School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London hosted its ‘Centenary and Campaign Celebrations’

Baroness Valerie Amos
Alexander Evans OBE
Hardeep Singh Puri
C. Uday Bhaskar
Time: 06:30 – 09:30PM
Venue: The Lalit Hotel


Marking the 100th year of its journey in promoting academic research on matters related to Asia and Africa, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London hosted its ‘Centenary and Campaign Celebrations’ in New Delhi on January 17, 2017 with the Society for Policy Studies (SPS) as its local partner.

The evening saw an engaging discussion on the theme, ‘Is Diplomacy Dead?’ On the panel were Baroness Valerie Amos CH, Director of SOAS; Alexander Evans OBE, British Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi and SOAS alumnus; Hardeep Singh Puri, former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, and C. Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies (SPS).

Diplomacy is not dead as yet but it has lost its effectiveness to smoothen international relations and prevent conflicts and genocides in the 21st century, the panellists agreed.

In this age of technology, rise of non-state actors, a changing world order abd rising populism the role of professional diplomats has shrunk and may be in the danger of getting sidelined, some said.

Baroness Amos led the panel to discuss the relevance of diplomacy in the 21st century. Amb Puri, reflecting on his long experience as an Indian diplomat, remarked that while diplomacy in its traditional format is under strain, it does not however, indicate that it has lost its currency. In fact, he observed, that the relevance of diplomacy – albeit in a re-imagined avatar – becomes even more in today’s context as “when the wheel of diplomacy stop grinding, the only option left is force, and the world has seen enough of it already”.

Puri said Britain’s exit from the European Union and US President-elect Donald Trump taking to twitter to make strategically crucial diplomatic announcements “signify old order has failed” and that the world was now witnessing a “reorientation of diplomatic order”.

Calling himself a ‘positive pessimist’, Evans noted that it has been fashionable to call diplomacy a decaying field for decades, but that it is yet to die indicates its resilience. Diplomacy, he said, has re-invented itself in a way where certain forms of it are becoming redundant, other forms have quickly risen to fill the vacuum.

“Diplomacy also means you don’t give up,” said Evans.

Cmde Bhaskar too was of the opinion that while the traditional format of diplomacy has been in decline, its normative value remains intact. Pointing to a trend that is being talked about these days, ‘tweeplomacy’, he suggested, is a poignant referent of the continuous salience of diplomacy in the modern world.

“Despite all kinds of innovations, there is a currency for the traditional practice of diplomacy. (But) a certain organ of it is dead,” he said, citing the changing world order in the post-9/11 confrontation, toughness and inflexibility.

The session concluded with the panellists answering a variety of questions – from soft power as a tool of diplomacy to its ineffectiveness in Syria to whether Kashmir reflected a failure of diplomacy or politics.