So, you’re a diplomat? Cool, me too! – How diplomats are diplomacy

When we talk about diplomacy, we think of states or international entities trying to communicate to engage friendly relations and/or act in accordance to deal with the world’s challenges. Afterwards, what we focus on are the people in black suits or tailleurs who actually have to create this world-wide communication network: diplomats.

Since its first appearance in the Ancient Near East of 2500 BC, the figure of the diplomat has never been traced thoroughly and its features have been facing the same evolution as diplomacy itself. Modern diplomacy is how it is because and thanks to the ever-changing shape of the diplomat.

The current diplomat started by being a simple emissary or messenger, with the purpose of engaging friendly relations with neighbour powers; then, it gained the ruler’s trust and gained plenipotential powers to set agreements (Kerr, Wiseman) and suddenly became a representative of the nation abroad or to institutions or a spokesman of an international organization.

Nowadays, the diplomatic figure is mutating: we have come to the point where goodwill ambassadors and celebrity diplomats are ordinary (Cohen). The first example that comes to my mind is Emma Watson: the famous Hermione Granger from the worldwide known Harry Potter’s saga, who was appointed as a UN WomenGoodwill Ambassador in 2014. She has been promoting female education in less developed countries, travelling to Zambia, Bangladesh, Uruguay.  It is well known that being a diplomat requires culture, curiosity, charm, some acting skills, attention to custom – the list is endless. However, Miss Watson has graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature!She obviously is charming and educated, and she learned how to address to UN’s authorities as the video shows; but does she have the traditional educational background asked to a professional diplomat?

What I find remarkable is that thanks to <<ordinary>> figures like Miss Watson, more and more attention has been given to non-war related issues, such as education, gender equality, environment, aid. That is to say that it’s us, interested curious human beings, who developed, and continue to mutate, diplomacy.

In 1918 Woodrow Wilson proposed to found an international organization – which would then be called The League of Nations – to provide a forum to resolve international disputes. This League was the background for the institutionalization of the United Nations in 1945, which can be seen as todays widest centre of diplomacy.  Again, a man with a principle changed the diplomatic system.



To conclude, modern diplomacy is modern – amongst all the other factors such as the appearance of non-state actors, multilateral approaches, technological innovations, international legislation, etc. – because diplomats, which were at first lucky trusted men, thought it to be their duty not only to maintain plain friendly communications, but also developing peace – and alliances to enhance that – and then setting agendas of common themes to work on, alongside effective ways to do so. To me, the most important development in diplomacy is the changing nature of diplomats.


Geoffrey Wiseman and Paul Sharp, ‘Diplomacy’ in R. Devetak, A. Burke and J. George (eds), An Introduction to International Relations, 2nd edition

Raymond Cohen, ‘Diplomacy Through the Ages’ in P. Kerr and G. Wiseman (eds), Diplomacy in a Globalizing World

Sir Ivor Roberts (ed.), Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, 6th edition, chapter 1

Emma Watson’s speech at the UN HeForShe Campaign 2014


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