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Diplomacy is a contact sport

Update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill, March 2022

Russian aggression against Ukraine naturally dominates much of the world’s time right now.

At Wilton Park we are considering how it will likely impact global affairs in the short, medium and long term, and relevant themes will shape much of our activity over coming weeks and months.

At the same time we must continue with our wider programme inspiring and mobilising global networks of influence to address our greatest diplomatic, development, trade and security challenges. In doing so we are finding a new balance between in-person, virtual and hybrid interaction.

Whilst the benefits of virtual engagement are here to stay, diplomacy is and will remain a contact sport, and the best of our work at Wilton Park takes place ‘in the room’. Indeed, we are fielding unprecedented demand for our world class convening skills and unparalleled access to global networks of expertise and influence across a range of sectors. In an age of growing distortions and tensions, the 75 year experience and expertise of Wilton Park in building trust and shaping outcomes will be ever more important.

Below are just some examples of how we are doing that, often in person, once again.

Returning to in person dialogues

We’re seeing considerable demand for in person dialogues since the relaxation of Covid restrictions.
In person events are restarting in earnest: we’ve held 17 of these since the beginning of the year and are busy planning bookings well into Autumn.

Four of these events were hybrid, with a mix of participants at Wiston House and online. Our hybrids are produced to ensure both those in the room and online feel equally part of the conversation, in both plenary and breakout sessions.

We anticipate that hybrid events will remain useful while international travel remains problematic for some and that fully virtual events can continue to support an outcome as part of series. However, sponsors are increasingly recognising the value of in person discussions to better understand, share perspectives and shape solutions.


In February, we were back at our home in Wiston House for Human Rights 2022, the 16th meeting in an annual series, discussing current threats to the human rights system and increasing attacks on human rights defenders worldwide.

It provided a timely and much needed opportunity for leading experts from governments, civil society, multi-lateral and regional bodies to meet together and discuss increasingly assertive and influential offensives to undermine the fundamental principles of universal human rights.

Nada Al Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, outlined current concerns and set out their future vision to uphold and strengthen human rights.

Against a backdrop of escalating violence in Europe, this is a critical moment for human rights. For many it was the first in person meeting attended in over two years. Wilton Park buzzed with energy, creativity and high-level engagement as people soaked up the opportunity to reflect, listen and re-energise thinking. It was good to be back in the room.


We are now accepting nominations and sponsorship applications for this year’s British German Forum (BGF).

Now in its 37th year, the 2022 BGF will take the UK-Germany Joint Declaration, the German election and coalition agreement, and the Covid pandemic as starting points from which to look ahead and explore three further areas: transforming economies to adapt societies to climate change, learning from the Covid pandemic and practicing foreign policy based on ideas, causes and values.

We have deliberately delayed some events until we could run them as solely in person events, where it was felt that only face-to-face engagement would work.

One of these is UK-India: Towards A Digital Future when over 20 Indian participants will meet with British counterparts to share experience and best practice in creating a thriving national and international Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ecosystem for the future.

Discussion will focus on the effectiveness of existing policy approaches and explore new strategies to co-create a more innovative and supported approach to the development and absorption of AI/machine learning technology within our two nations.

A timely in person conference on Rethinking Mediation and Peace Process Support takes place at Wiston House later this month. Held in partnership with the Mediation and Peace Process Support Team of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), it will aim to identify key principles that could help address the challenges of peace making in today’s changing and increasingly complex conflict landscape.


Our work in the Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Arms Control programme is getting back to business with three upcoming hybrid events.

Firstly, Designing a Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) verification regime, funded by the synthetic biology NGO, iGEM. This will develop models for verifying the international treaty on biological weapons. This has been a perennially thorny issue for the treaty, but new and emerging technology offers potential opportunities for resolving it, and the workshop will focus its efforts there.

We’ll then turn to the issue of landmines, those weapons of daily destruction, and how to leverage private sector finance for the work of clearance. This is convened in partnership with the FCDO and builds on our previous work on this topic which has identified the need for new funding streams as essential to future mine action.

And finally, again with FCDO and also the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will look at Irreversibility in nuclear disarmament, in support of the UK and Norway’s offer to the forthcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Following the Integrated Review proposal that science and technology be prioritised as a component of national security, in February we brought together experts and policy makers from across and beyond the UK government to consider thinking and approaches to achieve strategic advantage through science and technology.

Participants considered vulnerabilities and opportunities, balancing economic prosperity with national security and cross-government conditions and cultures. To challenge ways of thinking about futures, it was invaluable to hold the dialogue in person.

Enhancing security to support international research collaboration – ‘Trusted Research’ followed dialogue on this issue between science ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries through the Northern Science Ministerial format, as well as a UK-focused Wilton Park session.

It was the first of a series of Wilton Park events to engage international partners on the topic and focused on the Baltic and Nordic nations with roughly half of the in person participants travelling to the UK for the event and the remainder joining online. Breakout groups as well as plenary discussions included a mixture of in person and online participants, ensuring a truly interactive dialogue for all.

Back in 2020, we ran dialogues in support of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 75/36, Reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours.

The subsequent resolution in 2021 set up an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) to consider the resolution’s focus. We are continuing to support this initiative with an event at the end of March which will precede the first meeting of the OEWG, bringing an international group of participants together in person at Wiston House.


SussExport 2022 takes place on Friday 8 July.

Launched last year, we will continue our support to post-COVID efforts, and combine regional focus with practical support, to help Sussex businesses build back better.

SussExport is a unique event, giving local businesses and international trade ambassadors the opportunity to engage with the Sussex growth story. With senior participation from the Department for International Trade, SussExport will combine advice on how and where to export more combined with presentations and experiences from some of the regions’ leading brands.

We are welcoming applications to attend at all levels from companies keen to profile and boost their exporting expertise. There are also a number of special opportunities for organisations wishing to sponsor.

Looking ahead

In July, our annual conference on nuclear deterrence and assurance, convened with the UK Ministry of Defence, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the NATO Defence College, and Sandia Laboratory, will have an added relevance given the current crisis that is unfolding in Ukraine.

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