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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:
Kelman, I. 2012. Disaster Diplomacy: How Disasters Affect Peace and Conflict. Routledge, Abingdon, U.K.

A human hand holding the metal hand of a door knocker in Salamanca, Spain (1999).

Hands together (Salamanca, Spain).
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 1999.)

Current View

The evidence from disaster diplomacy studies suggests that disaster-related activities do not create fresh diplomatic opportunities, but that they have the possibility for catalysing diplomatic action, although this possibility is not always fulfilled. This conclusion applies to all disaster-related activities, including before a disaster (disaster risk reduction, including prevention, planning, adaptation, mitigation, readiness, and preparedness), during a disaster (response, crisis management, and emergency management), and after a disaster (recovery and reconstruction). The three principal 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 necessarily, affect diplomacy. Disaster-related activities can influence diplomatic activities and spur them on, as long as a pre-existing, non-disaster 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 exacerbate conflict and reduce diplomacy.

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

Disaster diplomacy examines the role of disaster-related activities in all forms of conflicts with any parties at any space, time, and governance scales, not just in international affairs and international relations and not just governments. As such, a wide definition of "diplomacy" is used. Disaster diplomacy also embraces a wide definition of "disaster", not just involving rapid-onset phenomena such as earthquakes and explosions, but also involving trends, variabilities, and cycles which are more diffuse in space and time. Examples are droughts, epidemics, and wider, longer-term changes. The latter label encompasses other terms including "chronic disasters", "creeping changes", and "disaster conditions" as well as hazard influencers such as climate change and ENSO.

Disaster diplomacy projects, ideas, extensions, and spin-offs are found under case studies and projects & ideas. Guises of disaster diplomacy appearing in the literature and media include "drought diplomacy", "earthquake diplomacy", "health diplomacy", "tsunami diplomacy", "vaccine diplomacy", and "volcano diplomacy".

Canada - U.S.A. border at Niagara Falls (2008).

Canada - U.S.A. border, the longest land border in the world, at Niagara Falls, with New York on the left and Ontario on the right.
More borders.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2008.)

Continuing Work

The case studies detail ongoing work based on specific disaster diplomacy instances or potential.

Further investigations including the projects & ideas contribute to determining how all vulnerability-, risk-, hazard-, and disaster-related activities could assist in diplomatic efforts, international relations, international affairs, human rights, conflict reduction, conflict resolution, environmental management, and sustainability. 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 and should 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. 2004. "Disaster Diplomacy is Dead! Long live Disaster Diplomacy!" Scoop, 13 January 2004, 11:44 am, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2004. "One Earthquake Won't Seal a U.S.-Iran Bond". Newsday, 11 January 2004, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2004. "Will USA-Iran Disaster Diplomacy Have Longevity?" Scoop, 2 January 2004, 6:22 pm, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. 2006. "Disaster Diplomacy: Hope Despite Evidence?". World Watch Institute Guest Essay, full text (101 kb in PDF).

  • 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. 2009. "Can disaster diplomacy work to address climate change?" AlertNet, 2 December 2009, full text (11 kb in PDF).

  • Kelman, I. 2010. "Climate Change Diplomacy for Islands". HazNet: Canadian Risk & Hazards Network (Knowledge and Practice), vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 19-23, full text (242 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.

  • 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. 2013. "Disaster Diplomacy". Pp. 158-159 in P.T. Bobrowsky (ed.), Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards, Springer, London.

  • 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. 2016. "Disaster diplomacy: Why don't disasters cause peace?" Crisis Response Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 50-51.

  • Kelman, I. 2018. "Disaster Diplomacy". In G. Martel (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diplomacy, Wiley-Blackwell, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

  • Kelman, I. 2020 (October 19). "Disaster Diplomacy After 20 Years". Psychology Today, full text (as a webpage).

  • Kelman, I. and JC Gaillard. 2007. "Disaster Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific Region". UN/ISDR Informs: Disaster Reduction in Asia Pacific, issue 3, pp. 54-57, full text (610 kb in pdf).

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

  • Kelman, I., JC Gaillard, and M. Klimesova. 2016 (June 16). "Disaster Diplomacy for Asia and the Middle East". Responding to Natural Disasters in the MENA Region and Asia: Rising to the Challenge?, Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., U.S.A., full text (as a webpage). Republished as I. Kelman, JC Gaillard, and M. Klimesova. 2016 (June 24). "Disaster Diplomacy for Asia and the Middle East". The CSS Blog, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, 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.

Inside the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway (2009).

Nobel Peace Centre (Oslo, Norway).
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2009.)

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.