Narrative practice in international politics and diplomacy: the case of the Crimean crisis

Abstract

This article analyses international conflicts through defining and discussing narrative practices. We distinguish various sites where clashes of narratives materialise and specific narrative practices are performed: in traditional diplomacy, in public diplomacy and in the media. We reach three conclusions: narratives influence all aspects of diplomatic practice, including strategic negotiations in secret talks and public engagements; state and non-state actors’ practices enact narratives and the growing interconnectedness can fosters clashes of narratives; in crafting and performing political narratives, diplomats and non-state actors refer extensively to legal norms and international law exploiting them as elements of narration. At a theoretical level, we incorporate practice theory into narrative analysis and vice versa, building a bridge between the practice turn and the linguistic turn in constructivist thinking. To illustrate, we analyse the Crimean crisis in February and March 2014 that opposed Russia and Ukraine and its Western supporters.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ‘Narrative’ and ‘discourse’ have some essential differences. ‘A discourse is a unit of utterance: it is something written or spoken that is larger than a sentence’ (Polkinghorne 1988: 31). But narrative is a story, ‘an account of connected sequence of human happenings’ (Roberts 2001: 16). Any narrative is a discourse but not all discourses are narratives. Discourse becomes a narrative when it acquires a plot, a connected sequence of happenings and an actor. Discourse represents a linguistic or rhetorical phenomenon, narrative epitomises a specific type of linguistic reality where the actor — narrator — plays a role, and narrative practice embodies a meaningful social action. Accordingly, narrative analysis, in contrast to discourse analysis, is focused on the presentation of an internally connected, holistic and meaningful story by someone. For understanding narratives, it is important to understand not only the plot and the sequential development of event but also the identity and self of the actor in the context of its relations with others.

  2. 2.

    On speech making by diplomats, see Neumann (2012).

  3. 3.

    The transcripts of this and other public sessions of the UNSC meetings on the Crimean crisis are available at the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s Website, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/resguide/scact2014_en.shtml (last access on 15 July, 2014). A video record of the 7124th meeting of the UNSC is available on the UN Web TV at http://webtv.un.org/watch/ukraine-security-council-7124th-meeting/3277299647001 (last accessed 10 May, 2014).

  4. 4.

    Statement of G-7 Leaders on Ukraine from 12 March, 2014. The White House Website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/03/12/statement-g-7-leaders-ukraine (last accessed 15 July, 2014).

  5. 5.

    Shenhav himself has applied this method to a speech by Ariel Sharon.

  6. 6.

    In February and March 2014, seven meetings of the UNSC on the situation in Ukraine were held in New York: on 28 February (7123rd meeting); 1 March (7124th meeting); 3 March (7125th meeting); 10 March (7131st meeting); 13 March (7134th meeting); 15 March (7138th meeting) and 19 March (7144th meeting). Two of them (7123 and 7131) were closed, and the other five were public. Some meetings were particularly long: 7125th — 2 hours and 5 min, 7134th — 2 hours, 7138th — 1 hour and 15 min, and 7144th — 2 hours. Although it only lasted 35 min, we chose to focus on the 7124th meeting because it set up the tone of the public discussion on the Crimea crisis in the UNSC and introduced some key concepts of narration.

  7. 7.

    The Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed by Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America in Budapest, Hungary, on 5 December, 1994. Available at the website of the Permanent Mission of Poland to the UN Office and International Organisations in Vienna https://www.msz.gov.pl/en/p/wiedenobwe_at_s_en/news/memorandum_on_security_assurances_in_connection_with_ukraine_s_accession_to_the_treaty_on_the_npt (last accessed 15 July, 2014).

  8. 8.

    We analysed the speeches of the representatives of France, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. They are the key countries who set the tone of the narrative contest in the first public meeting of the UNSC on the Crimean crisis (although the representatives of some other states, too, made interventions in the last four meetings in this series).

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Acknowledgements

This article was written at the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies, McGill University, where Alisher Faizullaev was a Visiting Scholar, and Jérémie Cornut was a post-doctoral fellow. We are grateful to Ulugbek Azizov, Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Ben Foldy, Ted Hopf, Sébastien Mainville, Vincent Pouliot, Rhonda Zaharna, as well as the editors of JIRD and two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments and suggestions.

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Faizullaev, A., Cornut, J. Narrative practice in international politics and diplomacy: the case of the Crimean crisis. J Int Relat Dev 20, 578–604 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2016.6

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Keywords

  • conflict of narratives
  • Crimea
  • geopolitics
  • linguistic turn
  • practice theory
  • public diplomacy