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

Chapter 6: Following Up

p. 87, Monitoring: It is as well to recall in beginning this subject that deadlines for compliance with different clauses are often found within treaties, which by virtue of that fact are legal deadlines. These provide a point of pressure for those responsible for monitoring compliance. In the case of a complex treaty such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (entered into force 1997), on which Jean Galbraith dwells on p. 27 of her chapter in Further reading below, there are a great many deadlines.

Monitoring compliance with arms control agreements: A most important example I really should have mentioned here is the New START Agreement (‘Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms’), the most recent agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation limiting their nuclear arsenals to agreed levels. This came into force in February 2011, and in February 2021 was extended until February 2026. (President Trump had refused this extension, so the move was left to Joe Biden in a phone call with Vladimir Putin just a fortnight after his inauguration.) Among other things, the verification measures for which the treaty makes provision include 18 on-site inspections per year for American and Russian inspection teams, the exchange of telemetric information, and – most importantly – a commitment not to interfere with national technical means of verification (i.e. ‘spy satellites’). In August 2022, five months after Putin launched his war against Ukraine, the Russians – probably to no-one’s surprise – blocked further access by American inspectors to their nuclear weapons facilities while later claiming implausibly that US sanctions had imposed travel restrictions compromising the work of its own inspectors in the United States.

p. 89 (mid-page), ‘In a number of respects, embassies themselves are ideally placed to follow up agreements …’: As reported by the US State Department, because of COVID there were no formal review meetings on the New START Treaty in 2020, but oversight continued ‘in diplomatic channels’. In the same account, there is further mention of the role of ‘diplomatic channels’ in discussion of ‘implementation-related questions’. This is almost certainly a reference to the Russian Embassy in Washington and the US Embassy in Moscow.

p. 90, Review Meetings: The New START Treaty, to which I have already added text above for pages 87 and 89 on monitoring, also had provision for its own review meeting. This is known as the ‘Bilateral Consultative Commission’. According to the US State Department, ‘The treaty establishes the BCC as a compliance and implementation body that meets at least twice each year unless otherwise agreed. … . Compliance or implementation questions may be raised by either Party ….’  Unfortunately, although the BCC had not met since October 2021, in November 2022 Russia cancelled a meeting planned in Cairo on the grounds that the United States was waging ‘a total hybrid war’ against it. However, it still insisted that it attached importance to the treaty and was not renouncing it.

p. 93, mid-page [Review meetings] ‘In the case of fragile agreements painfully constructed …’: In the context of the acute Ukraine crisis of early 2022, the follow-up procedures for the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15 suddenly assume great importance. The first of these is the Normandy Format group – so-called because set up in the margin of events commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day landings in France in June 2014 – and comprises Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. The second is the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), containing representatives from the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. Both groups were charged with keeping the lid on the conflict while exploring diplomatic solutions, and actually pre-dated by three months the first agreement on settling the problem, the Minsk Protocol*(subsequently dubbed ‘Minsk 1’), of 5 September 2014. Only thereafter, I suppose, were they formally concerned with ‘following up’ in order to ensure implementation. In the event, because the agreement was too fragile, their efforts were futile, things fell apart, and on 12 February 2015 a second agreement, ‘Minsk 2’,* was hurriedly agreed by the heads of state in the Normandy Format. Since then, ‘Minsk implementation’ has been a mantra of Western policy makers, according to former British diplomat Duncan Allan, and both Normandy and Trilateral groups have met from time. However, they have made little progress because the agreements are based on an irreconcilable difference between Ukrainian and Russian views of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
*For the Minsk agreements, see Allan in ‘Further reading’ below.

Further reading

Allan, Duncan, ‘The Minsk Conundrum: Western Policy and Russia’s War in Eastern Ukraine’, Chatham House Research Paper, 22 May 2020

BBC News, ‘New Start: US and Russia extend nuclear treaty’, 3 February 2021

Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (US State Department), ‘New START Treaty’, 1 February 2023

Financial Times [Editorial Board], ‘Beware comparing Ukraine with Finland’, 9 February 2022 [paywall, but you might get lucky]

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).

Hasselbach, Christoph, ‘What is the ‘Normandy format’ for resolving the crisis in Ukraine?’ Deutsche Welle, 26 January 2022

Herszenhorn, David M. and Jacopo Barigazzi, ‘Eastern brinkmanship: Tensions with Russia overshadow summit with ex-Soviet countries’, Politico, 16 Dec. 2021

Wong, Edward, ‘U.S. says Russia fails to comply with Nuclear Arms Control Treaty’, The New York Times, 31 January 2023