From the faraway days when representatives of fighting tribes tried to arrange for a truce, thereby risking their head, to the often derided endless discussions within present day international frameworks, the common aim of diplomacy has remained persuasion. The better a diplomat is at persuading, the more successful he will be in furthering the cause he represents.
Dr George Vella, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta, argues that persuasion is central not only to diplomacy but also to society in general. He highlights three aspects of persuasion. First is the high importance of trust for persuasion: trust creates the context in which persuasion can be used. Second is the relevance of persuasion for small states: while for major powers persuasion could be an option, for small states it is the main, very often the only, tool they can use in international affairs.
Dr Paul Meerts discusses persuasion in the context of the Vienna Congress (1814–1815), one of the most successful diplomatic events in history. The Vienna Congress created long-lasting peace and set the basic rules of multilateral diplomacy and protocol. Dr Meerts’s paper focuses on how the Vienna Congress addressed one of the main challenges of any negotiations: the more actors you have around the table, the less effective those negotiations are.
Professor Andre Liebich approaches the potential and limits of persuasion through the analysis of the use of coercion in political life. Two concepts – persuasion and coercion – are usually seen in binary way, as Dr Vella indicates in his article Persuasion is winning over by argument; coercion is subjecting by compulsion. Prof. Liebich situates this interplay between coercion and persuasion in the analysis of how China and the Soviet Union reacted to the need for transition.
Dr Biljana Scott’s article on framing an argument introduces the linguistic and rhetoric aspects of persuasion. The way in which we frame an issue largely determines how that issue will be understood and acted upon. By dissecting Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech of December 2010, Dr Scott illustrates the main techniques for framing an argument.
Dr Milan Jazbec, a practitioner and researcher in diplomacy, positions a discussion on persuasion in the sociology of diplomacy. Social context determines both diplomacy and persuasion. Dr Jazbec makes a distinction between pressure and persuasion. In a rather counter-intuitive view to dominant discourse, he argues that genuine persuasion cannot be public. As soon as it becomes public, it immediately becomes pressure.
Aldo Matteucci explores the relevance of social context for persuasion. Since persuasion leads to change, we should look into the mechanisms of change in society. Change is a social phenomenon. Change occurs when the intentionalities of individuals transmute into ‘collective intentionalities’. In this process, enablers play a key role.
Ambassador Kishan Rana indicates the cultivation of relations and the credibility of diplomats as the basis for persuasion in diplomacy. He provides an initial taxonomy of the type of relations that diplomats should cultivate. When it comes to credibility, Ambassador Rana presents the main ways of developing and maintaining credibility in diplomatic relations. The more credible the diplomat, the more likely it is that their persuasion with local interlocutors will be successful.
Ambassador Victor Camilleri argues that the essence of diplomacy is a search for a point of convergence. Persuasion is one of the methods through which a point of convergence can be reached. He gives central relevance in diplomacy to the firm grasp of the essential points of negotiation, including assessment of balance of force. This article analyses persuasion in multilateral diplomacy through a case study the Maltese initiative on the ‘Common heritage of mankind’.
Persuasion is a very relative concept. Like beauty, persuasion is the eye of the beholder. Admittedly, persuasion does not exist in the absence of results. One can say that persuasion can be defined as such, if and only if it is effective and reaches its goals. If we accept this prerequisite, we may find persuasion where we least expect it.