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Relevance of ‘Old’ Diplomacy in a modern era

by on December 10, 2012



Diplomacy is an ancient tradition originally set up to establish peace and trade links. Ever since the emergence of resident embassies in the late 15th century, they have become the most efficient means of conducting bilateral diplomacy between two states. Resident embassies allow for greater political reporting as they have a greater knowledge of conditions in the host country, and an efficient embassy will build up good contacts in that country. At first they were treated with suspicion but their value became so important that they were readily accepted by all nations. Today, they are still treated with suspicion. The French system adopted the important principle that there was no place in diplomacy for deceit. This still exists today as an untrustworthy state will never be taken seriously. Another feature of the French system was the professionalization of diplomacy. Today it is seen as a very important profession. Eg. The U.S. diplomatic service has about 12,000 staff from the U.S., not including the thousands of locally employed staff. The old system in parts has become outdated as a result of the fast pace of present day life and due to vast improvements in technology, as well as globalization and also the growing number of sovereign states. Features such as ultimate secrecy, slow pace and control by the traditional aristocracy have no place in diplomacy today, although it still depends on a certain degree of secrecy due to the classified negotiations that diplomats engage in. In the aftermath of WWI we witnessed the breakaway from the traditional French system, and the urgency to develop multi-lateral forms of diplomacy, leading to the creation of The League of Nations. Although unsuccessful, as became evident in the face of WWII, this all led to the creation of a more organised U.N..

Public diplomacy is very important today. To portray its image as a great nation, the U.S. “maintains an extensive network of U.S. libraries overseas, sponsors technology displays and hosts lectures by its most prominent academics.” Not so different from ‘old’ diplomacy in trying to portray the greatness of one’s nation. Before they held ceremonies to impress the elites, whereas, nowadays they want to impress both the elites and general public.

In the case for euthanasia, many political leaders thought that with developments in technology as a whole, the resident embassy became less relevant, as one could call someone in another country quickly, fly there within a day and be able to find out what is happening on the ground through the media. But, resident embassies have proven to be more important than ever. An efficient embassy will be able to perform their tasks better than any competitor to their existence. Embassy personnel are well situated to provide good, reliable information. There are many more sections within the resident mission, showing the evolution of diplomatic practice in accordance with greater technology and globalization.



Diplomacy Theory & Practice 4th edition by G.R. Berridge

The Dynamics of Diplomacy (2008) by Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux


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One Comment
  1. good piece there,i agree that in essence diplomacy comes down to the nation state doing its best to portray itself as important and powerful in the eyes of rival states. This was much more so the case in the 19th century when there were fewer nations but each bigger and stronger than states today. but even as then.conflict still exists and so does the importance of image. even with modern techology, old diplomacy is still very useful.

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