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

Chapter 11: Conferences

pp. 168-71, variation in types of conference: These pages might be compared with the description by Stewart M. Patrick (see Further reading below) of what is now awkwardly but fashionably described as ‘minilateralism’, and his stimulating analysis of its advantages and disadvantages. But beware his loose and over-emphatic use of the criterion of informality/formality in seeking to distinguish between the many institutions of the ‘informal’ new multilateralism (e.g. the G7) and the far fewer comprising the ‘formal’ older version  (e.g. the UN). The former is actually a residual category – all of those not among the ‘established global institutions’ – the members of which vary not least in the degree of their formality, most being actually very formal. The other criteria the author employs – longevity, degree of commitment to the general good, size and breadth of membership, degree of reliance on binding conventions, and so on – are much surer guides to the difference between the new and the old patterns of multilateralism.

p. 169, League of Nations: there have been many dull books written on the UN’s predecessor; an exception is to be found in the memoir of the brilliant Spanish writer and diplomat, Salvador de Madariaga, a man who described himself as a ‘citizen of the world’ and was such an important figure at and supporter of the League – but had few illusions about it, especially its disarmament diplomacy. See his Morning Without Noon (Saxon House., 1973).

p. 170, headquarters agreements: I omitted to make clear here that the officers and certain others employed by international organizations, as well as the members of states’ missions accredited to them, require the protection of varying degrees of ‘special legal status’. With these different categories of individuals in mind, August Reinisch, an Austrian international lawyer, provides a very clear and authoritative account of how they were treated in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (1946) and the widespread influence of this ‘General Convention’ on subsequent headquarters agreements (see Further reading below, as also for the Convention).

pp. 172-4, participation: The list of ‘participants’ in the Vienna Conference on the Syria crisis of 30 October 2015 is instructive on this subject. Look at the list here and ask yourself why Greece, for example, was not among  them.

Against all the odds, the Geneva talks on Syria (‘Geneva III’) resumed in late January 2016 – but stalled shortly afterwards . Of exceptional importance in their own right, these talks also illuminate with great clarity the problems I discuss on these pages (172-4). The participation of the Syrian Kurds (PYD) was a particularly vexed issue in prenegotiations and, in the event, thanks largely to Turkish opposition, their leader – already installed in a modest Geneva apartment by the Swiss government – did not receive an invitation.

p. 180, consensus decision-making at the UN: The shift to this has not escaped the notice of the US Department of State, which is required by law to keep a close eye on all voting by individual states at the UN (‘Uncle Sam is watching you!’) The shift to consensus is well recorded in its report on 2002, while the latest available report is for 2014 (see Further reading below).

pp. 180-1, silence procedure: During the 2020 pandemic, which abbreviated the 73rd World Health Assembly in Geneva in May pending its virtual resumption in November, this procedure was adopted by the Assembly for any proposal that its President considered suited to it, either following informal consultations or because the proposal was approved by the WHO Executive Board. The procedure is explained fully in the Annex to this document.

Further reading: additions and links

Al-Haj, Mustafa,  ‘Are this week’s Geneva talks on Syria doomed to fail?’ Al-Monitor, 24 January 2016

Brown, Gordon, My Life, Our Times (Bodley Head, 2017), ch. 16 [very illuminating on how the G20 London Summit, April 2009, was organized to help prevent a major world depression following the financial crisis of 2008-9]

Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (1946) [scroll down to p. 15]

Madariaga, Salvador de, Morning Without Noon (Saxon House, 1973)

Patrick, Stewart M., ‘The New “New Multilateralism”: Minilateral Cooperation, but at What Cost? Global Summitry (2015) 1(2)

Reinisch, August, ‘Introductory Note’, in Audiovisual Library of International Law

‘Syrian Kurds leave Geneva after being rejected by peace negotiators’, Middle East Eye, 30 January 2016

‘Syrian PYD Kurds not invited to Geneva talks, leader says’, Reuters, 26 January 2016

‘UN snubs most powerful Kurdish group at Geneva talks’, Al Jazeera, 30 January 2016

US Department of State, Voting Practices in the United Nations for 2002. Introduction to Report to Congress Submitted Pursuant to Public Law, 101-246, March 31, 2003 [on consensus decision-making in the UN General Assembly]

US Department of Stat, Voting Practices in the United Nations for 2014. Report to Congress Submitted Pursuant to Public Laws 101-246 and 108-447, July 2015