by Syarif Hidayat

A Brief History of Diplomacy

The ability to practice diplomacy is one of the defining elements of a state, and diplomacy has been practiced since the formation of the first city-states. Originally diplomats were sent only for specific negotiations, and would return immediately after their mission concluded. Diplomats were usually relatives of the ruling family or of very high rank in order to give them legitimacy when they sought to negotiate with the other state. One notable exception involved the relationship between the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor. Papal agents, called apocrisiarii, were permanently resident in Constantinople. After the 8th century, however, conflicts between the Pope and the Emperor (such as the Iconoclastic controversy) led to the breaking down of these close ties.

Modern diplomacy’s origins are often traced to the states of Northern Italy in the early Renaissance, with the first embassies being established in the thirteenth century. Milan played a leading role, especially under Francesco Sforza who established permanent embassies to the other cities states of Northern Italy.

It was in Italy that many of the traditions of modern diplomacy began, such as the presentation of an ambassador’s credentials to the head of state. The practice spread from Italy to the other European powers. Milan was the first to send a representative to the court of France in 1455. Milan however refused to host French representatives fearing espionage and possible intervention in internal affairs.

As foreign powers such as France and Spain became increasingly involved in Italian politics the need to accept emissaries was recognized. Soon all the major European powers were exchanging representatives. Spain was the first to send a permanent representative when it appointed an ambassador to the Court of England in 1487.

By the late 16th century, permanent missions became the standard.Many of the conventions of modern diplomacy developed during this period. The top rank of representatives was an ambassador. An ambassador at this time was almost always a nobleman – the rank of the noble varied with the prestige of the country he was posted to. Defining standards emerged for ambassadors, requiring that they have large residences, host lavish parties, and play an important role in the court life of the host nation.

In Rome, the most important post for Catholic ambassadors, the French and Spanish representatives sometimes maintained a retinue of up to a hundred people. Even in smaller posts, ambassadors could be very expensive. Smaller states would send and receive envoys who were one level below an ambassador.

Ambassadors from each state were ranked by complex codes of precedence that were much disputed. States were normally ranked by the title of the sovereign; for Catholic nations the emissary from the Vatican was paramount, then those from the kingdoms, then those from duchies and principalities. Representatives from republics were considered the lowest envoys.

Ambassadors at that time were nobles with little foreign or diplomatic experience and needed to be supported by a large embassy staff. These professionals were sent on longer assignments and were far more knowledgeable about the host country. Embassy staff consisted of a wide range of employees, including some dedicated to espionage. The need for skilled individuals to staff embassies was met by the graduates of universities, and this led to an increase in the study of international law, modern languages, and history at universities throughout Europe.

At the same time, permanent foreign ministries were established in almost all European states to coordinate embassies and their staffs. These ministries were still far from their modern form. Many had extraneous internal responsibilities. Britain had two departments with frequently overlapping powers until 1782.

These early foreign ministries were also much smaller. France, which boasted the largest foreign affairs department, had only 70 full-time employees in the 1780s. The elements of modern diplomacy slowly spread to Eastern Europe and arrived in Russia by the early eighteenth century. The entire system was greatly disrupted by the French Revolution and the subsequent years of warfare.

The revolution would see commoners take over the diplomacy of the French state, and of those conquered by revolutionary armies. Ranks of precedence were abolished. Napoleon also refused to acknowledge diplomatic immunity, imprisoning several British diplomats accused of scheming against France. He had no patience for the often slow moving process of formal diplomacy.

After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 established an international system of diplomatic rank. Disputes on precedence among nations (and the appropriate diplomatic ranks used) persisted for over a century until after World War II, when the rank of ambassador became the norm.(Source: Wikipedia and eDiplomat)

Definition: the coventional way:

1. The art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements.

2. Tact and skill in dealing with people.


1. Acute sensitivity to what is proper and appropriate in dealing with others, including the ability to speak or act without offending.

2. Archaic. The sense of touch.[French, from Old French, sense of touch, from Latin tāctus, from past participle of tangere, to touch.

SYNONYMS: tact, address, diplomacy, savoir-faire. These nouns denote the ability to deal with others with skill, sensitivity, and finesse. Tact implies propriety and the ability to speak or act unoffensively: “He had . . . a tact that would preserve him from flagrant error in any society” (Francis Parkman).

Address suggests deftness and grace in social situations: “With the charms of beauty she combined the address of an accomplished intriguer” (Charles Merivale).

Diplomacy implies adroit management of difficult situations: Diffusing the confrontation required delicate diplomacy. Savoir-faire involves knowing the right or graceful thing to say or do: The hosts set the shy visitor at ease with their savoir-faire.(Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

There are two major forms of diplomacy. The simplest and the oldest form is bilateral diplomacy between two states. Bilateral diplomacy is still common with many treaties between two states and it is the main concern of embassies and state visits.

The other form of diplomacy is multilateral diplomacy involving many states. Formal multilateral diplomacy is normally dated to the Congress of Vienna in the nineteenth century. Since then, multilateralism has grown in importance.

Today most trade treaties, such as the WTO and FTAA, arms control agreements, such as the Partial Test Ban Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and environmental agreements, such as the Kyoto Accord, are multilateral. The United Nations is the most important institution of multilateral diplomacy.

There is a third form of diplomacy, in fact a variant of multilateral diplomacy, i.e. regional diplomacy, that is mulitlateral diplomacy that is practiced within a closed circle of geographic neighbors. We might call it ‘mulitlateral diplomacy among intimates’. Since neighborhood is a fact of life, regional diplomacy involves a close blend of the bilateral and the limited group multilateral methods in pursuit of mutual interests.

Diplomacy definition: the unconventional way!

Nowadays more and more countries practice the unconventional ways of diplomacy including “Gun Diplomacy” or using the sophisticated version: “WMD diplomacy.”

Diplomacy (European style) is the art of telling someone to go to Hell in such a way…that he will be looking forward to go there.

Diplomacy (American style1) is the art of telling someone to go to Hell in such a way……and make him looking forward to go there.

Diplomacy (American style2) is the art of preaching Democracy and Human Rights to the world and exporting Democracy by using weapons of mass destruction and invading the targeted countries first and negotiate by way of deceitful diplomacy of making the list of the other countries violating Human Rights later.

Diplomacy (American style3) is the art of invading the other countries based on the fabricated justifications first and force the UN to make resolutions supporting the actions later.

Diplomacy (American style4) is the art of cooking up terrorism including financing, arming and training terrorist groups like Al Qaeda terrorists first and blame Islamic countries for alleged supports of terrorists actions later.

Diplomacy (Israeli style1) is the art of shooting, bombing and killing innocent people and confiscating the Palestinians properties including their lands first and negotiate for settlements by way of deception later.

Diplomacy (Israeli style2) is the art of telling lies to the world first and use these lies as pretext to attack innocent people later.

All of these diplomatic quotes are genuine. I got and overheard them from the diplomatic circles when I was based in Europe (The Netherlands) as a journalist covering European countries. The Diplomacy (American style1) was got directly from one of the US diplomats while trading jokes after having dinner in one of the developing countries embassies in The Hague, The Netherlands. (HSH)



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