Special envoy status in the U.S. diplomacy

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Baku, November 19 –

During an event held in Baku recently, Vladimir Sokor, senior fellow with the Jamestown Foundation, stressed that imperative were the renewed efforts towards the resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to Sokor, it is essential that the President of the United States appoints special envoy on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, aimed to obtain balance within the OSCE Minsk Group.

Considering that 20 years long activity of the OSCE Minsk Group has proven futile, initiatives and ideas regarding new approaches seem timely and natural. Minsk Group has been helpless in enforcing norms of international law, including implementation of UN adopted resolutions. Although, so far, negotiations are held under the same auspices, I believe deliberations regarding Sokor’s idea would be interesting.

Special envoys or representatives have seen their deployment in connection with regional conflicts in 80-90’s of the past century. Large countries, international and regional organizations have appointed envoys or representatives to broker peace in the conflicts or serve in the “ad hoc” capacity. Those were the indicators of the extent of engagement with the region or a particular conflict.

The U.S., making its voice heard throughout the world for past 200 years, has extensively applied such services. It all started with H. Kissinger, serving under the President Nixon (1969-1974), advancing U.S. interests in separate conflicts around the world. In the U.S. such a representative reports to President, State Secretary or at times the Congress, meaning that this position is defined as not the President’s representative, but rather government’s envoy. In the meantime, the number of special envoys varies depending on foreign policy course conducted by the President. For example, while Bush Administration rarely used the services of a special representative, Obama’s administration employs 24 envoys. Northern Ireland, Middle East peace process, Myanmar, North Korean policy, South Sudan and Sudan, African affairs and other envoys are assigned with clear task of mediation in the conflict zones or coordination of U.S. policy to that end.

Appointment of special envoys on conflicts signifies increasing global role of the U.S. and its vested interest. Assigning of a special envoy apart from traditional diplomatic bodies is called to ensure more prompt response to the evolving processes. American society views this as a method to skip debate between executive body and the Congress and bypass to Senate hurdles during confirmation hearings. Unlike ambassador appointments, “ad hoc” missions are selected by the by the President or State Secretary without confirmation by the legislative body.

Parties to the conflict also regard the appointment of the U.S. special envoy as a manifestation of American interest in the conflict resolution. History however demonstrates that, at times, the conflicts they were assigned to broker remained unresolved. U.S. mission in Israel-Palestine conflict stand out as a distinctive one. It is known that as the U.S. does not recognize Palestine’s statehood and the two lack diplomatic relations. Therefore, U.S. mediation efforts are laid upon the shoulders of a special envoy. However, it would seem naive to expect contribution to a fair resolution of the conflict given segregated U.S. approach towards Israel and Palestine. For as long as this attitude prevails, enduring peace in the Middle East will be unattainable and parties concerned are acutely aware of the reality.

U.S. special envoys’ missions on Northern Ireland and Bosnia could be described as more or less successful. Since UK, a key U.S. ally was a party to Northern Ireland conflict, Americans refrained from interfering. It was none other than Bill Clinton that had appointed a special envoy on Northern Ireland, whose mission was instrumental in securing the truce. 1995 Dayton peace agreement in the Bosnian conflict is regarded as the masterpiece work of U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

However, current events demonstrate that not always the U.S. mediated conflicts are completely resolved and at times left frozen. Kosovo’s present challenges and civil wars in Africa are testaments of U.S. mediation efforts mostly calculated for the short run. Analysis of the events reveals that such special missions abroad are designated for the domestic audience in the U.S.  Special missions on certain conflicts are launched in the run up to the U.S. Presidential elections. Then arguments of both candidates are aimed at pounding those issues throughout the debates. While, in reality, Israel-Palestine conflict remains unresolved, blind eye is turned on religion and faith based killings in Myanmar, and the new hot spots emerge in the Middle East. In Sudan too, the course of future events is surely beyond prediction. Those are the regions where Obama Administration appointed special envoys. Probably, the current status quo in those regions satisfies U.S. interests.

Special envoys vary depending on the will of the “resident” of the Oval office. It is the unresolved conflicts that are going to stick around. Even provided the U.S special envoy is appointed in connection with the Nagorno Karabakh, under the circumstances, we should not expect breakthrough or progress. Indeed, co-chairmanship of the U.S. within the Minsk Group provides a broad scope of activity. However, as vested interests of the mediators do not coincide with just resolution of the conflict, the future looks bleak.

Arastu Habibbayli (PhD)

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