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Patient diplomacy

December update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill.

The UK Prime Minister and now Foreign Secretary have set out their international priorities for the UK in major speeches.

Taking place in the shadow of climate change, Russian aggression, COVID, the rise of China, and renewed challenges for basic principles of truth, human rights, legal norms and good governance around the world, these speeches are important markers of the relatively new British government’s intentions.

In the Foreign Secretary’s speech this week, there are welcome and important recognitions of the need for a more strategic approach, 25 year time horizon for ‘patient diplomacy’, making ‘investments of faith’ to build ‘partnerships of the future’ with countries such as India, Brazil and Indonesia which allow growing economies to attract investment, generate growth, create jobs, harness their own natural resources, and marshal new technologies to effect a Just Energy Transition to zero carbon.

In all of these areas Wilton Park is already at the forefront of building the networks, long term relationships and practical initiatives to bring real substance to this vision. In particular our work across the fields of global trade, diplomacy, development and security is focused on defending and refreshing the values and foundations of multilateralism which is essential to UK and global stability.

Some examples of this work are set out below, but much takes place behind the scenes – whether in encouraging younger and more diverse perspectives on key international issues, working to end some of the world’s most intractable conflicts, or shaping the new frontiers of global norms in space, at sea, online, or elsewhere. In all of these, and more through patient diplomacy and long term steady effort with old friends and new, Wilton Park makes a significant contribution to a fairer, safer and more prosperous future for the UK and a changing world.

The role of the private sector in Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction

The role of the private sector in the implementation of Ukraine’s National Recovery Plan was under the spotlight at our recent event in Warsaw.

We brought together Ukrainian and international stakeholders from the public and private sectors to make recommendations on how to support Ukrainian businesses both during and after the war, and to attract international private sector investment into Ukraine.

Held in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, Crown Agents, RBC BlueBay Asset Management and Bechtel, along with valuable support from the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) and the British government, the conference outcomes will feed into the agenda for the next Ukraine Recovery Conference to take place in the UK in 2023.

The considerable uncertainties surrounding the future evolution and eventual end state of the largest, highest intensity conflict on the European continent since 1945 provided a formidable challenge to conference participants in tackling key issues regarding the private sector’s contribution to Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction. While Ukraine’s immediate needs are overwhelmingly concentrated on direct budgetary, military and humanitarian support, it is nonetheless vital to also consider how to support Ukrainian businesses that will be the backbone for economic recovery and how to create the conditions for attracting major private sector investment.

International financial institutions are making some investments in Ukraine, but the country is currently outside the risk appetite for most foreign investors due to Russia’s continuing, brutal strikes against critical civilian infrastructure, and due to tax, regulatory and rule of law problems predating the war. Important progress has already been achieved in these areas, and the EU’s granting of candidate status to Ukraine last June will provide a critical framework for driving forward further needed reforms.

For the wartime and early post-war recovery periods, initiatives were proposed that could circumvent the immense difficulties stemming from the war. These ideas included capacity building for key skills in project management and IT as well as conducting pilot schemes on “deoligarchization” in either gas or electricity distribution.

Hearing from the deputy governor of Kyiv Region who spoke about the destruction wrought there and who shared photos, learning about the personal experiences of Ukrainian participants in conversations outside the formal sessions, and a visit to a Ukrainian refugee centre in Warsaw all provided an emotional, sobering element to the event.

We were delighted to be joined by Greg Hands, Minister of State at the Department for International Trade


In November we hosted the final convening in our series Reimagining UK development assistance and climate action to 2030 and beyond.

The dialogue provided space for the UK development community and international partners to reflect on UK International Development Strategy (IDS) considering how the UK offer can best help to meet the global challenges of today.

Earlier dialogues in the series, which started in September 2021, focused on the UK’s evolving role within the international development arena and frameworks guiding the UK approach, and the nexus of international development and climate action, considering how to better leverage the mutually reinforcing pathways through which to achieve both development and climate ambitions.

November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the start of 16 days of activism on ending violence against women and girls (VAWG).

During this period we supported the UK-hosted International Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), marking ten years since we convened the first PSVI dialogue at Wilton Park in 2012 and nine since the launch of the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence.

Work to end violence against women and girls remains a priority for us at Wilton Park.


Early December also saw us focus on how the clean energy transition is gathering pace across Southeast Asia.

We convened a workshop by the Green Grids Initiative Asia-Pacific Working Group (APWG), established as part of a global effort related to COP26, with the objective of facilitating cross-border power system integration in the Asia-Pacific region, including increased investments in the transmission grid infrastructure required to integrate renewable energy generation, and increased cross-border trading of renewable energy.


We were in Vietnam last month for Meeting the ASEAN skills challenge: How can government, education providers and employers provide skills for the 21st century?

This Wilton Park dialogue was the third in a series focused on skills development in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with previous meetings in Kuala Lumpur in 2016, and Bangkok in March 2018.

A virtual conference in November 2020 examined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and skills around the world. This dialogue brought together experienced leaders from government, employers and education providers to look at the key skilling issues, exploring how countries face the question of ensuring sufficient skilled workers are available for the net zero world. It identified and promoted both the need and appetite for greater collaboration not just between the UK and ASEAN countries but amongst senior business leaders, educators and governments.

A space to explore issues surrounding Human Rights Law at Sea was on our agenda this month at Wilton Park. This comes as the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), often described as the “constitution of the oceans”, marks its 40th anniversary.

Under discussion was whether the UNCLOS meets its obligations to protect human rights at sea. This has been raised throughout the hearings in the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee Inquiry, examining whether UNCLOS remains fit for purpose today.

The Wilton Park conference reflected on the recommendations of the IRDC’s Inquiry Report, exploring how human rights obligations can be projected into the maritime domain in ways which respect both the essential structures of ocean governance and also offer meaningful rights-protection to individuals at sea.

In November, Wilton Park welcomed a delegation from the Korean Association of International Studies to discuss proposals for technological collaboration under the banner Technology security and cooperation in a rapidly changing world with UK and European counterparts.

This event served as an avenue for academics, practitioners and experts to share the current state of technologies with a focus on the status of technological trends and the nature of technological competition in core areas such as semi-conductors, 5G, quantum computing, batteries and artificial intelligence.


We hosted a dialogue on Acting responsibly in Cyberspace. In isolation, individual states have limited agency to turn back a global tide of malicious cyber activity; yet collectively they have the potential for great change towards a more amenable cyberspace.

A key part of the UK’s strategy is the focus on developing international partnerships and recognising what it means to be a responsible and democratic cyber power. This dialogue offered a forum to bring a range of diverse perspectives from nations across the globe, private sector, academia and NGOs to explore how states can practically strive towards improving cyberspace through their own actions, setting themselves apart as leaders for a better digital future by promoting responsible behaviour, whilst still recognising the inherent challenges and real politick of the digital realm.

By building cooperation between government partners and relevant stakeholders we can further efforts to build a shared vision for the future of cyberspace and agree on how to move it forward.

We also held a Wilton Park gathering in November on the changing nature of strategic stability, considering various national and regional perspectives, with an intent of identifying the risks of strategic escalation and tools for managing that risk.

Participants considered the wider challenges of a multi-polar and competitive world, the breakdown in international rules and norms and the implications of developing technologies.

We aim to hold a further event focused on strategic risk reduction in the New Year and a follow-up event later in 2023.

We are currently planning the next event in our series supporting the UK Resolutions at the UN on Responsible Space Behaviours.

The UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution (A/RES/76/231) on 30 December 2021, which established an open-ended working group (OEWG). This event will focus on the Latin American region and supports the OEWG meeting in January which focuses on threats.

As you read this, the annual Wilton Park conference on the Future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime is taking place.

This year’s meeting convenes soon after the much-postponed Review Conference and will assess the outcomes there as well as looking ahead to what a successful incoming Review cycle might look like.

Specific other issues covered will include the Iran nuclear deal, the future of nuclear arms control and disarmament diplomacy, the opportunities of peaceful nuclear technology, and the challenge of North Korea.

Bilateral fora

Bilateral fora have played an important role in providing spaces for building links between nations and their people. As the UK redefines its relationship with Europe there are several fora which are particularly important – Tertulias, Aurora and Königswinter. Each one has developed an effective platform for the UK and its partners (Spain, the Nordic and Baltic nations, and Germany) to come together. We are delighted to announce that Wilton Park will be more involved in these important bilateral forums in the future. We’ll provide our expertise on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to help support these forums on the UK side, working with the excellent teams already leading them. We’ll look at how the forums can do even more to deepen and enhance the UK’s relationships with some of its closest neighbours.


Looking ahead

Coming up in January there’s a continuing focus on human rights in the conference Strengthening human rights in the crisis of peace and security.

Marking seventy-five years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this conference will consider the effectiveness of human rights mechanisms and responses in the context of international crises in peace and security, drawing on learning from a range of countries and regions affected by conflict and insecurity. This meeting is the 17th in the annual human rights series and is being developed in partnership with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

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