Posts Tagged ‘Peace of Westphalia’

Is ‘diplomacy’ simply ‘what diplomats do’?

January 22, 2011 2 comments
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Is ‘diplomacy’ simply ‘what diplomats do’?

by Juan E. Dayang, Jr.


Diplomacy is bound to intrigue those unfamiliar with the work of diplomats.[1]

If one were to ask professional diplomats whether ‘diplomacy’ is simply ‘what ‘diplomats’ do, one would certainly get mixed replies.

For those who have worked in the Foreign Service for the last 40 years, they would probably answer in the affirmative. For instance, the author asked the feedback of a retired Ambassador.[2] Indeed, the senior diplomat affirmed that diplomacy is what diplomats alone could do and ‘ought to be doing’. He defined ‘diplomacy’ — from a priori knowledge and from his years of experience to capture the “idea” of what diplomats do.  Other matters such as “history of diplomatic practice, problems of diplomacy, significant achievements of diplomacy, etc. —are merely derivative from the basic idea”.

However, when a similar question was raised to a junior Foreign Service officer with eight years of experience in the home office and in an overseas post, he viewed his work as not being confined to traditional notions of diplomacy. [3]

This essay provides a critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of defining diplomacy as an instrument of the state to pursue its national interests by negotiations and through peaceful means.

First, the classic definition of diplomacy will be presented. Second, the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the argument will be analysed. And third, the essay will conclude that despite the changes in the political and socio-economic environment of world affairs, the classic definition of diplomacy centred on the dominant role of the state remains valid.

However, its apparatus – the foreign ministry and professional diplomats — need to adapt to new international realities by assessing its current practice and modes of conduct and by proactively engaging non-state actors.

Traditional Definition of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the conduct of foreign relations by sovereign states through peaceful means.  The nation-state is the primary actor in international relations and diplomacy is an instrument of state craft.

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which marked the beginning of the modern system of nation-states, initiated the establishment of modern diplomacy. Writings of diplomacy by De Callieres, Satow, and Wicquefort[4] as well as those of  Nicolson, Kissinger and Berridge espouse the centrality of states in diplomacy. [5]

Berridge defines diplomacy as “official channels of communication employed by members of a system of states”[6] and “the conduct of relations between sovereign states through the medium of officials based at home and abroad, the latter being either members of their states’ diplomatic service or temporary diplomats.” [7] Nicolson defines diplomacy as “an ordered conduct of relations between one group of human beings and another group alien to themselves”.[8] Diplomacy, simply defined, is

(a) an instrument of foreign policy used to achieve goals considered to be of vital interest of the state;

(b) done through peaceful means and;

(c) accomplished by way of established diplomatic protocol and procedures represented by accredited agents.[9]











[1] Diplomacy continues to conjure images of diplomats who go overseas and live a life of privilege and accorded with respect and diplomatic immunity by the host country.

[2] Personal communication of the author with retired Ambassador Jose Lino Guerrero, 18 January 2011.

[3] Personal communication of the author with Second Secretary and Consul Arnel Talisayon, 18 January 2011.

[4] Read Sir Ernest Satow, A Guide to Diplomatic Practice (London: Longman, 1922); Francois De Callieres, The Art of Diplomacy, ed. M.A. Keens-Soper (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1983); A. De Wicquefort, The Ambassador and His Functions, trans. Jr  Digby (Centre for the Study Diplomacy, 1997).

[5] See Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1994).

[6] G.R. Berridge, Diplomacy Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

[7] G.R. and James Berridge, Alan, A Dictionary of Diplomacy, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

[8] See  K.J.  Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[9] See Keith and Langhorne Hamilton, Richard, The Practice of Diplomacy (London: Routledge, 1995); R.P. Barston, Modern Diplomacy (London: Longman, 1988).

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