JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
e best of what we publish in this section is very good
indeed, but most of the submissions we get from diplomats in the
eld are not quite what we are looking for. Instead of re ecting
on their own professional experience, they tend to describe the
great international episodes they were privileged to witness in the
course of their careers, or ponti cate on the great international
issues of the present and what, in the author’s view, should be
done about them.
So it would appear, at times, that even diplomats are not inter-
ested in the nitty-gritty work of diplomacy. Instead, many of them
would very much like to be statesmen orchestrating and presiding
over the sort of “l’unité de direction” (literally, uni ed direction)
in policy for which Cardinal Richelieu argued, but to which even
Henry Kissinger could only aspire.
Theory vs. Practice?
Everyone feels a bit embarrassed about this state of a airs.
academics acknowledge that diplomacy ought to be important,
and the diplomats keep showing up at professional conventions,
hoping that academics will have something interesting, impor-
tant or useful to say about diplomacy (though they often leave
disappointed and determined to write a book about diplomacy
Of course, worrying about the relationship between theory
and practice is nothing new.
e American political scientist
Alexander George spoke many years ago about bridging the gap
between international relations and foreign policy by generating
hard propositions about what sort of coercive diplomacy is likely
to work and under what conditions. And back in the 1970s, retired
FSO Smith Simpson found himself in a battle with his colleagues
at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign
Service over whether they should be teaching diplomatic theory to
future diplomats, or exposing them to what were regarded as more
practical things which it might be handy for them to know as they
embarked upon their careers.
at debate led to the founding of
the school’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in 1978.
However, the intensity of that argument has sharpened over
the past couple of decades for two reasons.
e rst has been the
increasing pressure on those teaching and conducting academic
research to justify themselves in terms of their usefulness, not just
to the direct bene ciaries of their work but, in public institutions
at least, to the taxpayers who fund them.
e second factor has been the emergence of an attempt to
place diplomacy at the center of the academic study of interna-
tional relations by claiming precisely this practical quality for it. In
this view, the majority of important international relations work
done today continues to be undertaken by diplomats.
Furthermore, in an era where the strategic interplay of super-
powers and the adventures of the unipolar interlude have been
replaced by a steady slide towards multipolarity, in which no one
country dominates, it has been argued that we should expect
diplomacy to become more important. Diplomacy should there-
fore be a primary focus of academic research because it remains,
in Raymond Cohen’s phrase, “the engine room of international
relations.” It should also be a principal focus of international
relations instruction because it o ers one of the best chances for
obtaining a job in the eld. Discourse analysis, deconstructions of
constitutive ideas and theories about the international system, in
contrast, may equip a student only for staying in school.
Despite these pressures and e orts, however, the study of
diplomacy remains on the margins of consciousness for both
diplomats and international relations academics. Why is this so,
and should we worry?
What Do Diplomats Want?
Part of answering these questions lies in asking what diplo-
mats would really like to hear from the people who study them.
In the main, they seek usable insights from the management
sciences about how to organize complex organizations and how
to operate e ectively within and between them. Practitioners are
not interested in hearing from academics about the mysteries
and particularities of being a diplomat, any more than professors
are interested in hearing from outsiders about the mysteries and
particularities of teaching and undertaking research. Rightly or
wrongly, both camps think they have this covered.
e other part lies in asking what the people who study diplo-
macy are interested in and, perhaps more importantly, whom they
consider their primary audience. On the whole, they are not inter-
Fortunately (at least if one values symmetry
in relationships), the diplomats’ lack of
interest in academics is fully reciprocated.