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Handbook examines diplomacy in changing world

28 June 2013



The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy is an authoritative reference tool for those studying and practising modern diplomacy


Minister Shanmugam (2nd from right) launching the book with (from left) Prof Chesterman, Prof Thakur and Prof Mahbubani

Diplomacy has become more critical in a radically changing world. Failing to resolve issues through diplomatic means could have “catastrophic consequences”, said Professor Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament during the launch of The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy on 24 June 2013.  

The book, penned by practitioners and scholars, includes contributions from NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) Dean Professor Kishore Mahbubani and Dean of Faculty of Law Professor Simon Chesterman. The compendium is an authoritative reference tool for those studying and practising modern diplomacy, with its comprehensive collection of essays by distinguished diplomats and academics, among them a Nobel Peace laureate and a former Prime Minister.

The launch ceremony hosted by LKY School was graced by Guest-of-Honour Mr K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, as well as invited guests.

During the panel discussion, Prof Thakur, Prof Chesterman and Prof Mahbubani examined the challenges and changes facing diplomacy in the 21st century.

Referencing the chapter by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on the G20, Prof Thakur noted that today’s diplomatic landscape includes “summit diplomacy” and “commission diplomacy”. The former changes the dynamics of interaction, useful for breaking down veto points. Leaders can trade “apples for oranges” in a way trade ministers may be unable to do.

Such forums also create discipline to mobilise resources and show commitment. He highlighted the role of civil society and non-governmental organisations as “pressure points”, and that national diplomats need to act in that multilateral environment.

Prof Chesterman observed that old assumptions have broken down. One is the shift from “club diplomacy” to “network diplomacy”, which debunks the perception that diplomacy is a relationship between states.

He pointed out that the confidentiality of communication can no longer be presumed. Referring to Wiki Leaks, he stressed diplomacy’s inherent need for discretion, saying confidences leaked could perversely lead to less transparency. “Because diplomats now are much more careful about what they will commit to writing, meetings take place without oral records, and all this leads to less transparency and worse decisions.”

Prof Mahbubani also shared his thoughts on making multilateral diplomacy stronger. He said: “We need to stop delegitimising agencies such as the UN, stop starving them of resources, for example the WHO, if we want them to solve crises such as world pandemics, and to recruit the best and brightest talents.”

By Melanie Chua, Editor for Global-is-Asian, LKY School


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