As the corona-virus spread across the world in the spring of 2020, peace negotiations, like other parts of the international diplomatic system, had to be held online.
Based on interviews with parties and mediators involved in the peace processes of Syria and Yemen, Isabel Bramsen and Anine Hagemann analyse the qualities of virtual and physical meetings respectively.
Particularly, virtual meetings condition peace diplomacy in terms of broadening accessibility, putting confidentiality at risk, allowing for higher frequency of meetings, often disrupting interaction, but also in some instances equalizing it.
- How come women negotiators experience that they get more speaking time online?
- Virtual meetings often have to be more formalized with designated talk time and which can also be beneficial for women or others who otherwise might get less speaking time. Likewise, people who usually dominate the room with their body language and position in the room are disadvantaged online, and several women found this to be an advantage to them.
- You suggest using a new term: diplomatic approachment and your case study of peace processes highlights some of the micro-elements of this approachment. Can you explain this shortly?
- We use the term diplomatic approachment to capture the act of “leaning towards” or beginning to come closer to an opponent. We need the word approachment in the language of diplomacy to be able to explain and describe the process of adversarial parties coming nearer to each other, if only momentarily.
- Aren’t there a lot of security issues when it comes to virtual diplomacy?
- There is, and it can be a big problem for confidentiality and the feeling of trust in a meeting. However, several of our Syrian informants mentioned that they would feel surveilled also in physical meetings and hence that the difference was not that big online.
- Can virtual meetings replace physical meetings in peace diplomacy, in your opinion?
- No, virtual meetings cannot replace physical diplomatic meetings, particularly not in heated conflict situations, since too much is lost in virtual mediation, including the sense of trust and potential for approachment.
- How do you see the future, post Corona, for these negotiations?
- We believe that the COVID-lockdown has taught many of us, including diplomats and peacebuilders, the value but of course also the downsides of virtual communication. Future diplomacy can benefit from coupling physical and virtual meetings since the first mentioned is essential in building trust and the latter can be used to sustain communication between physical meetings and thus better maintain the potential approachment established in the physical meetings.
- And last, what do you mean by The Missing Sense of Peace?
- Interestingly, even though the interviews where about virtual mediation, we ended up learning much more about face-to-face mediation than we expected to.
Apparently, it is easier to understand some of the dynamics of face-to-face diplomacy in its absence. In one of the interviews, an informant vividly described how she uses all her five senses in diplomatic engagements but also how a sixth “sense of peace” would enable her to sense where the other is coming from, where the conversation is going and whether there are some spoilers who might disrupt the process. Taking point of departure in her description, as well as the experience of virtual and face-to-face diplomacy by the other informants, we develop the sense of peace to include a sense of understanding (of the other and the situation), a sense of togetherness as well as a sense of trust.
To the article in International Affairs
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash