The art of diplomacy needn’t require calling home the ambassador

07 October 2021 13:00:00 - Last updated: 07 October 2021 14:22:20

Diplomacy is an art. Great skill is required, with awareness, compassion, understanding and a deep knowledge of your opponent all prerequisites for the task.

When a country is without an able diplomat representing its interests in other territories, it diminishes its ability to form alliances, trade, exchange ideas and build trust.

In the last few weeks we have seen France call back its ambassadors from the US and Australia, following the fallout from the submarine deal, while a furious Algiers has called back its own from Paris after Macron delivered his thoughts about historical Franco-Algerian relations.

It does nothing but cause harm when any nation withdraws its ambassador and diplomatic team from a country it has fallen on troubled times with.

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Sometimes it appears petty when the official representative based in a far off land is dragged back home. Sometimes it is valid, including when the possibility of war is close or a dangerous regime comes to power, but even then, it’s often better to talk.

Withdrawing an ambassador is for show, of course, allowing governments to tell their respective populations that they will not accept this or that from their opponent.

When Castro overthrew the dictator Batista in Cuba in 1959, the new government was not accepted as legitimate by the US. It was at the height of the Cold War and both the US and Soviet Union had to show their mettle to their own people.

In 1961 the US closed its embassy in the country and left. But not really. They decided to have themselves represented by the Swiss embassy in Havana instead, and likewise Cuba uses this channel in Washington.

The diplomatic posturing becomes all rather silly, but the problem is that these international spats are driven by politics and not diplomacy. When you listen to the opinions of former ambassadors talking about global issues, their views are always well-balanced and pragmatic.

The necessity for diplomacy and discussion has always been obvious, with parts of the Middle East following this practice in ancient times. Mesopotamia and Egypt are two, but civilizations across the globe realized its importance when dealing with neighbors. Archaeological sites have presented evidence of treaties and good relations over millennia.

Revoking ambassadors is always the result of politics. It is sometimes necessary, but generally is an insufficient tool, and one without the capacity to provide a solution on its own merit. Tit-for-tat retaliation always follow.

Of course, lines must be drawn at times. Following Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, US President Jimmy Carter revoked America’s ambassador, while imposing sanctions to incapacitate Iran’s economy and cripple the new regime.

This is of course the antithesis of diplomacy where the impression that sheer might is right to bring about regime change is valid. The use of force, military or economic does not necessarily entail the definite accomplishment of these goals.

History has shown that one of the most remarkable diplomat withdrawals happened in 1979 when Washington summoned its ambassador from Moscow, objecting to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Of course, following the Soviet’s departure the US itself invaded the country in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on American soil.

Given what is known now, would it have been better for the US to have kept its ambassador in Moscow, and avoided its condemnation of the Soviet invasion?

The demeaning manner in which the US withdrew from Afghanistan while leaving it in the hands of the Taliban has hardly strengthened its diplomatic relations with allies around the globe.

An ebb and flow in international and regional relationships exists.

Today, Syria has become the conduit that will allow fuel to flow through its territory to power Lebanon’s electricity grid. Al-Assad is coming in from the cold, with the West arguing that by doing so, the Syrian president will detach himself, and Syria itself, from the influence of Iran.

Washington withdrew its ambassador from Syria in 2012, one year after the eruption of violence. The failure of a popular revolt in the face of military and security aggression against the protests by the regime and the intervention of foreign players saw the US take this action. Ten years later, the incumbent President Bashar Assad was re-elected.

Withdrawing the ambassador was the correct thing to do morally, but what was the case for it if talks are taking place that offers some form of validation for Assad? Calling back an ambassador becomes simply an attempt to present a noble gesture, but one that is vacuous.

There are times when calling an ambassador back home is pertinent, and the process will remain a tool in international diplomacy, but to what end? It can never replace talking to find resolutions.