resources. It has slowed down diplomatic processes, halted peace efforts and other cooperation activities amongst countries. But then, it contributed to new possibilities for improving the diplomatic trade, thereby birth to a renewed diplomatic craftsmanship. And with that, can serve its purpose.

The writer is currently an undergraduate student at Far Eastern University, the Philippines studying International Relations and Diplomacy. She is working as an intern at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies- IPDS. Timothy Mae dedicated most of her research throughout her undergraduate years exploring the complex issues in international affairs including social, economic, and political dimensions.

 

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect position of the organisation  

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