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The G7 Summit and diplomacy as a front line profession

Update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill, 17 June 2021

The G7 Summit takes place this week in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, bringing together the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US alongside representatives invited from the European Union, Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea.

The G7 often comes in for criticism, with its meetings attracting protests, and this year will be no exception, with groups highlighting a wide range of issues from climate change, to the need to vaccinate people in poorer countries. These issues will be on the agenda of the summit also, and this year there is the possibility of real progress on a bumper range of issues. Pre-Summit announcements have already been made on taxation of large multinational companiestackling emerging health threats, and new steps against fossil fuels, with more agreements hoped for including on providing global access to Covid-19 vaccines.

It’s a reminder that, despite the criticisms, groupings such as the G7, made up as it is of democratic countries with advanced economies which, because of their privilege feel the weight of global responsibility, can make a real difference. More fundamentally perhaps, the successes already highlighted at this year’s summit are a reminder of the power and importance of diplomacy – the ability of different sovereign nations to resolve differences and address common challenges through dialogue. Diplomacy as a profession itself rarely attracts the public attention of other roles, and when it does tends to be crudely mischaracterised as glamorous and rarified. Yet in truth diplomacy is still the best tool we have as a planet for reaching agreement and solving conflicts – a genuinely front line profession in an age of growing threats to international order.

This week at Wilton Park we are continuing a series of dialogues on the future of diplomacy in an online world, with generous support from the foreign ministries of Norway and Switzerland – two countries which have long recognised and embraced the kind of quiet, polite, persistent diplomacy that often makes a real difference in global affairs. As the title of the event suggests, Covid has accelerated a move into the digital sphere long predicted by some diplomats themselves such as the UK’s innovative former diplomat Tom Fletcher in his 2016 book ‘Naked Diplomacy’. The Wilton Park event brings other practitioners, academics and experts from around the world, to discuss (online) where the future lies for diplomacy simultaneously constrained and enabled by the increasing need to engage digitally. It is typical of the streams of activity we host at Wilton Park to identify trends and build relationships between key actors across the international realms of diplomacy, trade, development and security.

Much real diplomacy of course takes place in far less comfortable surroundings, in conflict zones and amidst considerable suffering, little celebrated and less understood. Our work at Wilton Park is a far cry from such selfless efforts. Yet neither is our work, at least in the short term, likely to attract the attention and profile of the G7 Summit. However our ambition is to continue to support the relationship building and quiet, persistent diplomacy that contributes to the achievements flourished at more formal summits as well as in far tougher environments. In an increasingly complex and competitive world, it is ever more important that we succeed.

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