Conference Diplomacy

Vol. LI No. 3 2014

This issue commemorates the bicentennial of the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) by looking at the development and effectiveness of multilateral conference diplomacy within the context of the United Nations.

Conference diplomacy is not just one of the most powerful multilateral instruments to peacefully address questions related to post-conflict balance of power. It is today also the major tool in addressing global problems, identifying innovative solutions and engaging in groundbreaking strategies for the sake of millions of people.

The year 2014 will be remembered as a transitional year in the political climate of Europe. Following the civil war in eastern Ukraine and the incorporation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, the continent is experiencing a reversal from a system of consensus into a system that is more reminiscent of the past opposition between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

When did the process of international organization start? It was not in 1945 nor in 1919. Rather, it was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) that proved to be the relevant turning point in history, when certain conditions allowed a number of European States to set in motion a series of innovations, inventions and learning processes that shaped the core of what we today refer to as international organizations (IOs).

To what extent is peace a value in itself and must one at times forfeit something in return for peace? How far do we go in the name of peace? Can our peace mean war for others? In other words, though there are many claims for peace, it remains a contested concept.

What lessons can be drawn from this brief overview of the practice of conference diplomacy? Certainly, whereas early conferences eschewed any notion of sovereign equality, there is now the presumption that “general peace conferences” must include representation from all relevant States (and often non-state actors as well).

The very first resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, in January 1946, addressed the “problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy”. Despite civil society’s efforts, led by scientists and women’s peace organizations, leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union rejected measures to curb nuclear ambitions.

The year 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the “Convention”). The Convention has been widely accepted. As of 16 November 2014, the number of States Parties to the Convention stood at 166, including the European Union.

The United Nations has been spearheading two major ongoing diplomatic efforts: to define a sustainable development agenda for the world, and to protect the planet from the deleterious effects of climate change.

While international negotiations are State-driven, other actors such as observer States, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, industry and civil society have also found an equal voice in the adoption and shaping of international treaties.

There is no question that the presence and collaboration of indigenous peoples at the United Nations has gained significant prominence in the past few decades as a result of conference diplomacy.

Over the last two hundred years, diplomatic interpreting has evolved quite significantly, due to changes in the world’s geopolitical landscape, new political settings and technical revolutions which have vastly modified transportation and communications systems.

The primary purpose of IAUP is to strengthen the international mission and quality of higher education worldwide. IAUP offers a regular forum for higher education leaders and institutions to identify and discuss in a global and cross-cultural context the major issues and challenges facing institutions of higher learning today.