"Every cloud has a silver lining" one says with the hope of finding some optimism in tough times; former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was able to broker an agreement between warring nations using his guile and charm in what is often known as "Shuttle Diplomacy".
In current circumstances, when everyone is up in arms and decency gets a cold shoulder, is diplomacy even possible? Inquiring minds want to know, especially when the merciless enemy – the virus / pandemic – is everywhere and yet invisible.
Particularly troubling is how the United States – once held as the paragon of virtue by some – has conducted international relations. In a recent Washington Post interview, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said "we are the worst possible example of things. And it is hurting us." Despite the challenges, she argues for dialogue "spend time with people with whom you disagree, and not yell at each other. Set up groups to talk to each other, to try to figure out the basis of the disagreement".
Diplomats, however, are optimist who are searching for common ground. "Diplomacy is a face-to-face business" said Luxembourg Ambassador Gaston Stronck on conducting diplomacy in COVID-19 times.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, countries all over the world began closing their borders (with Luxembourg one notable exception, with Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, keen to be seen to protect the Schengen Agreement even in these unprecedented times), leaving thousands of their nationals stranded. These dire circumstances put enormous pressures on embassies and consulates to offer advice and support on return flights and repatriation procedures.
"Over the past months, the Luxembourg Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as the Luxembourg General Consulates in New York and San Francisco, have been actively involved in national efforts to stem the coronavirus outbreak. Offering consular assistance to citizens stranded abroad has been an enormous challenge and together with my colleagues in D.C., New York and San Francisco and with the very useful help of some of our Honorary Consuls, we supported our citizens travelling in the United States and all over Northern and Central America", Ambassador Stronck said. "Acquiring much-needed equipment from the United States including essential medicine and fostering international collaboration through which scientists can cooperate in the fight against coronavirus were other important tasks", he added.
Ambassador Stronck noted "digital diplomacy is developing fast: Skype Business, Webex and Zoom are important tools to stay connected. The monthly meetings of the ambassadors of the EU take place virtually and we are able to have our exchanges and to do our work. There is a big choice of webinars in Washington DC that allow the Embassies to stay informed and to keep track with the political and economic developments".
As a seasoned diplomat, Ambassador Stronck has been trying to build bridges and make the case for Luxembourg’s interests in Washington. "Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I have not had the opportunity to travel around the United States and connect with American and Luxembourg companies and with the Luxembourg communities all over this country who are a big resource to the Embassy. I was looking forward to be in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin this summer. All these events and festivities have been cancelled or postponed. I regret very much that I will not have this year the unique opportunity to meet the Luxembourgers and those of Luxembourg descent" he stated.
As an optimist, Ambassador Stronck looks forward to the other side of this pandemic and stated "meeting people, building confidence and trust, managing networks are central tasks of modern diplomacy and we all hope that we will soon back to normal diplomatic life".
The Luxembourg National Day celebrations in Washington is one of the highlights at the Embassy in Washington. This year Ambassador Stronck and his staff came up with a very warm and charming message for raising a glass to the good health of HRH Grand Duke Henri and his family.