Definition and Nature of Diplomacy


Diplomacy, practices and institutions by which nations conduct their relations with one another. Originally, the English term diplomatic referred to the care and evaluation of official papers or archives, many of which were treaties. In the 18th century diplomatic documents increasingly meant those pertaining to international relations, and the term diplomatic corps was used to signify the body of ambassadors and officials attached to foreign missions. In 1796 the British philosopher Edmund Burke criticizes the French for their “double diplomacy” during the Napoleonic Wars; since then the term diplomacy has been associated with international politics and foreign policy.

The term “diplomacy” refers to the interaction between nation-states. Traditionally, diplomacy was carried out by government officials–diplomats–who negotiated treaties, trade policies, and other international agreements. The process of negotiations ranges from very formal to informal, but it tends to be fairly adversarial and competitive, relying on distributive or positional bargaining strategies that assume a win-lose situation.

In simple terms, Diplomacy means the management of the international relations by negotiations; it is also the method by which these relations are carefully and intelligently adjusted and maintained. Diplomacy is the art of representing a nation’s national interests abroad, through the use of peaceful measures Diplomacy is the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between the governments of independent states.

Diplomacy as an art of maintaining organized relations among the states is obviously, the foundation of state craft. Diplomacy also refers the skillful conduction of the relation between States. The main purpose of diplomacy is to avoid a condition of conflict or war to the last possible extent, but if war breaks out, diplomacy assumes a different form for the sake of protecting and promoting the “National Interest” of a state. The following implications may be drawn from what we have said above about the meaning and nature of diplomacy:

  • Diplomacy is the art of conducting negotiations with other states of the world so as to remove or narrow down the areas of disagreements and misunderstandings and thereby maintaining good relations as far as possible.
  • These negotiations are conducted to protect and promote “National Interest”. For this purpose foreign policy is formulated by the government and that will be implemented through the diplomats.
  • Maintenance of the peace without injuring the interest of the state is a major objective of diplomacy.
  • Diplomacy is the applied form of foreign policy. Hence, there should be no conflict or contradiction between what the foreign policy makers affirm and what the professional diplomats do.
  • Modern diplomacy is closely related to the state system; it is inseparably bound to inter state representation.
  • Diplomacy is a key concept in world politics. It refers to a process of communication and negotiation between states and other international actors
  • Diplomacy began in the ancient world but took on a recognizably modern form from the fifteenth century onwards with the establishment of the permanent embassy.
  • By the end of the nineteenth century all states had a network of embassies abroad linked to foreign departments at home. Diplomacy had also become an established profession.

Diplomacy and Foreign Policy:

  • Diplomacy plays a key role in the foreign policies of states and other international actors
  • A diplomatic ‘machinery’ (minimally a foreign department and overseas representation) may be highly developed or fundamentally depending upon the actor but it performs important functions in the making and the implementation of foreign policy
  • Diplomacy involves persuading other actors to do (or not to do) what you want (don’t want) them to do. To be effective, diplomacy may need to be supplemented by other instruments, but negotiating skills are central to the art of diplomacy.
  • Diplomacy combined with other instruments (military, economic etc.) is called mixed diplomacy. Here, diplomacy becomes a communications channel through which the use or threatened use of other instruments is transmitted to other parties.
  • Diplomacy usually has comparative advantages over other instrument in terms of availability and cost.
  • In complex, multilateral negotiations, diplomacy has become less an art form and more a management process reflecting high levels of interdependence between nation societies.

The United Nations, with its headquarters in New York City, is the largest international diplomatic organization.

Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics and culture. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians.

The word stems from the Greek word “diploma”, which literally means ‘folded in two’. In ancient Greece, a diploma was a certificate certifying completion of a course of study, typically folded in two. In the days of the Roman Empire, the word “diploma” was used to describe official travel documents, such as passports and passes for imperial roads, that were stamped on double metal plates. Later, the meaning was extended to cover other official documents such as treaties with foreign tribes. In the 1700s the French called their body of officials attached to foreign legations the corps “diplomatique”. The word “diplomacy” was first introduced into the English language by Edmund Burke in 1796, based on the French word “diplomatie”.

In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or polite manner.

Diplomats and diplomatic missions

A diplomat is someone involved in diplomacy; the collective term for a group of diplomats from a single country who reside in another country is a diplomatic mission. Ambassador is the most senior diplomatic rank; a diplomatic mission headed by an ambassador is known as an embassy, with the exception of permanent missions at the United Nations, the Organization of American States, or other multilateral organizations, which are also headed by ambassadors. The collective body of all diplomats of particular country is called that country’s diplomatic service. The collective body of all diplomats assigned to a particular country is the diplomatic corps. (See also diplomatic rank.)

Diplomatic strategy

Real world diplomatic negotiations are very different from intellectual debates in a university where an issue is decided on the merit of the arguments and negotiators make a deal by splitting the difference. Though diplomatic agreements can sometimes be reached among liberal democratic nations by appealing to higher principles, most real world diplomacy has traditionally been heavily influenced by hard power.

The interaction of strength and diplomacy can be illustrated by a comparison to labor negotiations. If a labor union is not willing to strike, then the union is not going anywhere because management has absolutely no incentive to agree to union demands. On the other hand, if management is not willing to take a strike, then the company will be walked all over by the labor union, and management will be forced to agree to any demand the union makes. The same concept applies to diplomatic negotiations.

There are also incentives in diplomacy to act reasonably, especially if the support of other actors is needed. The gain from winning one negotiation can be much less than the increased hostility from other parts. This is also called soft power.

Many situations in modern diplomacy are also rules based. When for instance two WTO countries have trade disputes, it is in the interest of both to limit the spill over damage to other areas by following some agreed-upon rules.

Diplomatic immunity

The sanctity of diplomats has long been observed. This sanctity has come to be known as diplomatic immunity. While there have been a number of cases where diplomats have been killed, this is normally viewed as a great breach of honour. Genghis Khan and the Mongols were well known for strongly insisting on the rights of diplomats, and they would often wreak horrific vengeance against any state that violated these rights.

Diplomatic rights were established in the mid-seventeenth century in Europe and have spread throughout the world. These rights were formalized by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects diplomats from being persecuted or prosecuted while on a diplomatic mission. If a diplomat does commit a serious crime while in a host country he may be declared as persona non grata (unwanted person). Such diplomats are then often tried for the crime in their homeland.

Diplomatic communications are also viewed as sacrosanct, and diplomats have long been allowed to carry documents across borders without being searched. The mechanism for this is the so-called “diplomatic bag” (or, in some countries, the “diplomatic pouch”). While radio and digital communication have become more standard for embassies, diplomatic pouches are still quite common and some countries, including the United States, declare entire shipping containers as diplomatic pouches to bring sensitive material (often building supplies) into a country.

In times of hostility, diplomats are often withdrawn for reasons of personal safety, as well as in some cases when the host country is friendly but there is a perceived threat from internal dissidents. Ambassadors and other diplomats are sometimes recalled temporarily by their home countries as a way to express displeasure with the host country. In both cases, lower-level employees still remain to actually do the business of diplomacy.

Diplomats as a Guarantee

In the Ottoman Empire, the diplomats of Persia and other states were seen as a guarantee of good behavior. If a nation broke a treaty or if their nationals misbehaved the diplomats would be punished. Diplomats were thus used as an enforcement mechanism on treaties and international law. To ensure that punishing a diplomat mattered rulers insisted on high-ranking figures. This tradition is seen by supporters of Iran as a legal basis of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. In imitation of alleged previous practices supporters of the Iranian Revolution attempted to punish the United States for its alleged misdeeds by holding their diplomats hostage. Diplomats as a guarantee were also employed sometimes in pre-modern Europe and other parts of Asia.

Diplomacy and espionage

Diplomacy is closely linked to espionage or gathering of intelligence. Embassies are bases for both diplomats and spies, and some diplomats are essentially openly-acknowledged spies. For instance, the job of military attachés includes learning as much as possible about the military of the nation to which they are assigned. They do not try to hide this role and, as such, are only invited to events allowed by their hosts, such as military parades or air shows. There are also deep-cover spies operating in many embassies. These individuals are given fake positions at the embassy, but their main task is to illegally gather intelligence, usually by coordinating spy rings of locals or other spies. For the most part, spies operating out of embassies gather little intelligence themselves and their identities tend to be known by the opposition. If discovered, these diplomats can be expelled from an embassy, but for the most part counter-intelligence agencies prefer to keep these agents in situ and under close monitoring.

The information gathered by spies plays an increasingly important role in diplomacy. Arms-control treaties would be impossible without the power of reconnaissance satellites and agents to monitor compliance. Information gleaned from espionage is useful in almost all forms of diplomacy, everything from trade agreements to border disputes.

Diplomatic resolution of problems

Various processes and procedures have evolved over time for handling diplomatic issues and disputes.

Arbitration and mediations

Nations sometimes resort to international arbitration when faced with a specific question or point of contention in need of resolution. For most of history, there were no official or formal procedures for such proceedings. They were generally accepted to abide by general principles and protocols related to international law and justice.

Sometimes these took the form of formal arbitrations and mediations. In such cases a commission of diplomats might be convened to hear all sides of an issue, and to come some sort of ruling based on international law.

In the modern era, much of this work is often carried out by the International Court of Justice at the Hague, or other formal commissions, agencies and tribunals, working under the United Nations. Below are some examples.

Hay-Herbert Treaty Enacted after the United States and Britain submitted a dispute to international mediation about the US-Canadian border.


Other times, resolutions were sought through the convening of international conferences. In such cases, there are fewer ground rules, and fewer formal applications of international law. However, participants are expected to guide themselves through principles of international fairness, logic, and protocol.

Some examples of these formal conferences are:

Congress of Vienna (1815) – After Napoleon was defeated, there were many diplomatic questions waiting to be resolved. This included the shape of the map of Europe, the disposition of political and nationalist claims of various ethnic groups and nationalities wishing to have some political autonomy, and the resolution of various claims by various European powers.

The Congress of Berlin (June 13 – July 13, 1878) was a meeting of the European Great Powers’ and the Ottoman Empire’s leading statesmen in Berlin in 1878. In the wake of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78, the meeting’s aim was to reorganize conditions in the Balkans.


Sometimes nations convene official negotiation processes to settle an issue or dispute between several nations which are parties to a dispute. These are similar to the conferences mentioned above, as there are technically no established rules or procedures. However, there are general principles and precedents which help define a course for such proceedings.

Some examples are

Camp David accord Convened in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter of the United States, at Camp David to reach an agreement between Prime Minister Mechaem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. After weeks of negotiation, agreement was reached and the accords were signed, later leading directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979.

Treaty of Portsmouth Enacted after President Theodore Roosevelt brought together the delegates from Russia and Japan, to settle the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt’s personal intervention settled the conflict, and caused him to win the Nobel peace prize.

Diplomatic recognition

Diplomatic recognition is an important factor in determining whether a nation is an independent state. Receiving recognition is often difficult, even for countries which are fully sovereign. For many decades after becoming independent, even many of the closest allies of the Dutch Republic refused to grant it full recognition. Today there are a number of independent entities without widespread diplomatic recognition, most notably the Republic of China on Taiwan. Since the 1970s, most nations have stopped officially recognizing the ROC’s existence on Taiwan, at the insistence of the People’s Republic of China. Currently, the United States and other nations maintain informal relations through de facto embassies, with names such as the American Institute in Taiwan. Similarly, Taiwan’s de facto embassies abroad are known by names such as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. This was not always the case, with the US maintaining official diplomatic ties with the ROC, recognizing it as the sole and legitimate government of all of China until 1979, when these relations were broken off as a condition for establishing official relations with Communist China.

The Palestinian National Authority has its own diplomatic service, however Palestinian representatives in most Western countries are not accorded diplomatic immunity, and their missions are referred to as Delegations General.

Other unrecognized regions which claim independence include Abkhazia, Transnistria, Somaliland, South Ossetia, Nagorno Karabakh, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Lacking the economic and political importance of Taiwan, these nations tend to be much more diplomatically isolated.

Though used as a factor in judging sovereignty, Article 3 of the Montevideo Convention states, “The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states.”

Informal diplomacy

Informal diplomacy (sometimes called Track II diplomacy) has been used for centuries to communicate between powers. Most diplomats work to recruit figures in other nations who might be able to give informal access to a country’s leadership. In some situations, such as between the United States and the People’s Republic of China a large amount of diplomacy is done through semi-formal channels using interlocutors such as academic members of thinktanks. This occurs in situations where governments wish to express intentions or to suggest methods of resolving a diplomatic situation, but do not wish to express a formal position.

Track II diplomacy is a specific kind of informal diplomacy, in which non-officials (academic scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, social activists) engage in dialogue, with the aim of conflict resolution, or confidence-building. Sometimes governments may fund such Track II exchanges. Sometimes the exchanges may have no connection at all with governments, or may even act in defiance of governments; such exchanges are called Track III.


Paradiplomacy refers to the international relations conducted by subnational, regional, local or non-central governments. The most ordinary case of paradiplomatic relation refer to co-operation between bordering political entities. However, interest of federal states, provinces, regions etc., may extend over to different regions or to issues gathering local governments in multilateral fora worldwide. Some non-central governments may be allowed to negotiate and enter into agreement with foreign central states.

Cultural diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy is a part of diplomacy. It alludes to a new way of making diplomacy by involving new non governmental and non professional actors in the making of diplomacy. In the frame of globalization, culture plays a major role in the definition of identity and in the relations between people. Joseph Nye points out the importance of having a soft power besides a hard power. When classical diplomacy fails, a better knowledge can help bridging the gap between different cultures. Cultural diplomacy becomes a subject of academic studies based on historical essays on the United States, Europe, and the Cold War.

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