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Defining Diplomacy



ost countries provide profes-

sional education for their

diplomats, and some operate

establishments speci cally

for that purpose. Few of us would claim

that the Department of State or any other

U.S. foreign a airs agency provides the

equivalent with any degree of seriousness

or comprehensiveness. Our Foreign Ser-

vice Institute, for all its virtues (and our

fond memories), is essentially a training,

not an educational, institution.

However, there are signs of grow-

ing interest in diplomacy education,

expressed, for example, in a paper the

American Foreign Service Association

recently submitted to the Quadrennial

Diplomacy and Development Review

drafting team. If that proposal is pursued,

we may yet see a serious program of

professional education put in place for

America’s professional diplomats.

First, though, we need to reach agree-

ment on what diplomacy means.

ere is

much confusion about the concept—and

not just among lay people, but among its

practitioners, as well. Part of this derives

from the fact that English is a tricky

language, requiring a good deal of care to

ensure that what is said is what is meant.

Even at the level of single words, misun-

derstandings can occur, given that words

often have multiple meanings.

A good example is the word “diplo-

Edward Marks spent 40 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including an as-

signment as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. A senior men-

tor at various military institutions, Ambassador Marks currently serves as

a retiree representative on the AFSA Governing Board, a member of the

American Diplomacy board and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at George

Mason University.

macy”—which, in addition to its formal

reference to a specialized activity of gov-

ernments, has come to denote personal

qualities involving pleasing manners.

Even in the context of its original mean-

ing, there is much confusion among sev-

eral terms that many people erroneously

believe are synonyms for diplomacy: e.g.,

foreign a airs and foreign policy.

Using some fairly standard dictionary

de nitions, we nd that “foreign a airs”

means “matters having to do with inter-

national relations and with the interests

of the home country in foreign countries.”

e term “foreign policy” introduces a

further distinction: it means “the diplo-

matic policy of a nation in its interactions

with other countries.”

In contrast, diplomacy is generally

de ned as “the art and practice of con-

ducting negotiations between nations”

in order to implement those polices and

pursue those interests.

A Semantic Overlap

is gives us a nice progression from

the general subject (foreign a airs) to a

speci c manifestation (foreign policy),

and on to implementation (diplomacy).

But that leads, in turn, to another poten-

tial source of confusion.

In the policy context, each govern-

ment has its own diplomacy. But in the

operational sense, diplomacy also refers

to the conduct of business between and

among governments, carried out through

bureaucratic institutions and processes.

Or, to put it another way, the former is

loosely intended to refer to a country’s

“foreign policy,” while the latter concerns

the activity of a country’s foreign policy


Obviously, these terms and what they

represent overlap.

e continuing and

inevitably intimate relationship between

foreign policy and diplomacy—between

the objective and the means—ensures

they can never be completely separated,

at least in the mind of the general pub-

lic. But there are fundamental di er-

ences between them.

For instance, most Americans would

probably agree that U.S. foreign policy

includes support for democratic govern-

ments; consequently, it is appropriate for

our diplomats to pursue activities that

support democratic governments. Yet

that objective is a comparatively recent

addition to our foreign policy structure.

For most of our history, John Quincy

Adams’ 1821 declaration that the United

States “does not go abroad in search of

monsters to destroy” was a more accurate

representation of American diplomacy.

In any case, as we know, many other

governments do not include democracy

promotion in their foreign policy; nor do

their diplomats pursue such activities or

work with those who do.

Diplomacy is the instrument of com-



the message commu-

nicated. George Kennan, who thought

about his profession as seriously as he

did about foreign a airs and foreign

policy, noted: “ is is the classic function

of diplomacy: to e ect the communica-

tions between one’s own government and

other governments or individuals abroad,

and to do this with maximum accuracy,

imagination, tact and good sense.”