Diplomatic Momentum 2017-08-21T16:49:02+00:00

Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 4: Diplomatic Momentum

pp. 54-5, ‘a lull in the talks’: at the time of writing (3 February 2016), I see that this fate has already befallen the Geneva talks on Syria. It is interesting that the UN mediator, Staffan de Mistura, has sought to prevent this becoming a collapse by setting a deadline for the resumption of the talks (25 February) and describing the intervening period as a ‘temporary pause’. Of course, a pause is temporary by definition, so the term ‘temporary pause’ is a pleonasm (like ‘new innovation’). However, this is a case where a pleonasm is used to provide emphasis and, in this case, entirely justified (there is a very good Wikipedia article on pleonasm).

p. 56, ‘extended’ deadlines: if self-imposed deadlines are missed, they might be ‘extended’. If this still fails to stimulate progress, it at least enables negotiators to claim that they pushed very hard to achieve it. This interesting point, which had not occurred to me, is made by David Holloway (Stanford) and reported by Adam Chandler in an article in The Atlantic (see Further reading below).

I should have made clear here that what I am talking about are mutually agreed deadlines. Those unilaterally announced are to all intents and purposes ultimatums, which are only serviceable to those who can afford to walk away without any agreement and – if they cannot and misjudge their effect – can have serious drawbacks. See the CSIS report in Further reading below.

p. 57, Extended deadlines: Had the subject not depressed me so much, I would some time ago have added here that the deadline on which some attention in Europe and all attention in the UK is at the moment riveted is April 2019, when the period during which BREXIT must be negotiated elapses under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Possibly more important – depending on what happens in the intervening period –  is 5 May 2022, when the next British general election must be held under the so-called Fixed-term Parliament Act.

p. 61, metaphor of the train: a perfect example of this was provided by Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria and a diplomat desperately trying to inject momentum into UN-led prenegotiations on this urgent subject at the close of yet another round of talks in Geneva in early March 2017 (PressTV, UN News Centre, NYT, in Further reading below).

Further reading: additions and links

Chandler, Adam, ‘Why have negotiation deadlines anyway? The psychology of another missed milestone in the Iran talks’, The Atlantic, 7 July 2015

‘Deadlines for negotiations with Iran?’ CSIS, 2015.

The Lisbon Treaty: Article 50

New York Times, ‘U.N. Syria mediator reports some progress in peace talks’, 3 March 2017

PressTV[Iranian], ‘Geneva peace talks produce clear agenda: UN envoy’, 3 March 2017

UN News Centre, ‘Intra-Syrian talks conclude in Geneva with “clear agenda” and plans to resume later this month’, 3 March 2017