There is an institution of diplomacy that has been developing and gaining importance since the start of diplomacy itself: Secret Intelligence Services.
Even though new diplomacy has allowed an era of transparency, openness and communication (Hamilton and Langhorne, 2000), there are still thousands and thousands of secret agencies all over the world, such as MI5, MI6, CIA, which cover a relevant position in the governmental system and retain obscurity of information.
Throughout history, not only have kingdoms and states wanted to keep an eye on their enemies, but also on their allies: this led to the creation of the figure of the spy, the so called human intelligence (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). Spies on their missions had to be informed by a team which would create action strategies, these teams developed into modern day intelligence agencies.
Intelligence is defined as the <<collection of information, their analysis and dissemination, for competitive decision making>> (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). This definition shows why the role of the diplomat is strongly related to the one of the spy: they both aim to provide the government with a better insight on international affairs, in order to improve legislation. Moreover, diplomatic figures are useful in maintaining contacts and cooperation with international actors in matters of defence (Berridge, 2015). Also, diplomats are seen to be a perfect cover for spies because of the security clearances and resources they are provided with (Berridge, 2015).
Even when diplomacy was still at its early stages, through the help of secret intelligence it played an important role in influencing the course of history. For instance, during the Anglo-Spanish war in the 1580s, Elizabeth I employed her Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham to establish a network of spies in several countries including France, Scotland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. This bold move prevented the Queen from assassination and warned her about the imminent invasion of the Spanish Armada. (Wheeler, 2011).
Sir Francis Walsingham
Another example is given to us by Sir William Wiseman. He acted as a liaison between Woodrow Wilson and the British government in the 1910s. Most importantly, he is thought to have used his influence as a diplomat-spy to convince the president of the United States to make the country go to war during the WWI (Kerr and Wiseman, 2012). Some historians believe that without the intervention of the United States, the war would not have ended until well after 1918, and the world might look different today.
More recently, to face the challenges of terrorism, the European Union has developed an international intelligence system, called the Eu Intelligence and Situation Centre, to boost member states’ cooperation and multilateral common action in the attempt of preventing destructive attacks (EU INTCEN website). It was founded in 2002, and since 2011 it is under the authority of the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini.
To conclude, diplomacy, be it old or new, has a strong relationship with secret services. Throughout history, dipolomacy has ulilized the strong international frameworks of intelligence organizations to gather information and reach favourable agreements, and now, with the rise of security challenges, they have developed a common aim. In fact, intelligence is a tool so effective and important for states that can be seen as a diplomatic institution.
Douglas L. Wheeler, A Guide to the History of Intelligence in the Age of Empires,1500–1800, in Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, 2011, Issue 18/3
Hamilton, K. and Langhorne, R. (2010) The practice of diplomacy: Its evolution, theory, and administration. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
G. R. Berridge (2015), Diplomacy: Theory and Practise. 5th ed. London: Palgrave Mcmillan, UK
Kerr, P. and Wiseman, G. (2012) Diplomacy in a globalizing world: Theories and practices. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center website http://www.esisc.org/about-us/our-mission