Acting on disaster diplomacy.

Author:Kelman, Ilan

To define and explore disaster diplomacy, the initial question asked was "Do natural disasters induce international cooperation amongst countries that have traditionally been 'enemies'?" (1) Could disaster-related activities, both pre-disaster such as mitigation and prevention and post-disaster such as response and recovery, positively affect relations amongst states which are not normally prone to cooperation? The term "enemy" thus has a wide remit, which is not confined to violent conflict, but refers to states that are not collaborating diplomatically or politically. The first examples that were explored include the earthquakes in Greece and Turkey in 1999, monitoring hurricanes which could hit both Cuba and the United States and preventing a drought disaster across southern Africa. (2) One conclusion from these analyses is that a disaster can significantly spur on a diplomatic process that had a preexisting basis, but a disaster alone is unlikely to generate new diplomacy. Disaster-related activities can catalyze, but do not create, cooperation.

Since this study, discussion about disaster diplomacy has widened with a growing set of case studies and theoretical analyses. (3) This further work led to a new core question evolving from the one above, namely "Can disaster-related activities induce cooperation amongst enemy countries?" Other disaster diplomacy case studies which were analyzed include the rapprochement between India and Pakistan following the 26 January 2001 earthquake. (4) Additionally, the United States aided Iran after the 26 December 2003 earthquake. (5) The 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in the context of conflicts in Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia were also examined. (6) The case of international aid offered to the United States after Hurricane Katrina in August-September 2005 was also scrutinized. (7)

Categorization of disaster diplomacy in its different forms provides a solid basis for understanding the theory and characteristics of disaster diplomacy which are then applied to analyzing case studies and spin-offs. This literature, however, provides limited discussion regarding how disaster diplomacy might be operationalized; that is, how to turn the knowledge, theory and experience into action.

This paper contributes to filling that gap by identifying pathways of disaster diplomacy which could occur or which could be selected. While a specific framework of action would be the ideal outcome, this paper shows that complexities and diversity of experiences make it challenging to formulate and defend a framework of action for disaster diplomacy. Instead, this paper provides a set of possibilities as a disaster diplomacy toolkit from which tools could be selected to develop action frameworks that are specific to each situation and to each actor's interests. The toolkit consists of pathways that either promote or inhibit disaster diplomacy.

The following sections summarize past work, elaborate on disaster diplomacy theory by providing a new typology, and place the new theory in the context of two recent case studies: India-Pakistan following the 8 October 2005 earthquake and Ethiopia-Eritrea from 1999 to 2002 during droughts. Next, practical ways of using or not using disaster diplomacy are described by exploring disaster diplomacy failings and how those failings can be overcome. The disaster diplomacy toolkit is also detailed. The paper concludes by summarizing the limitations and prospects of disaster diplomacy. Overall, disaster diplomacy has a significant impact, but realistic expectations are necessary to understand what this process can and cannot do--and what it should and should not do.


Previous disaster diplomacy work focused on three main areas. The first area is case study analyses, examining where and how disaster diplomacy has been observed or attempted. Examples are given above, such as Cuba-U.S. and India-Pakistan. (8) The second area is spin-offs describing disaster diplomacy lessons applied in other forms and fora. One spin-off is "environmental diplomacy," the issue of whether environmental management issues and treaties could lead to lasting, positive diplomatic outcomes beyond environmental management. (9) Another spin-off is disaster para-diplomacy. (10) Para-diplomacy refers to a non-state government developing a foreign policy and conducting international relations; that is, a non-sovereign jurisdiction's relations with states and international institutions.

The third area consists of characterization and categories of disaster diplomacy. As case study analyses yielded patterns, five suggestions are proposed in the literature: active vs. passive disaster diplomacy, propinquity of the disaster diplomacy states, aid relationship of the disaster diplomacy states, level at which the disaster diplomacy operates and purpose of the disaster diplomacy. Collectively, these categories represent the main elements of disaster diplomacy theory available, although the presentation of these categories has been somewhat ad hoc and some have yet to be completely validated.

One main characterization is the comparison between passive and active disaster diplomacy. (11) This distinction is a helpful beginning for indicating how and when disaster diplomacy might be acted upon (active) compared with a disaster diplomacy process occurring without the actors seeking or being aware of its potential (passive). In active disaster diplomacy, actors can create opportunities for disaster diplomacy, for instance, by working with the media or by lobbying governments to ensure that international relations improve through disaster-related cooperation. In passive disaster diplomacy there are no deliberate linkages between disaster-related activities and diplomatic activities.

Propinquity, or neighborliness, is another characterization of disaster diplomacy for which three categories were suggested. (12) First, there are states that share a land border, such as India and Pakistan. Second, there are states that do not share a land border but that are near each other, normally separated by a short expanse of water. Japan and North Korea are separated by a short stretch of sea as are Cuba and the United States. This expanse of water could be a lake or river. The third propinquity category is that the disaster diplomacy states are not near each other, for example the United States and Iran.

Aid relationship has three categories for describing the form of disaster diplomacy. (13) The first category, mutual aid, indicates that enemy states face a common threat or have been affected by the same event and aid each other as a result. Both Cuba and the United States face hurricanes, often the same storms, such as Hurricanes Dennis and Wilma during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The second category, combined aid, means that enemy states coordinate aid to another state or that several states coordinate aid to a common enemy. For North Korea's droughts and floods after 1995, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States developed a coordinated aid package despite various levels of conflict amongst these states. The third aid relationship category is that of donor-recipient: one state is a donor (assisting) and one state is a recipient (assisted). Examples include the United States offering aid to Iran following the 26 December 2003 earthquake and Iran offering aid to the United States following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Additionally, disaster diplomacy has three levels at which it is conducted. (14) The first level is the government level. The India-Pakistan case study falls into this category because the states' governments were at the forefront of disaster diplomacy efforts. The second level is organization-led disaster diplomacy, involving groups that are not governments such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, the media, the private sector, lobby groups and research institutes who lead any disaster-related and/or reconciliation efforts. Some disaster diplomacy of this form was evident following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004. The third category is people-led disaster diplomacy in which grassroots support directs the disaster-related and/or reconciliation efforts, although that is often trumpeted or given momentum by the media, as in the Greece-Turkey case study. Furthermore, different combinations of levels can occur. Governments can deal bilaterally or multilaterally or can be brought together by organizations. Organizations might deal directly with governments or with grassroots groups. People from one state can directly approach the government of another state or national/international organizations.

Finally, purpose is another way to characterize disaster diplomacy. (15) Multiple purposes are often evident in disaster diplomacy outcomes, whether positive or negative. They range from political survival to desire for peace to re-affirmation of old prejudices and enmity The purposes are often interlinked, while sometimes contradictory purposes lead to contradictory actions. Disaster diplomacy purpose is perhaps the most contentious typology, with views often expressed to conform to already-established partisan opinions.

The above five characterizations are not independent disaster diplomacy variables, nor orthogonal axes in five-dimensional disaster diplomacy space, nor category pigeonholes into which each case study must be placed. Instead, they are descriptors used to identify differences amongst disaster diplomacy case studies to seek patterns for a better understanding of disaster diplomacy

At times, clear categorizations emerge. India-Pakistan after the 2001 earthquake reflects the second category of propinquity (land border) and the first category of level (government-led). (16) At times, multiple categorizations appear. North Korean disaster diplomacy occurred at three propinquity levels, namely North...

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