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).

p. 63, Publicity, lines 1-3 down (see also p. 33, ‘Secrecy’): Raoul Ruparel, an influential centre-right commentator and sometime British government adviser on EU negotiations, provides a contrary view. He is reported as arguing that ‘Briefing politicians and the public is critical in establishing support for positions in negotiations.’ He also says that, in the Brexit talks, the EU negotiators were initially better at this than the UK but that recently the latter has caught on. But he then goes on to regret that ‘Both sides have got themselves into an ideological corner and are struggling to get out … [that] They’ve been going round in circles on these issues for months … and the difficulties tend to be with people outside the room.’ Well, surprise, surprise. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the negotiators and their political masters have been advised by people like him to bang on constantly about their ‘red lines’ to ‘politicians and the public’ in order to strengthen ‘support for their positions’. This obviously makes compromise vastly more difficult. Of course, with 27 governments to keep informed of developments (with inevitable leaks), and being the stronger party, the adoption of this approach by the EU Commission’s negotiators was probably unavoidable and perhaps more reasonable.

pp. 63-4, talking up the talks: an example of using this tactic in ‘circumstances when it is manifestly obvious that success is nowhere in sight’ is provided by the repeated claim in early September 2019 of British prime minister and Brexit cult leader Boris Johnson that his government’s negotiations for a deal with the EU were making good progress. This blatant lie, which was exposed both in Parliament and the serious press at the time, merely deepened the contempt for him of the EU’s negotiators, who had no difficulty in seeing that Johnson was merely trying to set them up for the blame when the zombie negotiations failed and Britain were to be ‘forced’ to leave the EU without a deal. However, this example also serves as a reminder that – as is too often the case – bad diplomacy can be good domestic politics.

Further reading: additions and links


Boffey, Daniel, ‘EU and UK teams pin hopes on ‘tunnel’ talks to deliver Brexit deal’, The Guardian, 9 October 2020.

Boffey, Daniel, ‘When is the deadline for a Brexit trade and security deal?’, The Guardian, 20 December 2020

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

O’Carroll , Lisa, ‘Theresa May’s negotiator on EU tactics …’, The Guardian, 6 Dec 2020

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

Walker, Peter, ‘Entering ‘the tunnel’: what does it mean for the Brexit talks?’, The Guardian, 11 October 2019