Is diplomacy dead? Given the perils of the modern age, this might seem an absurd question. The more threats and crises we face, the more we need our suave, smooth-talking diplomats to get us out of trouble. It is only when every possible diplomatic avenue has been exhausted that it is permissible to reach for the proverbial big stick. At least, so goes the theory.The multilateral framework for conflict resolution is a colossal failure that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, because it bows to the intransigence of the few who defend the wickedness in the name of "self determination." We do nothing about vile regimes like those in Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran and Sudan because a few countries without moral compasses prefer doing commerce with evil. Multilateralism is a failure in these situations, yet its proponents are not willing to use "other means" to achieve a worthy objective.
But does modern diplomacy actually work? Careful consideration does not make for comfortable reading. Kosovo, Darfur, North Korea and Iran suggest that more progress might have been made had a little more stick been employed than endless talk.
All the main aid agencies estimate about two million innocent civilians have been the victims of the Sudanese Islamic militias that have waged a genocidal campaign against the Christian and Animist tribes that predominantly inhabit the south of the country. There are 700,000 people in refugee camps in the Darfur province of western Sudan and eastern Chad and it is universally agreed that this is the one issue that demands immediate and effective attention.
But four years after the start of a conflict former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called "little short of hell on earth", the killing and deprivation goes on - despite the UN passing a resolution last summer which finally authorised the establishment of a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force to stop the bloodshed.
Much of the blame for a conflict that Tony Blair, in typically melodramatic fashion, described as "a scar on the conscience of the world", must lie with the UN and those Western governments - such as Britain - that have assumed responsibility for resolving the conflict.
The UN must take much of the blame for refusing to describe the wilful persecution of Sudan's non-Muslim population by government-backed militias as "genocide", which would have given the West the right to intervene militarily to bring the Sudanese government to its senses.
Instead the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum has been allowed to continue its persecution of anyone deemed to live or act contrary to Islamic law, whether they are sub-Saharan Animist hunters or naive English teachers like Gillian Gibbons, who was sentenced to 15 days in prison yesterday for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Mohammed.
As John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN writes in his new book, Surrender is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, Darfur "was the worst example of the UN's inability to address critical problems in Africa".
As Mr Bolton was keen to point out when I met him during his British book tour this week, the world's diplomats have failed on virtually all the major issues they have tackled, even when the Americans have assumed the lead role.