By Jurre Honkoop*
For the Dutch speakers, in my last blog I wrote about the childish enthusiasm I had while entering the palais des nations. After a couple of days in these marble corridors, the infantile frenzy has made place for a healthy dose of narcissism. When passing a group of tourists around the assemblee hall I can feel myself flexing and changing my facial expression to the most professional expression I have in my repertoire. It feels good hearing people mumble about “real diplomats” when passing by. Not only did the French delegation we met show up with 4, also they seemed somewhat abashed when they found out that we had done quite some reading on the topic and on their policy. “the inhouse expert will answer the question”, they said while mumbling in French amongst themselves. A certain political arrogance has taken a firm hold of me. Not to say I lost track of the purpose of the conference completely, but it is not only the motivation to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons that gets me out of bed early every day.
How to change from vanity to humbleness quickly?
I wonder whether it is as easy for the rest of the delegates around to change from appropriate humbleness to vanity. Over the past two days we had the pleasure of seeing Russia and the US engage in a cocky entre-nous. The German delegate certainly seemed amused about being able to ward off our questions in a diplomatically correct way.
Is being friendly more than good PR?
Certainly I suspect some of the people we met in the past couple of days to enjoy the sense of power that negotiating at the UN gives. However it also surprises me that a lot of the diplomats and delegates are extremely friendly to our student delegation, to the point that it cannot just be for good PR. The Norwegian diplomat shared her student activist history with us and was genuinely happy to be able to share her knowledge with a group of students. In general, meetings have seemed almost informal, except for when a particularly precarious question was brought up.
It must be difficult, as a former student activist, to defend the use of a nuclear umbrella. Diplomats have to change the policy they defend every 4 or so years, even if they are passionately against nuclear weapons. It gives me some trust in the future of the treaty that, whatever the policy that needs to be defended is, diplomats tend to have a longer track record than these 4 or so years and this stable factor in the system seems generally of a trustworthy influence.
Getting rid if the perverse incentives
In the past couple of days a rush of power has partially motivated me to get out of bed in the morning. Indeed I hope that other diplomats can rid themselves of such sentiments and stay professional and passionate about the topic of discussion. I guess training and experience can take away most of the perverse incentives for being in the room. Until I have the opportunity to get this training and experience, I will stay involved from the side line, where I can actually stay focused on the content, not on the way I look in the eyes of tourists.
* Jurre Honkoop is Bachelor Student Governance, Economics and Development aan Leiden University College en is een van de 14 studenten van de PAX Nuclear Diplomacy Course.