Across Continents

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Diplomatic day

Breakfast was a meagre affair. The kitchen staff hid behind glass screens. They looked disinterested. You had to pay extra for anything really worth having. An industrial feeding factory. A big disappointment after the likes of Linz, Melk and Tulln hostels. Of course, they’d say that this was a much bigger establishment. True, but looking around at the disappointed faces, these were the same sorts of people I’d seen in the other hostels. And they’d be economies of scale. No reason why they couldn’t do much better. Besides, it wasn’t gratis, we were paying for it.

Bit of a grim start, but then a very helpful e-mail from an overseas post. From a British Pro-Consul. No idea what one was, but she’d sent me a pretty comprehensive reply to my query. Very prompt. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, never quite managed lunch out of them, just a few coffees in King Charles Street. By Whitehall standards they’re a pretty miniscule affair, and yet they have a presence in almost every country. They don’t get a huge press at home, they just seem to quietly get on with things, but I suppose that’s diplomacy for you.

Whereas I felt I had a measure of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, I’d struggle to define, in any tangible form, exactly what the United Nations actually achieved. So I decided to visit. I’d a healthy scepticism borne of previous dealings with inter-governmental organisations, but I’m always open to a slice of humble pie, these days with lashings of cream.

The Vienna complex is probably most well known for being the home of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Like The Holy City, the correct title, I was told, for what is commonly termed The Vatican, the UN in Vienna is a territory independent of Austria. Unlike The Holy City, however, you wouldn’t describe the UN site as opulent. Rather, it looked ever so slightly dated, more in need of a refresh than a rebuild. And no luxury hotels nearby.

What then of the UN? For a body conceived in the aftermath of World War Two to prevent further conflict on a global scale, I suppose you could say it has been a success. If you took the view that it was there to promote peace between nations, the picture’s not quite so rosy. It’s easy to overlook UN’s peacekeeping missions, and I’m sure that where they’re out on the ground, they are achieving something. Sometimes at great cost. And one of the problems with peace is that it just isn’t newsworthy, so their efforts can easily fade from the public consciousness.

If I struggle a bit with the UN and its entirely laudable aims, it’s twofold. Firstly, any organisation that employs half its staff in its HQ – about 10,000 – isn’t what I’d call delivery focused. Secondly, seeking consensus between member states – I’ve seen multilateral arrangements struggle with just a handful of countries participating – the UN has almost 200 member states. You suspected that out on the ground there were a lot of passionate, hard-working UN staff really trying to make a difference. I hoped to meet some.


5 responses to “Diplomatic day”

  1. dentice says:

    Is this a lecture on The united Nations and your dealings with it, or is it a travel blog?.Heavy and non too interesting reading to say the least.

  2. admin says:

    Not a lecture, just observations. A travel blog? Certainly, one where I write about the people and places I encounter. Inevitably, this is going to encompass a wide range of material – we’ve had gnomes through to the UN in recent weeks – not all of which will appeal to everyone. Some pieces light-hearted, others more thought provoking. It’s a very varied world.

  3. dentice says:

    It might have been thought provoking or even light-hearted had there been a reason for most of it Ken,It just seemed like some thin mask of your past life with some UN bullet points added for good measure.What of your visit, was it thought provoking ,was it light-hearted ,was it as you expected?.If I want to know about the UN I can look it up . A travel blog is what you see not what you know.

  4. admin says:

    Think of it as a scene-setter for the years ahead, for both the UN and the FCO, as I reckon I’m going to encounter both quite a bit!

  5. dentice says:

    But you didn’t set the scene Ken, thats what im getting at.If you need the UN ,thats going to make some interesting reading I must admit,The FCO I guess I can understand.

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