Conference diplomacy from Vienna to New York: a personal reflection.

Author:Launsky-Tieffenthal, Peter
Position:Conference news


Conference diplomacy is not just one of the most powerful multilateral instruments to peacefully address questions related to post-conflict balance of power. It is today also the major tool in addressing global problems, identifying innovative solutions and engaging in ground-breaking strategies for the sake of millions of people. The Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda is a case in point. It is therefore an interesting exercise to have been invited to take a fresh look at recent conference diplomacy in the light of the bicentenary of the 18141815 Congress of Vienna.

In fact, the Congress of Vienna lived up to its objective of creating a peaceful and stable order for generations. It took place in a highly fragile era of transition from the austere and rigid ancient regime to transparent modern mass society forged by democratization and inclusiveness. Even if the Congress failed to address the major achievements of the French Revolution and deep-rooted changes of the time, the catalytic consensus of Vienna has been rightly regarded as a balance-of-power system of the first order--a precursor to the system we have today.

Importantly, the Congress of Vienna was the first conference of ambassadors. Much of what represents conference diplomacy today was established at the Congress and has functioned well since then. The choice of different levels of negotiations, the ranking of representatives, consultations in the margins of the official meetings, the search for feedback and the often stalling response from respective headquarters concerning their special issues, the overall coordination of an interconnected complex agenda--all these seem to us to belong to the present-day repertoire of Brussels, Geneva or New York. We deem these tools of promoting decision-making and dispute settlement to be self-evident and part of everyday diplomatic life, in order to further progress in one or another matter of interest to the international community.

And, most importantly, the Congress of Vienna put conflict mediation, in a very broad sense, at the centre of diplomacy.

Representatives of all the European States were chaired by a statesman bound to the capricious claims of his crown, and yet of impressive neutrality and diplomatic ability when mediating between others. The Final Act, signed on 9 June 1815 a few days before the Battle of Waterloo, embarked countries on a series of international...

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