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Diplomacy-Meaning, Evolution, Characteristics, Techniques and Functions

Updated on September 28, 2017
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Varsha is an enthusiastic writer who loves to share informative content. She loves to write about political and social issues.

Diplomacy is commonly regarded as the mainstay of international relations. It is one of the most important and valuable instruments of foreign policy. It is mainly through diplomacy that a nation communicates its wishes, desires, objectives and goals to other nations and again it is through diplomatic negotiations that it attempts to secure these objectives. It forms the major link in the process of bilateral and multilateral relations among nations. Morgenthau describes diplomacy as the best means for promoting international peace in the best way-peace through accomodation.

The word diplomacy comes from the French word diplomatie, which means “diplomat.”

Meaning of Diplomacy

To achieve foreign policy objectives and to fulfill national interests, governments communicate with those whose actions and behaviour they wish to deter, change or reinforce. No doubt very quick and sophisticated means of communication are available in this scientific world yet centuries old formal diplomatic channels are used by governments in addition to direct communication between foreign ministers and heads of state. That is why Frankel defines diplomacy as " the business of communicating between governments".

According to the Oxford dictionary, "diplomacy is the management of international relations by negotiation; the method by which these relations are adjusted and managed by ambassadors and envoys; or the business or art of the diplomatist."

Sir Ernest Satow said," Diplomacy is the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between the governments of independent states."

Harold Nicholson explains five different meanings of the word diplomacy. These are

  1. as a synonym for foreign policy
  2. as negotiation
  3. the machinery by which such negotiation is carried out
  4. as a branch of the foreign service
  5. as an abstract quality or gift, which, in its best sense, implies skill in the conduct of international negotiation, and, in the worst sense, implies the more guileful aspects of tact.


Evolution of Diplomacy

Diplomacy has been the traditional means of conducting negotiations. It is one of the world's most ancient arts. We find the reference to diplomatic practices and privileges in Ramayana and Mahabharata. It stands recorded in the Greek and Roman history. Initially, the diplomatic practices involved primarily the delivery of messages and warnings, the pleading of causes and the transfer of gifts and tributes. These rudimentary diplomatic activities were considerably refined and institutionalized during the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Envoys became negotiators, not just messengers. But no system of permanent embassies was established during this era. In the middle ages, the systematic use of envoys further decilned and it was not until the 14th century that the resident embassies emerged on the scene. The emergence of city-states in Italy helped this process. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, diplomacy was governed exclusively by the dictates of national policy and ruthlessly employing cunning, deceit and duplicity as realistically described by Machiavelli in The Prince. It was in the 18th century that the common interest of the maintenance of international equilibrium led to the attempts aimed at the institutionalization of diplomatic procedure and precedence. In the Congress of Vienna(1815) and Aix-La-Chapelle(1818), serious efforts were made to simplify the classification of diplomatic agents and formalize their functions. It was in the 19th century that diplomacy was adopted both as a major instrument of state policy as well as a major agency operating on behalf of the international community. In this era, the Balance of Power was regarded as the cardinal principle of international relations and diplomacy emerged as the major instrument of national interest. This golden age of diplomacy passed away together with the balance of power system while following fundamental changes in the international system during 1914-1945, and it entered into the era of what is popularly called New diplomacy. The change in the international system led to big changes in the nature, scope and styles of diplomacy. It was at the Vienna Conference on Diplomatic intercourse and immunities(1961) that a comprehensive agreement covering nearly all aspects of diplomatic activity was signed. Thus, today, diplomacy stands universally accepted as an instrument of national policy and as means of international intercourse.

Characteristics of Diplomacy

  • It is a technique of implementing foreign policy.
  • It is a channel or business of communication between governments.
  • It is a method of adjusting and managing inter-state relations.
  • It is the art of forwarding nation's interest.
  • It is a quality or skill of international negotiation.
  • It is a bargaining game aimed at achieving maximum and giving minimum.
  • It requires tact, intelligence, shrewdness and wit.
  • It implies both compromise and threat, persuasion and penalty, reward and punishment, carrot and stick and so on.
  • It is workable and useful both in peace and war.
  • For successful and effective working, it requires trained and professional diplomats.

Instruments and Techniques of Diplomacy

There are a number of instruments and techniques of diplomacy that may be employed to achieve the goals of foreign policy. Kautilya, the ancient Indian master of statecraft and diplomacy has given four instruments of diplomacy that be employed singly or jointly in a given situation. These are Sama-reconciliation or negotiation, Dana/Dama-giving gift or concession, Danda-punishment and Bheda-creating dissension. Similarly many modern writers are of the opinion that states usually adopt three basic modes of behaviour to achieve diplomatic objectives- cooperation, accommodation and opposition.

Lerche and Said have put forward the following four techniques of diplomacy-

Coercion- Coercion may be applied in negotiation by an ultimatum, by the establishment of a rigid time limit for the conclusion of an arrangement or by registration of formal or informal protest and complaint.

Persuasion- Through logical reasoning, diplomats seek to convince others of the justification of the goals which it is trying to uphold or promote.

Adjustment- Diplomacy is an art of give and take. Adjustment is admirably suited to the task of enabling two states to modify their positions on an issue in order to reach a stable relationship.

Agreement- Usually it is believed that diplomacy is the art of negotiating written agreements. Agreements may involve coercion, persuasion or adjustment and that no agreement is possible unless both parties wish it.

Functions of Diplomacy

Diplomacy in contemporary times has assumed new role and significance in many ways. In addition to the main role of diplomats in bargaining and communicating information, they perform several other functions which include following:

Representation- The diplomat represents his country abroad. This representation is of three types- symbolic, legal and political. As his country’s symbolic representation he attends a number of ceremonies and functions as Independence Day, Republic Day, etc. As a legal representative, he casts his vote at international conferences on behalf of his government. As a political representative, the diplomat is to sell the foreign policy of his country and project a favourable image of his country.

Negotiation- The second most important function of the diplomat is negotiation. It involves the transmission of messages between foreign ministries of the home and the host states. Diplomats are mainly negotiators. Their function is to draft a wide variety of bilateral and multilateral agreements, treaties, conventions, protocols and other documents of a political, social and economic nature. As a negotiator diplomat is to bargain and strike a balance between giving what is asked and getting what is wanted.

Obtaining Information- Gathering of information is the most important task of the diplomat aside from his or her bargaining activities. Precise information must be made available to those who formulate policy. Only a resident diplomat can have the real feel of the political, economic, social and other conditions prevailing in the host foreign country.

Reporting- After gathering, next step is reporting the same to the home country. The way he interprets the obtained information and sends the same to home greatly helps his home country taking an effective decision. For instance, economic attache’s will send reports to their home offices on balance of payments, growth rates, inflation and unemployment of the host state and trade and investment opportunities therein.

Protection of Nationals and National Interest- The diplomat has to protect the nationals of his country resident in the land in which he is stationed. He has to safeguard the interests of the businessmen and other nationals who are living or travelling abroad and to prevent any sort of discrimination against them in foreign land. During catastrophes or civil disorders, the role of diplomat becomes more crucial.

Making Policies- These days diplomats also provide advice to makers of foreign policy and occasionally take significant policy decisions themselves. All the diplomats serve in a sense as policymakers because they provide a large portion of the information upon which policy is based. A principal contribution of diplomats in the policy-making process comes from their skill of interpretation and judgement about conditions in the country to which they are accredited.


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