Short essay on Diplomats and Diplomacy


The world has changed a great deal since Oliver Cromwell laid down the dictum that a man-of-war, meaning a warship, is the ambassador. Diplomacy is actually a subtle art, though it is no longer deemed mysterious and secret.

The diplomats of today are members of a specialised wing of a country’s civil service and they merely perform the normal activity of the government they represent. The most vital aspect of this activity and the main aim of practicing diplomacy—are to safeguard and promote the national interests of their State, by building up and maintaining harmonious and beneficial relations with other States.

Diplomats have, in fact, been performing this task since times immemorial. A diplomat thus helps in expounding and implementing the foreign policy of his country. Just as individuals cannot exist without social contacts, similarly States cannot exist without establishing relations with others; the greater the international contacts, the greater the chances of success on the world stage in representing a particular viewpoint, and in pursuing national interests. This is what diplomats are paid for, and this is their main objective.


An Ambassador has been described as an honest man sent to lie and intrigue abroad for the benefit of his country. That is why the art of diplomacy has been called “lying in state”, of course with a subtle aim in view, protecting country’s interests. The methods he adopts and the techniques he uses to fulfill his assignments are many and varied. He is expected to exercise talent, skill, the subtleties of social behaviour and sweet words combined with persuasive tactics to suit the occasion. But, he is also expected to be firm in tone and strict in action when need be.

Diplomacy has been known since ancient times in India. In his famous work “Arthashastra”, Kautilya prescribed elaborate rules for the conduct of diplomatic envoys. His four fold formula still remains unmatched: conciliation, concession, rupture and force.

In his detailed discussion of diplomacy, he gave the following details of what a diplomat’s general duties should be: transmission of the views of his government; maintenance of treaties; upholding of the claims of his government, if necessary by threat; gaining of friends; sowing dissensions wherever necessary; creating secret organisations; gathering information about the actions and movements of spies; nullifying treaties unfavourable to one’s country and winning over the government officers of the country to which one is accredited.

Wars reflect the failure of diplomacy, one of the main aims of which is to preserve peace. The two centuries between the Treaty of Vienna and the First World War represented the best period of classic diplomacy. This period produced some of the most famous statesmen and diplomats, including Talleyrand and Chateaubriand, Metternich, Cavour, Bismarck, Canning, Claredon, Palmerston and Salisbury.


During those times much was achieved by peaceful diplomacy, no wonder, diplomacy enjoyed high prestige. To quote an example, when the war between Austria and Germany was over and the limited objective was achieved, Bismarck reverted to diplomatic activity and brought about peace which later developed into an alliance.

Diplomacy has to be practised by every nation, big or small, which intends to survive effectively. And which nation does not? The task of maintaining international relations (no country can live in isolation) offers vast scope for diplomatic activity for big countries, medium powers, as well as small entities wishing to make a debut. From this standpoint, the United Nations, an association of all independent States of the world, has helped to highlight the concept of modern diplomacy, its practices and methods.

In fact, the U.N. headquarters in New York is the principal centre of diplomatic activity in today’s world, and almost every country has a representative accredited to it. There are some “roving ambassadors” too, but for the most part it is the accredited ambassadors who play the dominant role in international affairs. The U.N. has actually helped diplomacy to transform itself from a passive art into a developed scientific discipline.

Ambassadors, however, do not determine the foreign policy of their country; they implement it, clarify it whenever the occasion arises, and are always vigilant enough to see that this policy is not misconstrued or misrepresented. The foreign policy is determined essentially by the men (or women) in power and authority, in other words, by the ruling party and the government of the day.


The factors that help determine a country’s foreign policy are geographical situations, economic needs and resources, defense strategy and requirements, and the existing alliances with other States.

Hence, it becomes the duty of a diplomat to keep all these factors in view and maintain a watch on economic as well as political developments. Such developments invariably act and react on one another. This explains the increasing stress in today’s world on economic diplomacy.

There are various ranks of diplomats and diplomatic agents. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 brought about many changes in diplomatic procedures and practices. Diplomats were classified under three heads: Ambassadors; Ministers Plenipotentiary and Envoys Extraordinary; and Charge d’ Affaires.

The Aix La Chapelle Congress of 1818 added another category: Minister-Resident, a rank between Minister Plenipotentiary and Charge d’ Affaires. Diplomats enjoy various privileges and immunities. They are exempted from all processes of civil law normally applied to a citizen of the country where he is functioning. The privileges and immunities can be summed up thus: Right of inviolability; ceremonial honours; right of ex­territoriality; and right of diplomatic asylum.


The right of inviolability also extends to the property of the envoy. But no envoy is supposed to abuse this immunity; anyone who commits a wrong and brings discredit to his country is tactfully recalled from his post.

As for diplomatic virtues, various writers have laid down different norms. Harold Nicolson pointed out that the basis of good negotiations (which a diplomat is supposed to conduct, whenever need be) is moral influence and that influence is based on seven diplomatic virtues— truthfulness, precision, calmness, modesty, good temper, exemplary patience and complete loyalty. He has to be hospitable, a man of taste, knowledge and imperturbable.

Loss of temper and display of impatience or of bad manners are unpardonable traits in a diplomat. The intricate tasks of diplomacy in modern times require earnestness of mind, sound and dependable character, an amiable disposition, extraordinary ability to deal with awkward, complex situations and the capacity to win the goodwill of the government to which he is accredited.

If, by objectionable conduct, he becomes a persona non grata with the receiving government, he would soon have to return home. Wishful thinking, refusal to face unpleasant facts and the desire to report home what would please the ruling party there, instead of the real facts of the situation, are considered weaknesses in an Ambassador.


Another weakness is the willingness to commit oneself; a successful Ambassador is one who manages to be beautifully vague and to keep his options open, depending upon the developments in the international sphere.

Indian diplomats might not be equally dramatic or have an equally great sense of the reality of power, but they have played a commendable role in improving India’s relations with the USA, for instance, in spite of the occasional rebuffs from Washington.

Good care is now taken to see that our diplomat is not absent from the scene when an important development takes place, as sometimes happened in the previous decade. Care is also taken to select the right type of envoy for a country.

Extreme caution, for instance, has to be exercised in posting diplomats in the highly sensitive Arab countries. Ideological beliefs do not, however, govern the choice of envoys. India is neither a communist nor a capitalist country, but it manages to maintain cordial relations with both types of regimes.

This proves the point that diplomacy has to be realistic, not idealistic.

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