When I last week wrote about Western diplomats in developing countries, I just touched upon issues related to the difficult jobs, which I said belong to the group of ‘impossible professions’, along with doctors, pastors, teachers, and others, which I did not name. To be an envoy to a foreign country is certainly difficult, well, if one wants to do something that can make a difference in the countries, and improve relations between rich and poor countries, something that is essential for peace and development.

Rich countries give development aid. Yet, they also have ordinary trade relations with low and middle income countries. Like in trade between other high income countries, they want to make profit in the poor countries. Besides, aid is no longer as significant as it was. Prime Minister Imran Khan put some of the issues related unfair international relations on the agenda recently when he questioned the foundation and operations of the International Monetary Fund, IMF. And up against IMF, one cannot win; one has to follow their rules, as is also the case when dealing with the World Bank and the regional development banks. It was important that Pakistan questioned IMF.

A few days ago, I saw my fellow Norwegian countryman Jan Egeland on TV, appealing to rich countries, and also rich companies and individuals, to donate more to the almost empty coffers of the United Nations and other international aid organizations, so they can help in sudden and lasting refugee situations and emergencies. Jan Egeland was some time ago undersecretary general for the UN body coordinating humanitarian affairs and emergencies at the time of the terrible tsunami in Thailand in 2004, and now he is heading the Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC.

Jan Egeland is indeed in an impossible diplomatic profession. He has held jobs where the performance is never good enough in spite of all efforts. People may see what is being achieved than what is achieved, and the needs are always more than the seeds. At least 70 million people are displaced now, and 800 million people go hungry. Certainly, there should be money available to help. For example, there should be a fund, which the UN can draw money from when needed. The UN should not have to appeal when ‘sudden’ emergencies occur and shown on TV. Countries will then pledge to contribute, and some of the money will come forward, but it will always be late.

Jan Egeland is just one of the top diplomats who works day and night, yet showing results that are not good enough. Of course, diplomats are not really responsible; it is the politicians that must take the blame and honour. But also diplomats must do better in convincing the politicians, who say they are for humanitarian and development aid, yet, often avoid the concrete questions by saying that trade is better than aid. When they talk like that, they often also get approval from rich actors in poor countries, and certainly in rich countries. True, in the long run ordinary relations and trade are the solutions. The West must help correct some of the mistakes made during the colonial time and after, so that we might indeed have a new international economic order, which is still far away. In the 1970s, bilateral and multilateral diplomats, politicians, researchers, NGOs, and many more worked to realize fair trade and a new international economic order. Those who are still alive, must be sad to see the limited results of their work.

Last week, I praised the outgoing EU Ambassador to Pakistan, Jean-Francois Cautain and his wife Sonia, and other aid workers and diplomats of such calibre. They belong to the ‘old school’ of good people with relevant education and experience in the countries they serve. Dr. Cautain ‘graduated’ to become ambassador after long fieldwork and other experience in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When I worked for UNHCR in Pakistan just before and after 9/11, I was also pleased to learn that the UN organization for refugees had a chief who was in Pakistan for his third term. The UN is usually better that the bilateral missions in emphasizing country- and subject-matter knowledge. In development aid that is essential, in addition to knowledge about the administrative systems of own organization and the recipient country, and the ability the handle sizeable amounts of money. Currently, China has both ambassador and deputy with several-time and long stays in Pakistan. Russia, this summer posted a new ambassador to Pakistan who has been assigned to the country twice before, and probably, he has followed developments in the country from the desk at home.

I am sure I could find other positive examples, cases when UN organizations and important Western countries send diplomats who have good knowledge about Pakistan, gained through studies and work, maybe also fieldwork. Fieldwork is different from work as a diplomat and desk officer; the term fieldwork means that one has spent time in a more informal situation than at an embassy or UN office, preferably as a student or researcher. That is particularly important when Western diplomats or other diplomats from far away, come to an unfamiliar country; there are so many things that are different and difficult to understand unless one has had time to do fieldwork in advance and in less formal settings than as a senior diplomat. For example, my home country Norway has only five million people; for a Norwegian coming to a big country, indeed a regional power, it would demand a learning process to be able to understand the position of a big country. When I was a young university student and staff in development studies in Oslo, we discussed these aspects quite a bit.

In my article today, I have drawn attention to the importance of country- and subject-matter knowledge for bilateral diplomats and international civil servants. In the first part of the article, I also drew attention to some structural aspects, and shortcomings of the international assistance system, mentioning humanitarian aid and the UN coordination, as well as the shortcomings of IMF and the World Bank system. They set-up is old and still serves status quo and the West’s interests rather than real change and development in the South. Also, the heart of the West seems not always to be in the right place for right action.

As a social scientist, I believe in the importance of subject-matter knowledge, research and studies to be foundations of civil service, including diplomats, along with the general and broad thinking that is also required, indeed to understand global issues. If the Western countries could give more attention to country- and subject-matter aspects in the education and career of their diplomats, they would probably be more effective in support of change and development in the countries they serve in the South, and thus fulfil more of the said tasks and role of the rich countries, including contributing to peace and sustainable development. Compassion and a kind heart are needed to identify the need for radical change and implement it.