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by Yoav J. Tenembaum, Ph.D.

An Israeli professor describes some of the many roles of the modern diplomat in this essay.  Do today’s diplomats formulate foreign policy or shape it?  And if the latter, is that a positive development?—The Editor

The work of the modern diplomat entails a singular paradox. A diplomat may feel his or her contribution to the formulation of foreign policy may be limited, and yet his or her role in helping to shape it has actually become more pronounced.

A distinction is hereby made between formulating and shaping foreign policy. The first refers to the decision-making process leading directly to the adoption of a certain policy; the latter applies more widely, to the input aiding in the decision-making process and to the output helping in presenting and arguing on behalf of the policy decided upon. The process of shaping a foreign policy includes that of formulating it; but not vice versa. The formulation of foreign policy is a more focused exercise entailing the manner by which a decision is actually reached (or discarded). The shaping of foreign policy applies in a broader context to include the many dimensions of the decision-making process as well as the manner by which it is conveyed.

The role of the modern diplomat has become more varied and dynamic: conveying to the decision-makers the information and analysis that may assist in determining the strategy to be pursued, on the one hand, and contributing in articulating and molding the manner by which this strategy is to be explained and implemented as a coherent policy, on the other hand.

Modern communication and high technology have rendered the role of the diplomat less central in the formulation of foreign policy and yet have turned it into a more multi-dimensional one in shaping it.

The large number of media outlets, the speed by which information flows, compels the modern diplomat to be apprised of events and to react to them within a time-limit hitherto unknown to diplomats in the past.

The increasing role of public opinion, whether directly or indirectly, in shaping foreign policy require of the modern diplomat to have the ability to anticipate trends, if at all possible, and to try to help shape them in the interests of his or her country, once they have become apparent.

The modern diplomat is increasingly exposed to, and has to deal in a subtle manner with, a variety of professional, social and cultural groups within his or her host country deemed to be important in furthering bi-lateral relations or a broader foreign policy agenda of his or her own country.

Apart from all the aforementioned, the modern diplomat has still to pursue the more classical tasks of dealing with the officials and politicians in the country in which he or she serves. This is one important aspect of diplomacy that has not changed much with the times.

Thus, the modern diplomat has to play a diversified role in a multi-layered environment. It is argued here that his or her tasks in helping to shape foreign policy could be conceptually divided into the following five categories:

Court-Room Diplomacy This entails the work of the diplomat as an advocate for his or her country, arguing in its defense, particularly in times of conflict, whether involving the two states concerned or the diplomat’s country with a third party.

Tour-Guide Diplomacy In this scenario, the diplomat is involved in marketing his or her country beyond any political dispute that may prevail either with the country in which he or she serves or with a third party. It is a process which attempts to draw attention to the particularly attractive features of his or her country that may appeal to the varied audience in the host country. This process is aimed at enhancing the image of his or her country with all the accruing benefits entailed in it.

Trader Diplomacy This aspect of the modern diplomat’s work involves negotiating with the host country on a range of issues, from the political to the commercial. To be sure, increasingly bilateral and multilateral negotiations tend to be conducted at the level of higher-ranking officials or ministers. The role of the diplomat in this regard, however, is still important. 

Five o’clock Tea Diplomacy Entailing the one-to-one dialogue maintained with government officials or representatives of the private sector, it is aimed at conveying messages, exchanging views, clarifying positions, and exploring mutually advantageous opportunities. Usually, these kinds of meetings are held discreetly, even if they are not necessarily meant to be secret.

Didactic Diplomacy A term chosen to depict the role of the modern diplomat as a person who relays information, conveys analyses, and tries to enlighten officials and ministers at home about the pertinent events in the country in which he or she serves. It may refer, as well, to a wider conceptual dimension of the work undertaken by the modern diplomat: a personal credo of the diplomat concerned about general trends, more deep-seated processes, future developments, which may form part of the intellectual basis for the shaping of his or country’s foreign policy.

Some of the five conceptual categories thus mentioned apply to the work of the modern diplomat in different settings. Thus, for instance, Court-Room Diplomacy or Tour-Guide Diplomacy may apply to a one-to-one dialogue with an official, to a lecture at an academic institution or to an interview with the electronic or printed media.  

These five categories are advanced with a view to clarifying the role of the modern diplomat. Rather than refer to the work of the modern diplomat in general terms, a conceptual division as suggested in this article may contribute to further advance our understanding of this important area of both theoretical and empirical study.

There is a misperception regarding the role of the modern diplomat. Some observers confuse the role of the modern diplomat in formulating and in shaping foreign policy. The more limited role as regards the first does not denote any adverse change concerning the latter. Indeed, in a sense, the role of the modern diplomat in helping to shape foreign policy has increased as his or her role in formulating it has decreased. It has certainly become thematically more multi-dimensional and operationally more dynamic.

The five categories proposed in this article, as well as the distinction drawn between formulating and shaping foreign policy, are aimed at delineating a conceptual framework within which, it is hoped, further studies on the role of the modern diplomat may be conducted.End.

Yoav J. Tenembaum
Yoav J. Tenembaum

Dr. Yoav J. Tenembaum lectures at the Diplomacy Programme, University of Tel Aviv. He holds a doctorate in modern history from the University of Oxford, a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge University and an undergraduate degree in modern history from the University of Tel Aviv. His writings have been published in the United States, Argentina, Spain, Israel, and by the European Parliament Magazine. He was born in Argentina and has lived in the United States and Britain as well as Israel. He is vice-president of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

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