Shaun Riordan: ‘If you want to be independent, behave like an independent country’

Date: 25.04.2016

Source: Vilaweb English

Interview with the former British diplomat, who gives his sincere opinion on the process of independence in Catalonia


Shaun Riordan is a former British diplomat who knows very well how the diplomatic services work and what weaknesses they have because he served in the corps in such different places as the United States, China and former Yugoslavia. This is precisely why he has long reflected and worked on what he calls the ‘new diplomacy’ (he already wrote a book with this name, ‘The New Diplomacy‘, in 2003). He now works as a teacher and advisor and is the author of the first volume of the collection brought out by the Federation of Internationally Recognised Catalan Organisations (FOCIR) to approach the thought emerging in our country.

—You insist that diplomacy and the diplomatic corps, as you knew it years ago is dead

—The world has changed enormously and everything is so different that the role that was previously reserved for diplomacy no longer makes much sense. Now on my mobile I have more information than I can process, but not only that. Before diplomacy was a state affair and today it pertains to societies, everyone, to the states but also to the cities, the regions, the NGOs and companies.

—In this context you place the stress on public diplomacy and digital diplomacy. What are we talking about?

—Public diplomacy, which is what societies do as a whole, has to create the political and social conditions for the specific proposals that a country can make to be favourably received. Obviously the use of digital tools in a world like the one we live in now is very important in achieving this objective. But I’m not talking about having a Twitter! It has to be something much more consistent.

—Years ago ‘soft power’ came into fashion, which in diplomatic terms was to have a good image rather than a good army.
—Provided this does not get confused with having a brand. Serious countries do not have a brand, they do not create a brand. In this sense Spain has made an enormous mistake with its ‘Marca España’ which even has a commission. What is important is the content, that which you can offer the international community. If you have some contents, it all works and if not then you can make a brand that is worthless.

—So you don’t believe then that the ‘Marca España’ helps Spain.

—Spain has had no foreign policy since Felipe González stepped down. At that time they knew what they wanted. They knew that their priority areas were Latin America and North Africa and they knew what they wanted to do. Now there is a brand, but there is nothing behind it, it is ridiculous.

—So this is a mistake that Catalan diplomacy has to avoid.

—I am not at all sure that today you need a diplomatic service like that of a state. Many states would like to rise over the diplomatic service that they have inherited and which is burdensome.

—So what advice would you give?

—You Catalans have to know what you can offer the world, what you are good at, and you cannot be awkward when you work internationally. If you want to be an independent state you have to behave like one. There are plenty of tools for working internationally!

—What would you do if you could run Catalonia’s international politics?

—Above all give possible solutions to large crises. For instance Catalonia has a very clear role to play in the crisis of emigration and the Mediterranean. You should develop policies in this sense to help to find solutions. If you suggest solutions, everyone will listen.

—What do you think are Catalonia’s international strengths?

—Catalonia can contribute to having the Mediterranean conceived as a single economic area. That is interesting. Catalonia is a world tourist power and could help other countries develop in this sector. Imagine, for instance, that Catalonia helped Kosovo in the area of tourism. Spain could not say anything because it does not recognise them, and in Europe, which is very angry with Spain over its attitude towards Kosovo, they would find it fantastic. If you can be part of the solution to the problems everyone has, they are sure to listen.

—Even without our own diplomatic corps?

—Certainly! Catalan society has very powerful assets. Everyone in Europe knows that Catalan civil society is particularly active, and that is a great asset. Everyone admires Barcelona, and that is a great asset. You have a great opportunity because in these fields you have something that is real and that works. Make it work in the world. Innovate. Think about the football …

—What do you mean about the football?

—About Barça. Barça is admired around the world for its values. The thing about having Unicef on the shirt, the pleasure of doing things well, the way they play. You have already got that and if you project it abroad it can help to improve the image of Catalonia a lot. One problem that we have in Europe is that of countering the enormous cultural power of the United States. They have Hollywood, they have rock music, they have Google, they have the NBA… What do we Europeans have? Football! For example; football positions Europe in the world and FC Barcelona is very important in achieving this impact.

—And what weaknesses does Catalonia have in this context?
—I think you have two very clear weaknesses. The first is that sometimes you worry more about the form than the content, and that is bad. And the second is that like other nationless states, you tend to copy what the old states do, while the times are calling for new and fresh ideas.

—Is there any model to copy? Maybe Norway?

—Yes. That is a good example. Norway is a small country that has achieved enormous international respect. It has developed a way to solve conflicts that is unique in the world. It has not created a large diplomatic service, but everyone knows what they need of Norway to solve the problems of Sri Lanka or Palestine. They manage to play the role of intermediaries and have built their international politics around this capacity. The Catalans could do something similar with tourism or the Mediterranean. If you go to help Kosovo in tourism, you will win over Germany, France, Great Britain, the United States … And what happens if Spain gets angry? If you suggest ways to understand the Mediterranean, if you go to solve the enormous crisis of the immigrants and refugees, everyone will listen. The world is like that today, it is no longer the time to give huge receptions in the embassy halls.

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