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The International Conference on Innovation in Diplomacy focused both on new innovation areas such as e-diplomacy and on innovation in traditional diplomatic functions (e.g. protocol, consular affairs). The leading innovators in diplomacy, al...
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Submitted by Mina Mudric on Fri, 01/27/2012 - 13:38
Description

The Mediterranean Academy of Diplomacy has recently organised two international conferences addressing the future of diplomacy. The first was the International Conference on Information Technology and Diplomacy (May 1997) and the second was the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy (February 1998). The papers featured in this volume were presented at these conferences. The contributors are professors, diplomats and officials involved in international relations, coming from a wide variety of countries.

Long Text

The Mediterranean Academy of Diplomacy has recently organised two international conferences addressing the future of diplomacy. The first was the International Conference on Information Technology and Diplomacy (May 1997) and the second was the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy (February 1998). The papers featured in this volume were presented at these conferences. The contributors are professors, diplomats and officials involved in international relations, coming from a wide variety of countries.

The volume begins with Hon. Dr. George F. Vella’s opening address to the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy. Dr. Vella provides a general framework for discussion and identifies the main changes in modern international relations affecting diplomacy. It provides insight into several current concerns, including regional co-operation and preventive diplomacy. Dr. Vella highlights the important but often overlooked difference between diplomacy as a method of solving problems in human society and diplomacy as a profession. While diplomacy has been, is, and will remain an important method of harmonising relations in human society, especially among states, diplomacy as a profession can expect increasing competition from non-governmental organisations, the business community, and others who are rapidly acquiring diplomatic skills.

In his keynote address from the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy, Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky describes new challenges facing diplomacy. These challenges include technological progress, the relative decline in the sovereignty of the state, and the emergence of new actors such as NGOs, parliaments, and regional authorities. Diplomacy must function in a complex and sometimes paradoxical context characterised on the one hand by the process of globalisation and on the other hand by forces of fragmentation and localisation. In order to meet these challenges diplomats must adapt their methods of work to the new environment. They must become more open and agile. They must learn to fully utilise opportunities offered by the technological revolution. Modern diplomacy requires a variety of skills, in particular, a familiarity with the art of negotiation, an ability to work in a multicultural environment, and openness to co-operation with different actors, in particular, civil society.

Professor Dietrich Kappeler introduces his paper with a survey of the evolution of diplomacy from the beginning of this century. He then examines new developments, methods, and tools of diplomacy which characterise the post-Cold War period. Among new developments he identifies are intervention in internal conflicts by the international community and the globalisation not only of economic co-operation but also of problems such as AIDS and the disregard of human rights and basic humanitarian principles. He also mentions the emergence of "public diplomacy," meaning that the media has enabled the general population to become involved in international affairs. In analysing new methods, Professor Kappeler focuses on changes in traditional diplomacy, for example, the position of bilateral missions. He then describes the emergence of new actors in diplomacy such as NGOs, and the importance of "grass-root diplomacy," especially in dealing with internal conflicts. The third part of the paper, dedicated to new tools of diplomacy, considers the potential use of new technology and networking in diplomacy.

Professor Erik Goldstein’s contribution identifies modern developments in the field of diplomatic protocol. Some characteristics of modern protocol are a growing informality and a need to ensure that states are treated as equals. Professor Goldstein reviews the development of meetings between heads of states from historical times, when such meetings were difficult and dangerous, and therefore uncommon, to the present day, when technology and transport developments have allowed a drastic rise in summitry. A section of the paper is dedicated to the question of venue for meetings between heads of states, a frequent cause of diplomatic controversy. Professor Goldstein makes special mention of the modern phenomenon of the "diplomatic handshake," and finally discusses the diplomatic insult.

The paper by Professor Paul Sharp focuses on two trends in modern diplomacy: increasingly institutionalised multilateralism aimed at a stronger international order and the "tendency to see diplomats in terms of the skills they possess and the jobs they do, rather than whom they represent." Both of these trends move diplomats away from their roles as professional representatives of sovereign states. However, Professor Sharp points out that diplomats continue to derive their authority from the fact that they represent states. Recent failures in diplomacy can be attributed to over-ambitious attempts at establishing international order without enough support from individual states. Professor Sharp distinguishes between and explores four types of representation: representation as ceremony and symbolism, representing interests and power, representing ideas, and diplomatic representation and popular sovereignty.

Ms. Pamela Smith defines the key roles of public diplomacy: dissemination of information about the United States including US foreign policy, building international relationships and advising American foreign policy makers. She examines the modern context for public diplomacy, which is characterised by change. The growth of communications technology has allowed more public awareness and involvement in foreign policy making, and, as the public become more involved, the availability of reliable information becomes a crucial factor. Ms. Smith predicts that in the future the role of public diplomacy will be even greater, as these trends develop. However, she does not feel that technological developments will ever eliminate the need for face to face diplomacy, as personal contact seems to be necessary to build trust and mutual respect between states.

The first part of Ambassador Stanko Nick’s contribution is dedicated to the main functions and duties of a legal adviser to the foreign ministry. These are varied: advising the foreign minister, participating in the conclusion and ratification of international treaties, taking part in the delegation of his country, participating in the activities of international fora, representing his government before national and international courts, assisting in the incorporation of international law into the internal legal system, and conducting academic and research activities. Ambassador Nick then turns his attention to the position of the legal adviser in the diplomatic service and the government. The higher the level of legal order and democracy in a particular society, the greater the influence of the legal adviser on his minister and government as a whole. Ambassador Nick stresses the importance of the legal adviser’s being allowed intellectual and organisational independence. The minister, instead of acting post-festum, should consult and involve his legal adviser in making decisions. He points out that the legal adviser has an important function in developing new codes of international law.

Dr. Annabel Hendry addresses the position of spouses in modern diplomacy. Diplomatic services tend to neglect this important issue. According to Dr. Hendry, most diplomatic services adopt the attitude that spouses are not expected to do anything to support the service, but anything they choose to do is welcomed. She highlights the paradox that while spouses should show allegiance to the mission and function of the diplomatic service they do not have a contractual link, but only an accidental connection to the service. The paper discusses typical problems and difficulties for diplomatic spouses related to employment and careers, education of children, etc.

The evolution of diplomacy is analysed from a new and innovative perspective by Professor Richard Langhorne. The key element in his analysis is a concentration on the relationship between the needs and the functioning of the international system. Sometimes, the needs of the international system are met, or even defined, by successful evolution of the diplomatic method, for example, in 1815 and to some extent again in 1919. On the other hand, the emergence of the resident ambassador and the current period could both be mentioned as examples of situations where the needs of the system were not met by diplomatic methods until the need eventually provoked evolution. Current developments in the international system are characterised by the emergence of a much wider range of entities operating in international relations, diffusion of power in the fields of economics and telecommunications, and decline of the sovereignty of states. These changes and challenges need to be met with evolution of diplomatic methods, which we can expect to see in the forthcoming period.

Dr. Milan Mitic describes the problems encountered by a diplomatic service under sanctions, using Yugoslavia as a case study. After a general introduction to the sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia, he concentrates his analysis on the ways in which diplomatic relations between Yugoslavia and the outside world were affected. Internal effects of sanctions on the diplomatic service of Yugoslavia included a reduction of staff and a halt to the process of reform and adjustment within the diplomatic service. In terms of international relations, sanctions resulted in a reduction of the level of representation abroad to varying degrees. In some cases diplomatic relations were completely broken off (e.g., Malaysia and New Zealand), or consulates were closed (e.g., USA and Canada). In almost all missions Yugoslav diplomatic staff was reduced in level and number, and in some diplomatic corps Yugoslav diplomatic staff were personally isolated. Participation in multilateral diplomacy and international organisations was reduced or disallowed. Dr. Mitic clearly illustrates that normal or effective functioning of a diplomatic service is impossible under sanctions.

The topic of Professor Maria Muller’s paper is the evolution of South African diplomacy from a "pariah diplomacy" in the apartheid period to a more conventional type of diplomacy in the post-apartheid period. She concentrates on the ways and means of a diplomatic service adjusting to governmental changes. South African diplomacy has had to adapt to new fields within its foreign policy; for example, to intensive involvement in regional and global multilateral activities. Moreover, the diplomatic service has had to undergo profound changes in terms of internal organisation, human resources, and diplomatic networks.

Professors Linda Frey and Marsha Frey analyse the issue of international privileges and immunities of international functionaries. Diplomatic privileges and immunities, traditionally limited to diplomats, were gradually extended to the personnel of and representatives to international organisations in four stages: after 1804, after 1899, after World War I, and after World War II. The increasing number of people protected by international privileges and immunities and the potential for abuse of these privileges has raised a debate about the necessity of limiting diplomatic privilege. Those who defend diplomatic and international immunities find themselves on the defensive in an environment which is increasingly adverse to immunity from local jurisdiction and to privileges for any group.

The following two contributions are based on presentations delivered at the International Conference on Information Technology and Diplomacy.

In his keynote address Professor Richard Falk discusses changes in modern society brought about by information technology, with special emphasis on the future of the state. Professor Falk draws a distinction in this context between IT as an instrument used by states in their quest for power and IT as an agent transforming market forces and various sectors of civil society. Using the example of the Gulf War, he highlights the extensive use of high-technology weapons systems, based to a large extent on IT. Topics related to the interplay between the role of the state and the emergent cyberworld are organised into three main clusters: a) world order as a mind-game; b) the emergence of a race between "soft power" and "soft targets;" and c) power versus powerlessness in the web of The Web. Although the prevailing tendency seems to indicate that IT will challenge the static world order based on the central position of the state, one should not exclude the possibility that IT could be used to stabilise and further strengthen the static state-centric world order.

Mr. Stefano Baldi explores potential uses of the Internet as a tool in diplomatic activities. He describes how the Internet is currently used in diplomatic procedure and suggests some technologies that could be profitably integrated into the operational structure of diplomatic services. Information resources of the United Nations and other international organisations are given special emphasis. Mr. Baldi reviews these resources and assesses their basic functionality. The paper includes many interesting illustrations, tables and comparative surveys.

Although each contributor in this volume approaches the issue of modern diplomacy from a different standpoint, based on his or her particular type of involvement in international affairs, a consensus is reached on the most important topics. All contributors agree that diplomacy must change to face new challenges. Some describe changes that are already occurring, while others identify or propose changes that need to begin. Most of the papers identify technological development and changes in international relations such as involvement of new groups, decline in the sovereignty of states, public diplomacy and globalisation as new challenges which diplomacy must successfully meet if it is to continue to exist.

The first part of this volume consists of papers from the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy. The papers in the second part were presented at the International Conference on IT and Diplomacy. After the opening address and the keynote address, papers appear in the order of their conference presentation.

The Diplomatic Studies Programme of the University of Leicester, in particular, the director of this programme Dr. Jan Melissen, suggested potential participants and helped publicise the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy. This volume is a result of the excellent assistance provided by Ms. Susanna Geismann in organising the conferences and contacting participants. Special thanks are due to Ms. Hannah Slavik for linguistic help and reading the proofs of the book. Mr. Anthony Butiggieg helped with scanning and collecting documents, and Mr. Chris Borg Cutajar designed the layout and completed desktop publishing work. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the former director of the Academy, Professor Fred Tanner, who supported the organisation of the conferences, and to Professor Felix Meier, current director of the Academy, who has provided full support for the publishing of this volume.

Year
1998-01-01T00:00:00
Author
Jovan Kurbalija
Year
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The Mediterranean Academy of Diplomacy has recently organised two international conferences addressing the future of diplomacy. The first was the International Conference on Information Technology and Diplomacy (May 1997) and the second was the International Conference on Modern Diplomacy (February 1998). The papers featured in this volume were presented at these conferences. The contributors are professors, diplomats and officials involved in international relations, coming from a wide variety of countries.

Source: 
Modern Diplomacy. Ed J. Kurbalija (1998)
 Jovan Kurbalija, 1998

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Submitted by miodrag on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 19:06
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The following is a list of reflections derived from the International Conference on Multistakeholder Diplomacy, held in Malta ,11-13 February, 2005. The Salina Bay Conclusions were an official statement delivered by Ambassador Saviour F. Borg, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations in Geneva, during the PrepCom 2 Plenary of the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, 24 February 2005). 

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Year
2006-01-01T00:00:00
Author
Salina Bay
Year
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The following is a list of reflections derived from the International Conference on Multistakeholder Diplomacy, held in Malta ,11-13 February, 2005. The Salina Bay Conclusions were an official statement delivered by Ambassador Saviour F. Borg, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations in Geneva, during the PrepCom 2 Plenary of the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, 24 February 2005). 

Source: 
Multistakeholder Diplomacy - Challenges and Opportunities. Ed by J. Kurbalija and V. Katrandjiev (2006)
 Salina Bay, 2006
 
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Submitted by miodrag on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 18:40
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In the fourth chapter of the book, Britta Sadou, focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Sadou introduces this particular group as civil society actors and continues by discussing possibilities provided to NGOs by various UN summits. The author highlights some of the main world conferences during the 1990s and early 2000s and poses two important questions - Has the time of those huge events come to an end? What could be the alternatives? Sadou also discusses proposals of the  “Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations" and finally reflects on the question of how the presence of so many NGO representatives at the 1990s world conferences influenced the UN’s attitude toward inclusion of the “new” actors. What was heard from so many voices?

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Year
2006-01-01T00:00:00
Author
Britta Sadoun
Year
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In the fourth chapter of the book, Britta Sadou, focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Sadou introduces this particular group as civil society actors and continues by discussing possibilities provided to NGOs by various UN summits. The author highlights some of the main world conferences during the 1990s and early 2000s and poses two important questions - Has the time of those huge events come to an end? What could be the alternatives? Sadou also discusses proposals of the  “Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations" and finally reflects on the question of how the presence of so many NGO representatives at the 1990s world conferences influenced the UN’s attitude toward inclusion of the “new” actors. What was heard from so many voices?

Source: 
Multistakeholder Diplomacy - Challenges and Opportunities. Ed by J. Kurbalija and V. Katrandjiev (2006)
 Britta Sadoun, 2006
 
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Submitted by Patrick Borg on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 14:29
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Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Conference interpreters Vicky Cremona and Helena Mallia outline the different types of conference interpretation, difficulties in interpretation, preparation and techniques, and team work. On the topic of diplomatic conferences they point out that "confidence in the interpreters is essential. The underlying tensions which may arise between delegates or country representatives can worsen if the interpreters are not trusted..." Cremona and Mallia finish with the observation that diplomatic skills are not only the realm of the diplomat or the interpreter in diplomatic conferences, but also necessary for the interpreter of other types of discussions including religion, culture, heritage, sales, and marketing.

Long Text

Interpretation is in itself a diplomatic endeavour. The interpreter's job is very different to that of a translator. Translators work alone, facing a white sheet of paper and a text. They recreate the text by becoming its second author, understanding and recreating the author's writing skills, possibly referring to other works by the author in order to better grasp his/her style and expression. The interpreter's work is not a solitary one. The interpreter works directly with an orator, who possibly elaborates his text as the topic unfolds, expressing his thoughts directly without any time for re-elaboration or rewording. The interpreter also works directly with a public, the floor, who is listening simultaneously to him and to the orator. The interpreter's work, therefore, calls for a different dynamic.

Translation can range from a simple phrase, to a brochure, to a manuscript of the past, to a speech. All translators aspire to have their names printed under that of the author on the front page of a prestigious book. Interpreters cannot aspire to the same, but can evaluate their worth through the quality and importance of the conferences they are asked to interpret. Interpreters are chameleons, they have to lend themselves to the topic under discussion, and blend themselves with the general decor. Topics may range from cosmetics to archaeology, from dentistry to car parts, from training seminars to ministerial meetings. Certain interpreters choose to specialise in particular areas, in order to be able to handle the language peculiarities of a particular field.

There are two main types of interpretation: simultaneous and consecutive. Consecutive interpreting relies more on the ability to synthesise; the interpreter is required to remember what is being said, and must have the ability to summarise the salient points raised in a discussion. A simultaneous interpreter is more adrenaline-driven. This type of interpreting requires fast reflexes, intense concentration, and a good working knowledge of the subject being tackled. Moreover, the interpreters must not only master the languages they are working with, but must be able to conjure up a word or expression at the very moment it is pronounced. They cannot afford to hesitate.

There are different styles of simultaneous interpretation. Some interpreters listen to a speaker and then, at intervals, render the general thrust of what has been said by summarising without delving into too much detail, others go as far as totally reformulating what the speaker has said. Other interpreters prefer to follow the speaker more closely, and endeavour to translate the speech as faithfully as possible, respecting not only the style, but also the tone, and expressing the gestures through the voice. We adopt the latter approach, as we feel that we wish to transmit the message just as the speaker intended it. This method, however, raises some immediate questions. How does one translate anger, humour, insult, confidence? Does one censor? Does one correct?

Whatever the method adopted, every interpreter has to focus on key words. Have you ever attended a conference without hearing words such as: sustainable development, globalisation, networking, framework, right of law, regulatory bodies? These are key words in diplomacy. They are always accompanied by acronyms. Generally, this type of word underpins the argumentation of the speaker. If you miss them, you have missed the point the speaker is trying to make, and as a result, the spectre of confusion looms large. It translates on the floor, by people frowning, grimacing, taking off their earphones, looking back at the interpreters' booths, and at times, realising that the interpreters are not automatons.

The interpreter's technique is to identify the key words as the speaker delivers the talk, and to link discourse from one key word to another. The key words help the interpreter remember what is being said, while concentrating on how to best translate the general theme. Consequently, the more familiar the interpreter is with the key words and their associated meanings, the more his/her confidence is boosted, and this can be immediately felt in the way the speech is rendered. The key words obviously change from one field to another. Even within the same field, such as diplomacy, there are different key words for different topics or situations. So how are interpreters to recognise these words as key words and to familiarise themselves with the general framework these words represent?

Generally, these expressions crop up frequently in a conference. But an interpreter must seek other sources of information beforehand. It is important for an interpreter working in the diplomatic field to follow closely world political, social and cultural events. Sources for these may include local and foreign newspapers, journals dealing with current affairs, news broadcasts, as well as a very good knowledge of history and geography. It is important to have backup material from the conference itself as it helps the interpreter focus better on the subjects under discussion. It is fundamental to have speeches that are to be delivered a few days in advance, in order to better anticipate the conference, and preempt any potential problems in vocabulary, expression and general attitudes. For example, if a hot issue is to be discussed, it is well to be aware that sparks may fly. Key words however are not static. They evolve with political events and developments. Nowadays, we do not often hear past catchwords such as: superpowers, polarisation, blocs, but other words such as ethnic cleansing, money laundering, free trade zone, have become practically common usage in conferences. It is helpful to know the origins and historical and social connotations of such terms, as this helps situate the discussion, and helps to avoid being led astray by mispronunciation, heavy accent, or at times, misuse of the word. For example, when discussions were under way regarding Poland joining the EU, one French speaker said "polynesien" instead of "polonaise" which changed not only the country, but even the continent.

What use however, is it, to learn pages of vocabulary and facts by heart, and then find oneself listening to an incoherent delivery? What determines incoherence? One main problem is accents and pronunciations. Even a native speaker may have a heavy regional accent. Non native speakers generally have problems not only with accent but also with sentence structure, especially when they are speaking off the cuff during a round table discussion or a workshop. Sentence construction varies from one language to another and forces the interpreter to pause, for example, in French and English the place of adjectives and nouns is inverted, in German the verb is placed at the end of a sentence. Certain speakers do not follow a single trend of thought and their speech is disjointed, with sentences ending in midair or the speaker suddenly going off at a tangent and just as suddenly coming back to a point made earlier. The task of every interpreter is first and foremost to render coherent ideas, and it has happened that the translator has tried to restore coherence to an original speech. For this to happen, the interpreters have to be fully conversant with what is being said. Fear of the microphone may lead speakers to mumbling and hesitation. These are as counterproductive as speakers who speak too fast, hardly pausing to think, as in both cases, the interpreter is so concerned with trying to make out what is being said that there is no room for fine tuning. The interpreter's nightmare are those who race through written speeches; this occurs very frequently in diplomacy where a written speech format is preferred as speeches receive prior approval. A tight agenda may also dictate a rush to read, and speakers will try to cram a fifteen minute speech into five, a fatal disaster for the interpreter, especially if figures and dates are quoted. Reading a text requires a different debit to speaking. Generally people reading speak faster, because they do not have to think about what they are going to say. Pauses are timed differently, and the quality of vocabulary and sentence structure is more formal and bureaucratic. Unless the interpreters are familiar with the text, or at least the argument, it is extremely arduous to translate this type of speech as the rhythm of a written speech is very different, and it becomes very difficult for the interpreter to keep up.

Generally, there is lack of attention just before lunch and a feeling of drowsiness just after. The sun shining outside does not help matters, either. Whatever the conditions of work, the interpreters cannot afford to let down their guard as slowing down would mean that they risk leaving out essential parts of the speech. Their work is, however, facilitated when they realise already by the opening sentences that a speaker is experienced in public speaking or that he takes their presence into account. The greatest pleasure for an interpreter is not simply to render the ideas of the speaker faithfully, but to find the appropriate and elegant turn of phrase which also makes the translation more enjoyable for the listeners. In diplomacy, where the value of a word carries weight, it is particularly important to pay attention to idiom, innuendos, nuances of meaning. Occasionally, the interpreter serves as a scapegoat when in a moment of tension, a misunderstanding can be rightly or wrongly attributed to misinterpretation.

In our case, we strive to avoid mistakes in interpretation by working as a team. We try to ensure a constant presence of two interpreters in the booth so that even when one of us is "resting", her ears are still tuned in to the conference and she may be readily called on in case of need (names, dates, figures, technical terms, acronyms, etc.).

A good rapport between the interpreters contributes to a better spirit, and consequently, to better translation. This is further enhanced if a good working relationship is established with the conference organisers and participants. The interpreters would not feel inhibited from approaching the delegates in order to verify a term or to ask for a speech. The delegates should feel at ease in coming to the interpreters to discuss particular points in their speeches.

In diplomatic conferences, confidence in the interpreters is essential. The underlying tensions which may arise between delegates or country representatives can worsen if the interpreters are not trusted. In fact, in certain cases of great tension, delegates prefer to speak in or translate into a language they do not really master rather than passing through an interpreter. This is why it is important to ensure that the interpreters chosen are of the calibre and have experience in dealing with situations where tact and savoir-faire are an asset.

Diplomacy does not only pertain to diplomats nor is it characteristic only of diplomatic conferences. Other types of discussion such as religion, culture, heritage, sales, marketing may require such skills. Interpreters must know how to transmit a message using discretion without recurring to censorship, as it is not their role.

Interpreting in diplomacy can prove very rewarding as interpreters feel that they are giving their small contribution to history in the making.
 

Year
2001-01-01T00:00:00
Author
Vicky Ann Cremona, Helena Mallia
Year
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Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Conference interpreters Vicky Cremona and Helena Mallia outline the different types of conference interpretation, difficulties in interpretation, preparation and techniques, and team work. On the topic of diplomatic conferences they point out that "confidence in the interpreters is essential. The underlying tensions which may arise between delegates or country representatives can worsen if the interpreters are not trusted..." Cremona and Mallia finish with the observation that diplomatic skills are not only the realm of the diplomat or the interpreter in diplomatic conferences, but also necessary for the interpreter of other types of discussions including religion, culture, heritage, sales, and marketing.

Source: 
Language and Diplomacy. Ed by J. Kurbalija and H. Slavik (2001)
 Vicky Ann Cremona, Helena Mallia, 2001
 

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Submitted by Mina Mudric on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 12:30
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In his paper, Colin Jennings describes the way Wilton Park – an executive agency of the British FCO – operates. He highlights some of the key reasons for its success, and identifies some specific outcomes of the conferences organised by Wilton Park. The author also offers a few reflection on knowledge management based on his many years of experience.
 

Long Text

I propose to make some fairly heretical comments about knowledge management. In doing so I take comfort from the fact that the instigator of Wilton Park, Sir Winston Churchill, believed in breaking the rules when necessary. I like, in particular, his comment that "a preposition is something you should never end a sentence with."

When I saw the programme for this conference I couldn’t work out what the title of my talk meant. But the organisers kindly explained that I should simply explain the way in which the particular institution I lead, Wilton Park, operates. So I will:

  •     explain what Wilton Park does;
  •     highlight some of the key reasons for its success;
  •     identify some specific outcomes of the conferences; and
  •     offer a few reflections on the theme of knowledge management.

WILTON PARK

Wilton Park organises over 40 residential conferences a year on a wide range of key policy challenges, and produces reports on each one. Most last three and a half days, some are shorter. The conferences are mainly on international issues but there are also some on domestic policies of interest to a range of countries. Wilton Park is an Executive Agency of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office but is academically independent (an unusual and highly productive mix). Because of this status, 60% of the participants are government officials and politicians working on the issues, and the remaining 40% are from a range of non-government professions. Only a fifth are British. A few come to learn for the first time about an issue, but most are already highly knowledgeable. Wilton Park’s website at www.wiltonpark.org.uk provides more background.

Why does it succeed?

I was impressed that one of the things Al Berg, an IT expert speaking at the February 1999 conference on Knowledge and Diplomacy in Malta, mentioned was exactly our sort of method: bringing people together for conferences as one way of exchanging knowledge and information. It is important to hear that statement from an IT expert. One can easily argue, in our fast-moving world, with e-mails and the internet, that bringing people together, as we do, in a 16th century, rural location is out of date. Is it really worth it? Doesn’t it take a long time?

I would argue that it is definitely worth it, and that data alone will always be insufficient: personal contact between individuals has a very important part to play in exchanging views and information on complex subjects. Part of this is human nature. What do we remember most? What we have read, or what people have told us? For most of us it’s the latter, and the laptop won’t change that.

There are four basic reasons why the way we bring people together at Wilton Park is not only still necessary but is, in fact, on the increase.

First, despite all the conferences and other meetings that take place on so many different issues, and among so many different nationalities, there are very few occasions when policy makers and non-government people get together and really examine the underlying problems. What are the root causes of the dispute between the protagonists? Are their aims and needs really so different, or is that a failure of perception? What can all concerned do to bridge gaps and work to mutual advantage? What are their current plans, what are the real prospects of making progress? This may sound basic, but all of us who have experience of working on international issues know that this sort of discussion is vital yet doesn’t happen very often in a productive way. So that’s the first reason: those coming find the exchanges useful and, because so many work for governments, there is a very direct impact on policy formulation.

The second reason is that the unattributable nature of the discussions encourages frank but informed debate. The collective experience is always vast, but it’s not an international negotiation and you won’t be quoted. Those are real benefits. There are lots of meetings where you represent your institution or your government, but very few where you can talk off the record. Wilton Park’s confidential and residential environment encourages participants to say what they think. They may be a bit constrained on the first day, but once they’ve got to know their fellow participants they relax and talk frankly. That can lead to some quite stormy exchanges, but there’s no harm in that if it’s reasonably controlled.

The third reason it works is that by bringing in top people in their field, the updating of knowledge is always considerable. Everyone gains new insights and new information. However much you know, there is always more to learn.

The fourth is the fact that it’s residential nature helps develop personal contacts. I know cases where they have lasted a lifetime and been really valuable.

The outcome?

But does all this make any difference? Does it produce a real outcome? If I were in the British Treasury, I would be saying: that’s all very well, but it costs money. Not much taxpayer’s money, but nonetheless, some. And what’s the result?

It is certainly true that increasing knowledge in itself doesn’t solve problems. Wilton Park conferences over the last year or so have highlighted that there was going to be a major crisis in Kosovo, an escalation of overt nuclear proliferation between India and Pakistan and a serious crisis in Asia because of the social and political tensions. None of these were prevented. But nonetheless, better informed policy makers can at least be better prepared to deal with such crises when they happen, and do their best to prevent them if they can. And in addition to the obvious benefits of the cross-fertilisation of ideas and information, and the creation of new personal links with people of real influence, there are concrete outcomes. A few examples.

We held last year a conference on the Common Agricultural Policy and a planner from the German Foreign Ministry told us that it had been invaluable for him in preparing the German government’s policy for their Presidency on this very important policy area.

We held a conference two years ago on the Greek-Turkish relationship, with just Greeks and Turks and a few other observers, which produced Greek-Turkish talks led by another institution on media coverage, military links and other contentious areas. I am not aware of any other forum that’s doing that. The influential people involved on both sides find it very useful, I am told.

Smaller foreign ministries that come to our events tell us they use the reports we produce on each conference as a working tool to update knowledge and think through policies.

We had a conference last year on the forthcoming Lome aid and trade renegotiation. Several of the ACP people there told us they found it very useful in preparing their negotiating position.

The BBC used one of our conferences as a basis for briefing their journalists for coverage of the German elections last year, and interviewed quite a few of the people who came to the conference.

We held a conference on the future of the UN last year, out of which we think there may well come a new set of principles for rejuvenating the UN in various ways, not least its Agencies.

And we held a conference on welfare reform last year which undoubtedly fed directly into the 13 January article on the front page of the London "Times" about the introduction of new welfare policies in the UK, in this case a modified form of American style workfare. I know for a fact that this in part came out of our conference.

 

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

 

Perhaps I could conclude by offering a few personal reflections on the theme of knowledge management in diplomacy based on 22 years of working for the British government in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and now Wilton Park. None of this may be revolutionary but I hope its worth hearing.

First point. Diplomatic services have very high quality staff, with exceptional commitment, and in the British case a global heritage which produces an enormous number of networks through the Commonwealth and other institutions, a virtually incorruptible civil service, and a stable and transparent democracy. Despite this, we manage information badly.

In my experience, the life of a civil servant in Britain is almost constant crisis management. Cutbacks in staff and resources have led to real overstretch. There is precious little time to think. I’m sure this will be familiar to lots of you, it’s not just a British problem. But in our case, there is little time to read carefully and to think, and even less to organise your information. The interaction with non-government thinkers is greatly restrained by the pressure of work. That lack of interaction can be damaging. It leads to perpetuation of policies which are well past their shelf life because civil servants are only talking to each other.

Job turnover is far too high, which means that experience, certainly in capitals, is far too slim. That applies in virtually every area.

Key information and recent documents are often very hard to find. A lot of time is wasted looking for them. IT is not used nearly enough to overcome this. As mentioned by other speakers, the introduction of IT in our organisations in the last ten or so years hasn’t saved work. It’s created vast amounts of extra work. Of course it has benefits. E-mailing and so on is enormously useful and time saving, but in other respects we’re a long way off. When it comes to design and use of IT, it’s like the motor car in the early stages of the century. We have an awful lot further to go, in terms of having systems that are easy to use, where you don’t have to click on 25 different things to obtain what you want, which don’t crash twice a day or remove useful tools every time a programmer touches them , etc.

I am not suggesting that everything we do is ineffective. The qualities of the people we have make our organisations work. But it’s despite rather than because of good management and use of knowledge. This may be a heretical thought, but it is certainly my own experience as a practitioner.

CONCLUSION

There is an obvious conclusion: we should have more meetings like this. This one is excellently timed. There needs to be more such opportunities to exchange views, and have training on the management and use of knowledge. Many of the things other speakers mentioned are new and directly relevant to my organisation and probably are to yours.

For our own part, in Wilton Park we are doing our best to increase the dissemination of our knowledge, for instance, through our website. We’re also going to be introducing a new publication which will bring together all our reports and papers, to be launched by the Stationary Office in April, entitled Current issues in International Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.

Last but not least, we are going to do our best to manage knowledge better by holding a conference with the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies in Malta in November on the social impact of free trade in the Euro-Med area.

To conclude, I would suggest that the key to knowledge is giving greater priority to making the time to learn from others, not least at meetings like this. We should learn from Henry Kissinger’s shrewd observation: "There can’t be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full."

Year
2002-01-01T00:00:00
Author
Colin Jennings
Year
Resource type
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In his paper, Colin Jennings describes the way Wilton Park – an executive agency of the British FCO – operates. He highlights some of the key reasons for its success, and identifies some specific outcomes of the conferences organised by Wilton Park. The author also offers a few reflection on knowledge management based on his many years of experience.
 

Source: 
Knowledge and Diplomacy. Ed by J. Kurbalija (2002)
 Colin Jennings, 2002

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