Simply put, diplomacy is an act of sustaining international relations using negotiations and other peaceful strategies. The word comes from the French word, diplomate. Which, in turn, originated from the combination of two Greek words to form a diploma. A look into the meaning of the original Greek words — Diplo, meaning folded into two and ma meaning an object — explains the long history of this act.
It was first used to describe the official document issued by princes, which conferred certain privileges on the bearer. The use was later expanded to include official papers containing the agreement between sovereigns issued by chanceries, thereby linking the word with international relations. The French would later adopt the term to describe anyone sanctioned by the government to negotiate on its behalf. This article examines diplomacy as a concept, its definitions, meanings, nature, purpose, and significance in today’s world.
Generally, diplomacy as a concept in international relations encompasses the rules, principles, protocols, procedures, laws, and institutions that govern the relationship between countries. The goal is to maintain a cordial relationship between them, resolve conflicts, and promote their interests through negotiations and dialogues.
Many scholars have attempted to define diplomacy. One of the most comprehensive definitions states that it is an art of government representation where the focus is on ensuring the interests, rights, and dignity of the State are protected and respected by foreign governments. This is achieved through compliance with international laws and adopting peaceful means in the conduct of foreign affairs.
It is further defined as the science of managing relationships on an international scale, representing a nation’s interests to its counterparts, and an organized communication system between the parties. Through diplomacy, a country presents its views and secures its interests using dialogue, negotiations, lobbying, and all other acts short of violence and war. (Social Libre)
A common mistake made when discussing diplomacy is to equate it with foreign policy. In reality, it is merely an aspect of the more comprehensive concept known as foreign policy. Foreign policy is the strategic roadmap of a nation to achieve its interests on the international level. The government can use various tools to do this, one of such is diplomacy. War, economic sanctions, espionage, etc. are other tools that can be employed. Given the aggressive nature of these other tools, the importance of diplomacy is self-evident.
Diplomacy can come in many forms, and Joseph Montville provided us with a distinctive classification when he coined Track I Diplomacy and Track II Diplomacy in his paper “Foreign Policy According to Freud,” which was published in Foreign Policy. (Davidson & Montville, 1981).
The track I diplomacy is explained as the Diplomacy of State authorized diplomats and envoys. This takes the form of official negotiations based on applicable international laws. It is the form of diplomacy that comes to mind first, perhaps, because the relevant international law on Diplomacy, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), exclusively specifies States as diplomatic actors. However, developments in international relations have created other significant actors who are also involved in diplomacy and global policymaking.
These non-state actors are the ones involved in Track II Diplomacy. Although there are instances when these actors are individual, they usually appear in the form of International Governmental Organizations such as the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, NATO, etc. Or International Non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, etc. These groups, especially the INGOs, usually are interest groups with a focus on an aspect of human and global development, which is achieved through policymaking and lobbying with various countries.
The role of these non-state actors in ensuring global peace and stability cannot be overemphasized. Guided usually by altruistic motives, they use unofficial and informal contacts and activities to resolve conflicts between states and create a win-win scenario. They have the advantage of being an impartial third party in most cases, giving them access to both parties in a conflict and allowing for better communication and understanding of both parties.
It is noteworthy that Track II Diplomacy is not a substitute for the official Track I Diplomacy. Instead, it is a complementary means of helping states resolve conflicts and manage international relations without the bureaucracy that comes with such actions when done by state actors. (Jeffrey, 2000)
Some scholars have also coined the term Track 1.5 Diplomacy to explain a form of diplomacy where state and non-state actors cooperate for conflict resolution. (USIP)
The Oslo Accords of 1993 is an instance in which the two types of diplomacy worked together to achieve a successful resolution. Initiated, unofficially by a Norwegian, the dialogue process eventually became official, resulting in the signing of peace agreements and a handshake on the White House Law between the then prime minister of Israel and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The core purpose of diplomacy is to achieve its foreign policy in the most peaceful manner. Foreign policy advances a state’s interest in the international scene; this is usually problematic due to the existence of competing and conflicting interests. However, diplomacy seeks to resolve this conflict amicably in the interest of the State.
Diplomacy primarily seeks to maximize the advantage of the group it serves in relation to others. But it adopts an approach designed to promote interaction, avoid conflict, prioritize negotiations, achieve goodwill, and achieve agreements.
Thus, diplomacy plays a crucial role in maintaining a peaceful and stable world. This is not only in line with public policy and the people’s overall interest; it is essential for both national and global development.
From the definition of diplomacy, one can see that its significance in today’s society cannot be overstated. With technological developments, the interaction between nations has significantly increased, and so has the likelihood of conflict. In such a volatile environment, diplomacy calms the waters.
This explains why more actors, especially individuals, are now more involved in diplomatic roles independent of national or political affiliations. Encouraging a greater involvement of non-state actors in diplomacy will ensure a more peaceful, cooperative, and secure world.