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Introduction

Diplomacy, the peaceful conduct of relations amongst political entities, their principals and accredited agents, has rarely been without its critics or detractors. Sometimes regarded as necessary but regrettable, at other times with deep respect, it has seldom, if ever, had a more significant role to play in human affairs than it has at present. The necessity for organized dialogue in an era when the relative certainties of a bipolar states system have so recently given way to a disorderly, confused multipolarity is witnessed by the frenetic pace of contemporary diplomatic activity. The collapse of longestablished hegemonies and the re-emergence of long-neglected enmities have placed a high premium on the work of those skilled in mediation, negotiation and representation. In the meantime efforts to restructure and revive existing international institutions have tended to focus public attention as much upon the execution as the administration of foreign policy. More than thirty years ago, Lord Strang, a former British diplomat, remarked: ‘In a world where war is everybody’s tragedy and everybody’s nightmare, diplomacy is everybody’s business.’ The end of the Cold War has deprived the aphorism of neither its pertinence nor its validity. If diplomacy is important, it is also very old. Even the most ancient and comparatively most primitive societies required

reliable means of communicating and dealing with their neighbours. The process was generally considered worthy of a general agreement that the safety of diplomatic messengers be assured by divine sanction. And while our knowledge of the earliest diplomacy may be limited, we know enough to see that it existed widely, that its results were sometimes recorded in highly public ways – on stone monuments, for example – and that rules of the game had been devised and developed. The diplomatic process, its machinery and conventions, has grown steadily

more complex, usually in fits and starts. Its growth has been a response to the interconnected developments of more complicated governing structures in human societies and the consequentially more complicated things they have wanted to negotiate with each other, or represent to one another. As states began to evolve in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, and by the midtwentieth century became, in only mildly differing forms, universally accepted structures, much greater clarity emerged about what sources of authority

might legitimately send and receive diplomatic agents. Their precise relationship to these authorities then became so significant that establishing it could lead to disputes which could prolong wars for years at a time, until during the eighteenth century such stultifying disputes were abandoned as inherently impractical. It had always been clear that diplomats enjoyed special privileges and

immunities while actually engaged in diplomacy, though it was often a matter of dispute as to when a person was genuinely a diplomat, and sometimes as to what their privileges and immunities were. These arguments tended to disappear during the eighteenth century and a more or less general agreement about their extent and nature emerged. With the emergence of continuous diplomacy in the seventeenth century, diplomats themselves increasingly became a recognizably professional body. This led to a series of disputes about exactly which persons in a diplomatic household were entitled to privileges and immunities and about what status embassy buildings and compounds should be given. In practice most of these questions were resolved by 1815, certainly most matters of precedence were regulated then and additionally in 1818. It was not until 1961, however, that a general agreement about the legal bases of diplomatic relations was arrived at and codified into a treaty. This agreement was principally fuelled by the arrival of large numbers of new, post-colonial, states who had no experience of the essentially de facto rules operated by the older states system. It was also partly the consequence of deliberate breaches of those rules which had occurred during the early Cold War. This kind of pressure was a modern example of what has always been an

important factor in the development of diplomacy. As the machinery of diplomacy has responded to changes in the entities it represents, most obviously with the evolution of states and most recently with the emergence of power centres not located in states, so it has also responded to the needs of successive international environments. Development has occurred most significantly during periods when war, for one reason or another, has been regarded as a particularly ineffective means of pursuing interests, and diplomacy has become its principal substitute. The institution of the resident ambassador was partly a response to this situation in Renaissance Italy, and the completion of the web of foreign ministries linked by permanent embassies was the consequence of the intense diplomacy of the late eighteenth century. Later on, when the prevention of warfare became a principal objective of diplomacy after 1815, the consequences included the development of the peacetime conference in the early nineteenth century and the subsequent construction of both the League of Nations and the United Nations in the twentieth century. In the contemporary world both kinds of pressure are plainly and simulta-

neously visible. There are changes occurring in the global distribution of power which follow both from changes in the nature of power itself and from consequential changes in its location. Such changes bring the risk of conflict

in multifarious forms and raise the profile of diplomacy. There are changes, too, to be seen in the character of the state. The state has been, since the seventeenth century, the principal and sometimes the only, effective international actor. Now there are more states than ever before, differing more widely in type, size and relative power, and this factor alone has greatly increased the quantity of diplomatic activity and the range of topics that are discussed. Some of these topics are now derived from economic, financial and technological issues which transcend the traditional role of the state and operate on a global, horizontal basis disconnected from the essentially vertical state structure. Dialogue between old and new sources of power and old and new centres of authority are blurring the distinctions between what is diplomatic activity and what is not, and who, therefore, are diplomats and who are not. Such dialogue is also creating an additional layer of diplomacy in which non-state actors communicate both with states and associations of states and with other non-state actors, and vice versa. The effect has certainly been an explosion of diplomatic and quasi-diplomatic activity. This book gives an account of the way in which diplomacy acquired its characteristic structure and discusses the forces which are quite sharply modifying that structure for the purposes of the contemporary world. Nevertheless, it also shows that the history of diplomacy demonstrates continuity. The exigencies of dialogue between communities, rulers, states and international organizations over time has brought the development of perceptibly similar structures. In writing this book the authors have borne in mind particularly the needs

of international relations and international history students and the work is also intended to provide valuable background material for the foreign service trainees of any state or organization engaged in learning the art and practice of diplomacy.