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The role of citizen diplomacy in the time zone Western Australia shares with 60 per cent of the world's population is the concern of Sue Boyd, President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (WA Branch).
Diplomacy used to be the exclusive activity of government. Threats to national sovereignty and security came from other states - invasions, military attack, war. So the key to the security of each state lay in the maintenance of appropriate relations between governments. And when threats emerged it was states, through their governments and agents of government, such as the diplomatic services and armed forces, which were responsible for adverting disasters and finding solutions to re-make peace.
However, modern states and their peoples are now so inter-connected and the modern threats to peace are so all pervasive that ordinary citizens feel an increasing fear about events in the international arena which impact on them and their communities. The modern citizenry is better educated, more widely informed, more widely travelled and more likely to be employed outside their country of origin. Technology, democracy, and education are combining to erode the sovereignty of the modern territorial state.
And citizens in many states have lost the automatic respect for their governments and their faith in governments to fix things. Indeed, in some cases, such respect has seldom existed, and there is a growing cynicism about the capacity of governments, at all levels. There is a growing trend for ordinary people to want to be involved, to feel they are "doing something" and to join in groups and movements to effect change - not only in their own countries but across international borders. "The Emperor's rule stops at the village gate" worked well when the villager's major concerns were local and parochial. But this is no longer the case in the modern nation state. Democracy faces many challenges.
In the 1960s, fear of nuclear annihilation gave rise to the international nuclear disarmament movements, which ranged from small groups of concerned citizens who chained themselves to military facilities, to international groups such as the Quakers. Large numbers of ordinary people who formed groups agitating for disarmament spawned a whole new section in the international music industry and collectively made nuclear disarmament the tiger that governments had to ride. National delegations at the United Nations were forced to accept non government organisation representatives and advisers, and, to their surprise, found them useful and able to make a positive contribution, rather than the ignorant do-good meddlers the professional diplomats feared.
Organisations like Amnesty International and PEN, which work across international borders, have grown from the concerns of ordinary people about political prisoners and oppressive regimes in particular countries. The strong drive for citizen international involvement is reflected in organisations like Rotary International, Doctors without Borders, Australian Volunteers International and the international activities of the major churches and religions.
Current concerns include climate change and the realisation that the factors affecting the environment are cross-border. There is widespread alarm and a deep need by the concerned citizenry not only to take personal responsibility and individual action to change the behaviour of their own family and communities, but to influence change in other countries, to curb carbon emissions, protect wildlife habitats, stop uncontrolled destruction of forests, and prevent industrial waste discharge.
Other trans-national concerns are poverty, malnutrition and human rights, including violence against women.
The growth in "second track" diplomacy in the region reflects the reality that governments do not have all the answers, even though they retain considerable power and control great financial resources. Governments are actively supporting institutions such as the ASEAN Institutes for Strategic Studies and, in Australia, the Australian Institute of International Affairs, which foster wider public awareness and study of international challenges. Last year the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Australia hosted the first international conference bringing together about 25 sister institutions from within the region and beyond. The highly successful Australian American leadership Dialogue was a citizen-led initiative, as are many others.
Second Track brings together technical experts, professionals in a wide range of fields, academics and concerned citizens with elected and non elected government representatives. The informal nature of Track II diplomacy allows serious and potentially dangerous issues to be discussed in an open, non-official forum. This process increasingly influences policy and process in international relations. It helps develop strategies and organise human and material resources. Second-track exchanges are a growing feature of international citizen diplomacy in our region.
Unlike traditional diplomacy, which concentrates on government-to-government interaction, public and citizen diplomacy are key tools in building international understanding among the peoples of the world. Citizen diplomacy focuses on the potential of positive citizen-to-citizen contact to effect international change. It sometimes works to influence government: sometimes to subvert it.
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