Interspecies diplomacy: ever a possibility? Decoding

Starting point

As right-wing populism was gaining ground during 2023’s federal elections, the progressive voices for non-human animals were growing ever weaker. SwissInfo tells us: the green wave has passed… The Swiss people are not the only ones affected by the elections, and non-human animals will also suffer from these changes. Non-human animals have ended up at a disadvantage in the past, especially when, under the influence of the Swiss People’s Party, the Swiss electorate rejected the initiative designed to put an end to intensive farming in Switzerland. Policies affect all creatures.

Despite the current Swiss political scene, the environmental emergency continues, and its impact on all beings is evermore pressing. And so, we must start now to think about what engaging diplomatically with non-human animals will look like.

Is there another way?

T. Fougner wrote that «If diplomacy is considered an alternative to war, can the ongoing human ‘war against animals’ be replaced with diplomacy between humans and other animals?». Are there ways of envisaging a world in which non-human animals are not only included in humans’ policy-making processes, but are also considered as full members of our societies?

Certain researchers and practitioners are slowly shifting towards redefining diplomacy altogether. The notion of interspecies diplomacy goes beyond the scope of human societies to acknowledge and address the interests, needs and rights of non-human animals. Yet, the idea of interspecies politics is foreign to many, and often perceived as «niche» or «unconventional»…

Zoopolis: a pioneering work

The book Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights proposes a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans and non-human animals in politics. This pioneering work suggests that non-human animals should be treated according to their abilities and needs. The book introduces three categories: domesticated animals, wild animals living on the edges of human society, and liminal animals living amongst human infrastructures yet not domesticated (such as rats or racoons).

The book argues in favour of recognising the diverse ways non-human animals interact with humans, and suggests that some non-human animals should have some form of citizenship status, with specific rights and responsibilities relative to their capacities and relation to human societies. Overall, the authors urge us to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to animal rights, and to consider the varied and nuanced ways in which species can co-exist with humans.

How does the concept of «Sentience» give humans access to certain rights and obligations?

The word «sentience» refers to the capacity to experience feelings and sensations. The notion of sentience is particularly important in human politics; and its recognition forms the basis for ethical and legal frameworks that shape how individuals are treated, as well as the responsibilities they have towards each other in society. Yet, non-human animals, despite their sentient quality, do not enjoy the same legal protection.

The acknowledgement of sentience in non-human animals is the first step towards expanding ethical and legal perspectives to encompass the well-being of all sentient entities. In that respect, rights and obligations should be extended to any being capable of experiencing happiness, suffering and consciousness. Recognizing that non-human animals, because of their sentience, should enjoy specific rights and obligations, fosters a more inclusive and compassionate approach to the treatment of all sentient beings. It also gives rise to interspecies diplomacy.

This is why we, Sentience, strive to put forward animals’ welfare in social and political discourse. The Primate initiative gave the first opportunity for an electorate to vote democratically on whether non-human animals should be granted basic rights. More recently, our RRRevolution campaign sought the application of the 3R principle (Refine, Reduce, Replace) to animals in agriculture. Our campaigns raise awareness about non-human animals’ interests within society. In this way, non-human animals are starting to gain importance on the political stage. Yet, the process is still highly anthropocentric, and we are still a long way from considering non-human animals as full members of society with rights…

Interspecies diplomacy in practice

What could interspecies diplomacy and policymaking look like in practice?

  • In Switzerland: keep the bees buzzing

Switzerland has several billion honey bees, and the utilisation of certain pesticides can be harmful to bees’ overall well-being and health. Current approaches are not collaborative and do not consider bees’ interests as individuals – but rather as a group. Even though humans’ timescale and order of magnitude differ from those of bees, it does not make bees less worthy of lawful protection and consideration.

The first step towards better policies involves acknowledging the interdependence between humans and bees, as well as striving for agricultural practices that sustain biodiversity, an ecological balance and the welfare of pollinators.

A collaborative approach, which brings together humans and bees, implies that the Swiss Government engages in a dialogue with both bee-keeping communities and agricultural stakeholders. Policies could then be crafted to minimize the impact of pesticides on bee populations; as well as to support research into sustainable farming methods which fully take into account the well-being of pollinators.

This is an example amongst many others. In practice, many policymakers will claim that other priorities are at stake, and that non-human animals are not part of the political agenda. However, thinking that human lives outweigh those of non-human animals is a fallacy…

  • Fish imports in Switzerland

Over 96% of fish consumed in Switzerland is imported. In light of this metric, Swiss authorities must engage in diplomatic initiatives with fish-exporting countries to ensure that practices adhere to sustainable and ethical standards. Regulations include the reduction of bycatch, habitat destruction and overfishing. Other governmental efforts to encourage aquaculture practices that prioritise the well-being of fish, lower their stress levels and provide adequate living conditions, are an integral part of this collaborative effort to include fish in policies.

With the two examples above, we can see that humans are still very much complicit in non-human animal suffering. Efforts such as the full integration of interspecies diplomacy within our current systems is more than just an unconventional idea to consider: it is humans’ moral duty towards the non-human animal world.

As we have seen from recent federal elections, we are currently too far removed from all other creatures with whom we co-exist… Interspecies diplomacy – as an alternative to traditional anthropocentric diplomacy – implies finding new ways of connecting with non-human animals and designing policies accordingly. We must embrace this vision now, and do so systematically in the future.

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