The Grand Debate: Are Human Rights the Newest Form of Western Imperialism?
9 MARCH, 2020
Our first ‘grand debate’ took place on March 9th 2020, discussing the question of ‘are human rights the newest form of Western imperialism?’. Run jointly with Afro-Caribbean Society, this lively and engaging debate engendered constructive conversations about the tensions inherent in the ‘universal’ idea of human rights.
The debate opened with statements from students representing the for and against positions, before opening up the floor to the audience. Moderated by one of the Diplomatic Hub’s Event Managers, Shayna Lewis, a friendly and inclusive discussion developed ranging from the inception of the postwar human rights order to issues associated with more recent armed conflicts. The debate became particularly interesting where students grappled with the ideal of human rights as a universal and egalitarian idea, and the practicalities of their application and potential exploitation in the international humanitarian interventions which have proliferated since the 1990s.
The event was a great opportunity for students to develop their public speaking and debating skills. It also gave students from a variety of academic disciplines the chance to hear the valuable perspectives which other subjects could offer to this topic, matching with the Hub’s purpose of creating an interdisciplinary forum for students interested in international affairs.
We would like to thank all the students who came to and engaged with this well-attended event, and the Afro-Caribbean Society committee for working with our committee to run it.
Rupert Joy: On UK and EU Diplomacy
3 MARCH, 2020
On March 3rd 2020, we were pleased to welcome Rupert Joy for a talk on UK and EU diplomacy. Now working as an international consultant, Rupert occupies the unique position of having worked as a UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan and EU Ambassador to Morocco.
In a wide-ranging talk, Rupert took us through his background as a British diplomat in various roles at the Foreign Office in London and embassies overseas. This provided excellent context for his explanation of the differences between British and EU diplomatic work. Whereas British diplomats abroad usually focus on political and economic affairs, EU missions are often highly technical in nature. Equally fascinating was Rupert’s first-hand account of the distinctive culture of EU missions, with the multinational character of his staff in Morocco meaning that he truly ‘felt European’ during his ambassadorship.
On the EU itself, Rupert judged that it was a capable but often hamstrung player on the international stage. Whilst the negotiation of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal testifies to the EU’s ability to play a mediating role internationally, the need for the agreement of all of its member states on foreign policy meant that a global ‘EU voice’ was often hard to achieve.
Our committee would like to thank Rupert for his excellent talk, and everyone who came to this well attended event. The event provided a great opportunity for students to learn directly about the life of a diplomat, building into the Hub’s goal to enrich students’ understanding of international affairs beyond their studies
Aftershock: Natural Disaster Crisis Simulation
31 january, 2020
On Friday 31st of January 2020, the Diplomatic Hub was excited to run our annual ‘crisis simulation’ for students in collaboration with the Strategy and Security Institute and the University of Exeter. Students who had been competitively selected to participate took on roles as key decision-makers responding to an earthquake scenario, based in the fictional country of Carana. Over the course of the day, different groups ranging from the national government to the United Nations sought to limit the climbing death toll through making complex decisions on matters of relief supply and coordination. This required a mixture of strategic foresightedness and on-the-spot decisions in response to the events of the simulation as they unfolded in real-time. Whilst the national government and NGO teams scored the highest for points rating their effectiveness, together the students displayed exceptional collaborative skills and ability to deliver at a pace.
For the participants, the simulation provided an excellent insight into how governments and international organisations deal with moments of crisis. Combining consideration of the long-term implications of decisions relative to one’s overarching objectives, and making the most effective choices in a time-limited scenario, built a skill-set which is highly sought after in these institutions. The crisis simulation, run by the Diplomatic Hub every year for the last three years, is particularly effective training for students excited by the prospect of working in international politics and security. It testifies to the multifaceted nature of the Hub’s work for the student body, through which students are not only able to gain unique insights into diplomacy but also important career-building experiences.
The Diplomatic Hub committee would like to extend its thanks to all of the students who participated so enthusiastically on the day, and in particular the head of the SSI Martin Robson for overseeing the simulation itself. We look forward to next year’s event.
James Nixey: On UK-Russia Relations
9 december, 2020
The Diplomatic Hub was pleased to welcome James Nixey, the Director of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, for a talk on UK-Russia relations on December 9th 2019.
Contextualising the bilateral relationship between the UK and Russia, James gave a fascinating analysis of how the Kremlin understands its place in global affairs. Following the identity crisis in Russia of the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union, he explained how the era of Vladimir Putin’s de facto leadership of the country throughout the twenty-first century had seen an effort to reclaim a Russian role in the world. James argued that Western observers often misunderstood the actions of the Russian government as illogical, flouting the rules-based international order out of maliciousness. In fact, James emphasised, the Russian government saw this order as fundamentally debased and hypocritical. This sentiment only increased following the American-led invasion of Iraq, which has given the Russian state a clear basis on which to criticise the actions of the West as a whole.
On the topic of UK-Russia relations itself, James explained how the Russian government perceives the UK very differently to how the British government perceives itself. In contrast to the common understanding shared by British politicians and diplomats that the UK ‘punches above its weight’, the Russian state sees Britain as a power on the ebb. Oftentimes awkwardly positioned between the conflicting strategies of the United States and European Union, Britain has been unable to present to the Russian government itself as a decisive power. Instead, James suggested, the Kremlin and Putin ultimately saw the UK as a respectably middling albeit largely insignificant power on the world stage. The dichotomy James described between British and Russian government perceptions was one of the most intriguing areas of the talk.
The Diplomatic Hub would like to thank the attendees who came from the student body and beyond for coming to the event, and James Nixey for travelling down from London to deliver his excellent talk.
His Excellency Seth George Ramocan: On Windrush
11 november, 2019
On Monday the 11th of November the Diplomatic Hub was delighted to welcome His Excellency Mr Seth George-Ramocan, the Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, to Exeter for a stimulating talk on Jamaica-UK relations. The excellent turnout for the talk reflected the substantial interest of students in the valuable place of the Windrush generation in British society. The event put into sharp relief the importance of diplomacy beyond the state-to-state level.
The High Commissioner’s central message was that the UK and Jamaica need to be proactive in valuing their relationship at both the state and society level. The Windrush scandal of 2018 was met with mass public incredulity at the sinister way in which the British government, through its hostile immigration policy, had been treating Caribbean citizens. Contextualising the large diaspora of Jamaican and, more broadly Caribbean people, in the UK today, the High Commissioner emphasised that the relationship between Jamaica and the UK was historically intimate.
After the Second World War, during which hundreds of Jamaicans gave their lives fighting for the Allied cause, the UK encouraged immigration from the Caribbean through official government policy. The Carribeans who headed the call contributed immensely to British society. Postwar Britain depended on the work of migrant labour to rebuild, following mass labour shortages. Yet equally, if not more significant to British society, has been the enrichment by Caribbean culture, reflecting a cultural mixing to which contemporary celebrations such as the Notting Hill Carnival testify. This rich history formed the backdrop to High Commissioner’s call for Britain to not neglect such valuable contributions by Jamaicans to UK society.
High Commissioner Ramocan used this context to lead us to the Windrush Scandal of 2018, which lamentably continues to unfurl today. The Windrush Scandal was unique in the way in which domestic and foreign affairs collided. It was fascinating to hear about how the group of Caribbean Ambassadors to the UK had coordinated and targeted their diplomatic efforts with the British government during the crisis. Such an effort, the High Commissioner reflected, was a testament to the significance of the incident. This was the great strength of High Commissioner Ramocan’s talk: demonstrating the importance of diplomacy to society at large beyond the revered halls of embassies and foreign ministries.