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Citizen Diplomacy

Quick: Which nations have signed the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas? What obligation is made in Article 77 of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia? Not long ago, these questions sent diplomats running for a tome in a dark corner of a library. But today, the answers are online. The United Nations alone ...

Quick: Which nations have signed the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas? What obligation is made in Article 77 of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia? Not long ago, these questions sent diplomats running for a tome in a dark corner of a library. But today, the answers are online.

The United Nations alone lists some 40,000 treaties, conventions, agreements, charters, and other official documents in its subscription-only database — and all but a few hundred were signed before 1945. Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy sponsors the Multilaterals Project, a free archive of both current agreements and major historical documents, conveniently grouped under headings such as "flora and fauna" or "diplomatic relations," and searchable by keyword. Juris International offers a collection of "legal instruments" that includes texts of various conventions and model laws, as well as standards and customs of international trade.

However, while lawyers know the difference between an objection and a reservation to a treaty, most activists and citizens do not. To its credit, the United Nations is trying to help citizen diplomats with its online Treaty Reference Guide. Also, the University of Malta’s free DiploAnalytica Web site reveals hidden diplomatic knowledge in documents by annotating case studies like the Kosovo crisis, the Wye River Memorandum, and other recent international disputes.

These online tools may make life easier for diplomats and graduate students, but it’s not clear how much good they do in professional or activist spheres. At least one group — TreatyWatch — tried to use the Internet to mobilize opposition against the International Convention on Cybercrime, but the treaty was still negotiated in the old-fashioned way: around a conference table behind closed doors. In the "Fourteen Points," Woodrow Wilson declared, "diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." The Internet may make diplomacy more transparent, but it hasn’t necessarily made diplomacy any more democratic.

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