While working to resolve the crises of today, we should spend a lot of time talking. Being able to listen to one another’s point of view is crucial in a world where traditional diplomacy often stumbles.

Being able to listen to one another’s point of view is crucial in a world where traditional diplomacy often stumbles. 

One of the most difficult steps however, is ensuring that discussion is as impactful in real life as it is when being debated. It is during this shift, from theory to action, when previously agreed upon plans suddenly face new obstacles. Diplomats know that what seemed possible in theory starts to appear impossible in practice. This is where civil society steps in.

This year saw the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute host its 15th Rhodes Forum, perhaps one of the most successful and dynamic in its history. Attended by some 300 guests and 60 high profile speakers, it earned hundreds of thousands of live views online. The Forum also secured a dozen new partnerships, with a strong focus on Africa, thanks to former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Dioncounda Traore of Mali. Both have fought terrorism in their own countries and know what the practical dimensions of dialogue are.

This year saw the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute host its 15th Rhodes Forum, perhaps one of the most successful and dynamic in its history.

One of several new elements in this year’s forum, which will indeed grow to become a centerpiece in future events, was the Leaders’ Club Summit. This is a platform for experienced policymakers with a solid record at the head of a government, selected businesspeople, and policy advisors, to discuss and develop concrete approaches to solving particular problems.

This year’s inaugural session discussed the nature of connections between terrorism, migration, and education and was attended by the media, according to the ‚dialogue rule’ which presumes openness and transparency.

The discussion was both highly relevant to the challenges countries around the world face today, and profoundly significant as it highlighted the need for a greater role of civic forums in international policy-making processes.

The discussion was both highly relevant to the challenges countries around the world face today, and profoundly significant as it highlighted the need for a greater role of civic forums in international policy-making processes.

The Leaders’ Club Summit is an example of a new initiative to create an innovative network of high-level civic councils, which meet to develop policy recommendations on critical issues facing society.

Being far from a conventional exchange of opinions, the Leaders’ Club Summit will contribute proceedings that will serve as a basis for recommendations for the UN and other international organizations in this regard.

In a number of cases, starting with Russia-US relations, the North Korean crisis, and Chinese-Indian tensions, this new network of civic councils will ensure that vital links between countries and with international organisations continue to exist at levels capable of shaping policy.

In a number of cases, starting with Russia-US relations, the North Korean crisis, and Chinese-Indian tensions, this new network of civic councils will ensure that vital links between countries and with international organisations continue to exist at levels capable of shaping policy. 

In addition, the ever more crucial function of these councils would be to prevent the transformation of political tensions into inter-societal and interpersonal relations.

These civic councils will pick up from where official diplomacy leaves off and will provide local, regional, and international platforms for debate and discussion. Most importantly, they will be entirely focused on developing practical policies that can be applied to real-life situations.

Due to their size and composition, civic councils will be flexible enough to respond to fast-changing events, yet will still have the gravitas required to push through solutions in highly sensitive areas. It is envisaged that they will be established around particular issues or conflicts, to achieve specific goals and can be disbanded once solutions have been found and/or applied.

Russia and France developed comparable platforms some time ago, for example, the Association of French-Russian dialogue and the new Trianon dialogue announced by Presidents Putin and Macron.

Civic councils can be as local or international as required, and their makeup would reflect this. For example, there would be a scant overlap between a civic council on al-Shabab and one on Russia-US relations.

Comprising highly respected individuals who have served at both national and international levels, civic councils will have the leverage needed to deliver results. When relations are strained and officials find that existing diplomatic channels offer a narrower scope for action than required, civic councils will ensure that a channel of communication is always open.

Civic councils can be set up to facilitate any issue, but as our studies prove, they would clearly be most suited for resolving longstanding border disputes, ethnic and religious tensions, and cultural issues. Not financed by any one state, they will draw their resources equitably from contributing parties, including non-governmental institutions and private donors that would in turn find themselves more involved than ever. This would secure a system of checks and balances, ensure transparency and civic control, and prevent the imposition of a single point of view.

Not financed by any one state, they will draw their resources equitably from contributing parties, including non-governmental institutions and private donors that would in turn find themselves more involved than ever.

Civic councils will function as a kind of institutional buffer to prevent disputes escalating into conflict, and to bring conflicts back into the realm of diplomacy.

Looking at the world today, there are so many fault lines that are crying out for just this kind of institution, from Kurdistan to Armenia-Azerbaijan, South Sudan to Libya, India-Pakistan, North and South Korea, and of course the US and Russia.

The possibilities for this model of civic councils are considerable. The challenge will be ensuring that these councils are: A) able to address the challenges of ongoing or worsening disputes with few avenues for resolution in traditional diplomacy; and B) are able to agree on concrete goals in a meaningful way. This has made some impact in a number of cases already, as in the case of Sunni-Shi’ite and Israeli-Palestinian conferences we set up some time ago in Greece.

Work is underway to identify the first areas that will be most responsive to this new approach, and to invite respected former diplomats, heads of state and government officials, and entrepreneurs, activists, and religious leaders to contribute their knowledge and experience.

Work is underway to identify the first areas that will be most responsive to this new approach, and to invite respected former diplomats, heads of state and government officials, and entrepreneurs, activists, and religious leaders to contribute their knowledge and experience.

Success in this, as in any such undertaking, will be hard won. But everyone feels strongly that there is a very real need for increasing the power of societies to act as a lifeline in conflict resolution.

In an era of increased transparency – regarding communications, and in politics as well – a greater role of civic forums is inevitable.

Walking away from traditional soft power or ideology-based NGOs, which often divide societies into allies and enemies, civic councils will represent more human-centered vehicles and will be driven by values-based decisions.

In an era of increased transparency – regarding communications, and in politics as well – a greater role of civic forums is inevitable. 

Walking away from traditional soft power or ideology-based NGOs, which often divide societies into allies and enemies, civic councils will represent more human-centered vehicles and will be driven by values-based decisions.

In contrast to permanent councils that set up official channels and deal with a vast variety of bilateral or multilateral issues (and whose importance is hard to overestimate), civic councils will be built upon project-based principles, with a specific goal and terms for its achievement.

History demonstrates that the hardest crisis to bridge –  and yet the most rewarding one – is that between war and peace. Gunboat diplomacy is no longer effective, but the danger of an accidental nuclear conflict persists and is increasing.

Hence, civil society has to learn how to better employ their natural advantages – including that of the freedom of expression and the ability to influence governments – in order to achieve one of the most elusive goals of our time: ensuring the lives and well-being of future generations.

You may also like:
The World after 2016: Imagining Possible Futures
OPINION: Rhodes Forum 2017 – a blueprint for dialogue

 

TEILEN
PreviousFrancis Gary Powers Jr. and Bridge of Spies at the DOC
NextHubris and hope: Alternatives to the clash of world orders
Vladimir Yakunin
Wladimir I. Jakunin, Ph.D., war bis 2015 CEO der staatlichen Russischen Eisenbahngesellschaft. Er ist Leiter der Abteilung Staatspolitik an der Fakultät für Politikwissenschaften der Moskauer Lomonossow-Universität, Gastprofessor an der Handelshochschule Stockholm, Ehrendoktor der Diplomatischen Akademie des russischen Außenministeriums und Mitglied der Russischen Akademie für Sozialwissenschaften. Jakunin schloss sein Studium 1972 am Leningrader Institut für Maschinenbau ab. Nach dem Militärdienst arbeitete er für das Staatskomitee für Außenhandel beim Ministerrat der UdSSR und leitete eine Abteilung am Physikalisch-Technischen Joffe-Institut der Russischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 1985-1991 war er in der Ständigen Vertretung der UdSSR bei den Vereinten Nationen tätig, später Vorstandsvorsitzender des „Internationalen Zentrums für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit“ und Leiter der Nord-West-Regionalinspektion beim Präsidialamt der Russischen Föderation. Im Oktober 2000 wurde er stellvertretender Verkehrsminister, 2002 Erster Stellvertreter des Eisenbahnministers, 2003 Vizepräsident der Russischen Eisenbahngesellschaft und 2005 deren Präsident. Er ist Kuratoriumsvorsitzender der russischen St.-Andreas-Stiftung und des Center of National Glory, Gründungspräsident des WPF Dialogue of Civilizations sowie Co-Präsident der Gesellschaft für französisch-russischen Dialog.