Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Disaster Diplomacy is Dead! Long live Diplomacy!


Disaster Diplomacy is Dead! Long live Disaster Diplomacy!

By Dr. Ilan Kelman

Dr. Ilan Kelman is the Deputy Director, Cambridge University UK Centre for Risk In the Built Environment. For more on Disaster Diplomacy, see http://www.disasterdiplomacy.org

Disaster Diplomacy between Iran and the USA appears to be finished--at least, for the moment. Following the devastating earthquake in Bam in southeast Iran on 26 December 2003, American relief teams landed in George W. Bush's "axis of evil". Media interpretations suggested that White House policy was softening.

Subsequently, Bush made it clear that his policy towards Iran was not altered. Meanwhile, Iran rejected the White House's offer to send a high-level delegation. Are Tehran and Washington backtracking, confused, or disingenuous? The answer is none. Relative consistency has been displayed throughout.

As the world responded to the earthquake, American Secretary of State Colin Powell on 30 December 2003 said simply "we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future". That cautious remark was seized by the media as evidence of Disaster Diplomacy, yet it had little substance. It also said little which was new.

On 28 October 2003, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the topic of Iran. He commented "we are prepared to engage in limited discussions with the government of Iran about areas of mutual interest, as appropriate". He reiterated remarks by Bush and Powell in previous weeks which had downplayed the possibility of using force against Iran.

Iran similarly foresaw, or desired, no disaster-induced political changes. Iran's U.N. envoy Javad Zarif said "We appreciate the importance of the humanitarian gesture...the United States said this is for humanitarian purposes, and that is how we have taken it". Iran's President Mohammad Khatami echoed these sentiments: "Humanitarian issues should not be intertwined with deep and chronic political problems. If we see a change both in the tone and behavior of the U.S. administration, then a new situation will develop in our relations."

Furthermore, after the earthquake, Iran immediately declared its refusal to accept Israeli aid, yet Israeli humanitarian relief operations have often been used for attempted Disaster Diplomacy. Iran's leadership also faces parliamentary elections in February 2004 and could be concerned about the supposed weakness of dealing with their American devil. Bush, facing 2004 elections too, might be worried about appearing to yield concessions to a perceived enemy. Considerations far beyond a mere earthquake disaster, irrespective of tens of thousands of bodies, impact political machinations.

Nevertheless, funeral proceedings for Iranian-American Disaster Diplomacy would be premature. Between Iran and the U.S.A., the earthquake aid opens new doors for communication, builds trust and goodwill, increases mutual understanding, and could enhance international diplomatic processes far beyond Iran-U.S.A. bilateral relations. Seeing these events as an opportunity to find common ground and to support dialogue and understanding would be a positive and worthwhile Disaster Diplomacy outcome.

Connections established between workers on the ground and perceived improvements in political relationships could spill over later. Cultural exchanges, reciprocal visits, training and technology exchanges, and similar activities could occur whether the politicians want them or not. Pressure could then appear on the governments from the population to stop the petty bullying and needless political wrangling.

And if a major catastrophe were to hit the USA., would Iran immediately offer condolences? Lesser developed countries rarely offer aid to a disaster-stricken USA, so an offer from Iran might be seen as demeaning or insulting. A Machiavellian Iranian leader with a sense of humour might do so.

Disaster Diplomacy is a complex process and it can cause significant changes. We must continue to seek ways of using it positively and properly without becoming mired in overblown expectations or unrealistic endeavours forcing it to work against all odds--and realities. The best result, though, would always be diplomacy without a disaster.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...
More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>