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Diplomatic Ethics in the Face of Global Dialogue

By Juan Luis Manfredi

February 21, 2024

In Response to Why the Georgetown Global Dialogues?

Deglobalization is the weakening of global interdependence under a unique system of global governance, values, and norms. Economic integration is discussed as nationalism; protectionism and populism justify political criteria on industrial decisions, trade, and energy. The losers of the Western globalization are today’s activists of deglobalization. Disinformation has eroded the credibility of institutions, political parties, and media. Political hyper-leaders, empowered through their social media presence, leverage their charisma to attack the rule of law and build a nostalgic discourse. Ubiquitous untruth occupies the public sphere and weaponizes narratives. In this context, diplomacy merits a review of its ethical foundations. What is expected of a diplomat? Whose loyalty—the national government or the cosmopolitan society?

As a discipline, diplomacy is a humanistic activity that answers a fundamental question: How can we live together in the difference? Thus, diplomacy is, first and foremost, the instrument for exercising "a culture of encounter." At the state level, the aim is not to build consensus or to win the majority vote, but the creation of minimum standards for coexistence and respect. The “good diplomacy” premise is the recognition of the other. Human groups recognize that they are strangers to each other and need diplomatic instruments to lessen differences and improve coexistence. All instruments, excluding war, are welcome to be part of the strategy.

The culture of encounter claims a specific diplomatic ethic: the search for the global common good as a space of shared values. The challenge is a vibrant one, and every day new urgent and controversial crises break into the conversation. Choose your wicked concern: climate change, migrations, food crisis, inflation, bioethics, women's rights, vulnerable minorities, artificial intelligence and technology, green transition, free speech. Don’t take for granted the right to be a global citizen. The paradoxical consequence is the unequal position of democratic systems and open societies. We have sovereign obligations, responsibility for the effects of globalization within and beyond our borders, while dictatorships are free riders or—even worst—unfair actors in the global dialogue.

We must then review what these shared values are and how they contribute to human dignity, global citizenship, and the restoration of trust. It will not be a simple road, but an adventure that calls for a dialogue between old and new actors in political life, institutions, and international organizations. Let’s start.

Juan Luis Manfredi is Prince of Asturias Distinguished Visiting Professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.