Diplomacy and Cooperation

by Colette Lebel

I recently attended a conference given by Marie Bernard-Meunier, a career diplomat who was the Canadian ambassador to Germany from 2000 to 2004. She is indeed a diplomat. Although diplomacy is not a topic I talk about on a daily basis, unless it relates to the ability of saying something unpleasant in a manner that will not offend the party. However, with Marie Bernard-Meunier, it was rather the core function on the international stage that was examined. The discussion that followed was of great interest for anyone with a stake in cooperation and maintaining peace.

The diplomat first recounted the golden days of the profession; a time when diplomacy was conducted with dignity and protocol. In those days, we understood that we were guests in the other country, and we had a request to make and something to offer in exchange. A lot of time was invested, and respect and manners were customary. These were evidently ingredients necessary to establishing a relationship of trust.

Nowadays, laments Marie Bernard-Meunier, the work of diplomats is seriously compromised. J’accuse! Transparency. ,She then stated more harshly “sacrosanct transparency.” There are now indiscriminate claims of transparency, which makes it very difficult, almost impossible, to deploy a long term strategy. There’s also the flow of information through social media, left, right and centre, that freezes the discussions in the ‘now’ and torpedoes any ambition to lead the parties toward a mutual understanding of each person’s position.

But that’s not the worst of it, noted the diplomat. Since the crash of 2008, the state of the world has greatly declined. Austerity, job insecurity, climate changes, political refugees, the rise of right-wing extremism, economic war… There is a noted withdrawal of the government that is supported by a doctrine that is exacerbated by inequalities. A stranger is no longer a possible partner, it has become an enemy.

In this context, the future of international diplomacy is far from assured. We can already sense the disintegration of multilateral organisations as they see their authority and influence like a cheap bath bomb., The new world structure, deftly and patiently developed after the Second World War, is sadly fracturing. However, as our speaker concluded, it is not an addition of egoisms, even if they are collective that will enlighten us as to which path should be followed to meet the challenges the world is facing. There needs to be cooperation among the different governments if we want to come out of this!

Indeed. The world is on a very dangerous path. We seem to forget the very direct relationship that exists between diplomacy and war: Both represent ways to guarantee the interests of a given country; one through cooperation and dialogue, the other through violence. Long live cooperation and dialogue! -

If there is a vehicle of cooperation, one that is dynamic and very active on the international stage, it is undoubtedly the cooperative business. There are currently 2.6 million cooperatives throughout the world. And, let me remind you, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), which federates the global cooperative movement, is also the oldest NGO in the world. It survived two world wars and all the while it had members from both sides of the conflict. History has since taught us that cooperative businesses have greatly contributed to maintaining the peace in several regions of the world by promoting dialogue. In fact, the book Cooperatives and Pursuit of Peace (Ian MacPherson and Joy Emmanuel, 2007) provides us with several testimonials.

Cooperatives must promote their business model. Let’s not minimise the effect of their presence. They are a permanent means of cooperation and dialogue in the market’s ecosystem; they help stabilise the global climate. In one of my articles written 10 years ago, I said that working for the cooperative movement was in some way working for world peace. I still believe that to be true.

Colette Lebel's picture

Colette is agronomist and director of cooperative affairs at La Coop fédérée. She was the first woman to be appointed as head of training of the boards of director within the cooperative network and works to improve women representativeness within the boards of directors. Dedicated cooperator, Colette had the opportunity to pass on his expertise in several missions abroad both for La Coop and SOCODEVI.