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Peace of Westphalia in the news, January-February 2023

As our belated look at Peace of Westphalia news comes into the current year, we are presented with a curious article in a Spanish journal called Atalayar under the title, “Diplomacy, a concept to be rescued.”The context, of course, is the Ukraine War. The author believes that there is a lack of sincere diplomacy on both sides, each seeking simply to gain time. He cits author Timothy Garton Ash:

The worst thing we can do is push for peace negotiations with Vladimir Putin, the best thing we can do for peace is increase our military, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine, so that one day we can negotiate from a position of strength.

I would agree that this is an unfortunate approach to diplomacy. Properly approached, diplomacy is not a mere instrument designed to advance political advantage by cajoling, coercing, and confusing opponents into doing things contrary to their own interests. True diplomacy is creative: it involves showing other states where your common interests lie and creating co-operation where there was none. One could argue that this is not how diplomacy is actually practiced. I would respond that merely negotiating to promote the interests of one’s own state is indeed negotiating, but is not dipomacy. I am arguing for a specific definition of diplomacy that distinguishing it from power-political negotiations. Or, perhaps I would be better off saying: the highest plane of diplomacy involves identifying shared interests and convincing other states of their significance. The rest of negotiating may be called “diplomacy,” but it is a lower level of activity, involving significantly less skill. It also severely limits the types of problems that diplomacy can solve. With “lower diplomacy,” hoping for military superiority is indeed the ultimate fallback. Higher diplomacy tries to solve problems without needing military power.

Along with that serious note, we have another one of those crazy articles that makes me question whether I’m living in the same dimension as other denizens of the internet. This is a piece in the Eurasia Review by an alleged former Bangladeshi ambassador named Kazi Anwarul Masud. It begins with the Peace of Westphalia (hence why I learned of its existence): a single sentence, followed by a long quotation from an article in a publication from Hubei, China.

The next paragraph begins, “But for the emergence of Adolf Hitler…,” which is not only a non-sequitur of epic proportions, but the sentence pirouettes into a long apposition about what Hitler did, never finishing its opening clause. We are informed that Hitler was emboldened by “Lord Palmerstone’s misplaced assurance to the British people that peace had been secured.” (Lord Palmerston was British Prime Minister in the early 1860’s; presumably the author meant Neville Chamberlain, unless there is another Lord Palmerston that I am unaware of.) The article continues tumbling down the hill of illogic down which it threw itself in the opening, ending up in current affairs without any trace of the relevance of the Peace of Westphalia so far as I can tell.

Now, I realize that this is the internet, where anyone can “publish” anything without the slightest concern for facts or logic. What surprises me is that this is an article in what appears to be a real journal (although I haven’t checked its credentials), by a man who claims to be a former ambassador from a large country. I also realize that English is very likely not his first language. Often I find articles that can only have gotten into English via an automated translation, which is bound to make a muck of its coherence. But this doesn’t seem to be a translation, and, even if it was, it would be an embarrassment even for that genre. I just don’t understand what’s going on here.

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