Avoiding war: Clarity counts
Surely by now, many people are familiar with George Orwell’s novel 1984 and "newspeak," the fictional language decreed by the Ministry of Truth in the Socialist dictatorship of Oceania. But "dipspeak" the language used by diplomats actually exists, although all may not call it "dipspeak."
Before the heads of two modern states meet in person, talk on the phone, engage in a video conference, or engage in any form of public diplomacy, the two sides must agree in advance that their final communiqué will result in some kind of "win-win" for both sides.
This is all governed by what diplomats call protocol and, for the most part, the language used by all sides is French. When one government has a serious proposal to make to another government it offers what is known as a "demarche." Whatever comes of the demarche is recorded by each side in an "aide memoir" which may or may not be made public, albeit sometimes leaked to favorite reporters.
Rank plays an important role in who gets to demarche and with whom. Presidents, Royals, other heads of state expect to be addressed by their equal in rank. Not by some junior foreign service officer writing from the mailroom.
Recently, a video conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and America’s first mail-in President Joe Biden* was in the news. Savvy readers know their "bi-lateral talk" (that is "dipspeak") did not go well when the final communiqué merely announced: "The two leaders agreed to talk again."
Recall, some diplomatic exchanges have tragic results. For example, on July 13, 1870, the French Ambassador interrupted the Prussian King’s morning walk in the resort town of Ems, saying France would not be happy should one of the King’s relatives assume the Spanish throne. The King rejected the French demarche. But the two men departed on friendly terms.
Prussian Chancellor Bismarck, who wanted a war with France as a means of unifying the southern German states into a Greater German Empire, edited the aide memoir to make it appear the two men insulted each other. As if the King told the French Ambassador to take his complaint and stick it où le Soleil brille jamais.
Insulted by Bismarck’s "Ems Telegram," on July 19, the French declared war and ended up losing Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. A territorial loss that would help precipitate World War I.
In January 1919, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram to Mexico urging Mexico to join the war versus the United States and be rewarded with portions of the southern United States. Efforts to claim the Zimmermann Telegram as British "fake news" collapsed when Zimmermann confessed to authoring the telegram. The Zimmermann Telegram, and German use of unrestricted submarine warfare, led to the U.S. declaring war on Germany in April 1917.
Those who write the scripts for President Biden’s* communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Chinese President Xi Jimping, and with the Mullahs should be mindful of history and of Joe Biden’s *tendency to drift off into unintelligible, Mork-like "Bidenspeak." Nanu, nanu, Brandon!
Suggested reading: The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W. Tuchman, 1958; Die Emser Depesche/The Ems Telegram by Otto von Bismarck; "Mork & Mindy" TV sitcom, September, 1978-May, 1982.
©2021. William Hamilton.