The Business Year

Bernardino León

UAE, UAE, ABU DHABI - Diplomacy

Progress made

Director-General, Emirates Diplomatic Academy


A veteran diplomat with a career spanning over 27 years, Bernardino León has served as the UN special representative and head of the UN support mission in Libya and played an instrumental role in brokering the Libyan political agreement and the presidential council that concluded the civil war. Previously, he completed tenures as the EU special representative to the Southern Mediterranean, secretary general at the Spanish prime minister’s office, and the office of the deputy minister of foreign affairs. In collaboration with Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, he played a pivotal role in establishing the Barenboim-Said Foundation. León holds a diploma in international relations from the University of Barcelona and a law degree from the University of Malaga in Spain.

The Emirates Diplomatic Academy trains diplomats to ensure the UAE plays a leading role as a champion of international solidarity and cooperation.

Why is it necessary to have an academy to train future diplomats?
The UAE is a country that has made impressive progress in a short period of time. Its sustainability agenda is a prime example. The UAE is also a champion of international solidarity and cooperation and has built a leadership role in security. Understanding and fighting terrorism and countering threats is a significant part of its agenda, and the UAE has participated in practically every NATO initiative, as well as several of the UN initiatives in the Middle East. However, it also understands that prevention is the best security investment. The founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was clear that he did not want his country to merely be an oil producer. He was keen to diversify and invest in the most critical strand of public affairs, human capital. He also wanted the UAE to maintain excellent diplomatic relations and realized early on the merits of soft power. A decision was also recently made to expand the diplomatic network of overseas missions and embassies, both in terms of quantity and quality, given the UAE’s desire to develop world-class diplomats for global policy and outreach. To achieve this priority, a specialized academy was required because diplomats need specific skills.

What fundamental skills make a good diplomat?
The world of education in general is shifting toward a balance of skills and knowledge, which is why it is essential to identify the right kind of expertise. Today, we have more access to knowledge than ever, but only a limited capacity to interpret and apply it. If you have the capacity to network, negotiate, persuade, and be successful in the international arena, then the future will be kinder to you. With this rebalancing, we still want people to know the main aspects of diplomacy, but at the same time be good negotiators with a broad skill set that includes different elements such as persuasion and leadership. Indisputably, leadership is an essential skill for those working in embassies and multilateral settings. While team building is crucial, the fact is that you cannot build or get the best from your team if you are not inherently a leader. To be sure, intercultural skills and multilingualism are two final critical skills, which is why our core courses are in Arabic and English and, in addition to six other languages—with plans to expand.

How do the new regional areas in which the UAE is expanding its diplomatic network factor into your training?
Areas such as international cooperation, trade, international investment, and security have gained importance, which means that today’s diplomats need to familiarize themselves with all these aspects. Moreover, you also need to have generalists that can double as specialists because in diplomacy, you move seamlessly between different disciplines. Economic and investment diplomacy are new areas of interest. Sometimes the most prestigious companies in the country accompany high political delegations for the signing of trade deals. Some think this is 21st century diplomacy, but it is not. Trade diplomacy was born 4,000 years ago, but today we need to adapt to an unprecedented expansion of the economy. The focus now is less on war and conflict, and more on trade, as well as science, education, and other areas of international cooperation. We have to adapt to a diplomacy oriented toward trade and economy. Diplomacy is present in other sectors of society. We have students coming to us from the private sector as well as major organizations such as Mubadala or Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, among others. This showcases the increasing importance of diplomacy in less traditional fields. Furthermore, while skills for networking and intercultural understanding are crucial for diplomats, they are equally important in the private sector. As diplomacy becomes more inclusive and global, it will pave the way for more economic exchanges and investment.



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