Multilateral Diplomacy

All these observations are applicable to both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. However, the latter has some specific problems. For me multilateral diplomacy is of particular interest and concern since I am involved in it on a daily basis. I would like to share with you some of these concerns and ideas on how multilateral diplomatic interaction can be improved. Multilateral diplomacy is often considered to be a type of superstructure over bilateral diplomacy. I think these are two sides of the same coin and none excludes the other. Interaction between bilateral and multilateral diplomacy creates a new pattern of political behaviour. A good example is the negotiation of a nuclear test ban. In the past test ban treaties were the result of bilateral Soviet-American negotiations. Only CTBT has been worked out at the Conference on Disarmament. Multilateralism has not excluded bilateralism or other types of negotiation. To use a modern technical analogy, I would say that bilateral negotiations are similar to using a mobile telephone, whilst multilateral negotiations resemble using the Internet. They can naturally complement each other.

More than that, multilateral negotiations, despite their being time-consuming, are a very effective safeguard against hegemonistic and similar intentions. This has become more evident at the dawn of multilateral diplomacy. When the series of congresses which followed the treaty of Vienna of 1815 at last came to an end, the British Foreign Secretary, Canning, returning from conferences, was said to have praised a state of normal bilateral diplomacy which he summed up as "each for himself and God for us all." Undoubtedly multilateral diplomacy drastically limits the egoistical aspirations of the states.

Although multilateral negotiations are basically similar to bilateral, a number of sophisticated methods and techniques have been developed in multilateralism to cope with extensive diplomatic interactions. In the United Nations and other multilateral fora there is an official hierarchy of committees and sub-committees and a semi-official system of groups of states formed on the basis of geographic or economic proximity. For example, there are the groups of African, Latin American and Arab States, the EU States or the Group of 77 developing countries which actually comprises more than one hundred states.

Perhaps, the major peculiarity of the multilateral talks is the importance of the rules of procedure. When, as in the case of the United Nations, 185 delegations have to communicate with each other at the same time, there must be some rather clear and strict rules to maintain orderly interactions. As the well-known British historian, Harold Nicolson, once noted during a large international conference - the matters of organisation and procedure become no less important than the political issues. If poorly handled they can become a major disintegrating factor.

The post-Cold War multilateralism is characterised by more complex agendas of conferences and negotiations with larger numbers of issues and the growing involvement of experts, citizens groups and NGOs. Multilateral diplomacy is trying to adapt to these new conditions. However, this process is painfully slow, Many aspects of multilateral diplomacy still need to be revised, starting with procedural and methodological issues.

First of all there should be a clear line of distinction between negotiations and treaty-making. The process of multilateral negotiations consists of two stages: exploratory, as the initial stage, and treaty-making as the highest stage. The latter could be subdivided into the definition of parameters of a future agreement and the working out of it. Of course, the division is conditional. There is no Berlin Wall between the different stages. Bearing in mind this simple structure, it is not difficult to build the negotiations process in such a way that the result is achieved quickly and minimal resources are used. Unfortunately in some negotiation fora, the participants confuse the different stages and throw the whole process into disorder. Such negotiations may last for years and consist of endless positional statements.

One of the favourite negotiation methods during the Cold War was the linkage of unrelated issues. This was a rough way of forcing the counterpart to make concessions. Though the international environment has drastically changed, this method is still in use today. Modern diplomacy needs the opposite approach. Compromise requires what I call constructive parallelism in all areas of negotiation, which presupposes that progress in one area creates the opportunity for advancement in other directions. Compromise is neither a capitulation nor a sign of weakness. The art of compromise is a concession in secondary matters, not in principles. It should be noted, however, that not everything depends on the negotiators. If there is no political will even the best negotiator cannot do much.

There are a lot of debates on the expansion of the conferences. In my view, the principal failures come not so much from the enlargement of fora, which sometimes provides positive results in the creation of open-ended structures, as from the nature of issues themselves and the absence of political will to find compromise solutions.

In the field of structured multilateral diplomacy there is surprising resistance to innovation. The lack of flexibility on the part of the member states is a major problem with the UN reform. The reform programme announced recently by the United Nations’ Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, is quite radical and includes significant changes in the structure of the organisation, its functions and priorities. However, the changes adopted by the General Assembly concern only one UN body - the Secretariat. As far as the restructuring of other major bodies is concerned, the proposals of the Secretary-General are still under consideration.

Meanwhile, changes in the major United Nations bodies are of critical importance. Multilateral fora, including the UN, are frequently criticised for being too slow, in particular when dealing with conflict situations. When one speaks of a multifaceted, multidimensional, broad approach to security, conflict threats, and the need for preventive actions, one implies that diplomacy comes cheaper than infantry battalions. Diplomats can be more effective, not in stopping aggression once it has occurred, but earlier, in coping with civil combat, frontier disputes and the danger which we see when people who are condemned by geography to live together are instructed by their leaders that it is their duty to hate and kill others. But it is true, if there is a role for international diplomacy, it has to move earlier and be better organised for preventive actions which undoubtedly strengthen the new role of multilateral institutions as a safety net for crisis and conflict.

As for the role of multilateral institutions with regard to consensus building on policy issues, and setting norms and standards, it should be strengthened through increased attention to monitoring in all fields. Take for example, human rights. The commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration needs a greater emphasis on practical implementation, which requires us all to be even more penetrating about the legal obligations.

At the same time, diplomacy should not monopolise conflict prevention and solution. For example, the legal tools could be used more extensively. The International Court of Justice which was created precisely to help to resolve conflict situations is currently considering only nine cases, mainly territorial or commercial disputes. However, the court has a considerable potential in conflict settlement. Let’s take for example, the settlement by the court of the dispute between Hungary and Slovakia concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project. At the beginning the conflict had obvious and dangerous ethnic overtones with heated polemic in the media. After the involvement of the court it was quickly transformed into a purely technical matter.

My last observation concerns the interaction between global and regional structures. When international organisations are mushrooming and multilateralism is invading all walks of life, there is a need to set up a mutually supportive and reinforcing system of international organisation to develop complementarily among them. The UN can and should play a more active role as a facilitator among the regional structures; the time has come for the Security Council to read anew Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, written when only two regional structures, the OAS and the LAS existed.

The United States Deputy Secretary of State, S. Talbott, was absolutely right when he stated that "regional co-operation is a positive force if and only if it enhances the positive aspect of global interdependence and combats the negative ones."

The UN is doing a lot to achieve this aim. The annual meeting of the Secretary-General with heads of regional organisations, tripartite meetings between the Director-General of UNOG, the Secretary-General of the OSCE and the Council of Europe are good examples. The United Nations has developed several forms of co-operation with regional structures. However, it is not enough. Everyone would agree that we are only at the beginning of the process. We have some way to go before establishing a coherent pattern of mutually beneficial co-operation between the United Nations and the panoply of institutions involved with regional affairs.