Diplomacy: The Art of Restraining Power


Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peacemaking, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge.

Diplomacy stands accepted as the mainstay and the core process of relations among nations. The process of establishment of relations among nations begins effectively by the establishment of diplomatic ties among nations.


Diplomacy is the management of international relations by means of negotiations. — Harold Nicholson

Oxford Dictionary adds:

“The method by which these relations are adjusted and managed by ambassadors and envoys; the business or art of the diplomatists.


Diplomacy is not a new phenomenon as it dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. Thucydides “The Peloponnesian War” contained many references to diplomatic missions, treaties, negotiations and other concepts associated with diplomacy. Ancient Rome also engaged in extensive diplomacy, although the Roman Empire is more noted for its military conquests. The first professional diplomatic corps appeared in the Byzantine Empire following the collapse of Rome in 476 AD. The art of diplomacy was carried to the next higher plane in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. Niccolo Machiavelli of Florence, whom many consider the father of “realist” views of the international system, stressed in his book “The Prince” that rulers should use whatever means they had at their disposal to stay in power. Western European diplomacy continued to evolve in 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in France under Louis XIV.

The next stage in the evolution of Western diplomacy began at the end of the Napoleonic Wars with the 1815 Congress of Vienna. The World War I is frequently viewed as the watershed between “old” diplomacy with its emphasis on elitism, secrecy, bilateral agreements, and the importance of the embassy, and “modern” diplomacy with its emphasis on competency, openness, multilateral agreements, and personal conduct of affairs. With many people believing that 19th century diplomacy’s practices had caused World War I, it was perhaps inevitable that old diplomatic practices would change. Following WWI, more and more countries began to emphasize competency as opposed to class connections in their diplomatic corps. Increasingly, diplomats came from a wider cross-section of society. This democratization of the diplomatic corps came in part from the belief that elitist diplomacy had lost touch with reality and as a result had spawned WW I.

Diplomay 2Competency — at least in theory — replaced class connections as a prerequisite for the diplomat. Modern diplomacy is a multisided, loosely constrained and multidimensional game. Modern diplomacy is intricate and involves considerable strategy that can be employed in several ways. At the highest level, leader-to-leader and summitry diplomacy — superpower summitry during the Cold War — is certainly the main evolving characteristic of modern diplomacy and the epitome of “public diplomacy”.


1. Realist Approach

Realism, which views the state as a unitary and rational actor, argues that states pursue their own interests in an anarchic international environment. The ability to accomplish their goals, however, is curbed by the fact that other states are similarly engaged in the pursuit of their own interests. Ultimately realists view the potential struggles generated over conflicting interests to be determined by the distribution of power in the international system.

Generally speaking, “stronger” states will prevail while weaker states do not. — Morgenthau

2. Pluralist or Separatist Approach

Diplomay 1The followers of this approach believed in traditional nation-state system with strong notions of absolute state sovereignty or Westphalian sovereignty, non-intervention, and diplomacy. In this approach, most diplomatic initiatives are taken to secure short-term self-interests of the states.

3. Solidarist Approach

The Solidarists conceive international society as being closer in semblance to revolutionist tradition. In it, they allow for a broad scope of shared norms and values, a greater level of cultural homogenization, and accept tenants such as ‘standards of civilization’, limited use of force, human rights and interventionism.


1. Preventive Diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy is action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.

2. Public Diplomacy

Public diplomacy is exercising influence through communication with the general public in another nation, rather than attempting to influence the nation’s government directly.

3. Soft Power

Soft power, sometimes called hearts and minds diplomacy, as defined by Joseph Nye, is the cultivation of relationships, respect or even admiration from others in order to gain influence, as opposed to more coercive approaches.

4. Economic Diplomacy

Economic diplomacy is the use of foreign aid or other types of economic policy as a means to achieve a diplomatic agenda.

5. Counterinsurgency Diplomacy

Counterinsurgency diplomacy, developed by diplomats deployed to civil-military stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, employs diplomats at tactical and operational levels, outside traditional embassy environments and often alongside military or peacekeeping forces.

6. Gunboat Diplomacy

Gunboat diplomacy is the use of conspicuous displays of military strength as a means of intimidation in order to influence others.

7. Appeasement

Appeasement is a policy of making concessions to an aggressor in order to avoid confrontation.

8. Nuclear Diplomacy

Diplomay 3It is the area of diplomacy related to preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear war. One of the most well-known (and most controversial) philosophies of nuclear diplomacy is mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Diplomatic Agents

According to Vienna Convention 1815, an agent employed by a state in its diplomatic service or in its intercourse or negotiation with other states.

Classification of Agents

According to Congress of Vienna 1815, Diplomatic Agents are classified as:

  1. Ambassadors and Legates
  2. Ministers Plenipotentiary and Envoys Extraordinary
  3. Minister Residents
  4. Charge d’ Affairs

Immunities and Privileges of Diplomatic Agents

According to Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, following are the immunities and privileges enjoyed by the diplomatic agents:

  1. Inviolability of persons of envoys [Article 29]
  2. Immunity from criminal jurisdiction of the courts
  3. Immunity from civil jurisdiction [Article 31]
  4. Immunity regarding residence
  5. Immunity from being presented as witness
  6. Immunity from taxes [Article 34 and 36]
  7. Immunity from police rules
  8. Right to worship
  9. Right to exercise control and jurisdiction over families and offices
  10. Right to travel freely in the territory of receiving state [Article 26]
  11. Freedom of communication for official purpose [Article 27]
  12. Immunity from local and military obligations [Article 35]
  13. Immunity from inspection of personal baggage [Article 36]
  14. Immunity from social security provisions [Article 33]


Diplomacy is a positive value concept encompassing a set of skills; a preferred way to approach issues at the sub-national, national or international levels. Diplomacy, in its conflict-resolution and community-building aspects, can certainly be argued normatively (as well as studied empirically) as a preferred approach to most political issues, even those alleged to be purely domestic ones.

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