Are diplomatic institutions old school?

Modern world, along with globalization, challenges the existence of traditional diplomatic institutions. It cannot be agreed, whether the embassies and high commissions are still needed. Is the technology replacing them? Should other government departments deal with the issues related to them? Or is their existence too much valuable to replace them? There are so many pros and cons of having permanent missions abroad. The aim of this article is to compare pro arguments to arguments against in order to find out whether the institutions of the ‘old’ diplomacy have any contemporary relevance.

First of all, let me start with a little bit of historical background of embassies to understand the reason of its existence. Embassies, in the form known today, were established in the 13th century in Italy. Envoys were expensive to dispatch and were facing risk during travelling. Resident embassies in a foreign country not only minimized the risks and expense of constant journeying by rough roads and unpredictable seas; they also aided political reporting and the more discreet preparation, conduct and following up negotiations. (Berridge, 2015, 115) Permanent missions were needed, because there was no such a thing as telephone or internet. But, in the modern world, where the developed communication technology allows us to get in touch with somebody on the other side of the world within seconds and without leaving our house, and where travelling became much easier and safer, where media reports anything what happens more or less immediately, we have to look for a deeper meaning of diplomatic institutions.

What is embassy actually for? Functions of the normal embassy are representing the sending state and protecting its interests in the receiving state, while gathering information about the latter state, and negotiating and promoting friendly relations with it – all within the limits of international law (Article 3). (Berridge, 2015, 119) Embassies carry important tasks. It is a tool for strengthening relationships between states by, for example, hosting social occasions or attending state ceremonies. Building relations with public by giving public lectures. Provide consular services to its own citizens who lives abroad. Play crucial role in negotiations between states. Reporting home on present conditions or on relations between hostile states on the territory of a third. Provide support for government figures when travelling abroad. In the time of war or state of emergency, ambassadors play important role. In some countries, the function of embassies can be more specialized, depending on the priorities of a particular relationship. For example, in developing countries embassy takes care of the administration of foreign aid. French embassy in Delhi has a nuclear energy section or U.S. embassy in Mexico City includes department which deals with narcotics.

What do embassies have to do with diplomacy? Watch this short video, which summarizes the main usage of embassies and provides examples (Newsy Politics, 2015)

Another aspect is the actual building, where embassy is located. It might symbolize values to which this state attaches high importance. For instance, the Turkish Embassy in Berlin consists of two halves separated by a high, copper-covered archway meant to represent Turkey’s position as a bridge between Europe and Asia. (Berridge, 2015, 121)

felipe_schmidt_03Figure 1: Turkish Embassy in Berlin / NSH Architekten (Source: http://www.archdaily.com, 2013)

It seems that functions of embassies are irreplaceable. However, some argue that effects of dramatic improvements in travel and communications decrease the importance of these institutions, or even make them to be useless. International organizations seem to have more influence than traditional diplomatic institutions. Multilateral conferences appear to be more effective. The embassy can no longer, by itself, provide the diplomatic means to cope with the global system. (Leguey-Feilleux, 2009, 185) Institutions, such as United Nations or European Union, changed the way how the diplomacy is practiced. Also, since diplomacy covers range of specialized issues, other government departments need to be involved.

Other argument is that reporting had been overtaken by the huge growth in the international mass media. Diplomatic missions also face danger due to the ideological tensions and cultural divisions. Some of the embassies were attacked. As an example, see The report from United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security on ‘Significant attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel’ (Bureau of Diplomatic Security, 2013).

Apart from danger, the weakness of permanent missions is the cost. Berridge, professor of international politics, also points out that ambassadors, who are part of permanent mission abroad, have tendency to ‘go native’. (Berridge, 2015, 117) That means that there is possibility to lose touch with sentiments at home. Being part of different culture, accepting gifts from the locals, and becoming part of the community of receiving state can potentially lead to the change of the interest.

The world is changing and many things, including diplomacy, are adapting to the modern era. However, the nature of diplomacy and the tradition remain the same. Permanent missions still have its important role. They are just adapting to meet the needs and expectations of the modern society. Some embassies shrunk, those of others have expanded. Some being closed down, however new ones are being opened. Some countries run the missions cost effectively. This means, that states might share the embassy, or that there is one institution available in the region rather than in each state and the ambassador travels around.   States are deeply interconnected with each other, therefore communication and cooperation are the key to success. The map below shows us how many permanent missions are currently in the world:

captureFigure 2: (Global diplomacy index, 2016)

This picture shows how many permanent missions are run by USA:

capture2Figure 3: (Global diplomacy index, 2016)

You can see the connections of other countries as well. This interactive map is available on the website of Lowy Institute: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/global-diplomacy-index/ (Global diplomacy index, 2016)

Permanent missions are still in use and facilitate many activities. The word ‘permanent’ represents the crucial meaning of embassies and high commissioners. Regular consultation can promote the partnership. It allows to continuously work on the relationship between countries. Moreover, some types of negotiation require preparation and personal contact is essential. Ambassadors also have opportunity to follow up on the negotiations, when needed. Reporting home on present conditions is more accurate. Trained staff is more reliable than media. The advantages of traditional diplomatic institutions are still more valuable and strong enough to deal with its weaknesses.

Given all the points, I think that institutions of ‘old’ diplomacy do have contemporary relevance. If anything else, embassy is permanent reminder that your country exists.  It creates platform for personal contact. Personality matters, and you cannot send personality by email, Whatsapp, Skype or even Twitter.

 

Bibliography

Berridge, G. R. (2015), Diplomacy Theory and Practice (fifth edition), Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S.D. of S. (2013), Significant attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel 1998-2012, Washington, D.C., Available at: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/211361.pdf, [Accessed: 19 November 2016]

Gallaga, M.G. and Diplomat, T. (2013), Do we still need embassies?, Available at: http://thediplomat.com/2013/09/do-we-still-need-embassies/, [Accessed: 19 November 2016]

Global diplomacy index (2016), Available at: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/global-diplomacy-index/, [Accessed: 19 November 2016]

Leguey-Feilleux, J.-R. (2009), The dynamics of diplomacy, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO

Newsy Politics (2015), What do embassies have to do with diplomacy? – Newsy, Available at: https://youtu.be/remTjP-yhk0, [Accessed: 19 November 2016]

Oliver, A. (2016), “The Irrelevant Diplomat“, Foreign Affairs, 14 March 2016, Available at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2016-03-14/irrelevant-diplomat, [Accessed: 19 November 2016]

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Are diplomatic institutions old school?

  1. 28071985moniz December 26, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    we can also see that diplomacy will create peace between one state to another. Therefore, with the diplomacy will create stability in the country and society.

    Like

    • klara.orackova January 7, 2017 / 12:43 pm

      Yes, we certainly can say that. Diplomacy and diplomatic institutions play very important role in peace keeping process.

      Like

  2. bennii1996 January 7, 2017 / 11:29 am

    I really liked the example you made of the Turkish embassy in Berlin, as it represents a symbol of closeness and unity between two complete different contintents such as Europe and Asia.
    It shows how important is diplomacy in establishing peaceful and harmonious relations between different countries, that not always share the same cultural, political,ideological values.

    I agree on the fact that you stress the importance of resident embassies and how it is important to have a concrete representation of diplomatic relations in different countries.

    The only thing that I wanted to say about the style and structure of your work is that I noticed that the sentences are really short, you tend to write small sentences and it is not a fluent reading, because is frequently interrupted by dots.

    Besides that, I really appreciated reading this work!

    Like

    • klara.orackova January 7, 2017 / 12:45 pm

      Thank you for your nice comment Bennii1996 and for pointing out the structure of the sentences, I will have look on that.

      Like

  3. stevencurtislm February 4, 2017 / 5:43 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. You have included some nice illustrations and links to websites and I am pleased to see you drawing on a nice mix of academic texts and online sources, which you blend to good effect.

    The post would have been more effective had you used it to articulate your argument. It has the structure of an essay, reviewing arguments and evidence, but with the shorter word length you are unable to develop your points in any depth. Blog posts are most effective when they take one issue and link it to one or two case studies. For example, you might have taken the example of the Turkisk embassy in Berlin and blown it up into a piece on the symbolic representation that embassies embody.

    You make some very interesting points in the paragraph directly before the first map (especially this passage: “Some embassies shrunk, those of others have expanded. Some being closed down, however new ones are being opened. Some countries run the missions cost effectively. This means, that states might share the embassy, or that there is one institution available in the region rather than in each state and the ambassador travels around”). These issues might have been explored in more depth and again could have formed the basis of a post in their own right. What explains the fact that some countries are growing their diplomatic networks while others are seeking to economise? Perhaps the workshop reading by Neumayerin week three could help you explore the reasons.

    You are correct that some commentators think globalisation, multilateral organisations and so on have rendered the embassy obsolete, or at least less important. However, we will see towards the end of the year how the EU has transformed the functions of diplomatic missions in relations between member states. And can’t other government departments make use of embassies too? After all, their representative abroad will need a base.

    Therefore, when revising this post for inclusion in your portfolio at the end of the module, you may like to zoom in on one or two issues, such as those noted above.

    There are a couple of issues with how the post has been constructed, the first of which is quite serious:

    I’m afraid the following passage is the third paragraph is copied verbatim from Berridge: “representing the sending state and protecting its interests in the receiving state, while gathering information about the latter state, and negotiating and promoting friendly relations with it – all within the limits of international law (Article 3)”. Therefore it should have been placed within inverted commas, as I have presented it here. Just inserting a reference after the passage indicates that you have paraphrased rather than copied the original. Please take much more care with your use of sources. (I notice that the following passage in the second paragraph is also copied from Berridge but not presented as a quotation: “Resident embassies in a foreign country not only minimized the risks and expense of constant journeying by rough roads and unpredictable seas; they also aided political reporting and the more discreet preparation, conduct and following up negotiations.” Please make sure that you enclose all quotes “within quotation marks”.) Many other passages are far too close to the original text. Please make sure that when paraphrasing you render the meaning completely in your own terms.

    There are a few grammatical issues. For instance, in the first paragraph you should start with the definite article (The modern world …) and it should be ‘much too valuable’ rather than ‘too much valuable’ a few lines later. Likewise the third paragraph should begin with either ‘What is the embassy actually for?’ or ‘What are embassies actually for?’, but not ‘What is embassy actually for?’ Regarding in-text references, they should not be italicised and the end of sentence full stop should follow rather than precede them.

    Like

    • klara.orackova February 5, 2017 / 12:12 pm

      Thank you for the constructive feedback. I will make an amendments as per your recommendations and I will correct the referencing.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s