AskDefine | Define diplomatic

Dictionary Definition

diplomatic adj
1 relating to or characteristic of diplomacy; "diplomatic immunity"
2 skilled in dealing with sensitive matters or people [syn: diplomatical] [ant: undiplomatic]
3 able to take a broad view of negotiations between states [syn: wise]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (US) IPA: /ˌdɪpləˈmætɪk/


  1. Concerning the relationships between the governments of countries
    • She spent thirty years working for Canada's diplomatic service.
    • Albania immediately severed diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe.
  2. Exhibiting diplomacy; exercising tact or courtesy; using discussion to avoid hard feelings, fights or arguments
    • Thoughtful corrections can be diplomatic as well as instructional.


concerning relationships between governments
exhibiting diplomacy

Extensive Definition

Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics and culture. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians.
The word stems from the Greek word "diploma", which literally means 'folded in two'. In ancient Greece, a diploma was a certificate certifying completion of a course of study, typically folded in two. In the days of the Roman Empire, the word "diploma" was used to describe official travel documents, such as passports and passes for imperial roads, that were stamped on double metal plates. Later, the meaning was extended to cover other official documents such as treaties with foreign tribes. In the 1700s the French called their body of officials attached to foreign legations the corps "diplomatique". The word "diplomacy" was first introduced into the English language by Edmund Burke in 1796, based on the French word "diplomatie". In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or polite manner.

Diplomats and diplomatic missions

A diplomat is someone involved in diplomacy; the collective term for a group of diplomats from a single country who are resident in another country is a diplomatic mission. Ambassador is the most senior diplomatic rank; a diplomatic mission headed by an ambassador is known as an embassy. The collective body of all diplomats of particular country is called that country's diplomatic service. The collective body of all diplomats assigned to a particular country is the diplomatic corps. (See also diplomatic rank.)



The ability to practice diplomacy is one of the defining elements of a state, and diplomacy has been practiced since the first city-states were formed millennia ago. For most of human history diplomats were sent only for specific negotiations, and would return immediately after their mission concluded. Diplomats were usually relatives of the ruling family or of very high rank in order to give them legitimacy when they sought to negotiate with the other state.
One notable exception involved the relationship between the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor; papal agents, called apocrisiarii, were permanently resident in Constantinople. After the 8th century, however, conflicts between the Pope and Emperor (such as the Iconoclastic controversy) led to the breaking of close ties.
Modern diplomacy's origins are often traced to the states of Northern Italy in the early Renaissance, with the first embassies being established in the thirteenth century. Milan played a leading role, especially under Francesco Sforza who established permanent embassies to the other city states of Northern Italy. It was in Italy that many of the traditions of modern diplomacy began, such as the presentation of an ambassadors credentials to the head of state.
From Italy the practice was spread to the other European powers. Milan was the first to send a representative to the court of France in 1455. However, Milan refused to host French representatives fearing espionage and that the French representatives would intervene in its internal affairs. As foreign powers such as France and Spain became increasingly involved in Italian politics the need to accept emissaries was recognized. Soon the major European powers were exchanging representatives. Spain was the first to send a permanent representative; it appointed an ambassador to the Court of England in 1487. By the late 16th century, permanent missions became customary. The Holy Roman Emperor, however, did not regularly send permanent legates, as they could not represent the interests of all the German princes (who were in theory subordinate to the Emperor, but in practice independent).
During that period the rules of modern diplomacy were further developed. The top rank of representatives was an ambassador. At that time an ambassador was a nobleman, the rank of the noble assigned varying with the prestige of the country he was delegated to. Strict standards developed for ambassadors, requiring they have large residences, host lavish parties, and play an important role in the court life of their host nation. In Rome, the most prized posting for a Catholic ambassador, the French and Spanish representatives would have a retinue of up to a hundred. Even in smaller posts, ambassadors were very expensive. Smaller states would send and receive envoys, who were a rung below ambassador. Somewhere between the two was the position of minister plenipotentiary.
Diplomacy was a complex affair, even more so than now. The ambassadors from each state were ranked by complex levels of precedence that were much disputed. States were normally ranked by the title of the sovereign; for Catholic nations the emissary from the Vatican was paramount, then those from the kingdoms, then those from duchies and principalities. Representatives from republics were considered the lowest of the low. Determining precedence between two kingdoms depended on a number of factors that often fluctuated, leading to near-constant squabbling.
Ambassadors, nobles with little foreign experience and no expectation of a career in diplomacy, needed to be supported by large embassy staff. These professionals would be sent on longer assignments and would be far more knowledgeable than the higher-ranking officials about the host country. Embassy staff would include a wide range of employees, including some dedicated to espionage. The need for skilled individuals to staff embassies was met by the graduates of universities, and this led to a great increase in the study of international law, modern languages, and history at universities throughout Europe.
At the same time, permanent foreign ministries began to be established in almost all European states to coordinate embassies and their staffs. These ministries were still far from their modern form, and many of them had extraneous internal responsibilities. Britain had two departments with frequently overlapping powers until 1782. They were also far smaller than they are currently. France, which boasted the largest foreign affairs department, had only some 70 full-time employees in the 1780s.
The elements of modern diplomacy slowly spread to Eastern Europe and Russia, arriving by the early eighteenth century. The entire edifice would be greatly disrupted by the French Revolution and the subsequent years of warfare. The revolution would see commoners take over the diplomacy of the French state, and of those conquered by revolutionary armies. Ranks of precedence were abolished. Napoleon also refused to acknowledge diplomatic immunity, imprisoning several British diplomats accused of scheming against France.
After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 established an international system of diplomatic rank. Disputes on precedence among nations (and therefore the appropriate diplomatic ranks used) persisted for over a century until after World War II, when the rank of ambassador became the norm. In between that time, figures such as the German Chancellor Otto von Bismark were renowned for international diplomacy.


Diplomatic relations within the Early Modern era of Asia were depicted as an environment of prestige and Status. It was maintained that one must be of noble ancestry in order to represent an autonomous state within the international arena. Therefore the position of diplomat was often revered as an element of the elitist class within Asia. A state’s ability to practice diplomacy has been one of the underlying defining characteristics of an autonomous state. It is this practice that has been employed since the conception of the first city-states within the international spectrum. Diplomats in Asia were originally sent only for the purpose of negotiation. They would be required to immediately return after their task was completed. The majority of diplomats initially constituted the relatives of the ruling family. A high rank was bestowed upon them in order to present a sense of legitimacy with regards to their presence. Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and China were the first real states that perpetuated environments of diplomacy. During the early modern era diplomacy evolved to become a crucial element of international relations within the Mediterranean and Asia.

The Ottoman Empire and Diplomacy

Diplomatic traditions outside of Europe were more or less very different. A feature necessary for diplomacy is the existence of a number of states of somewhat equal power, as existed in Italy during the Renaissance, and in Europe for much of the modern period. By contrast, in Asia and the Middle East, China and the Ottoman Empire were reluctant to practice bilateral diplomacy as they viewed themselves to be unquestionably superior to all their neighbours (hence, set up smaller nations as tributaries and vassals). The Ottoman Turks, for instance, would not send missions to other states, expecting representatives to come to Istanbul. It would not be until the nineteenth century that the Ottoman Empire established permanent embassies in other capitals.
The Ottoman Empire was extremely crucial to the spectrum of politics, culture, and economics between Italy and themselves. There were numerous Italian settlements within the Ottoman Empire. This created the arena necessary for the emergence of Italian-Ottoman relations. Italian innovation for trade organizations and commercial experimentation could be attributed to the growing presence within the Ottoman diplomatic and transnational arena. The Genoese and Venetian governments of the early modern era regularly maintained that their atmosphere of commerce depended less and less upon there nautical capabilities, and more and more upon the perpetuation of good relations with the Ottomans. Interactions between various merchants, diplomats, and religious men between the Italian and Ottoman empires helped inaugurate and create new forms of diplomacy and statecraft. Eventually the primary purpose of a diplomat, which was originally a negotiator, evolved into a persona that represented an autonomous state in all aspects of political affairs. It became evident that all other sovereigns felt the need to accommodate themselves diplomatically, due to the emergence of the powerful political environment of the Ottoman Empire. One could come to the conclusion that the atmosphere of diplomacy within the early modern period revolved around a foundation of conformity to Ottoman culture.

Italy and Diplomacy

The origins of modern diplomacy within the international spectrum of politics, could often be traced back to the states of Northern Italy. This was during the early renaissance, where the first diplomatic embassies were established in the thirteenth century. The state of Milan played an incredible part in the establishment of permanent embassies within the city states of Northern Italy. Various diplomatic traditions were also conceived within Italy. The presentation of an Ambassador’s credentials and acknowledgments are elements that were inaugurated in Italian early modern diplomacy.
The practice of diplomacy and its various intricacies were also spread to various other autonomous European states. Milan created the first diplomatic international gesture in 1455, by sending a representative to the court of France. It was extremely controversial however, that they would not accept the same gesture from France, due to the fears of espionage and intervention in internal affairs. It had eventually become evident that as super powers such as France and Spain grew in size and strength, and there was an overarching necessity to accept any form of diplomatic effort within the international arena. Eventually Italy paved the way for all European power to exchange representatives. By the late 16th century, permanent emissaries were standard practice.

China and Diplomacy

The Koreans and Japanese during the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) looked to the Chinese capital of Chang'an as the hub of civilization and emulated its central bureaucracy as the pristine model of governance. The Japanese sent frequent embassies to China in this period, although they halted these trips in 894 during the Tang's imminent collapse. However, there were periods of Chinese history where China was weakened and threatened enough so that skillful international diplomacy was necessary.
One of the earliest realists in international relations theory was the 6th century BC military strategist Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War. He lived during the Warring States Period (403 BC-221 BC), a time in which rival states no longer paid traditional respects of tutelage to the Zhou Dynasty figurehead monarchs and each vied for power and total conquest. However, a great deal of diplomacy in establishing allies, bartering land, and signing peace treaties was necessary for each warring state.
After the devastating An Shi Rebellion from 755 to 763, the Tang Dynasty was in no position to reconquer Central Asia and the Tarim Basin. After several conflicts with the Tibetan Empire spanning several different decades, the Tang finally made a truce and signed a peace treaty with them in 841.
In the 11th century during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), there were cunning ambassadors such as Shen Kuo and Su Song who achieved diplomatic success with the Liao Dynasty, the often hostile Khitan neighbor to the north. Both diplomats secured the rightful borders of the Song Dynasty through knowledge of cartography and dredging up old court archives. There was also a triad of warfare and diplomacy between these two states and the Tangut Western Xia Dynasty to the northwest of Song China (centered in modern-day Shaanxi).
Long before the Tang and Song dynasties, the Chinese had sent envoys into Central Asia, India, and Persia starting with Zhang Qian in the 2nd century BC. Another notable event in Chinese diplomacy was the Chinese embassy mission of Zhou Daguan to the Khmer Empire of Cambodia in the 13th century. Chinese diplomacy was a necessity in the distinctive period of Chinese exploration. Since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the Chinese also became heavily invested in sending diplomatic envoys abroad on maritime missions into the Indian Ocean, to India, Persia, Arabia, East Africa, and Egypt. Chinese maritime activity was increased dramatically during the commercialized period of the Song Dynasty, with new nautical technologies, many more private ship owners, and an increasing amount of economic investors in overseas ventures.
During the Mongol Empire (1206-1294) the Mongols created something similar to today's diplomatic passport called paiza. The paiza were in three different types (golden, silver, and copper) depending on the envoy's level of importance. With the paiza, there came authority that the envoy can ask for food, transport, place to stay from any city, village, or clan within the empire with no difficulties.
Since the 17th century, there was a series of treaties upheld by Qing Dynasty China and Czarist Russia, beginning with the Treaty of Nerchinsk in the year 1689. This was followed up by the Aigun Treaty and the Convention of Peking in the mid 19th century.
As European power spread around the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries so too did its diplomatic model and system become adopted by Asian countries.

Diplomatic strategy

Real world diplomatic negotiations are very different from intellectual debates in a university where an issue is decided on the merit of the arguments and negotiators make a deal by splitting the difference. Though diplomatic agreements can sometimes be reached among liberal democratic nations by appealing to higher principles, most real world diplomacy has traditionally been heavily influenced by hard power.
The interaction of strength and diplomacy can be illustrated by a comparison to labor negotiations. If a labor union is not willing to strike, then the union is not going anywhere because management has absolutely no incentive to agree to union demands. On the other hand, if management is not willing to take a strike, then the company will be walked all over by the labor union, and management will be forced to agree to any demand the union makes. The same concept applies to diplomatic negotiations.
There are also incentives in diplomacy to act reasonably, especially if the support of other actors is needed. The gain from winning one negotiation can be much less than the increased hostility from other parts. This is also called soft power.
Many situations in modern diplomacy are also rules based. When for instance two WTO countries have trade dispute, it is in the interest of both to limit the spill over damage to other areas by following some agreed-upon rules.

Diplomatic immunity

The sanctity of diplomats has long been observed. This sanctity has come to be known as diplomatic immunity. While there have been a number of cases where diplomats have been killed, this is normally viewed as a great breach of honour. Genghis Khan and the Mongols were well known for strongly insisting on the rights of diplomats, and they would often wreak horrific vengeance against any state that violated these rights.
Diplomatic rights were established in the mid-seventeenth century in Europe and have spread throughout the world. These rights were formalized by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects diplomats from being persecuted or prosecuted while on a diplomatic mission. If a diplomat does commit a serious crime while in a host country he may be declared as persona non grata (unwanted person). Such diplomats are then often tried for the crime in their homeland.
Diplomatic communications are also viewed as sacrosanct, and diplomats have long been allowed to carry documents across borders without being searched. The mechanism for this is the so-called "diplomatic bag" (or, in some countries, the "diplomatic pouch"). In recent years, however, signals intelligence has led to this use of diplomatic bags being largely discarded.
In times of hostility, diplomats are often withdrawn for reasons of personal safety, as well as in some cases when the host country is friendly but there is a perceived threat from internal dissidents. Ambassadors and other diplomats are sometimes recalled temporarily by their home countries as a way to express displeasure with the host country. In both cases, lower-level employees still remain to actually do the business of diplomacy.

Diplomats as a Guarantee

In the Ottoman Empire, the diplomats of Persia and other states were seen as a guarantee of good behavior. If a nation broke a treaty or if their nationals misbehaved the diplomats would be punished. Diplomats were thus used as an enforcement mechanism on treaties and international law. To ensure that punishing a diplomat mattered rulers insisted on high-ranking figures. This tradition is seen by supporters of Iran as a legal basis of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. In imitation of alleged previous practices supporters of the Iranian Revolution attempted to punish the United States for its alleged misdeeds by holding their diplomats hostage. Diplomats as a guarantee were also employed sometimes in pre-modern Europe and other parts of Asia.

Diplomacy and espionage

Diplomacy is closely linked to espionage or gathering of intelligence. Embassies are bases for both diplomats and spies, and some diplomats are essentially openly-acknowledged spies. For instance, the job of military attachés includes learning as much as possible about the military of the nation to which they are assigned. They do not try to hide this role and, as such, are only invited to events allowed by their hosts, such as military parades or air shows. There are also deep-cover spies operating in many embassies. These individuals are given fake positions at the embassy, but their main task is to illegally gather intelligence, usually by coordinating spy rings of locals or other spies. For the most part, spies operating out of embassies gather little intelligence themselves and their identities tend to be known by the opposition. If discovered, these diplomats can be expelled from an embassy, but for the most part counter-intelligence agencies prefer to keep these agents in situ and under close monitoring.
The information gathered by spies plays an increasingly important role in diplomacy. Arms-control treaties would be impossible without the power of reconnaissance satellites and agents to monitor compliance. Information gleaned from espionage is useful in almost all forms of diplomacy, everything from trade agreements to border disputes.

Diplomatic resolution of problems

Various processes and procedures have evolved over time for handling diplomatic issues and disputes.

Arbitration and mediations

For more information, see :Category:Diplomatic conferences
Nations sometimes resort to international arbitration when faced with a specific question or point of contention in need of resolution. For most of history, there were no official or formal procedures for such proceedings. They were generally accepted to abide by general principles and protocols related to international law and justice.
Sometimes these took the form of formal arbitrations and mediations. In such cases a commission of diplomats might be convened to hear all sides of an issue, and to come some sort of ruling based on international law.
In the modern era, much of this work is often carried out by the International Court of Justice at the Hague, or other formal commissions, agencies and tribunals, working under the United Nations. Below are some examples.
  • Hay-Herbert Treaty Enacted after the United States and Britain submitted a dispute to international mediation about the US-Canadian border.


Other times, resolutions were sought through the convening of international conferences. In such cases, there are fewer ground rules, and fewer formal applications of international law. However, participants are expected to guide themselves through principles of international fairness, logic, and protocol.
Some examples of these formal conferences are:
  • Congress of Vienna (1815) - After Napoleon was defeated, there were many diplomatic questions waiting to be resolved. This included the shape of the map of Europe, the disposition of political and nationalist claims of various ethnic groups and nationalities wishing to have some political autonomy, and the resolution of various claims by various European powers.
  • The Congress of Berlin (June 13 - July 13, 1878) was a meeting of the European Great Powers' and the Ottoman Empire's leading statesmen in Berlin in 1878. In the wake of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78, the meeting's aim was to reorganize conditions in the Balkans.


Sometimes nations convene official negotiation processes to settle an issue or dispute between several nations which are parties to a dispute. These are similar to the conferences mentioned above, as there are technically no established rules or procedures. However, there are general principles and precedents which help define a course for such proceedings.
Some examples are
  • Camp David accord Convened in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter of the United States, at Camp David to reach an agreement between Prime Minister Mechaem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. After weeks of negotiation, agreement was reached and the accords were signed, later leading directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979.

Diplomatic recognition

Diplomatic recognition is an important factor in determining whether a nation is an independent state. Receiving recognition is often difficult, even for countries which are fully sovereign. For many decades after becoming independent, even many of the closest allies of the Dutch Republic refused to grant it full recognition. Today there are a number of independent entities without widespread diplomatic recognition, most notably the Republic of China on Taiwan. Since the 1970s, most nations have stopped officially recognizing the ROC's existence on Taiwan, at the insistence of the People's Republic of China. Currently, the United States and other nations maintain informal relations through de facto embassies, with names such as the American Institute in Taiwan. Similarly, Taiwan's de facto embassies abroad are known by names such as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. This was not always the case, with the US maintaining official diplomatic ties with the ROC, recognizing it as the sole and legitimate government of all of China until 1979, when these relations were broken off as a condition for establishing official relations with Communist China.
The Palestinian Authority has its own diplomatic service, however Palestinian representatives in most Western countries are not accorded diplomatic immunity, and their missions are referred to as Delegations General.
Other unrecognized countries include Abkhazia, Transnistria, Somaliland, Nagorno Karabakh, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Lacking the economic and political importance of Taiwan, these nations tend to be much more diplomatically isolated.
Though used as a factor in judging sovereignty, Article 3 of the Montevideo Convention states, "The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states."

Informal diplomacy

Informal diplomacy (sometimes called Track II diplomacy) has been used for centuries to communicate between powers. Most diplomats work to recruit figures in other nations who might be able to give informal access to a country's leadership. In some situations, such as between the United States and the People's Republic of China a large amount of diplomacy is done through semi-formal channels using interlocutors such as academic members of thinktanks. This occurs in situations where governments wish to express intentions or to suggest methods of resolving a diplomatic situation, but do not wish to express a formal position.
Track II diplomacy is a specific kind of informal diplomacy, in which non-officials (academic scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, social activists) engage in dialogue, with the aim of conflict resolution, or confidence-building. Sometimes governments may fund such Track II exchanges. Sometimes the exchanges may have no connection at all with governments, or may even act in defiance of governments; such exchanges are called Track III.


Paradiplomacy refers to the international relations conducted by subnational, regional, local or non-central governments. The most ordinary case of paradiplomatic relation refer to co-operation between bordering political entities. However, interest of federal states, provinces, regions etc., may extend over to different regions or to issues gathering local governments in multilateral fora worldwide. Some non-central governments may be allowed to negotiate and enter into agreement with foreign central states.

Cultural diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy is a part of diplomacy. It alludes to a new way of making diplomacy by involving new non governmental and non professional actors in the making of diplomacy. In the frame of globalization, culture plays a major role in the definition of identity and in the relations between people. Joseph Nye points out the importance of having a soft power besides a hard power. When classical diplomacy fails, a better knowledge can help bridging the gap between different cultures. Cultural diplomacy becomes a subject of academic studies based on historical essays on the United States, Europe, and the Cold War.


  • A Guide to Diplomatic Practice by Sir Ernest Satow, Longmans, Green & Co. London & New York, 1917. A standard reference work used in many embassies across the world (though not British ones). Now in its fifth edition (1998) ISBN 0-582-50109-1
  • Diplomacy: Theory & Practice, 3rd edition, by GR Berridge, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2005, ISBN 1-4039-9311-4
  • Journey to Become a Diplomat: With a Guide to Careers in World Affairs by George Cunningham, FPA Global Vision Books 2005, ISBN 0-87124-212-5
  • Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America by Shawn Dorman (Editor), American Foreign Service Association, Second edition February 2003, ISBN 0-9649488-2-6
  • Foreign Ministries: Managing Diplomatic Networks and Optimizing Value by Kishan S. Rana and Jovan Kurbalija (Editors), DiploFoundation, 2007, ISBN 978-99932-53-16-7
  • The 21st Century Ambassador: Plenipotentiary to Chief Executive by Kishan S Rana, DiploFoundation,2004, ISBN 99909-55-18-2
  • Language and Diplomacy by Kurbalija J. and Slavik H. (Editors), DiploProjects, Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, Malta, 2001, ISBN 99909-55-15-8. The volume contains collection of paper presented at the international conference. (See of them
  • Renaissance Diplomacy by Garrett Mattingly, Dover Publications, ISBN 978-0486255705

Diplomatic Training Institutions

External links

wikiquote Diplomacy Pro Deo Et Mundo (For God and the World) Faith based diplomacy for Mediation,peacebuilding and long term conflict resolution, migration diplomacy.
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