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Penn Law convenes global diplomats for discussion on international conflicts and ethics in negotiation

November 12, 2018

On November 9, a panel of global diplomats gathered at Penn Law to discuss the topics of international conflict resolution and ethics in negotiation.

The event, “Addressing Challenges in the 21st Century Through Diplomacy,” was open to the public and offered as part of the full-day Leadership Institute for Diplomacy and the Law, which convened preeminent diplomats for closed-door roundtable at Penn Law. The discussion featured keynote speaker Matt Nimetz, UN Special Representative for the naming dispute between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia; Ambassador Kai Sauer, Finland’s Ambassador to the United Nations; H.E. Mohamed Orabi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Egypt’s Ambassador to Israel; and H.E. Moushira Khattab, Egypt’s Former Minister for Family and Population, Ambassador to South Africa and Italy, and 2017 nominee to head UNESCO. Nimetz and Sauer each spoke at length during the session, with Nimetz focusing on the Macedonian-Greek naming dispute, and Sauer discussing ethical leadership in diplomacy. Toward the end of the session, Orabi and Khattab contributed their perspectives on how to deal with difficult situations that arise during diplomatic negotiations.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean of International Affairs at Penn Law, opened the keynote with an introduction of the panel.

Nimetz was a key mediator in the Macedonia naming dispute, which was the longest lasting naming dispute in the world. The conflict began when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia, but Greece objected to the country calling itself Macedonia because some regions of Greece also used that same name. The argument went on for 27 years before ending in July, with Macedonia agreeing to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

As a Special Representative for the UN, Nimetz worked for 23 years to help the two countries reach a resolution, using various negotiation strategies and tactics, such as suggesting five alternative names and having Macedonia choose which one they liked most.

Nimetz explained that the Macedonian-Greek naming dispute was so difficult because it involved two vastly different perspectives on history and culture, and that the symbolism of the name was a very deeply emotional touchpoint for both peoples. Other global naming disputes, such as the Sea of Japan and the Arab peninsula, reflect this as well.

“Some people say, ‘How could you spend so much time on a name?’ Well, it’s a very interesting word, Macedonia, and you could spend a lifetime on it and it’s never boring,” he said. “When I had to go down to Congress to explain all of this, I said, ‘What if Mexico changed its name from the Republic of Mexico to the Republic of Texas?’”

Nimetz described himself as a foreign policy “realist,” saying that he saw the world not as a place where everything would always get better, but a place of constant change. He also dispensed some career advice for the students in the room, recommending that they find interesting things to do with their lives and take some risks.

“My goal is always try to work for the best people in the field that you choose — it doesn’t matter what you do,” Nimetz said. “[And] look for mentors. I really enjoy mentoring people, because people mentored me.”

Sauer followed Nimetz with a talk on ethics and negotiation, drawing from his personal experiences as the Ambassador to the United Nations from Finland. Sauer emphasized the importance of relationship-building and trust in diplomacy, as these are the building blocks to successful negotiations.

“With 193 member states and colleagues roaming the UN meetings and corridors and dealing with different processes, it’s a huge network of interdependencies,” Sauer said. “One day I need something from you, the next day you need something from me. You have to build trust, because trust is the platform of your professionalism.”

Sauer also mentioned the difficulty of maintaining ethical standards while negotiating in difficult deals or with adversaries. While he said he did not have any personal experience with the topic, he brought up several examples of his colleagues in the UN who grappled with such dilemmas, including an ambassador from Tunisia who resigned because of an ethical impasse with his country’s new government.

“It’s a big dilemma. Even in the West, with the rise of populism, the risk is growing,” Sauer said. “These are problems where you just have to follow your instincts.”