Questions for Ambassador Stefano Cacciaguerra Ranghieri

In a world in ‘lockdown’, and with diplomacy rocked to the core from the UK to Myanmar, what role now for government diplomats? Questions for Ambassador Stefano Cacciaguerra Ranghieri.
Stefano Cacciaguerra Ranghieri (former Italian Ambassador to Luxembourg, Honduras; Minister Counselor of the Italian Perm. Rep. to the UN; Consul General of Italy in Chicago and the current Honorary Consul for Luxembourg in Florence) remains confident…

Is communication the fundamental role of a diplomat?

Diplomats have been communicators for five thousand years. The diplomatic job has evolved into many different fields of activity but in essence, the settlement of disputes, crisis management and most importantly management of information remain at the core of our business. That means gathering the right information, within the country in which you are accredited, and delivering that back home. If you deliver the wrong information, a disaster could ensue! So, we are very careful in not just how we filter information, but how we distil and communicate it.

In this sense, has Covid and remote working stifled the effectiveness of diplomacy?

You can do as much remote working as you like, but in the end we diplomats always need the human contact and relationships to help us out in tough negotiations. As such, we have found it challenging, yes. Human relationship and communications are at the core of the diplomatic experience. You might say that the skills of diplomacy lie at the core of humanity.

Is there is a common misconception about what diplomats actually do?

I think we do a poor job of informing the public of what we do. The public at large sees diplomats attending parties and thinks that’s it! We go to the parties for a reason, of course – networking. If you arrive in a new country, you must get to know all the people who matter. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Much of the diplomat’s work is removed from what the public sees. We write a lot. In fact, we write about as much as journalists – but for a different audience. Whereas a journalist may look for sensationalism and controversy to reach their readers, we compile political reports. Our readership is necessarily very limited, and we flatter ourselves that we are the influencers of a small crowd of high-ranking officials and ministers. But if we don’t do our job right, all those reports which we compile with such care, time and energy, are skim-read by a junior official and tossed straight into the archives!

How is diplomacy evolving?

Diplomacy these days is a very fluid and complex world, and in many ways its evolution mirrors that of other professional spheres – nothing is stable, everything is moving. Along with the diplomats’ traditional domain, public diplomacy, cultural and digital diplomacy are now increasingly powerful. An entirely new generation of stakeholders in international policy are becoming active. So, we the diplomats remain relevant, but we must understand that the whole theatre of multilateralism has changed dramatically, and in terms of influence, we now have competition.

What impact has the rise of social media had on the diplomatic community?

Many diplomats are now very active on social media. We all recognise that it is an important, relevant tool for diplomacy. At the beginning of my career, we would strive to stay out of the limelight – but times have changed. It used to be the case that if we had an issue with a foreign government, we would have spoken to them privately, not criticise them publicly! But some modern diplomacy (not naming names…) is very aggressive and attacks criticism on Twitter or other platforms. This opens a wider conversation on how to regulate social media.

How do you see the UK’s global role playing out post-Brexit?

Reports that some aspects of Europe might look to make life difficult have caught me off guard. This is not what I have heard, we want the UK to be successful. They are former partners and remain allies in NATO. Of course, it will not be easy for the UK at the moment – but it isn’t for many European countries. However, we very much hope that the next generation of Britons will bring the UK back in to the EU. After all, the UK is part of Europe…

Finally, we have recently seen several concerning incidents involving diplomats, not least the fatal attack on Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How has this affected the Italian diplomatic community?

In recent years, diplomats have increasingly become the target of terrorist attacks. The tragic death of Italy’s Ambassador in Kinshasa, Luca Attanasio, together with his security guard and driver in northern Kivu at the hands of guerrillas has saddened not only the entire Italian nation but many in Africa and all over the world. 

This tragic event reminds us that diplomats dedicate so much of their lives to the performance of their duties on behalf of their respective governments, occasionally at personal risk. Luca Attanasio was not only an accomplished “African Hand”, an expert in African affairs, he performed his duties with enthusiasm and creativity. He had recently been awarded the Nassiriya peace prize for his commitment to the cause of peace and the welfare of developing countries. His memory will endure as an example for the new generations of young diplomats. 

PHOTO Credit to: TRIBOUILLARD  /AFP

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