As a negotiator and practitioner of multilateral diplomacy in many different contexts over 40 years, beginning with the first UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva in 1964, I have had many reasons to reflect upon the role of international cooperation in a rapidly changing world.
Since 1990, I have been actively involved in many of the negotiations related to sustainable development, both in the normative context of the Rio Conference in 1992 and its follow-up at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg. I have also been involved in the processes of negotiating legally binding agreements, such as the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and on the Convention on Combatting Desertification (CCD).
These experiences have convinced me that a new branch of diplomacy has emerged since the 1980s, dealing with a new set of global problems. This article describes key features of the emerging pattern of diplomacy which I believe will shape profoundly the way in which the international community, comprising states but also other actors, interact to address increasingly interrelated global problems. The first part of the article sketches out the economic, demographic and political changes that set the global context for future international cooperation. The concept of sustainable development which emerged at Rio and which now provides the overarching framework for international cooperation is then discussed with particular emphasis placed on the social dimension of globalisation – an aspect which has tended to be overlooked in the quest for integration of the environmental and developmental components of sustainable development. I then outline key features of the new diplomacy and how it differs from other forms of international cooperation based on traditional forms of power relations. The final section examines North/South issues which emerged in the 1964 UNCTAD negotiations at the beginning of my career and which continue to dominate many policy discussions today ending regrettably in too many cases of stalemate. The conclusions suggest new research is needed to find ways to better understand the underlying tensions and how to address these in a radically changed world. To be successful, the new diplomacy for sustainable development will also require reforming the role of international organisations and most importantly, advancing the critical task of increasing public understanding of the new global threats and resulting responsibilities.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.3 (2004) Pathways to the Future: The New Diplomacy for Sustainable Development