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Strengths of the Statist Definition of Diplomacy

January 22, 2011 2 comments
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Strengths of the Statist Definition of Diplomacy (Part 2)

by Juan E. Dayang, Jr.

The strengths of the state-centric approach to defining diplomacy are as follows:  (a) diplomacy between states has long historical roots, tradition, and established norms; (b) recognition of the crucial role of diplomats in gathering information, sending messages, and negotiating peace and security between states; and (3) a foundation for a legal basis through a treaty on diplomatic and consular relations.

History, Tradition and Norms

The practice of diplomacy has been recorded in ancient China and Egypt, classic Greece and during the Byzantine Empire.  Sending permanent envoys was established when Italian city-states appointed permanent ambassadors in the 15th century. Over the years, diplomatic tradition was established and became a norm, as with the “practice of permanent embassies” and the “immunity of ambassadors and the extraterritoriality of the permanent embassy.”[1] It was in the early 20th century, from 1914 to 1918, when states realized the importance of diplomacy in preventing war. The establishment of resident embassies, consulates and permanent missions overseas as well as the concomitant accreditation of diplomats as official representatives of the states in host countries is a customary norm in bilateral and multilateral relations. Diplomatic tradition and norms,[2] formed through practice and long experience by members of the diplomatic corps, remain relevant in coordinated action among states in facing the challenges of the 21st century.

Recognition of the Crucial Role of Professional Diplomats in Promoting Peace

The function of diplomats as representatives of the state and as messengers and gatherers of information is recognized universally. The role diplomats play in preventing wars and conflict between and among states is also recognised as an effective instrument for peace and confidence building.

Diplomacy gained momentum at the end of the catastrophic World Wars in the 20th century.  It has been suggested that the lack of crucial information was one of the causes of World War I when diplomacy was not yet fully in place to effectively conduct communication among states that viewed one another as actual or potential enemies.[3] After World War II, diplomacy was a vital instrument in crisis management and conflict resolution during the Cold War between the United States and the former USSR.  The conduct of international affairs was left in the hands of diplomats who were seen as capable and adept in navigating the peculiarities of the international political environment.

To this day, accredited diplomats remain as the most reliable agents of the state in achieving   foreign policy objectives through peaceful means. What makes a diplomat unique from a politician is his or her ability to see the bigger international picture and form mutually beneficial relations with key personalities and institutions in host countries.

Codified Law as Legal Basis of Diplomacy

The practice of diplomacy was recognized in the Congress of Vienna of 1815 which gave recognition to diplomats as a special class of profession. In 1961 the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was signed. The treaty defined a framework for diplomatic relations between sovereign states and specified the privileges of a diplomatic mission. The convention, ratified by 186 countries, formed the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. Diplomats were allowed to execute their task without fear of coercion or persecution by the host country. Its provisions were considered a foundation of modern international relations.

In addition, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 is an international treaty that identified a structure for consular relations between independent countries. Under this treaty, ratified by 172 countries, consuls are accorded most of the similar privileges, including consular immunity, a variant of diplomatic immunity.[4] A consul on the whole operates out of an embassy or consulate-general in a foreign country, and performs two important functions: (1) defending in the host country the interests of their citizens, and (2) promoting the economic and commercial relations between the two countries. Although a consul is not a diplomat, they work in the same location and, in most Foreign Ministries, Foreign Service personnel and officers have a dual function as diplomats and consuls when stationed overseas. Such codification of diplomatic practice strengthens the traditional definition of diplomacy conducted by professional diplomats.[5]

………. to be continued 


[1] Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics.

[2] For a more through study on the norms and socialization of diplomats read Mai’a Keapuolani Davis Cross, “A European Epistemic Community of Diplomats,” in The Diplomatic Corps as an Institution of International Society, ed. Paul and Wiseman Sharp, Geoffrey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

[3] For more substantive account of the evolution of diplomacy read Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomatic Method (London: Cassel Publishers, 1957).

[4] Read the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular relations at “United Nations Treaty Collection,”  http://treaties.un.org/Home.aspx.

[5] Donna and Hudson Lee, David, “The Old and New Significance of Political Economy in Diplomacy,” Review of International Studies 30(2004).

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