WHO IS CARNE ROSS?
“The job of a diplomat is to be very clear in communicating what it is that you want from another party.“
Carne Ross is the founder and Executive Director of Independent Diplomat. Carne served as a British diplomat from 1989-2004 in a number of different roles, including speechwriter to the UK Foreign Secretary. From 1998, he was the UK’s Middle East expert at the United Nations in New York. In 2004, he resigned from the UK Foreign Office after giving then-secret evidence to the first official inquiry into the Iraq war.
Carne is also an author of two books, most recently “The Leaderless Revolution: how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st Century” and “Independent Diplomat,” a critique of contemporary diplomacy. Carne is a frequent commentator on international affairs on the BBC and Al Jazeera, and in publications including the Financial Times and The Guardian.
You can connect with Carne here:
IN TOR 053 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The international diplomacy system from the view of a UK veteran who decided to fly solo, why he did it, and what in his view is wrong with diplomacy today
- What diplomacy really is, so simple and complex at once, and what most people get wrong about international relationships- even most diplomats.
- The importance of having clear, ethical and political values to guide work, and the consequences Carne had to endure to maintain his beliefs and his career.
- What it takes to be a diplomat for his organization, and why it is so difficult to find diplomatic talent.
- Carne’s linked ideas of trust and neutrality, agendas and understanding, diplomacy and streamlining a message.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Independent Diplomat
- United Nations
- European Union
- George Clooney
- The Leaderless Revolution: How ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century (book)
- Diplomacy and the diplomatic system
- International relations, foreign affairs
- Representation, inclusiveness
- Culture, context, communication and understanding
- Democratic values
- Political judgement
- Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
- New York
- Western Sahara
- Southern Algeria
- South Sudan
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Independent Diplomat (ID)
Advice for different kinds of groups on how to get into diplomacy and the diplomatic system, which are governments and multinational organizations: UN, EU.
People and groups outside of the system have gained influence and have interest in having diplomatic relations and relevance: NGOs, private companies, celebrities.
Some celebrities raise their voices around an issue and gain relevance. George Clooney and South Sudan have worked together thanks to ID.
Most disciplines create their sub-languages. ID talents used by diplomats who work to acknowledge the parties’ cultures, as the first step to negotiations.
Working with the UN, Carne strove to keep cordial relations with every party.
Diplomatic professionalism is all about keeping relations free from discord.
“I’m often very surprised, even after so many years.” He asks governments why they do a given thing, it turns out they have a wrong explanation. He has to then tell the governments: “you are sending a completely different signal.“
Post UN tenure
Iraq war. Carne worked on WMDs, felt the UK government had not told the truth about what he knew.
There are diplomatic deficits. “In high policy discussions I realized the people who would be affected the most were not in the room, often not consulted at all.” This leads to bad outcomes. Iraqis were not consulted about their own conflict. “People’s needs were not taken into consideration at all.” Terrible for such a high stakes scenario, practically explains the current situation.
The Iraqi government was ID’s first client.
Plan and structure
After leaving, Carne was in Kosovo. Not a grand plan, was somewhat difficult. Iraqi government informal approach, gives the push to ID.
ID is not well known in the system, but referrals are working. They also keep an eye on the world, turmoil or conflict, and present themselves from possible parties in need, groups or governments.
“The big things that concern me are very much those of any nonprofit: raising money.” Their work is unusual, sometimes difficult to explain, including to donors.
A specific challenge is finding the right kind of people who do diplomacy effectively “It takes quite a special person to be able to lead and establish diplomatic service,” added to the need of local knowledge, take political groups representing refugees in camps in Southern Algeria. “It is a leap.“
“There are a lot of bad diplomats in the world.“
First, “understanding what is going on.” Press reports and online information are not accurate or complete. ID’s most important services are in-depth knowledge about diplomatic inner workings, how the UN and large governments operate.
Some countries are capable and quick to operate on ID’s advice. Others need full assistance way into the execution of diplomatic efforts and missions, ID takes part in meetings and presentations. “We don’t impose. We don’t have an agenda.” All for the sake of trust.
ID’s most powerful tool. The interest to relate and listen is scarce, clients appreciate it greatly. NGOs often have agendas, that is fine but clients sometimes don’t see that with good eyes. It’s all about trust, it’s essential when work involves a country’s most profound concerns and interest, like national security.
“If you want good advice you need to trust your adviser.“
“You need to understand what it is that they really want. That is one of the biggest challenges. Very often it’s not what people think“. Also, advisers have preconceptions, that goes against neutrality.” You don’t know what people want.“
Culture and context
Always a factor. The invariable problem is everyone thinking everyone else understands what they are trying to say.
U.S. presidents talk with messages crafted to the American people, not the international community. “His language and his messages will always be conditioned by what is going on domestically.“
World leaders can often be incomprehensible abroad. Diplomacy involves interpreting their messages, making them straightforward. “The international community does not have a lot of time for local conflict.” Diplomacy is about spelling out.
Failure and backfires
ID needs to work guided by a clear set of values.” We will not help people who are breaking international law or hinder democracy.” They have withdrawn, for instance, with the South Sudanese government when it was clear they were engaging in violence against their own people.
Carne sometimes wonders about his life choices, it would have been much easier with a government, not to mention the financial security. “I would lie awake at night sometimes, wondering about what would happen if a relationship goes sour.“
Qualities of the best diplomatic talent
An acute sense of political judgement. “It’s almost a gift. Very few people have that skill.“
People outside recognize those skills, request them. It has happened from the UK government, the UN, NGOs.
For people who enter the field: there is no going back.
Carne was fascinated in foreign relationships and world news since an early age. Worked in South Africa. Diplomats are the cornerstone of international relationships.
Do what you love. There are obstacles, challenges. Put in the work.
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