In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Changing Nature of Diplomacy

  • Introduction
  • Changing Apparatus and Machinery

International Relations The Changing Nature of Diplomacy
Andrew F. Cooper, Jérémie Cornut
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0180


The changing nature of diplomacy merits detailed attention. Alterations in the institutional architecture of global governance have a strong impact on diplomacy and the day-to-day activities of diplomats. The domain and scope of diplomatic activity has shifted appreciably. The purpose of diplomacy and what it deals with is increasingly contested. So is the question about who counts as diplomats and who does diplomacy. The demarcation among advocacy, foreign policy, diplomacy, and philanthropy has become increasingly blurred. Is diplomacy conducted in the confines of embassies and ministries of foreign affairs or through a broader dialogue between states? Should the engagement by other actors at alternative sites also count as diplomacy? How should the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), celebrities, foundations, and multinational firms (MNFs) fit in? Within the complex and multifaceted world that is continuing to emerge, the demand for diplomats hinges on their ability to adapt, with a failure to do so pushing them into marginalization and irrelevance. The works reviewed in this article address the puzzle about why and how diplomacy has come to terms with this array of challenges. Some works presented are fundamentally critical of diplomacy and are skeptical about its ability to undergo a thorough process of transformation. Other works, however, point to the varied means by which the performance and functions of diplomats have undergone transition. An overview of the general context underpinning the nature of the debate about the changing nature of diplomacy is first provided. A second section reviews the rich body of theoretical works that shapes the discussion. A third section probes the nuances of changes in the operational practice of diplomacy. And a fourth and final section centers on the debate about the degree of change that has taken place within the internal apparatus of diplomacy. The overall conclusion is that a survey of these works reveals that diplomacy is no longer a traditional set of activities that focuses exclusively on government-to-government relations as some critics still contend. Rather, diplomacy both institutionally and through its mechanisms has witnessed substantive changes in recent years, and it remains a crucial component of world politics.

General Context of the Debate

The debate about the changing nature of diplomacy has been stimulated largely because of the shift in the institutional format dealing with the management of global problems. The primary role of diplomats is no longer the conduct of negotiations between foreign governments to avoid war. The crises related in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya provided diplomacy with a heightened salience. Yet, changes in diplomacy go beyond a renewed relevance with what is commonly defined as “high politics.” The world faces new challenges and opportunities (proliferation of regional/bilateral trade deals, global warming, epidemics beyond borders, cyber security, just in time communications, among other issues) so that new types of global problem solving mechanisms are needed. Diplomats are called upon to position themselves into the new global governance mechanisms that have taken shape. Trade, environment, culture, different forms of security, health, and immigration are now an integral part of their activities, whether at home in the foreign ministries, in multilateral missions, or in bilateral foreign postings. To capture this shift in contextual conditions, this section delves into the sources that present general overviews followed by a longer list of textbooks, practitioners’ perspectives, and journals related to the changing nature of diplomacy.

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