August 8th, 2013
11:31 AM ET

Why ‘triplomacy’ is the new diplomacy

By Deborah Winslow Nutter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Deborah Winslow Nutter is Senior Associate Dean at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The views expressed are her own.
 
Diplomacy is dead, at least according to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writing earlier this year. His claim certainly sparked a great deal of discussion. But as someone who studies and teaches about foreign policy leaders, I would argue that the question is not so much whether diplomacy is dead, but how effectively diplomats – with their tradition of solving problems peacefully, creatively and innovatively – can collaborate with a growing number of governmental and non-governmental actors in an increasingly complex world.

I began my career as a political scientist specializing in great power relations at a time when two diplomats could still solve problems between their countries. Multi-lateral diplomacy – conferences, summits and concerts – was merely an extension of this with more diplomats and more countries involved, and the Cold War era was replete with bilateral and multilateral diplomacy – the SALT treaties, for example. The ending of that era involved classical cases of bilateral diplomacy between leaders, such as between Gorbachev and Reagan, as well as multilateral diplomacy, such as the agreement on the reunification of Germany, together bringing about monumental shifts in our international landscape.

But a number of factors these days make it difficult to undertake old-fashioned diplomacy. My colleague, Daniel Drezner, says the opening up of internal politics throughout the world has made doing diplomacy today more complex. You can add to this the rise of non-state actors in international security issues, the effect current American domestic politics has on the ability of the United States to punch its weight internationally, and the multiplication and amplification of voices outside governments. All this means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to solve global issues state-to-state.

After all, it is not just diplomats that now engage in diplomacy; business and non-profit leaders are getting in on the act as well. And the diplomacy required of these sectors influences the diplomacy that can be done by governments. Even within governments, there are an increasing number of actors whose interests come to bear upon the choices diplomats face and the outcomes they can achieve. Traditional diplomats are joined by, among others, representatives of security, intelligence, development, human rights, environmental, and regulatory agencies.

What should our future leaders be focusing on? For more than 10 years, I have taught a course on historic foreign policy leaders. My students work in various ministries, businesses, international NGOs, and international institutions. And in teaching about leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela I have tried to underscore the monumental shifts in the kind of knowledge, skills and quality of mind that leaders today must possess.

I’ve tried to help students on how to think to be successful in this environment, and how best to grasp the concurrent, intersecting, and constantly evolving relationships between different countries, sectors, and fields. I’ve found the model of the armillary – a sophisticated (and yes, old) astronomical model with solid rings that encircle a sphere – to be helpful. As this analogy makes clear, although the rings move in various directions, when one moves, so do all of them.

So, is diplomacy dead? No, but perhaps it could do with a name change – think triplomacy. Governments today can no longer rely solely on “diplomats” in the traditional sense. They need to harness the participation of multiple government agencies, private industries, NGOs and international institutions – specialists from various fields of expertise who as a group view issues through a triplomatic lens and who can collaborate in cross-cutting alliances.

Take, for example, the changing international energy landscape – an issue that has serious implications for the environment and for security. The shift in U.S. energy production and use patterns will not only affect the energy industry, but will also have significant impact on the environment, North American and global. As the United States takes steps toward energy independence, it will also raise questions about human and national security around the world. Would more energy security lead to more environmental damage? Would energy independence lessen the U.S. commitment to protecting international sea lanes? If resource-poor China continues to seek energy supplies from around the world, would it, in the face of a potential U.S. withdrawal, take the opportunity to become dominant in the Indian Ocean?

Thinking triplomatically will help enable today’s leaders to deal with the changing energy landscape, and other issues of global importance, from a more rounded perspective. Indeed, as a specialist in nuclear energy issues recently commented to me, diplomacy 2.0 may, in fact, be triplomacy.

The 2013 Fletcher Triplomacy Seminar, ‘The Changing Energy Landscape: Energy, Environment and Security,’ will address shifts in energy use and their implications.

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Topics: Diplomacy

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soundoff (23 Responses)
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    August 8, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
  2. krismlars

    Great post – very relevant to the changing energy landscape. Can't wait to see Triplomacy in action!

    August 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      What is the author's point of introducing the word "triplomacy"? Would a new word do more magic than the old one?
      Diplomacy is the art of negotiations between – unlimited number of – representatives of groups and states. There are many types and levels of diplomacy. So the increasing number of players and actors and the intricacy of the issues shouldn't justify the demise of the world "diplomacy".

      August 9, 2013 at 8:19 am | Reply
      • Damigos

        @Von. I agree with you. But I think the point she was trying to make is that old fashioned approach to diplomacy won't do for the level of complexity in governance that we face today. Diplomacy is still diplomacy but the complexity has changed dramatically. I would even go further to say that democracy as we used to know it is changing. Governance today is getting more complex and the need to include pressure groups, private sector involvement and other local agencies is increasing. How do we grapple with all these demands and still run an efficient government? Some say lean government is better than big government but is it about size or collective participation?

        August 13, 2013 at 4:15 am |
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    August 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  4. jshaw04

    Insightful and important in today's rapidly changing political environment. Something for all leaders to think about!

    August 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  5. Greg98

    Great thought on the Indian Ocean. How the US responds policy-wise to its new energy resources will have political implications far beyond the often cited Middle East. Thanks for the interesting read!

    August 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  6. JAL

    Triplomacy I like. Nobel concept.

    August 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
    • JAL

      Wait a second. Just look at all of these positive comments. I think that is a first. High score.

      August 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  7. Joseph McCarthy

    This country has a terrible record when it comes to diplomacy. Does anyone here remember back in 1954 when the then Sec. of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake hands with then Chinese Foreign Minister Chou En-Lai in Geneva at the conclusion of the French Indochina War(1946-1954)? And now Barack Obama decided not to have the Summit Meeting with Vladimir Putin simply because Putin didn't give him his way over Edward Snowden. Obama acted just like a 5-year-old over this. Maybe "triplomacy may work better!

    August 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • Damigos

      If the US fully analyzed the impact of Snowden's revelations and are certain it doesn't pose any immediate or future damage, I do not see the reason that summit shouldn't have gone ahead. The US future interest is greater than Snowden's acts and in this wise President Obama was ill advised.

      August 13, 2013 at 4:19 am | Reply
  8. Mar Florès

    Reblogged this on dipublicus and commented:
    Is diplomacy dead?

    August 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  9. joelalevitt

    The participation of the large number of agencies offers the opportunity for better informed decisions. The internet provides an opportunity for increased worldwide participation in important decisions, and this has advanced the formation of transnational organizations.

    Unfortunately, these desirable opportunities also make it harder to forget former wrongs and to concentrate on present and future interests, instead. And, the ease with which those individuals with ambitions to gain power or to continue to hold power can sell fear aggravates this situation.

    Hopes that the U.N. would provide a suitable forum for triplomacy have been disappointed.

    Dean Nutter, Is there a suitable forum? If not, what are the chances that one will be formed?

    August 10, 2013 at 9:59 am | Reply
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    Meanwhile, israel is trying to get us into another war. from jpost: Headline: Congressman: No one is thinking about US troops as part of peace accord. then, Despite past statements from Netanyahu that the presence of US troops in the West Bank would be required following Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, US Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer says such deployment is very unlikely.

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    August 12, 2013 at 1:43 am | Reply
  11. Rick McDaniel

    Diplomacy depends on people willing to give and take. Today, there are too many Islamic countries, controlling the world's energy, who simply aren't willing to give and take. Islam knows only one way........dictatorship.

    August 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  12. Mehdi Moja

    Triplomacy, a very timely concept! Though I prefer to call it "multiplomacy."

    August 21, 2013 at 10:08 am | Reply
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    So the question is how effectively diplomats – with their tradition of solving problems peacefully, creatively and innovatively – can collaborate with a growing number of governmental and non-governmental actors in an increasingly complex world.

    Lets just hope we can solve all our problems through talking.

    April 10, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Reply

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