NYT op-ed columnist Roger Cohen boldly started off this week with a thought-provoking piece titled "Diplomacy is Dead." Personally, I'm always wary of statements that declare a concept or trend is "dead"--not only because such aggressive sentiments obviously serve as link bait in our media's online era, but also because they often seem to reflect a preference for protecting some kind of established and rigid way of viewing things that are nevertheless evolving. Why can't things evolve before journalists rush to proclaim some sort of "death"?
While his argument was compelling and very well-articulated, I felt that it centered on the circumstances of the past in order to judge the efficacy of diplomacy today. I'm interested in history's realpolitik just as much as the next IR nerd, and I would never dismiss the diplomatic feats that were accomplished in the 20th century and earlier. But it's 2013 now and global conditions are starkly different, changing at much faster rates than fifty years ago thanks to current information proliferation and growing social liberalization.
The US may have "lost its dominant position of power without any other nation rising to take its place," leading us to live in a "nobody's world," but this sounds a bit extreme and even alarmist. The mere notion of a world that must adhere to a Cold War-type of power rubric is strange to hear today--isn't our current world full of rapid power diffusion, with so much economic and political interdependence between states that diplomacy undeniably becomes even more important than ever? It seems to me that the diplomacy of yesterday is part of what cultivated a considerable chunk of the globalization we witness now--and with globalization comes change.
Change does not necessarily imply that anything has died. What it does imply is that diplomacy is no longer simply the exclusive top-down concept it once was, where elusive state officials were the only individuals with critical access to influence abroad. Although social media's role has had its share of skeptics and detractors, even in the wake of the Arab Spring, these new tools are crucial for both world leaders and "pie-in-the-sky citizen-diplomats." The connectivity we now enjoy with social media is possible only from years of technological progress. If today's online "noise" and "blathering" are somehow considered legitimate impediments to diplomacy today, then our approach to engaging with the world--not just world leaders--urgently needs more sophistication.