Diplomacy must adapt to cope with rise of populist politics, Abu Dhabi panel hears

A panel discussing 'Diplomacy in a Polarising World' at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy said institutions need to adapt to new realities and that diplomats can play a vital role in how politics are shaped in the future.

Mishaal Al Gergawi of The Delma Institute think tank discusses diplomacy in a polarising world at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi on March 28, 2017. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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ABU DHABI // The rise of populist politics has created a need for institutional change and diplomats can find answers to democracy’s problems, a panel of experts said this week.

From the United Kingdom’s Brexit to the election of Donald Trump as United States president, they said the world was going through a period that tests the durability of norms, values and institutions.

Think tanks and universities were key to the future of diplomacy, the panel said.

“The last nine months have been dispiriting,” said Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the Centre on Conflict, Rights and Justice at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London and senior lecturer in international relations.

“The challenge right now is that we are living through a period where we are looking to see how robust those institutions and norms are.

“We are beginning to see that the values many of us were able to critique are fundamental.” Speaking on a panel discussing diplomacy in a polarising world at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, Dr Vinjamuri said institutions and norms determined much of the world’s direction.

“One of the problems is there haven’t been major wars,” she said. “They create an opening for ideas. We’re working with old clunky institutions that we’re trying to reform but it’s really tough to get a consensus around creating fundamentally new institutions and there’s a structural problem.”

With much of the world ­turning “inward”, through economic troubles and conflicts such as in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, diplomatic solutions seem bleak.

“Diplomats need to have the ability to work in many spheres to contribute to tackling global challenges,” said Soas director Baroness Valerie Amos.

“They need to help in finding solutions where they continue to evade us.

“It’s about how you make real change happen.”

Dr Vinjamuri said universities such as Soas had a great role to play in the future of diplomacy.

“There’s a rejection of expertise that is catching on,” she said. “Universities become a phenomenally important place and very spirited in terms of our engagement.

“They become a place to take those ideas we build and disseminate them, so building on that is vital and that nexus between universities, the state, the digital space and non-elitist citizens is really crucial today.”

Mishaal Al Gergawi, managing director of the Abu Dhabi think tank The Delma Institute, said diplomats had been a bit more removed from other apparatus since the end of the Cold War.

“Diplomats need to be fully aware of all the tools at their disposal to be useful,” he said.

“You’re dealing with a situation that’s extremely interdisciplinary and extremely complex so if there’s one profession that can be effective it’s diplomats.”

He said technological development required a revamping of institutions.

“We will always have difficult people in power but our institutions are being outpaced,” he said.

“We must come up with laws in regards to technological ­development.”