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40

JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

ally do.

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.

e

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

themselves).

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.