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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: June 2018

20 - Diplomacy

from Part III - The traditional agenda: States, war and law



This chapter makes three main arguments. First, ideas and practices of diplomacy have a multi-millennial history – much longer than is generally thought. Second, this long history has been characterised by both continuity and change. As a result, diplomacy has been as much adaptive as resistant to change. Third, diplomacy is not diminishing in importance and both it and the diplomats who carry it out should be regarded as evolving and as important to the theory and practice of international relations. To assess these claims, the chapter first addresses the issue of defining diplomacy, before examining the evolution of diplomacy in terms that may be characterised broadly as pre-modern, modern and postmodern. The relationship between diplomacy and the study of international relations (IR) is then evaluated.

  • Some definitions of diplomacy
  • Diplomacy is the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between the governments of independent states, extending sometimes also to their relations with vassal states; or, more briefly still, the conduct of business between states by peaceful means. (Satow 1979 [1917]: 1)
  • Diplomacy is the management of international relations by negotiation; the method by which these relations are adjusted and managed by ambassadors and envoys; the business or art of the diplomatist. (Harold Nicolson 1969 [1939]: 4–5)
  • [Diplomacy is] the conduct of relations between states and other entities with standing in world politics by official agents and by peaceful means. (Bull 1977: 162)
  • Diplomacy is concerned with the management of relations between states and other actors. From a state perspective diplomacy is concerned with advising, shaping and implementing foreign policy. (Barston 1988: 1)
  • Diplomacy is the conduct of international relations by negotiation rather than by force, propaganda, or recourse to law, and by other peaceful means (such as gathering information or engendering goodwill) which are either directly or indirectly designed to promote negotiation. (Berridge 2015: 1)
  • Diplomacy is the peaceful conduct of relations amongst political entities, their principals and accredited agents. (Hamilton and Langhorne 2011: 1)
  • Diplomacy is conventionally said to refer to the processes and institutions by which states [and others with standing] represent themselves and their interests in the conduct of their relations with one another. (Sharp 2019: 1)