Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 6th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 4: Diplomatic Momentum

p. 54, Box 4.1 The Non-paper: Another good example is provided in the memoirs of Peter Westmacott (p. 137, see Further reading below). He records that, when British Ambassador at Ankara in 2003, he wrote a non-paper, purely on his own authority, designed to jolt the Turkish foreign ministry into making a fresh effort to deliver the Annan Plan for a federal solution to the Cyprus question. The ministry was responsive but in the end it all came to nothing. A non-paper has ‘no visible evidence of provenance’, as I say in this Box, but if it is to serve its purpose, some means of indicating its source must be given. In 2003 a non-paper that could have been of great significance for US-Iran relations (subsequently known as ‘The Grand Bargain’) was sent by fax to the general US State Department number by the Swiss Ambassador in Tehran, who was looking after US interests in Iran. There was nothing else to suggest its importance and it simply failed to register in Washington (Straw, pp. 253-6).

p. 55, self-imposed deadlines, line 9 up, ‘excessive pressure of time might assist an agreement but not necessarily one likely to endure’: This point needed more than an aside. As Jean Galbraith says (see Further reading below), ‘deadlines are a double-edged sword, as the values of avoiding delay are paired with the costs that come with haste’; in other words, a tight deadline can leave insufficient time for creative thinking and instead lead negotiators to fall back on an exchange of crude trade-offs and old habits of thought.
line 6 up: I should have been more guarded here and said ‘some chance’ rather than ‘a good chance of proving realistic’ because – for any number of reasons, among them the need to garner political support – negotiators tend to be over-optimistic about completion dates; this is the so-called ‘planning fallacy’.

p. 56, External deadlines: Here is an example of the first importance. In February 2024 the start of the month of Ramadan, expected on the evening of 10 March, was being widely regarded as a significant practical deadline by the Qatar-Egypt-US mediators of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. This is because, as The Times of Israel rather needlessly reminded its readers,  Ramadan is ‘a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world’ and, accordingly, was not expected to be a propitious backdrop for diplomacy; in fact, just the opposite.

p. 64, line 12 down, talking up the talks: Was US President Joe Biden resorting to this tactic when he said publicly on 26 February 2024 that the talks on the Gaza War between Israel and Hamas mediated by Qatar but assisted by the US and Egypt were close to success? ‘My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close,’ he said. My guess is that he was attempting this tactic but, if so, the example illustrates its risk, for if it fails it invites the charge of poor judgement. Hamas and Israel both responded to Biden’s announcement by stressing that it was premature.

Further reading

Dan Williams, Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Jeff Mason, ‘Biden hopes for ceasefire in days as Israelis, Hamas take part in Qatar talks’, Reuters, 27 February 2024 

Galbraith, Jean, ‘Deadlines as behavior in diplomacy and international law’, in Harlan Grant Cohen and Timothy Meyer (eds), International Law as Behavior (Cambridge UP, 2021). This is an extremely impressive essay: thoughtful, thorough and tight.

Straw, Jack, The English Job: Understanding Iran and why it distrusts Britain (Biteback, 2019)

Westmacott, Peter, They Call It Diplomacy: Forty years of representing Britain abroad (Head of Zeus, 2022)