How important is diplomacy in today's world

German foreign policy

Harald Muller

To person

heads the program area "Security and Global Governance of States" of the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research in Frankfurt am Main and is Professor of International Relations at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. [email protected]

Diplomacy is the most important instrument of foreign policy and the core of foreign policy action. It is considered the "engine room of international relations" and the "art of the possible", [1] thus it inspires metaphors from craft and art. Both make sense: In diplomacy, the wheels of international relations are lubricated, maintained and turned, which ensure that relations between states move, conflicts are dealt with, problem solutions are found, rules are developed and followed; At the same time, diplomacy is always faced with the challenge of achieving useful results despite the various limits of action.

After the so-called review process in 2014, after the "review" of German foreign policy in the course of a broad public and internal debate about a "new" responsibility for Germany in the world and a "new" German foreign policy, the question of a "new one" arises "German diplomacy.

I put the quotation marks consciously. Because in a changing world, governments have to adapt to new challenges again and again. Some challenges, however, are cyclical - such as the return of tensions with Russia, which today resemble the Cold War constellation more than we would like, shifts in the international power structure that is currently putting pressure on the previous number one USA and by former world powers such as France or Britain require adjustments, or the crisis of the European Union, more serious than many before it, yet not as serious as it was in the "empty chair" era when France withdrew from European bodies in the late 1960s. The core instruments of diplomacy are also not infinitely variable. It must adapt to technological developments and respond to the greater variety of actor types and the increasing number of non-state actors. However, these are quantitative and not qualitative changes. [2]

It is always sensible to check whether you are doing the right thing, especially in the case of personnel continuities, and in the course of the "review process" German foreign policy was examined with seriousness and vigor. But I am neither convinced that Germany is pursuing a new foreign policy, nor that it needs one. The same goes for diplomacy. In the following, I would like to concretize this after a brief all-round consideration using three current examples.

German diplomacy

Diplomatic Corps
Diplomacy consists of the constant clash of variable scope for action that is used for opposing interests and in the light of different value orientations. The extent of the room for maneuver and thus the ability to assert oneself are determined on the one hand by crude power and on the other hand by experience, skill and social capital. With regard to the first resource, Germany is in a very good position thanks to its economic strength, well-functioning administration and internal stability. As far as the second resource is concerned, the Federal Republic has grown considerably compared to its predecessor states: [3] The diplomatic corps is carefully selected, excellently trained, well organized and so well managed by the top of the career officials that the political personnel are at the top of the Foreign Office doesn't make all the difference.

The Foreign Office has almost 11,700 employees (as of 2015), of which around 6,000 are "core staff", around half of whom work in Berlin and in the 230 missions abroad. The rest are locally recruited employees, plus a handful of seconded employees from other ministries and authorities, companies or institutes. The core staff rotates in periods of three to five years between different positions at headquarters or abroad. There are only a limited number of specializations, such as those practiced by the Russian Foreign Ministry: the ideal of German diplomacy is the generalist who moves with the same competence and dexterity in economic policy negotiations as in arms control or crisis diplomacy.

Institutional embedding
The Federal Foreign Office is constantly coordinating with other departments. Foreign policy is in an interdependent and dynamic relationship to domestic policy. That they can no longer be distinguished from one another is a common but incorrect phrase. [4] On the one hand, core internal political goals such as stability, environmental protection or internal security cannot be effectively pursued and achieved without cooperating with external partners; on the other hand, successful "internal diplomacy" is a condition for external success.

The Foreign Office is involved in relevant international negotiations; however, depending on the weight of the domestic political issue, another ministry may also be in charge. But the Federal Foreign Office is also not indefinitely determinant in its core foreign policy business: the Federal Chancellery plays a dominant role in European policy and in dealing with important partners such as the United States, France and Russia, and in the euro crisis the importance of the Ministry of Finance has shown itself on the other hand, foreign policy priorities such as the cohesion of the European Union or Germany's popularity in the world are treated as secondary In matters of security policy, seamless coordination is required with the Ministry of Defense, in foreign trade and development policy, cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. All of this limits the scope and flexibility of German diplomacy.

Basic orientation
German foreign policy is an expression of the identity of the Federal Republic that has evolved over time. [5] The country in the middle of Europe with its many neighbors, which is too strong to operate as a classic nation-state without generating fears, and too weak to be able to trump conceivable opposing coalitions, has learned its lesson. [6]

It is characterized by a legalistic preference, thinking and acting in and for them in the context of international law. This not only reflects the still large proportion of lawyers in the diplomatic corps, but also corresponds to the German conviction that law-based systems function more stable, safer and more effective than mere balances of power or hegemony that inevitably provokes resistance. Strengthening international law, placing conflictual contexts of action in a legal framework that clearly defines the rights and obligations of those involved, and opening up legal channels for conflict resolution (such as through the international criminal court) is a central German concern. This also corresponds to the skepticism towards the military instrument. The deliberately limited military apparatus is used as a "means of last refuge" only as evidence of alliance solidarity or in the context of a global assumption of tasks.

This basic orientation has often been criticized and smiled at with reference to the opportunistic handling of international law by the USA, Russia or China as an idealism that is remote from the world. [7] This is short-sighted: The past few years have shown that military interventions not only solve problems and create order. [8] Without completely excluding military intervention in individual cases, the law is by far the most efficient instrument for the low-conflict coordination of a large number of actions and their actors and therefore nowhere as necessary as in international relations.

As a result of this basic foreign policy orientation, Germany always acts in an integrated manner on the international stage and not in spectacular solo efforts. It has recognized that core goals such as national security, prosperity, status and reputation can only be achieved in cooperation with partners. Accordingly, German diplomacy has perfected its ability to act in multilateral contexts.

Central fields of action: European Union, NATO, United Nations
Multilateralism is not a punctual and periodic business, but a permanent one. As a party to countless international treaties, Germany is constantly challenged: General assemblies, expert groups, review conferences, including the necessary preparatory work and follow-up work, keep the diplomats on their toes, not to mention the lengthy and intensive negotiations for new legal instruments. From the diversity of multilateral institutions, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations stand out as decisive fields of action for German diplomacy. All three became part of German identity after 1945 and remained so after 1990.

The European Union has transformed the European power system from the instability of a dynamic multilateral equilibrium with constant hegemony efforts and counter-coalitions into a confederal, cooperative legal system. As the former Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl stated, it ended centuries of European fratricidal wars as a peace system and solved the German problem of simultaneous strength and weakness through involvement as well as the problem of the neighbors with the "German Gulliver".

The European Union is currently facing difficult waters. With increasing right-wing populism, small-scale, backward-looking and economically fatal illusions threaten to slow down their further development and to blow the air off the European idea. The Federal Republic is obviously more aware of the enormous risks of an EU collapse than its smaller European neighbors. If European leadership has to be shown in the coming years, which also entails costs and pain, then it is in the defense of European values ​​and democracy within the Union itself. The necessary severity in the conflict with the governments of EU partners, their relationships with Germany is historically burdened is not necessarily the strength of German diplomacy - the Ministry of Finance can do better. Still, the future of the European Union might depend on it. It is a diplomatic art to take the lead without creating the threat of imperial dominance, and to guarantee France's most important European partner, while the economic and political potential of both countries continues to shift in favor of Germany. Military self-limitation, in addition to being popular and fiscally convenient, is a major factor in this regard.

NATO adds an external security guarantee to the alliance of the European Union and at the same time ensures Europe's ability to defend itself against the risks that Russia, above all, harbors for its smaller neighboring states. Given the balance of power, Europe would be able to do this on its own if it would use the necessary resources and adapt its military and armaments structures accordingly. The American guarantee helps maintain civilian priorities in Europe and especially in Germany, albeit at the cost of continued dependence - not only for European security, but also for the European Union as an institution. [9]

In NATO, German diplomats are tackling several tightrope acts: It applies firstto maintain influence and reputation despite the military self-restraint that is indispensable for European politics; SecondlyTo assert Germany's status as a non-nuclear weapons state despite the arrogant refusal of the nuclear powers in favor of nuclear disarmament initiatives without suffering a loss of confidence; and thirdto maintain the balance between the containment of Russian ambitions and the policy of détente towards Moscow on the one hand and the tendency of the Eastern Europeans, the USA and Great Britain to adopt a more confrontational policy on the other. Within the federal government, these tensions are reflected in the differences between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense and, in the Foreign Ministry itself, between the arms control and disarmament subdivision and the NATO department.

The greatest risk for German diplomacy within the framework of NATO involves further polarization and de-rationalization of US foreign and security policy. To a large extent, the Republican Party no longer seems to be the heir to the Enlightenment, no granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln and no student of the détente politicians Richard Nixon and George Bush senior. The success of the presidential candidate Donald Trump, who operates in his primary campaign with irrationality, unqualified enemy images and crude nationalist slogans, testifies to this. Dealing with such an ally could become a formidable problem for German diplomacy.

The world order is finally negotiated in the United Nations. The relationship to the rising powers like China, India, Brazil or Indonesia and to the once "non-aligned" states as a whole is also shaped in bilateral and regional relations, but nowhere with such a great multiplication effect as in the UN General Assembly and in the Security Council. The German diplomats are highly active in the United Nations: they are in fact involved in every issue negotiated there and occasionally take on leadership roles, for example in establishing a caucus for non-permanent members of the Security Council or in rejecting the 2003 war in Iraq.

The failure of joint efforts with India, Brazil and Japan to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council was one of the few failures of German diplomacy. The reform of the Security Council prevented the fact that there was competition between the most promising candidates from every region of the world and the "second best" with no chance, for example between Pakistan and India, between Mexico, Argentina and Brazil or between Italy and Germany. In addition, there was China's aversion to Japan and the de facto low motivation of the five permanent members ("P5") to share their privileges, despite lip service to the contrary. The strong German commitment to the UN makes sense, but needs stronger financial and personal support - Germany is chronically lagging behind when it comes to filling management positions in the UN administration.

Style and method
The former US diplomat and historian William Smyser summarized how German diplomats work in a 2003 study that continues to reflect the state of research. [10]

First the Foreign Office draws up a master plan, an overall concept for the respective subject area. Before Germany assumed the one-year presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January 2016, the Federal Foreign Office set up a special task force and organized intra- and inter-ministerial and expert consultations on the strategy for this upcoming task. In the course of the process, a list of principles and goals, priorities, expected difficulties, obstacles to be considered, errors to be avoided and individual steps was drawn up, which constituted a program for the twelve months of the OSCE presidency. The German diplomats follow this concept, typically without opportunistically changing attitudes or leaving their partners in the dark about their own intentions.

Secondly German diplomats subject the context of the respective practice, the history of the subject matter, the relevant international law assessment and institutional embedding to an intensive consideration. The positions of the negotiating partners are then checked to see what interests and values ​​are behind them: Anticipation is an important technique of German diplomacy. Normally, your own negotiation goals are only set after the wishes of the other parties have been thoroughly analyzed.

This is not necessarily the usual order in international diplomacy, but it should not lead to the false conclusion that German diplomacy is free of interests and submissive. On the contrary, comparing one's own position with the determined preferences of the partner at an early stage helps to avoid obstructive conflicts and to realize one's own concerns more smoothly.

According to Smyser, the German negotiation style is considered to be principled, but binding, as unemotional but decisive, as empathetic but precise in detail and transparent with regard to core positions and "red lines". German diplomats try to maintain a good negotiating mood and avoid tactical impoliteness or even outbursts of anger.