The Concept of “Creative Diplomacy” in International Conflicts




Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Global Governance

“Now, we see that we are threatened ourselves. We are not watching a conflict, we are part of this conflict. If we want to end it, we have to do something together”, as Ruprecht Polenz put it during a Q&A session with GDL members to discuss the Ukraine conflict on 24 February.

The current situation is deeply worrying the entire world. It triggers fear, insecurity and disbelief. But it also triggers a sincere hope and strong desire for international communication and cooperation to put an end to this war. It should not only shed light on the Ukrainian victims, but on all victims – Russian ones included, so that international cooperation is more inclusive and innovative solutions can be developed.

The urgent need to bring everyone to the bargaining table is more present than never – and it can be a symbol of collective responsibility. Especially since the war is being framed as a European one and racist narratives such as categorising war victims are spreading through the media, the focus on collective action has been lost to some extent. Not everyone is yet aware of the need to jointly take responsibility. Negotiation attempts with Putin reflect the challenge of resolving the conflict collectively – Putin is by now unpredictable and the power he can leverage has become more visible; he will apparently stop at nothing to achieve his aims. The bigger picture, though, can’t be seen until currently unheard voices of civil society have been included. It’s important to remedy asymmetric power structures by including experts from the civil society. Of course, an end to the conflict should be primarily negotiated with Putin, but without leaving behind experts from civil society, so as to get further input for solving this diplomatic bottleneck and to develop possible, previously not yet considered solutions. Because Putin has made specific demands relating to security policy, the goal should be to involve him in all political debates and to remain fully aware of all political issues. The situation should not be made worse for NATO countries by them wandering into Putin’s crosshairs.

This article aims to broaden our perspective by proposing an inclusive-diplomacy approach – the concept of “Creativity in Diplomacy” by GDL member Eirliani Abdul Rahman. There obviously are no borders in civil society, so the goal should be to address experts on, and representatives of, both Ukrainian and Russian civil society in addition to the traditional discussions. With civil society included in the dialogue, new and previously disregarded perspectives can be made visible by developing discussions and solution-focussed approaches through people-to-people exchange. Furthermore, by encouraging diverse traditional and non-traditional experts to engage in interdisciplinary exchangeinnovative perspectives can be gained that may enable new solutions to be found. The aim must be to take international, collective and solution-oriented action. By using the war in Ukraine as a current example, the key questions for more inclusive diplomacy are: What are the most effective tracks for de-escalation, i.e. for inclusive coordination? And how does inclusive diplomacy need to be acted out in an effective way, by involving all necessary actors, traditional and non-traditional? 

Taking one step back – using the Global Diplomacy Lab to determine what a creative-diplomacy approach can look like 

Eirliani Abdul Rahman – from her point of view and experience – reflects on her involvement in the Global Diplomacy Lab in the fourth chapter, titled “Creativity in Diplomacy: The Case of the Global Diplomacy Lab”, of the new releasing book “New Horizons in Creativity” by Prof Shulamith Kreitler. She stresses the importance of “Creativity in Diplomacy” – an approach that is required especially in times of diplomatic failure, when there is a greater than ever need for inclusive diplomacy. Particularly in an increasingly complex world of globalization and fragmentation at the same time, we should take a closer look at diplomacy as an active concept to create and act out and therefore rethink it. Whilst Eirini didn’t coin the concept herself, she is a strong advocate for it. The chapter therefore describes interdisciplinary ways to pursue multi-track diplomacy. This approach has the potential to establish trust, peace and collective responsibility in a sustainable way.

Harnessing ‘creativity’ as a tool for more inclusive diplomacy means mobilising different perspectives from several disciplines in new permutations. By establishing flat hierarchies where all expertise is valued, a ‘positive-sum’ game for all participants can emerge. The approach consists of two pillars – co-creation and co-facilitation – with pluralistic, interdisciplinary involvement through multi-level participation being the goal. State-level solutions sometimes don’t take civilians’ interests into account. Actors of civil society need to step up give impulses for innovation so that change can be implemented in society. With all of these different approaches to multi-track diplomacy, sustainable trust, peace and cooperation are collectively tackled and collective responsibility is sparked. It means having the sensitivity to recognize specific issues as being relevant in specific societies, and therefore creating open and safe spaces for discussing them.

In her work “A need for collaboration rather than competition”, together with Suzanne Goodney Lea, Eirliani pointed out her conviction that a ‘my country first’ perspective in negotiation should be viewed critically because it establishes asymmetric power structures and unspoken conflicts which, as a whole, prevent real cooperation. That is what should also be avoided in the case of the war in Ukraine.

The Global Diplomacy Lab and its strategic goal of Diplomacy 4.0 is an example par excellence of how to bring diplomacy to a higher level by connecting creativity and innovation. Every individual, who is part of the diplomatic network, gets the opportunity to reflect on current global issues. That in turn leads to everyone growing and evolving through mutual learning. At the institutional level, this fosters a process of producing concrete proposals for bringing change to the world. Regular events, e.g., activities, labs and feedback sessions, offer spaces for innovative exchange in which each perspective is equally respected and included in discussions. By involving people from all socioeconomic backgrounds and thus enriching the community with interdisciplinary perspectives, the concept of “Creative Diplomacy” is really a reflection of vertical as well as horizontal diversity.

Regarding the Ukrainian conflict, multilateralism has to be interpreted in a different and less confrontational way, by highlighting the call for cooperation. Keeping a critical eye on the invasive powers, e.g. Russia at the state level, and simultaneously enabling people-to-people exchange with the civil society, will be desirable. From an institutional point of view, the EU has come to the conclusion that collective action is needed and that the unheard voices of Ukrainian and Russian civil society must be included in the discussions, so as to support trust, a range of perspectives and common desires.

What values and goals do all societies have in common, and how specifically can Putin be brought to the table, along with civil society? 

It’s definitely a difficult question, but worth thinking about in more detail. Moreover, it’s an open question with an open-ended outcome, so various perspectives and inputs can contribute in important ways to creating and harnessing an inclusive-diplomacy approach!


About the author:

Ruprecht Polenz served as the Founding Dean of the GDL from 2014 to February 2023. He was a member of the German Parliament from 1994 to 2013 as representant of the City of Muenster.

Published on March 23, 2022.

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