‘This is your home’ – he said to NGOs

The former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has said in 1994, regarding NGOs participation in UN venues:

<< I want you to consider this [the UN] your home. Until recently these words might have caused astonishment. The United Nations was considered a forum of sovereign states alone. Within the space of a few short years, this attitude has changed. Non-governmental organizations are now considered full participants in international life.>>

(Raustiala and Bridgeman, 2007:2. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s 1994)

This is explicative of NSAs presence in international negotiations. In fact, non-state actors have been – and continue to be – largely present in the international scenes, especially when it comes to ‘low politics’. To be more precise, NSAs are active in environmental and human rights issues. When it comes to the environmental field, both at the EU and UN level, NSAs have acquired a position as consultative organisms. This means that they do not have the same powers as states, yet these stakeholders are consulted regarding agenda setting and political framework, in light of their work of expertise and knowledge dissemination.

Environmental diplomacy has started to be central in the international agenda in the 1970s, especially since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. Important steps forward have been made in the 1990s, for example with the Kyoto Protocol (and following Kyoto II). Non-state actors have played a huge role in the agenda setting, policy evaluation, experts consultation and information spreading. In particular, in the UN 1972’s venue, NGOs have written alongside states, the preparatory documents (Clark and al., 1998; Betsill and Corell, 2008). 250 NGOs were present as promoters of sustainable development! The Agenda 21 of the Rio Environmental Summit is ‘the first UN document to recognize the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders groups’ (Hocking, 2011: 233).

Non-state actors have a few sources to gain authority from, in global venues: ‘symbolic (legitimacy/ability to invoke moral claims), cognitive (knowledge, expertise), social (access to networks), leverage (access to key agents and decision-making processes), and material (access to resources and position in the global economy) powers’ (Nasiritousi et al., 2014: 113). Obviously, different actors have different strengths and possibilities, yet it is evident that they exert an actual influence in diplomatic affairs. Their strength lies in their organization and connections: connections with the public, with other NSAs and with states. What makes them different is their neutral characteristic: they do not represent a state, rather a view – but most importantly – an outcome. NSAs bound together the private and the public, making clearer and faster answers possible. NSAs significance is the fact that the public is actually involved in the state’s business. On the other side of the spectrum, states themselves are more aware of the public opinion and objectives.

The World Wildlife Fund gives one recent example of non-state actors’ work of representation. Staying neutral to the political groups, WWF, in the aftermath of the official beginning of Brexit negotiations, has called for Theresa May’s attention on environmental issues, praying the UK government not to forget the environment, putting in place an online platform where to write a letter to the Prime Minister (link here, for whoever wished to participate https://bsd.wwf.org.uk/page/speakout/brexit ).


Important NSAs, like Greenpeace for example, seem to have a direct connection and valuable position with other non-state actors.  Following the sanctions imposed to JBS – the largest meat processing company in the world, accused of buying cattle from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon – by the Brazilian government this March, Greenpeace has stopped negotiations with the company ‘until it can prove that the meat is free of deforestation, slave labour and conflicts with indigenous lands or protected areas’ (Greenpeace editors, 2017). To me, only the fact that a company of such influence and economic resources was negotiating with a non-state actor, is illustrative of the NSAs importance.

Overall, it seems clear to me that NSAs have a position in environmental negotiations, as well as influential powers. Their spot in international and national negotiations comes from their valuable skills in information gathering and dissemination, expertise and network of connections. NSAs are embodied in diplomacy; therefore, it would be impossible not to consider them as influential actors.


Betsill, M. Michele & E. Corell (2008). ‘Introduction to NGO diplomacy’, in Betsill, M. Michele & E. Corell (Ed.), NGO Diplomacy: The Influence of Nongovernmental Organizations in International Environmental Negotiations, the MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-18

Clark, A.M., Friedman, Elisabeth J., Hochstetler, K. (1998). ‘The Sovereign Limits of Global Civil Society: A Comparison of NGO Participation in UN World Conferences on the Environment, Human Rights, and Women’ World Politics, 51(1), pp. 1-35.

Greenpeace editor (2017). ‘Greenpeace Brazil suspends negotiations with cattle giant JBS’,  Greenpeace.org, available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2017/Greenpeace-Brazil-suspends-negotiations-with-cattle-giant-JBS/

Nasiritousi N., Hjerpe, M., Linner, B. (2014). ‘The roles of non-state actors in climate change governance: understanding agency through governance profiles’, International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 16(1), 109-126

Raustiala, K., Bridgeman L. Natalie (2007). ‘Non-state actors in the Global Climate Regime’, UCLA School of Law Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series, 07(29), pp. 1-35

People’s Public Diplomacy in Saudi Arabia

From 2011, Saudi Arabia has seen many protest videos spreading online, portraying both the good and the bad side of the country.

Before you start reading, please keep in mind that this state does not allow information to be spread easily; its internal affairs are a mystery to journalists, and Saudi Arabia does not entertain a high level of communication with other states on its actions.

Let us begin with these two YouTube videos:



The first one dates back to June 2015: a little campaign on YouTube, launched by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, promoting and supporting coexistence (The Hidden Killer. A Saudi PSA in support of coexistence 2015). ‘The Hidden Killer’ was viewed 150,000 in 48 hours and entailed discussions.

<<What is the greatest destroyers of nations and people? […] there is a hidden killer […] that many of us don’t know … the hidden killer could be you. […] This killer sleeping inside you wakes up the moment you give up on the value of coexistence >>

Its aim was ‘to offer a platform to ‘’debate reform and suggest remedies’’ for the terror indoctrination which had precipitated the attacks (referring to 9/11), and mitigate sexism and sectarian incitement through dialogue‘ (Braude 2015). Although this particular video was directed towards young Saudis from joining jihadist groups, the ‘general’, ‘comprehensive’ message of coexistence is an important message of openness.

The second clip is a bit older, from 2013, and it represents a movement that has been spreading and growing: #Women2Drive.

The sarcastic video sounds familiar: ‘No woman no cry’ by Bob Marley?                                   No, ‘No woman, No Drive’ by Hisham Fageeh, a comedian from Saudi Arabia who has studied in the US and works in a Saudi comedy channel (Suebsaeng 2013).

<<No woman, no drive … say I remember when you used to sit in the family car, but backseat. Ova-ovaries all safe and well so you can make lots and lots of babies. […] In this bright future you can’t forget the past, so put your car key away>>.

This catchy song mocks Saudi Arabia’s policy against women driving cars; yet, it goes further, in describing the ‘traditional’, patriarchal relationship between the men and the woman in the country.

In 2011, Al Jazeera English broadcasted women’s pledge for the right to drive (Saudi woman campaigns for right to drive 2011). The speaker makes logical statements on why women should drive: what if her husband gets a heart attack and she cannot drive him to the hospital? Manal Al-Sharif – leader of the twitter campaign #Women2Drive – was briefly detained after uploading a video of herself driving and encouraging women to do that as well. Women cannot take public transports – she continues explaining – , which implies having someone to drive for them, either a male guardian or a private expensive driver.

In January 2017, women’s action for equal rights – and in particular against the guardian system – has gone further with this other music video (News.com.au 2017):

Hwages, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rUn2j1hLOo

It features women dancing, playing basketball and skating while dressed in the niqab and it has scored more than 10 million views. Three women get in the back of a car, while waiting for a boy to get behind the wheel. A clip of two disapproving men interchanges with the women having fun skating and riding on scooters, singing, with long colourful dresses and niqabs.

The reaction of the internet was loud: on the one side, agreement and support for these women, both internationally and nationally – for example from the ex-wife of prominent Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, and from one of the oldest newspapers in the country, Al-Bilad (Taylor 2017) –, on the other, criticism about them wearing the veil and not being ‘daring enough’, or calling the song ‘cheap and extremely inappropriate’.

It has to be noted that all these campaigns do not attempt in changing the state, they are not calling for a revolution; on the contrary, being respectful and supportive of the kingdom and Islam, they advocate for a positive development, because to its citizens, Saudi Arabia is a developed, modern country.

What is portrayed is a complicated and delicate picture. Saudi Arabia is very much judged by the international press; it tries in its public profile to seem more appealing to the international scenes, campaigning for coexistence, yet, the internal debate on women and cars, – which puts the state under a negative spotlight – has gotten viral on the Internet and has gained greater international fame, arising critiques to the ban.

It is interesting to see how public diplomacy has being taking a peculiar face in this particular environment: it is not the traditional diplomatic asset that is ‘doing the work’, but the general public, the people. These women do not wish to dismantle their home, they are respectful and proud of their culture and system – portraying that online -, but they are also mediating to make a difference, reporting on what is not right to them, as Saudi Arabians, to tell their government what can be improved…sounds diplomacy to me!



Suebsaeng, A. (2013). ‘Saudi Comic’s ‘’No Woman, No Drive’’ Video Goes Viral, But He’s ‘’Not a Social Activist’, Model Jones, available at http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2013/10/no-woman-no-drive-viral-video-saudi-arabia-hisham-fageeh-interview

Braude, J. (2015). ‘A Campaign in Saudi Arabia Challenges Young People To Rethink Their Biases’, The World Post, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-braude/a-campaign-in-saudi-arabi_b_7578070.html

News.com.au editors (2017). ‘Hwages: Music clip sparks debate, celebration in Saudi Arabia’, news.com.au, available at http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/social/hwages-music-clip-sparks-debate-celebration-in-saudi-arabia/news-story/939ac149f6307fb76f0999b1cfb0f3f7

Saudi woman campaigns for right to drive (2011) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gke1CYaKVOY

Taylor, A. (2017). ‘Saudi Arabian women release video mocking kingdom’s driving laws’, Independent, available at


The Hidden Killer. A Saudi PSA in support of coexistence (2015) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c0vmIAPFis

HOSTAGES IN IRAN: the US Intervention

Back in 1979, 52 US citizens were held inside the American embassy in Iran for more than 400 days. On November 4, some Iranian students, demonstrating outside the US embassy in Tehran, assaulted the infrastructure and took 90 people hostage, 66 of which American.

Iran was in a riot because of US President Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow Iran’s autocratic deposed Shah to be treated in the US for cancer. Student’s action though, was a message to the US against its continuous interferences in the country. This revolutionary move was interpreted as a way of getting a spotlight for the anti-American cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (History.com 2010).




                 US embassy in Teheran acctacked by revolutionary students, 1979

The relationship between the two countries had been fragile for almost 50 years, because of oil interests (History.com 2010). British and American companies had gotten a beneficial deal regarding Iran’s petroleum extractions. However, in 1951, the new Prime Minister of the Arab country, Muhammad Mossadegh, decided to nationalize the oil’s industry. Westerns countries were undoubtedly unhappy so British and American Intelligence agencies devised a secret plan – ‘Operation TP-Ajax’ – to overthrown Iranian Prime Minister. As a result, in 1953 a new leader was installed: pro-Western, anti-communist Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The US and the UK managed to get an impressively beneficial deal, i.e. 80% of Iranian oil reserves, in exchange for aid. Because of this intervention in local Iranian domain, not only did Iran’s economy suffered from the purchase of American weapons worth billions, but mostly, its people were ruled by a dictator. People turned to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a revolutionary Islamist cleric whose message was an autonomous Iran. In 1979, the Shas was forced to flee to Egypt and the Ayatollah installed a militant Islamist government. After Carter’s decision, rage spread. A group of pro-Ayatollah students managed to get into the US embassy in Tehran, seizing many diplomats and embassy employees. In a few months about 10 hostages were released.

Diplomatic actions in this crisis and economic sanctions didn’t seem to work at first: not even the American military rescue operation called Eagle Claw did. Telling the revolutionaries that they were breaking the Geneva Convention was pointless (Chris Sibilla). Iranian government itself did not do any actual move against the students. Revolutionaries demands were simple: The Shas return to his country for a trial, the ceasing of US interference, the return of the stolen properties by the Shas. USA supported the trial idea, suggesting to establish an international commission for human rights abuses in return for the release of the hostages. The UN sanctioned Iran’s actions, and the US sued Iranian government in the International Court of Justice, winning. Diplomats from various countries tried to help American diplomatic officers and the international community openly sanctioned the Revolutionaries and the Iranian government, which had not acted against the embassy seizure – although the Foreign Minister was helping US diplomats. American diplomatic officers were sent to Tehran so as to directly speak with the Ayatollah; they established a sort of ‘sitting foreign embassy’, in strict contact with the Foreign Ministry. They couldn’t get sensitive information because they couldn’t go out in the streets, yet they’re presence opened a channel of communication.

The UN Secretary General Mr. Waldheim, in 1980, flew to Teheran, but found demonstrations against him. Subsequently, the UN developed a panel of inquiry to come to Teheran to listen to Iranians, and hopefully from the hostages. Despite all these manoeuvres, the only strategy that perhaps changed things is the freezing of Iran’s assets by the US, still keeping diplomatic channels open. It sent a message of Carter’s engagement and credibility; he decided not to use force, although he made clear that if anything would have happened to the hostages, he would have used it. The President applied diplomacy – through economic sanctions as well – and tried to use communicative channels as much as possible.

Eventually, the crisis was resolved on January 21, 1981, a few hours after President Reagan’s inaugural address. Coincidence?


Free hostages in 1981

Anyway, in this particular case, diplomacy took a long way to resolve things, but in the end it did. I am positive that the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980 was highly influential, and in this case, the destructive war came in at the ‘right’ time for the American Government. Also, the US, being a powerful country, had the means of implementing any action, either diplomatic or military, and UN sustain was peculiar. Most importantly, they US were able to provide a credible threat that they would have attacked Iran in case the hostages were hurt.



Chris Sibilla, << The Iran Hostage Crisis –  ‘’ I had very little faith in my government protecting me’’>>, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, at http://adst.org/2014/10/the-iran-hostage-crisis-i-had-very-little-faith-in-my-government-protecting-me/

‘Iran hostage crisis fast facts’, CNN, October 29, 2016 at http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/15/world/meast/iran-hostage-crisis-fast-facts/

‘Iran hostorage Crisis’, History.com, 2010 at http://www.history.com/topics/iran-hostage-crisis

‘Iran hostage crisis’,Encyclopaedia Britannica, January 1, 2017 (last update), at https://www.britannica.com/event/Iran-hostage-crisis



Intelligence as an institution of diplomacy from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.

There is an institution of diplomacy that has been developing and gaining importance since the start of diplomacy itself: Secret Intelligence Services.

Even though new diplomacy has allowed an era of transparency, openness and communication (Hamilton and Langhorne, 2000), there are still thousands and thousands of secret agencies all over the world, such as MI5, MI6, CIA, which cover a relevant position in the governmental system and retain obscurity of information.

Throughout history, not only have kingdoms and states wanted to keep an eye on their enemies, but also on their allies: this led to the creation of the figure of the spy, the so called human intelligence (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). Spies on their missions had to be informed by a team which would create action strategies, these teams developed into modern day intelligence agencies.

Intelligence is defined as the <<collection of information, their analysis and dissemination, for competitive decision making>> (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). This definition shows why the role of the diplomat is strongly related to the one of the spy: they both aim to provide  the government with a better insight on international affairs, in order to improve legislation. Moreover, diplomatic figures are useful in maintaining contacts and cooperation with international actors in matters of defence (Berridge, 2015). Also, diplomats are seen to be a perfect cover for spies because of the security clearances and resources they are provided with (Berridge, 2015).

Even when diplomacy was still at its early stages, through the help of secret intelligence it played an important role in influencing the course of history. For instance, during the Anglo-Spanish war in the 1580s, Elizabeth I employed her Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham to establish a network of spies in several countries including France, Scotland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. This bold move prevented the Queen from assassination and warned her about the imminent invasion of the Spanish Armada.  (Wheeler, 2011).

Risultati immagini per Sir Francis Walsingham Sir Francis Walsingham

Another example is given to us by Sir William Wiseman. He acted as a liaison between Woodrow Wilson and the British government in the 1910s.  Most importantly, he is thought to have used his influence as a diplomat-spy to convince the president of the United States to make the country go to war during the WWI (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). Some historians believe that without the intervention of the United States, the war would not have ended until well after 1918, and the world might look different today.

More recently, to face the challenges of terrorism, the European Union has developed an international intelligence system, called the Eu Intelligence and Situation Centre, to boost member states’ cooperation and multilateral common action in the attempt of preventing destructive attacks (EU INTCEN website). It was founded in 2002, and since 2011 it is under the authority of the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini.

Risultati immagini per Eu Intelligence and Situation Centre

To conclude, diplomacy, be it old or new, has a strong relationship with secret services. Throughout history, dipolomacy has ulilized the strong international frameworks of intelligence organizations to gather information and reach favourable agreements, and now, with the rise of security challenges, they have developed a common aim. In fact, intelligence is a tool so effective and important for states that can be seen as a diplomatic institution.


Douglas L. Wheeler, A Guide to the History of Intelligence in the Age of Empires,1500–1800, in Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, 2011, Issue 18/3

Hamilton, K. and Langhorne, R. (2010) The practice of diplomacy: Its evolution, theory, and administration. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

G. R. Berridge (2015), Diplomacy: Theory and Practise. 5th ed. London: Palgrave Mcmillan, UK

Kerr, P. and Wiseman, G. (2012) Diplomacy in a globalizing world: Theories and practices. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center website http://www.esisc.org/about-us/our-mission

So, you’re a diplomat? Cool, me too! – How diplomats are diplomacy

When we talk about diplomacy, we think of states or international entities trying to communicate to engage friendly relations and/or act in accordance to deal with the world’s challenges. Afterwards, what we focus on are the people in black suits or tailleurs who actually have to create this world-wide communication network: diplomats.

Since its first appearance in the Ancient Near East of 2500 BC, the figure of the diplomat has never been traced thoroughly and its features have been facing the same evolution as diplomacy itself. Modern diplomacy is how it is because and thanks to the ever-changing shape of the diplomat.

The current diplomat started by being a simple emissary or messenger, with the purpose of engaging friendly relations with neighbour powers; then, it gained the ruler’s trust and gained plenipotential powers to set agreements (Kerr, Wiseman) and suddenly became a representative of the nation abroad or to institutions or a spokesman of an international organization.

Nowadays, the diplomatic figure is mutating: we have come to the point where goodwill ambassadors and celebrity diplomats are ordinary (Cohen). The first example that comes to my mind is Emma Watson: the famous Hermione Granger from the worldwide known Harry Potter’s saga, who was appointed as a UN WomenGoodwill Ambassador in 2014. She has been promoting female education in less developed countries, travelling to Zambia, Bangladesh, Uruguay.  It is well known that being a diplomat requires culture, curiosity, charm, some acting skills, attention to custom – the list is endless. However, Miss Watson has graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature!She obviously is charming and educated, and she learned how to address to UN’s authorities as the video shows; but does she have the traditional educational background asked to a professional diplomat?

What I find remarkable is that thanks to <<ordinary>> figures like Miss Watson, more and more attention has been given to non-war related issues, such as education, gender equality, environment, aid. That is to say that it’s us, interested curious human beings, who developed, and continue to mutate, diplomacy.

In 1918 Woodrow Wilson proposed to found an international organization – which would then be called The League of Nations – to provide a forum to resolve international disputes. This League was the background for the institutionalization of the United Nations in 1945, which can be seen as todays widest centre of diplomacy.  Again, a man with a principle changed the diplomatic system.



To conclude, modern diplomacy is modern – amongst all the other factors such as the appearance of non-state actors, multilateral approaches, technological innovations, international legislation, etc. – because diplomats, which were at first lucky trusted men, thought it to be their duty not only to maintain plain friendly communications, but also developing peace – and alliances to enhance that – and then setting agendas of common themes to work on, alongside effective ways to do so. To me, the most important development in diplomacy is the changing nature of diplomats.


Geoffrey Wiseman and Paul Sharp, ‘Diplomacy’ in R. Devetak, A. Burke and J. George (eds), An Introduction to International Relations, 2nd edition

Raymond Cohen, ‘Diplomacy Through the Ages’ in P. Kerr and G. Wiseman (eds), Diplomacy in a Globalizing World

Sir Ivor Roberts (ed.), Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 6th edition, chapter 1

Emma Watson’s speech at the UN HeForShe Campaign 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkjW9PZBRfk