In Other News – The Blurring Lines Between Official and Non-State Diplomacy

In today’s world, the lines between official and non-state diplomacy are blurred, increasing the risk of global instability. This week, Henry Kissinger’s death marks the end of an era of international relations and geopolitics writ large where a single man and a single nation could drive the agenda. Whether you saw him as a great statesman or merely a flawed diplomat with a series of wins and missteps, when Kissinger was Secretary of State, he was the leader of a coalition of nation states that followed America’s lead – and all our significant matters were coordinated through the U.S. government.

Today’s political environment, however, is one where non-governmental entities have a powerful influence. In this environment of instantaneous news, and the immediate distortion of news and events for ideological or political purposes, the challenge to lead constructively requires a kind of diplomacy that wasn’t required of Kissinger. America’s ability to influence a single conflict, let alone the course of human development, is increasingly complicated and becoming far more reliant on private sector actors who – by their extraordinary influence and wealth – are becoming power centers of their own.

Elon Musk, who recently visited Israel and met directly with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, serves as a prime example. In addition to his influence over which ideologies proliferate online – as demonstrated by his governance of Twitter – his decisions can have a tactical impact. Ukraine, for one, has relied on Starlink – Musk’s satellite internet technology, to maintain connectivity while under attack by Russia. Modern diplomacy then, is reliant not only on the ability to build alliances between states, but between and among public and private institutions.

This also requires defending the economic success of our companies, and it demands protection against forces of corruption or malign foreign influence in our universities and institutions. It also means maintaining, and securing, an advantage in technology – whether it be social media, military, or artificial intelligence. We’re now tasked with cultivating important security partners in places like Qatar and the UAE, and sharing critical emerging technologies with them, that inevitably risks enabling China to access these tools through its own partnerships with these nations.

The multiple channels being activated for hostage negotiations also underscore multipolar conditions. It’s telling, for example, that the Thai government worked directly through Iran to negotiate the release of Thai citizens who were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Even more notably, perhaps, a group of Thai Muslims – highlighting the significance of transnational, non-state ties, and Thai government officials traveled to Iran and met with senior Hamas figures in October. Indeed, while the Thai Foreign Minister also traveled to Egypt and Qatar, it was Iran that claimed responsibility for the successful release of 10 Thai hostages last week via social media postings made by the Iranian Embassy in Thailand.

Putin has likewise had some success securing the release of some Russian hostages – which Hamas is calling a gesture of “appreciation” for Putin’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict. While Hamas welcomes Putin’s position, the deal speaks more to Putin’s friendship with Iran- a relationship that’s been strengthened over the course of the past two years of Russia’s war on Ukraine for both economic and political reasons. It’s also a demonstration of how increased trade and financial relationships can provide a foundation for diplomatic ones when needed.

Notably though, these indirect relationships outside of formal diplomatic channels can result in negative, unintended consequences. For example, European media reports that Ukrainian-made aircraft parts that were sold to the UAE and Kyrgyzstan were possibly purchased by Russia and used against Ukraine in battle. Given the interwoven and interdependent nature of modern technology and trade, we’re operating in a new world that’s evolved from the Kissinger era where nation-nation interaction was predominant.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.