Multilateral Conferences: Purposeful International Negotiation

(Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke and New York, 2004), 281pp. (with index), ISBN 1-4039-3321-9 (hbk)

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Ron Walker was a member of the Australian diplomatic service for 37 years, for the last 22 of which (1975-96) he specialized in multilateral diplomacy. His book on this subject is not an academic book. Instead he has done for multilateral diplomacy what Kishan Rana has done for bilateral diplomacy, namely, provided on the basis of long and wide experience, much at a senior level, a splendid handbook of practical advice for the novice. As he says in the very first line: ‘This book is an elementary introduction to how multilateral conferences work and what you, as a participant in such a conference, can do to produce the outcome that you want.’ It is comprehensive in its coverage, ranging from discussion of the different purposes of multilateral conferences to advice on what to expect in the personas of different national delegations, how to manage delegations, and the importance of getting the air-conditioning right. It is written in a clear and lively style, with many instructive examples and a number of arresting metaphors. It is above all clearly very shrewd. Moreover, while it may not have been written with academics much in mind, there is a great deal of value for them in this book as well.

Of course, like many first books, Multilateral Conferences has some presentational and structural weaknesses. The result is that at one or two points the argument is not entirely clear and there is repetition. In fact, there are two books here struggling to get out, and I hope that in any future paperback edition the first five ‘contextual’ chapters (including ones on ‘Governments and Committees’ and ‘International Organizations’) will be compressed into an elegant introduction. The author might even with advantage be persuaded to save more space by abandoning his Glossary and the long terminological parentheses in the text by referring his readers instead to the Dictionary of Diplomacy by Berridge & James! Nevertheless, as it stands, this remains a book that provides sound practical advice and will be of absorbing interest to those wishing to embark on a career in multilateral diplomacy. It has no rivals in the field and I warmly recommend it. I was not surprised to learn that it has already been adopted by UNITAR, the training wing of the United Nations.