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Disaster Diplomacy

in association with
Radix:  Radical Interpretations of and Solutions for Disasters

Disaster Diplomacy investigates how and why disaster-related activities do and do not influence conflict and cooperation.

See the book and e-book:
Kelman, I. 2012. Disaster Diplomacy: How Disasters Affect Peace and Conflict. Routledge, Abingdon, U.K.

For details, see:

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Current View

The evidence from Disaster Diplomacy studies so far suggests that, while disaster-related activities do not create fresh diplomatic opportunities, they have the possibility of catalyzing action, although that possibility is not always fulfilled. The three outcomes from Disaster Diplomacy work so far are:

  • In the short-term--on the order of weeks and months--disaster-related activities can, but do not always, impact diplomacy. Disaster-related activities can influence diplomatic activities and spur them on, as long as a pre-existing basis was present for the diplomacy, with examples being cultural connections, trade links, or secret negotiations.

  • Over the long-term--in terms of years--non-disaster factors have a more significant impact on diplomacy than disaster-related activities. Examples are leadership changes, distrust, belief that an historical conflict or grievance should take precedence over present-day humanitarian and peace needs, or priorities for action other than conflict resolution and diplomatic dividends.

  • Disaster-related activities sometimes have the opposite outcome: they can exacerbate conflict and reduce diplomacy.

Overall, these three points state the political truism that disaster-related activities are not usually a high priority.

Disaster Diplomacy examines the role of disaster-related activities not just in international affairs and international relations, but also in all forms of conflicts with any form of party. That is, a wide definition of "diplomacy" is used. Disaster Diplomacy also embraces a wide definition of "disaster", not just rapid-onset phenomena such as earthquakes and industrial explosions, but also trends or variabilities which are more diffuse in space and time such as droughts, epidemics, and global changes. These latter events have been termed "chronic disasters", "creeping changes", and "disaster conditions" amongst other terms.

Such projects and ideas are found in the case studies and projects and ideas sections of this website. Guises of disaster diplomacy used in the literature and media include "drought diplomacy", "earthquake diplomacy", and "tsunami diplomacy".

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Continuing Work

The case studies section details ongoing work based on specific Disaster Diplomacy instances or potential.

Further investigations including the projects & ideas contribute to determining how all vulnerability-, risk-, and disaster-related activities could assist in diplomatic efforts, international relations, international affairs, human rights, conflict resolution, environmental management, and sustainability. Pre-disaster activities such as prevention, mitigation, adaptation, planning, and preparedness apply to Disaster Diplomacy as much as activities during disasters and post-disaster activities such as response, reconstruction, and recovery. Possible spin-off phrases are "risk diplomacy" and "vulnerability diplomacy". Disaster should not be desired, but attempts to extract as many positive aspects as possible from a difficult situation should be made, especially since those positive aspects can reduce vulnerability and contribute to disaster risk reduction.

These ideas and their continuing development are detailed in academic publications and, amongst others, the following popular science publications:

  • Dykstra, E.H. 2007. "'Disaster Diplomacy' Een blik vooruit of een blik door de voorruit? TOT ZIENS!!" (in Dutch). Nieuwsbrief Crisisbeheersing, vol. 5, no. 12 (December), pp. 6-8, full text (367 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2006. "Disaster Diplomacy: Hope Despite Evidence?". World Watch Institute Guest Essay, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2007. "Disaster diplomacy: Can tragedy help build bridges among countries?" UCAR Quarterly, Fall 2007, p. 6, full text (15 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2007. "Weather-Related Disaster Diplomacy". Weather and Society Watch, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 4,9 full text (618 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2008. "Disaster Diplomacy: Diplomats should not rely on disasters". Imprint, vol. 47, 12 April 2008, pp. 8-9, full text (2,581 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2010. "Climate-Related Disaster Diplomacy" / "Klimakatastrofer og diplomati" (translated by Jorunn Gran). Klima, 2010, vol. 5, p. 21, full text in English (27 kb in PDF) and full text in Norwegian (1,006 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2011. "Aid as Outreach: Disaster Relief and Public Diplomacy". World Politics Review, 26 July 2011, the article's beginning to register for full access (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2011. "Norway-Somalia drought diplomacy?". The Foreigner, 16 September 2011, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2012. "The Many Failures of Disaster Diplomacy". Natural Hazards Observer, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 1, 12-15, full text (3,615 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2014 (4 November). "Does Disaster Diplomacy Improve Inter-State Relations?" e-International Relations, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2015 (March). "A Diplomat's Guide to Disaster Diplomacy". Border Crossing, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. and JC Gaillard. 2012 (30 April). "The failure of disaster diplomacy". The Korea Times, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kovach, T. 2015 (15 April). "Catalyzing Cooperation: Disaster Diplomacy and its Potential to Short-Circuit the Climate-Conflict Link". New Security Beat, full text (as a webpage).

  • Reed, E.U. 2012 (21 February). "A Friend in Need, Temporarily". Diplomatic Courier, full text (as a webpage).

For more publications, see Ilan Kelman's disaster diplomacy publications website.

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The material on the Disaster Diplomacy website is provided as only an information source. Neither definitive advice nor recommendations are implied. Each person or organisation accessing the website is responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed and are strongly advised to verify all information. No liability will be accepted for loss or damage incurred as a result of using the material on this website. The appearance of external links on this website does not constitute endorsement of the organisations, information, products, or services contained on that external website.