The Practice of Diplomacy & the Balance of Power

By: Josephus Moses Gray

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 8, 2012


In every century there seems to surface a country with the influence and the intellectual and moral impetus and will to shape the entire international system in accordance with its own values. In the seventeenth century, France under Cardinal Richelieu introduced the modern approach to international relations, based on the nation state and motivated by national interest as its ultimate purpose. In the eighteenth century, Great Britain elaborated the concept of the balance of power, which dominated European diplomacy for the next 150 years. In the nineteenth century, Metternich’s Austria reconstructed the Concert of Europe and Bismarck’s Germany dismantled it, reshaping European diplomacy into a cold blooded game of power politics.

But in the contemporary era of a new world order, no country has influenced international relations as decisively and at the same time as ambivalently as the United States of America. Our research shows that no nation has been more pragmatic in the day – to - day conduct of its diplomacy, or more ideological in the pursuit of its historic moral convictions, while the studies also pinpointed that no country has been more reluctant to engage itself abroad even while undertaking alliances and commitments of unprecedented reach and scope.

Primary Aim of Article

The primary aim of this learning detailed research document which looks into the history of diplomatic practices is to give one basis in the issues and ideas surrounding diplomacy and international relations in the contemporary era of a new world order. In this presentation, the historical context of international relations and diplomacy would be explained while this learning document aims to help you develop the ability to think critically and constructively about the issues at play in the championing of national interest on the global stage by ambassadors of Foreign Service officers. Our second publicationin series will focus on the new world order in the context of the Balance of Power and the intricacy of contemporary diplomatic practices while the third one will retrospect on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf six years achievements.

This is one of several essential extensive articles that we have written on dozen of contemporary issues that border on foreign policy, international affairs, political and economic situations and the critical role of the media in enhancing democracy in post conflict Liberia, while others vital articles includethe critical analysis of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’ First Term in Office, and the intricacy of contemporary diplomatic practices, just to name few.

What Is Diplomacy

Down to ‘diplomacy’ which is the core focus of this article, diplomacy is an essentially political activity and, well resourced and skilful, a major ingredient of power. In order world, Diplomacy is not merely what professional diplomatic agents do. It is carried out by other official and by private persons under the direction of officials.As we shall see, it is also carried out through many different channels besides the traditional resident mission. Together with the balance of power, which it both reflects and reinforces, diplomacy is the most important institution of our society of states.

As already noted, diplomacy is an important means by which states pursue their foreign policies, and these policies are still framed in significant degree in many states in a ministry of foreign affairs. Such ministries also have the major responsibility for a state‘s diplomats serving abroad and for dealing with foreign diplomats at home. It is for his reason that this extensive research begins with a detailed examination of the origins and the current position of the ministry of foreign affairs and a critical outlook of diplomacy and its role in the new world order.

Other Focus of Discussions

This article besides discussing diplomacy, it’s alsodevoted to a consideration of the art of negotiation, the role of embassies, diplomatic immunity and the new world order. The topic also devoted on several other issues with most important activity undertaken in the world diplomatic system as a whole, its examines the different channels through which negations, together with the other functions of diplomacy, are pursued when states enjoy normal diplomatic relations and most importantly scrutinizes some of the most important ways in which these are pursued when they do not.

The French’s Diplomacy

In the middle Ages, responsibility for diplomacy was place chiefly in the hands of a nuncios and a plenipotentiary. The former was no more than a ‘living letter’, whereas the latter had ‘full powers’ – plenipotentiary, hence the later ‘plenipotentiary’ – to negotiate on behalf of and bind his principal. Nevertheless, they were alike in that they were temporary envoys with narrowly focused tasks. It was the mark of the system that began to emerge in the second half of the fifteenth century that these ad hoc envoys were replaced or, more accurately, supplemented by resident embassies with broad responsibilities.

The question that one might ask is why did this occur? Temporary embassies were expensive to dispatch, vulnerable on the road, and always likely to cause trouble over precedence and ceremonial because of the high status required of their leaders. As a result, when diplomatic activity in Europe intensified in the late fifteenth century, “it was discovered to be more practical and more economical to appoint an ambassador to remain at a much frequented court”.

Continuous representation also led to greater familiarity with conditions and personalities in the country concerned thereby producing better political reporting; facilitated the preparations of important negotiations and made it more likely that such negotiations could be launched without attracting the attention that would usually accompany the arrival of a special envoy.

The spread of resident missions was also facilitated by the growing strength of the doctrine of raison d’etat; that is, the doctrine that standards of personal morality were irrelevant in statecraft, where the only test was what furthered the Interest of the state. This sanctioned what, in the seventeenth century, Richelieu called ‘continuous negotiation; permanent diplomacy’ in all places’, irrespective of considerations of sentiment or religion.

The Vienna Convention

By the 1950s, it was broadly accepted by jurists that diplomats must have special privileges and immunities under local criminal and civil law for the reason given two centuries earlier by Emmerich de Vattel, a native of Neuchatel who was, at the time, in the diplomatic service of the Elector of Saxony. ‘It frequently happens’, he wrote, ‘that a minister (diplomat) is entrusted with commissions that are disagreeable to the sovereign to whom he is sent.

The ‘functional theory’, as it was called, had certainly given a more persuasive justification of diplomatic privileges and immunities than the previously popular theories. Representation, that often overlooked or naively minimized function of diplomacy, is chiefly concerned with prestige and is, in certain instances, impossible to distinguish from propaganda. Principally involving the head of a mission, it embraces entertaining, giving public lectures, appearing on television and radio shows, and attendance at state ceremonial occasions.

In principle, it can be conducted by government ministers’ officials, but they cannot be everywhere and have important jobs at home. As a result, it devolves chiefly on ambassadors. On the occasions when it is, nevertheless, expedient for senior government figures to go abroad on representative duties – either to attend some special occasion, or simply on a goodwill visit – they are also highly dependent on the support of the local embassy; this applies as much to the forward planning and aftermath as to the period of the visit itself. In this case, ambassadors should give the much needed support to their officers to play their roles and not fears their competencies and education achievements, as the case of certain ambassadors who tried to suppress their officers due to their own short comings on the job.

Resident Embassy

The resident embassy, which initially meant the ambassador and his entourage but came to mean the building they occupied, was at first treated with suspicion in most quarters. Nevertheless, its value was such that it was steadily strengthened by the customary law of nations, which evolved quite rapidly in this area after the late sixteenth century. Reflecting the change in practice, the premises rented for long periods by the envoy – as well as his person, domestic family, and staff – were soon attracting special immunities from local criminal and civil jurisdiction. As might have been expected, the more powerful states, including France itself, were slower to dispatch than to receive resident embassies.

The existence of a resident embassy also broadens a state’s representative options and, thus, its repertoire of non-verbal signals. Nevertheless, a few countries found it expedient to be represented merely by their resident ambassadors; in their absence, it might have been difficult to avoid showing either too much or too little respect. For representational purposes, resident missions are generally of special importance to new states and established ones in declining circumstances.

Goal of a Resident Embassy

The first duty of an embassy is to advance its country’s interests, and this might require a diplomat to behave in a friendly manner Nevertheless, it remains an important task of the embassy to promote friendly relations with local elites insofar as this compatible with policy. A well networked embassy will obviously find it easier to gain influence and gather information; it will also be better placed to handle a crisis in relations should one subsequently develop. It is for this reason, as well as others, that a good embassy will honor local customs, mark important local events, and make extensive social contacts.

It is also an important job of the embassy to ensure that gratuitous offence is not given to the host government in the event that some unpleasant message has to be delivered. Diplomats who are liked, familiar with the understatement of their profession, fluent in the local language, fully acquainted with protocol, and sensitive to local prejudice- in short, professionals- are more likely to achieve this than anyone else. Friendly relations can be cultivated by other. For this task, then, the resident embassy has the greatest opportunities, and is likely to have the most appropriate knowledge and skills.

Political Reporting

Gathering information on political – and indeed, on military, economic and other developments – and reporting it home has long been recognized as one of the most important functions of the resident embassy. Immersed in the local scene and swapping information with other members of diplomatic corp., embassy personnel are ideally situated to provide informative reports, and it is difficult to see this unusual. It is true that service attaches who are charged with obtaining military information, sometimes find this difficult even in friendly states, and next to impossible in hostiles ones, but what they manage to discover continues to be valued by military intelligence. In closed societies, the information provided by diplomatic mission is especially important.

Commercial Diplomacy

Commercial diplomacy includes use of the embassy’s resources to promote both exports and inward investment; and, in the case of poor countries, the cultivation of aid donors. Important features of the work of the embassy’s commercial section are the supplying of market intelligence, opening doors for trade missions and companies from home (especially small and medium-sized businesses that cannot afford their own agents), and contributing to the negotiation of bilateral commercial agreements; for example, on landing rights for a national airline.

Until well into twentieth century, the diplomatic services of most states regarded commercial work either as the responsibility of the socially inferior consul or of an autonomous or semi-autonomous foreign trade service. However, a major change was foreshadowed in the 1960s when trading states such as Britain began to grow increasingly concerned at their diminishing share of total world exports, and took off against the background of the global economic turbulence of the 1970s. Since that time, commercial diplomacy has generally been regarded as a first order activity. This is true even in Germany, where the powerful chambers of commerce were formerly left to deal with matters themselves.

Phone Diplomacy

Telephone diplomacy has serious drawbacks, some of which are common to most forms of telecommunication. For one thing, it foregoes all forms of non-verbal communication. The use of body language, dress, venue, and setting – by means of which, in a personal encounter, a summiteers or diplomat can add nuance or emphasis to an oral message, or even say one thing but mean another – are all foregone in telephone diplomacy. A telephone call is far less effective in forcing officials to focus on the questions at issue. It also passes up the opportunity, should this be advantageous, to generate news coverage for a message.

Role of an Embassy

Formally accredited resident embassies are the normal means of conducting bilateral diplomacy between any two states. The British scholar diplomat Harold Nicolson called this the ‘French system of Diplomacy’, because of the dominant influence of France on its evolution and the gradual replacement of Latin by French as its working language.

Regular, flag-flying embassies might well disappear when diplomatic relations are severed, but diplomatic functions might still be performed by as many as four kinds of irregular resident mission – some more irregular, and therefore more heavily disguised, than others. These are interests sections, consulates, representative offices, and front missions – the last being analogous to the ‘front organizations, typically businesses of one sort or another, employed to conceal espionage activities during the Cold War. In this case, I will try to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of these disguised embassies, and why one is preferred to another in different circumstances. It will also consider whether the differences between formally accredited embassies and at least some of these missions are merely nominal.

Special Mission

Special missions, or special envoys, are persons sent abroad to conduct diplomacy with a limited purpose for a limited time. Their employment was the normal manner of conducting relations between friendly rulers until resident diplomacy began to take root during the late fifteenth century. Special missions are particularly valuable to the diplomacy between hostile states, not least in breaking the ice between. One may want to know that what are the advantages of special missions used in the absence of diplomatic relations and how they are variously composed as well as when should they be sent in public and when in secret?

Special envoys come in many guises, but they all have some characteristics in common, including a common, including a common legal regime. It is possible, therefore, to identify the advantages that all of them share, and it is as well to do this to begin with. The employment of special envoys diplomacy between hostile states has numerous benefits, whether they are designed to supplement activity by disguised embassies or play a larger role in their absence.

Official Envoys

The more common type of high-level envoy is the official species; that is, those recruited from within the political establishment and formally appointed. It is only in exceptional circumstances that presidents or prime ministers themselves visit states with which their governments do not have diplomatic relations. Instead, it is senior political advisers or civil servants – who, despite their elevation, are often not well-known to the press and can ‘carry out the most delicate mission without drawing attention’ – who are usually selected.

The Role of Foreign Ministry

On the global level, let us look at the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Home Office, it is difficult to find a state today that does not have, in addition to a diplomatic service, a ministry dedicated to directing and administering it. This is usually known as the ministry of foreign affairs or, for short, foreign ministry. It is easy to forget that this was not always the case and that the ministry came relatively late onto the scene.

In fact, as commonly defined, its appearance in Europe post-dated the arrival of the resident diplomatic mission by between two and three centuries. To continue, this subject now begin by looking briefly at the origins and development of the foreign ministry, and then examine its different roles; these include staffing and supporting missions abroad, policy advice and implementation, policy coordination, dealing with foreign diplomats at home, and building domestic support.

Until the sixteenth century, the individual states of Europe did not concentrate responsibility for foreign policy and the diplomatic machine in one administrative unit but allocated it between different, infant bureaucracies on a geographical basis. Some of these offices were also responsible for certain domestic matters. But this system began to change under the combined pressure of the multiplying international relationships and thickening networks of resident trend increased the possibilities of inconsistency in the formulation and execution of foreign policy.

About the Author: Josephus Moses Gray is currently pursuing his Doctorate Degree (Ph.D) Studies in Diplomacy and International Relations in Paris, France. He holds BA Degree in Mass Communications (Print Journalism) and MA Degree in International Relations from the University of Liberia Graduate School.He formerly worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Assistant Minister for Public Affairs before being assigned at the Embassy of Liberia as Political Counsellor. He is a 2006 International Journalism Fellow and a graduate of an ICFA Global Journalism Program, Washington D.C., USA. He holds dozens of certificates and post-graduate diplomas in Journalism and Diplomacy from abroad including the Chinese Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, Cape Town, South Africa and Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He can be contacted at or 0886-525-196(Liberia) and 0033661191739(France)

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