13th October 2023 Vienna
Atomic diplomacy: what I learnt interning at the UK Mission
Three of the UK’s diplomatic posts live together under one roof in Vienna. There’s the British Embassy, handling the relationship between Austria and the United Kingdom, the UK Delegation to the OSCE, and the UK Mission to the UN. I started my internship at the latter in September. Specifically, I’m working in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team. The IAEA is one of the most significant organisations in the UN system, promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, implementing safeguards measures to ensure nuclear power is not used for military purposes, and promoting high standards for nuclear safety.
When I started my internship, I found both the IAEA and the UK Mission in a flurry of activity. Preparations were underway for the IAEA’s General Conference, a central event in the Agency’s calendar. The General Conference is roughly equivalent to the UN’s General Assembly: it offers a forum to debate pressing issues and policies, with all Member States sending delegations to contribute to the week-long event. Our Delegation was one of the largest, with over 90 people attending as part of the UK team, including industry leaders, senior officials from government departments, and Andrew Bowie, UK Minister for Nuclear and Networks. Naturally, planning for their arrival required a lot of preparation.
During the General Conference, I saw how different elements of the UK’s delegation offered their distinct contributions to our work. Each part had something unique to offer. On the UK Mission side, we could share our knowledge of the IAEA’s working practices and offer UK-based staff insight into the quirks of multilateral diplomacy (and Viennese public transport). Experts from the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) could offer their impressive knowledge of niche areas in nuclear energy and technology. I was particularly impressed to see DESNZ staff respond on the fly to changes in our schedule, quickly building up dossiers that provided senior figures with all the policy details they needed for high-profile meetings with international partners.
At the centre, Minister Bowie and his team were on hand to engage with other governments, injecting energy and direction into the Delegation. Working closely with so many elements of the UK Government system was one of the most pleasant surprises of the Conference. I think it’s easy to think of diplomats and their work as isolated from the UK, existing as islands of Britishness in different cities and postings across the globe. This picture hasn’t been the case over the last month. While we focus on our international partners here in Vienna, we couldn’t do our work without the support of people back home.
Another welcome addition to my General Conference week was seeing how the UK coordinates with close partners in multilateral debates. Proceedings at UN bodies can seem stagnant: long lists of prepared statements rattled off one after the other. Working with the UK Mission was a great chance to see the more complicated reality behind this impression. Sitting down with friends, we took great care to deliver statements, resolutions and rebukes that would resonate with a global audience. With thousands of delegates descending upon the IAEA for the General Conference, finding the right note to strike was no mean feat, and it was satisfying to see careful preparation pay off during the week’s debates.
After recovering from an exhausting week, I can look back on the General Conference as a real highlight in my stint at the UK Mission, but a highlight among many others. Working at the Mission has been a fantastic opportunity to engage with the world of multilateral diplomacy. Over the last weeks, I’ve met Ministers and leaders of International Organisations from across the globe. Coupled with a welcoming atmosphere at the Embassy itself and the chance to get to know the team at BBQs and pub quiz nights, interning at the Mission has been an experience I won’t forget.
If you want to find out more about the UK Mission’s work at the IAEA General Conference, hear from those who attended including the private sector working in nuclear and Minister Bowie talk about the UK’s priorities.