High Commissioner of Cyprus Euripides L. Evriviades offers advice for the all-knowing, digitally-savvy young diplomats of the modern age
I have been in the diplomatic service of my beloved country for the past 43 years. I am entering my twilight zone. At the tender age of 65, I will be forced into retirement by September. How do I feel? A bit like Brexit. It’s a cliff edge for me without a deal and I am and remain a remainer! It is a #Euripidexit.
I have served in New York, Bonn, Moscow during the tumultuous years of USSR/Russia, Libya, Israel, Netherlands, Washington DC, Strasbourg and in London. What have I learned in the past 43 years? Here are some reflections for whatever value these may have.
Diplomats who have been in the field for decades have witnessed dramatic changes in the way the profession is both conducted and perceived.
There have been a number of definitions for diplomacy and diplomats.
Sir Henry Wotton, an English poet and diplomat in the mid-1600s wrote: “An Ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”
But the same Sir Henry also said: “Tell the truth, and so puzzle and confound your adversaries.” This is what I have been trying to do.
Perhaps best reflecting my philosophy is the wisdom of Bosnian scholar Dražen Pehar’s interpretation of diplomacy: “Primarily words that prevent us from reaching for our swords.”
Diplomacy by definition is an art, a practice and a skill. But it is also so much more. Diplomacy is the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of foreign relations. It also requires a thorough knowledge of both the country the diplomat is serving and the country the diplomat is serving in. But a fine balance is required, as too much diplomacy with not enough knowledge may be dangerous, and too much knowledge with too little diplomacy may be disastrous.
One of the most pressing demands on the diplomat is the imperative to keep pace with the dynamics of change. Just as the world around us is changing rapidly in scale and scope via the Fourth Industrial Revolution – AI, Big Data, ICT, Cyber Space, Smart Cities and Communities – so too is diplomacy. We’ve seen a phenomenal increase in the importance of civil society, to a decrease in the dominance of nation states on the world stage, to the massive rise in influence of big corporations and the financial sector, to the rapid advancement of technology, not to mention the social media revolution.
Modern diplomacy therefore, goes far beyond the confines of relations between states and between governments; it increasingly involves and incorporates the citizen diplomat. Civil society has the means and the tools to influence foreign policy. And it starts at the local level.
As the wonders of globalisation have forged new and more rapid networks of global communication and interaction, diplomacy must also adapt and adopt new ways to manage the speed and amount of information. Thus, while the avenues and venues for diplomacy have widened, the vehicles for diplomacy must keep apace as well.
As diplomats, we have a diversity of issues to deal with. We are expected to be jacks of all trades, but the danger is we become masters of none. For example, we deal with topics related to drug and crime prevention policies, or fighting human trafficking, combating violence against women and LGBTI around the world. Sustainable development, climate change, the oceans, and energy issues, are also at the forefront.
The internet has changed the course of diplomacy (and of history itself). Communication between missions and headquarters is instantaneous. Digital diplomacy allows diplomacy to take place in an international open space environment. #DigitalDiplomacy is evolving to be a misnomer. It is simply modern age diplomacy.
Although social media is a time-consuming addition that increases diplomats’ workload with an opportunity cost, it is necessary to cover the space, otherwise others will cover it for you with their narrative.
Digital diplomacy also makes our work more transparent and approachable, relatable to our own and to other people. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become a digital umbrella by which political, cultural, and even culinary diplomacy are conducted in a soft, smart and speedy manner.
With the ever further-reaching capacity of digital diplomacy, fear-mongering fake news can also be strategically spread. As former US President Nixon said: “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.”
Creating fear in societies, is not a modern phenomenon. Access to modern media, however, makes it much easier to aggravate and spread fear faster and to a larger audience. Unfortunately, as these ill-intentioned posts fall through the cracks, we must remain vigilant and fight back by divulging the truth.
So what skills, abilities, personal attributes and characteristics should a twenty-first century career diplomat have? After over four decades in the foreign service of my Cyprus, I admit that I am still a work in progress.
I don’t purport to be the diplomatic Moses, but here are the first 20 commandments that come readily to mind and not in any specific order:
- Have passion, energy, vision and a sense of higher calling.
- Learn as many languages as possible. Learn to understand different cultures. As the legendary Nelson Mandela observed: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
- There is too much information. Distil it, verify it and analyse it succinctly. Don’t be eager to give our opinion without examining the facts.
- Be a good communicator and exercise your interpersonal skills. Inject your public persona into the foreign policy promotion of your country.
- God gave us two ears and one tongue. Listen twice and speak once. Convey your messages clearly and with conviction.
- Write succinctly, plainly, to the point and quickly. Your superiors don’t have time to waste. Tell them something they don’t know, which adds value, and in good time.
- Diplomats by definition are multitaskers. If possible, specialise in an area.
- Negotiating skills are a must. Learn them. It is the basic tool of diplomacy. Methods change but the essentials of diplomacy remain the same.
- Be adventurous, curious and accept dangerous assignments. You will enrich yourself faster and better.
- Winston Churchill: “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.”
- Speak truth to power based on cogent and well-documented arguments.
- Be loyal and truthful to your boss. Never lie, spin, or speak in half-truths, (also lies). Don’t upstage him/her. It is not career enhancing.
- Constantly invest in bettering and improving yourself. Be innovative and try to master new technologies; try to be ahead of the curve.
- Always welcome feedback. As in the American wild west, hear the good, the bad and the ugly; focus only on the last two in order to improve yourself.
- Be resilient. You will not win all battles. Regroup, re-examine your methods, and always internalise lessons learned.
- Engage systematically and methodically with all stakeholders be they in the press, think tanks, opinion moulders, members of parliament, press or NGOs.
- Always be correct with your colleagues. They are your natural allies. Despite modern day informality, follow correct diplomatic protocol and etiquette. Show support and solidarity. Most will reciprocate.
- Always hold the national flag high, but without being a nationalist.
- Have a multi-layered, multi-dimensional focused activity as part of an overall strategy. In the end it may translate to one word: EFFECTIVENESS.
- Don’t lose your humanity.