Today, I went to a lecture on “Guerrilla Diplomacy,” presented by Daryl Copeland. Despite the somewhat misleading title, it was about how the world, and Canada specifically, should revamp the way they do diplomacy in order to make it effective again, steer it away from being done by conservative, pin-stripe suited diplomats whose only friends are their LAV drivers, and stop it from being usurped by the more effective yet also more violent military. But I’m not going to talk about the lecture.
What bugged me about the lecture was the same thing that bugs me every time I go to IR lectures – how little was actually said. All of the IR speakers, Copeland certainly included, say a lot about what they think the world should be like. They talk about what’s wrong with our world. They tell us what we should change.
What they don’t tell us is how we should change it. Yes, it would be wonderful if diplomacy (along with the rest of the world) was a sleek, efficient, vital, honest, perfect machine. But it’s not. Unless you give us some real, concrete information on how you want us to change it.
To be fair to Copeland, he tried. He said that diplomats, the way he wants to see them, would be self-sufficient, would go out among the populace and understand the populace that they’re working with. He said that diplomats should be given more autonomy (although he didn’t quite say what he meant by ‘autonomy’).
Yes, he tried to present some solutions. Which brings me to my second problem: if solutions are presented in IR lectures, so very few of them are actually viable. Yes, it would be great to have diplomats have some autonomy, but how exactly do you see this happening when every move they make has such gigantic repercussions? How do you expect your diplomats to get chummy with the populations of the countries they’re working in if the governments of those people are sure to perceive this as an inflammatory act?
I know, no one listens to academics anyway, so they can go on being idealists for all it matters. Or is that the problem? Isn’t that the reason why no one listens to academics? that they’re just so damn useless? That they’re armchair theorists? This is a problem in my field(s) too. So much of what gets said and done in academia is just so useless. No one cares if you prove that, if you just jump up and down and do the polka, Beaumont and Fletcher can seem like good writers.Why is it so difficult for academics to be concrete? To make their research come to a conclusion, to make concrete suggestions?
What bugs me about IR is that unlike in my field, they have the option of being very, very concrete. Medieval studies, history, English, have to stay descriptive to some degree. In IR, you have the option of being prescriptive: I want to change the world in THIS direction. Here are n number of steps that we need to take in the next x number of years in order to accomplish it; here is y amount of money that that could potentially take, and z political steps that will need to be taken. The change doesn’t have to be big. I know it’s more exciting if you tell us how to overhaul Canada’s entire diplomatic system, but maybe we’re not there yet. So tell us, instead, how you can overhaul the way Canadian diplomats operate in central asia.
Everyone knows that humanitarian aid is not working. Everyone knows that corruption is bad, and that there’s lots of it. Everyone knows that the government doesn’t work the way it should. So stop wasting everyone’s time on this. We don’t need to hear these things: we need to hear how you want to change them. And not how you wish you could change them; how you CAN change them. If you don’t want to or you can’t, just sit down and give someone else a chance to take the floor.