Too many cooks – Ukraine

February 9, 2015

There is an expression that states “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.  And it has merit.

The same can be said of the negotiations and interactions between the actors to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

In the UK media there has been criticism of the UK lead in these negotiations.  Some have made comment within the social media that the UK is silent.

However, it can be said that too many interlocutors spoil the negotiations with as much merit as that regarding cooks and broth.

UK Foreign Minister, Mr Hammond is quite right when he stated today “The participation of too many parties in the negotiations with the Kremlin is useless.”  

Is not The Kremlin, Ukraine, Germany and France enough?  Is there a need for an EU representative – or a representative of each of the EU Member States?  The USA?  The UK in particular?  Where do you draw the line?

If there is a consensus amongst the EU and its members that Germany and France take the lead, as long as their negotiations are within parameters acceptable to all EU members and EU institutions, why do others need to be present?

Does the EU as an entity , with its internal frictions between Member States, want to take part in any negotiations, or is it better that they allow two Member States under their own flags to engage – allowing for the embracing or distancing of any outcomes, thus mitigating to some degree, further internal disagreement amongst members that may follow?

Why would the USA want to tie itself to any negotiations by others whatsoever, when the winds of arming Ukraine despite German objects are blowing throughout The Beltway?  No matter how chilly the atmosphere between Washington and Moscow, direct and back channels will remain open, as they will with the EU and its Member States.  There is an advantage to being an actor that can choose to act in unison or individually of the Europeans – ask the Kremlin.

With numerous interlocutors, how much more difficult would it be logistically to gather together all relevant negotiating parties at the same place at the same time?  Urgent EU gatherings can be announced on Sunday and yet not occur until the following Thursday.  The fewer the interlocutors, the more nimble and timely any urgent gatherings are to accomplish.

There is of course, also the psychological issue of how many people are physically sat one side of the table vis a vis another.  Further, there is the issue of interlocutors that are deemed acceptable to all parties to consider – and those that are deemed unacceptable, preventing negotiation at all.

It may very well be that nobody is entirely happy with the composition of the negotiating format, nor their own nation’s position or visibility in the process – but that nobody is entirely unhappy is much more to the point.

Lastly, there is the question of whether becoming an interlocutor is something a nation or entity is keen to do – or begrudgingly accepts because it has little other choice.  It can be a thankless task – especially if or when outcomes are not those that are desired, or not even thought to be achievable in the first place.

Why mire yourself in something you consider futile and that will carry with it significant and adverse blow-back when it all fails – as you knew it would from the outset?

Would the FCO want a prominent interlocutor role, or is it quietly content to remain in the shadows in this particular instance, using existing channels quietly, as it normally does?  Is it better to be criticised for quiet diplomacy, or unnecessarily self-inflicted evisceration over what it may very well consider are going to be headline grabbing failures?

Germany and France have taken the European lead – whether they wanted to, felt obliged to, or were more or less forced to in the absence of any other willing, acceptable, European interlocutors, is a discussion for another day.  Whether their efforts will be rewarded on Wednesday, with at the very least a ceasefire worthy of the name, or whether they will fail as is widely expected, remains to be seen – but somebody had to try, or at the very least be seen to have tried in a last ditch effort, prior to what seems likely to be a very noticeable escalation.


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