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Towards a more participatory diplomacy in the Western Balkans

It is therefore time for the NGOs and other non-state actors to turn form consumers of diplomacy to producers of diplomatic outcomes.

by Arjan Dyrmishi

With the third gathering in September this year the Belgrade Security Forum (BSF) has now established itself as the largest and most prominent security conference in Southeast Europe organised by nongovernmental organisations.

According to its tradition this year too, the BSF will bring together high level decision makers, academics, NGOs, and journalists form the region, Europe and beyond to discuss on a tangible theme: the changing nature of the modern state and the view and responses of the Balkan states towards this phenomenon.

One of the areas of state activity which for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was an exclusive domain of the states and which has undergone major transformations in the last two decades is diplomacy. And duly, a great deal of attention will be dedicated to such transformation during the BSF.

A key feature of the recent transformations of diplomacy is the emergence of the multistakeholder diplomacy, otherwise known as ‘track 2 diplomacy’, or ‘citizen diplomacy’. At the core of the multistakeholder diplomacy is the concept of partnership rather than of exclusiveness, where many actors participate in the diplomatic arena but none holds the monopoly.

While in broad terms multistakeholder diplomacy is linked to globalization and the democratization of the international society the specific factors that have led to its emergence include the limitations that both state and non-state actors have faced in achieving their policy objectives; the general decline of the confidence of the public in the state institutions, and; the need of states to fill their knowledge and resources gaps with the expertise and capabilities of non-state actors.

In this process of the entrenchment of multistakeholder diplomacy the NGOs have emerged as important actors and their participation in international political processes has been increasing. Being it in promoting dialogue in conflict regions such the Middle East and South Asia or in promoting and supporting integration processes in Central and Eastern Europe the NGOs have emerged as key diplomatic players.

One of the areas where NGOs have been active diplomatic actor is the engagement in regional security dialogues where through socialization and advocacy they have encouraged state actors to recalculate the value of cooperation with the neighbours and to reconsider security concepts and postures. Although they are not expected to achieve great diplomatic breakthroughs over time their contribution has led to greater regional cooperation and ultimately to related policy shifts.

In recent years patterns of multistakeholder diplomacy can be witnessed in the Western Balkans too. Initially triggered by the involvement of international NGOs it has considerably increased with the emergence and strengthening of local NGOs. The BSF itself is the evidence of how issues of security, interstate relations and conflict resolution are not anymore a reserved domain of the states even in this region. A number of NGOs are now active, in individual countries or as regional networks, in promoting and upholding human rights, supporting Euro-Atlantic integration, advocating for the adoption of high standard environment policies and other areas of concern to the national and international governance systems.

Despite such developments the Western Balkans is yet to fully benefit from the opportunities that multistakeholder diplomacy offers. To an extent this is a logical consequence given the recent history of state building and the double pressure of establishing professional diplomatic services to master the practices of the state centric diplomacy while at the same adapt to the transformations that challenge the state monopoly on diplomacy.

However this needs to change. This year has been marked by major historical developments for the region such as Croatia’s full membership to the European Union and the milestone agreement between Serbia and Kosovo but many challenges lie ahead. Full membership of all the Western Balkans countries in the European Union members and full resolution of disagreements between Serbia and Kosovo shouldn’t be left in the hands of the states alone.

The completion of this complex policy agenda will demand the active involvement of a coalition of diverse actors. Time has come for the Western Balkans to take a more proactive role in taking full benefits from multistakeholder diplomacy which in any case does not imply a diminished role for the official diplomacy but on the contrary an enhanced and redefined role.

It is therefore time for the NGOs and other non-state actors to turn form consumers of diplomacy to producers of diplomatic outcomes.