1. Background
  2. Nuclear Weapons

What Is Diplomacy?

February 2, 2018


Anthony Wier heads FCNL’s lobbying on Pentagon spending and nuclear disarmament. He came to FCNL from the State Department, where he had many opportunities to be part of diplomatic efforts. Communications Director Alicia McBride sat down with him to go over some diplomacy basics.

What are we talking about when we say “diplomacy”?

It means seeking to influence the world around us to secure national objectives through nonviolent means. A number of tactics and activities are included in the term, but they all have this common purpose.

What is an example of diplomatic tactics?

One example is negotiations—between representatives of individual countries or groups of countries. Sometimes the word “talks” is used, but in fact negotiations are a lot more about listening than they are talking. You’re trying to gain insight into what is motivating the other parties so you can present solutions that are mutually beneficial.

When I worked at the State Department, one of my colleagues had a sign on his desk that said “Diplomacy: the art of letting you have it my way.” That’s a tongue-in-cheek definition, but it has truth in it.

That sounds a lot like how FCNL lobbies.

Exactly. They both involve relationship-building and learning what matters to the other party, whether that’s a country or a member of Congress, so you can move closer to what you both want.

Why is diplomacy seen in such a negative light by many in the U.S.?

Our leaders have bought into the fantasy that coercion and force get the U.S. all the benefits at no cost —at least to themselves and most people in the U.S. The idea that we should engage in diplomacy, to get a lot of the benefit but at some cost, seems hard to adjust to. Yet the cost of war is actually very high—in the lives affected, and in the way it shapes how other countries see us. And from a moral perspective, it’s also very high. Right now our national bias skews these calculations so much that it takes diplomacy off the table, and that’s a big problem.

Yet the U.S. seems like it can do diplomacy well.

The U.S. has tremendous diplomatic assets. I think of when the U.S. was negotiating the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013. The only reason that worked is the U.S. had a massive number of talented, experienced people in the State Department and Defense Department who could work through all of the twists and turns of that issue with all the parties involved. The Iran deal is another example of very effective diplomacy by U.S. diplomats who have put the time in over many years to understand what the Iranians value and what motivates them.

The budget cuts and reorganization happening right now in the State Department are very concerning. We are getting rid of talented people and the nonviolent tools we have to solve problems. We probably won’t realize how much of a benefit our diplomacy has given us until we don’t have those resources.

How long does diplomacy take?

Diplomacy never really ends. An agreement like the Iran nuclear deal takes years of negotiation to arrive at, and then you need to keep talking to address issues that arise while the deal is in effect. The key is that by continuing to talk you have a chance to resolve disagreements, violations, and misunderstandings that might arise. For diplomacy to work, all parties need to stay engaged.