DIPLOMACY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
By Dr. George Voskopoulos, Senior Research Officer, South East European Research Centre (www.seerc.info), Sheffield University and City College
Definition of diplomacy
Before we attempt to show the relation between diplomacy and international relations as well as the effects diplomacy has on international affairs, we should try first to explain literally the word diplomacy and then define what exactly this ambiguous and perplexed term means.
First of all the origin of the word diplomacy derives from the Greek verb diplono meaning to fold and referred to the folding metal plates used in Roman time as formal documents (passports, passes, etc.) (1). As for the term diplomacy, it would be very difficult and over-simplified to attempt to define diplomacy with one single definition since numerous distinguished political scientists have tried so far to give their definition of the term. The most simple definition defines diplomacy as an instrument of Foreign Policy used in order to achieve certain goals considered to be vital to a state. It is a peaceful means of achieving goals through established diplomatic routes through the use of certain accredited agents (2). Harold Nicolson defines diplomacy as “an ordered conduct of relations between one group of human beings and another group alien to themselves“(3). He also elaborates this definition by calling it “the need to be informed of the ambitious, weaknesses and resources of those with whom one hopes to deal”(4).
Indeed, diplomacy is a peaceful means of implementing national strategy through win-win approaches. Since we live in an anarchic international environment, each state focuses its policy on sustaining its status quo or improving its position in a clearly hierarchical system. This system has the form of a pyramid. The closer a state is to the top, the better its chances to achieve its goals. Consequently, diplοmacy is more probable to bear fruit when a country is independent, autonomous and developed. In practical terms, that means that the diplomacy practised by powerful states may be different and has diametrically different goals from that of smaller states which are less autonomous.
Diplomatic practice is such a demanding profession, that relatively few people can become successful diplomats. In most cases professional diplomats are well-educated, honest, broad-minded, and highly respected individuals. Normally they have a good knowledge of the culture of the country that is going to host them (this applies particular to western diplomats) and therefore they are aware of the cultural variables involved in the host country’s decision making policy system. These are the minimum requirements expected of the ideal diplomat who, ideally, must have both moral and intellectual qualities.
Throughout history, diplomats played different roles in establishing relations among states. In ancient Greece the envoys (the then diplomats) were never harmed when they brought messages to other city-states. On the contrary, they were treated in the most honourable way and respected by the local authorities. Their task was to communicate messages concerning treaties, alliances and imminent wars that were a common practice in the ancient world. Their role did not involve the application of foreign policy nor the collection of information, at least on a regular basis, since they did not reside in the host state. They were mainly messengers called angeloi (5) that means news bearers.
In the middle ages diplomats did not exist because Europe was then divided into small rural communities that did not tolerate foreigners. Once a stranger visited a community, he was considered to be a threat to the local society, so he was not welcome and finally ejected if not killed. If diplomacy was practised at that time, medieval Europe might have been a friendlier place for someone to live in.