-2

Why would a Head of State want to Delegate any strategic/important Foreign Policy Implementation [Negotiation] to a third party instead of conducting it directly and by himself? And if he doesn't have the time to do all of it by oneself, it could be delegated to a specific vertical structure, perhaps in the Foreign Ministry, where it would all again be in the hands of one single agent; why on Earth would the state want to delegate this important, critical process to a diplomat that technically cannot have all the Foreign Policy [note: an area of expertise very separate from Diplomacy!] competence, knowledge and expertise?

I know there exist some textbook answers, I am quite familiar with them, but still there is not a clear explanation of the mechanics in play here, and what's worse - a long track of practical application of diplomacy has only confirmed to me that the opposite might be more appropriate, i.e. always leaving the middleman out, and relegating rank diplomats to news reporting and minor issues only.

Can it be the case that technological progress since the Middle ages has rendered the function of a diplomat much less necessary than it was? Or am I critically missing on some aspects of confidentiality, loyalty, trustworthiness et cetera?

Here are a few key quotes. One is from Philippe de Commynes, a notable 16th century diplomat:

‘Two great princes who wish to establish good personal relations should never meet each other face to face but ought to communicate through good and wise ambassadors’.

Similarly, Francis de Laboulaye, another eminent, modern writer on the subject, tells us that

"[diplomatic] conversations will only be effective if the interlocutors, while of a level of responsibility, are not those who hold supreme responsibility".

It is obvious that there are more fundamental aspects at play here than just skill and time. It is not about whether the Head of State has the skill or the free time. Is something much more profound is at stake here.

  • 11
    "that technically cannot have all the Foreign Policy competence, knowledge and expertise?": on the contrary: this is what diplomats do for a living. There's no guarantee that a politician will have the skills or experience to do this. In any case, this is how governments tend to work: the politicians (who are not experts) set the goals, and the civil servants (who are experts) implement them. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 17 '18 at 10:05
  • 6
    Because there are only 24 hours in a day? – Erik Apr 17 '18 at 10:20
  • 1
    Dear Steve, diplomats always operate by instructions, written statements of desired policy that are handed down to them by the Foreign Affairs center. I perceive them to be always skilled in negotiation, and rarely skilled in directing the Foreign Policy itself, which prerogative is usually formally reserved to the Head of State. – Kevin Damansky Apr 17 '18 at 10:34
  • 4
    @KevinDamansky In quite a lot of locations, the Head of State is effectively a living flag, constitutionally prevented from directing government policy. – origimbo Apr 17 '18 at 17:16
  • Why Do you Capitalize words At RanDoM? – user5097 Apr 21 '18 at 15:19
4

Modern technology has rendered some of the roles of the diplomat unnecessary, but has created many new ones.

A diplomat is the expert on the country to which he is sent. While a Head of Government can't be expected to keep abreast of the internal activities all over the world the diplomat does this.

Some of the previous functions of the diplomat can be done, and are done from the home country: It is now possible for a Members of Governments to call one another. There are some things that can only be done effectively from within the country.

There is the physical presence - meeting in person - which can be more effective than a phone call at making a point. This is why companies still pay salespeople to travel and sell goods face to face.

There is the meeting and coordinating of spy networks. If you want to get someone to betray their country being physically close helps. Even simple things like getting hold of the daily papers might take a few days if they have to be delivered to the home country; a diplomat in an embassy can pick them up, process them for important information and report back the same day.

In the middle-ages, very few people ever travelled outside their country. Nowadays there are millions of expatriates, who may need consular support. That needs to be done from an embassy.

Diplomats operate under instructions from their government. They are skilled in negotiation and not in creating foreign policy. The government at home sets the policy goals and the diplomats implement them.

In important matters, there may be a meeting of Heads of Government. But the diplomats will have already done much preparation of the parameters of negotiation and will continue to negotiate the details after the Governmental summit.

It is simpler and more effective to have your diplomats working in the country instead of sitting in an office at home, and negotiating over the phone.

  • It is, of course, obvious for everybody that both the embassies and the ambassadors are essential and vital to good governance, for all the reasons you have listed: consular service, spy networks, trade and military diplomacy, ritual, et cetera. However, I am afraid it has not been specifically proven or demonstrated here that "it is simpler and more effective [to use diplomats]". – Kevin Damansky Apr 21 '18 at 8:45
  • I honestly have no idea what you mean. "ambassadors are essential" and "it has not been proven ... effective to use diplomats" are completely contradictory. What do you think a "diplomat" is or an "ambassador" is? – James K Apr 21 '18 at 9:00
  • Please forgive my lack of sufficient context. Are Diplomats useful? Yes, by all means. Should serious international negotiations that concern the nation's vital national interests and involve high risks be delegated to Diplomats? There is a measure here; my argument is "leave the more minor work to the diplomats and do the important business yourself", while the two or three quotes presented here argue that "you MUST delegate it to diplomats". Hence my confusion. Hence the question. – Kevin Damansky Apr 21 '18 at 10:09
  • Ahh I am very sorry, and apologize before the general public; the thing is that this phrasing and this particular problem itself are quite commonly recognized and well-known in diplomatic studies. I asked a question expecting an answer from someone really on the same page with me. – Kevin Damansky Apr 21 '18 at 10:19
0

All right, let me show at least some homework and try to answer the question to the best of my own ability.

First of all, the diplomats are supposed to be familiar with the receiving state's own policies and culture enough that they may warrant a change of course of foreign policy or advise to adapt it more suitably to the local conditions. But then, if you are discussing something like the placement of forward nuclear missile bases (like the Cuban crisis), this dimension just stops to matter at all, and the same goes for any really strategic dealings.

Then, the diplomats have the time and the resource to draft everything really tidyly and prepare and agree upon all the finer details and forge a really thorough jural document with all the nuances. But that is only true when the key agreement has been reached. They are assistants and not principal actors here and it is a minor role, for which - yes, the use of diplomats is well justified.

Then, the diplomats are considered the eyes and ears of the state, and they report constantly on the events and happenings while also providing live commentary on why this or that has happened, who took the decision, and what was it all about. That is very true, but that is not Foreign Policy per se; this is closer to an intelligence job.

Then, Heads of State usually don't have the time to conduct all the foreign policy required. Some Heads of State even lack the proper negotiation skills. Even in that case, the action should be delegated to someone who both can do these things, and is in a high enough position to assume full responsibility and NOT conduct an ad-referendum speculative diplomacy, to which every diplomat and ambassador is usually limited.

Then there is the textbook argument that a diplomat can easily evaluate with his peer the many possible scenarios, some of which the leader of a country couldn't even come to mention without facing a fatal media fallout, or even proceedings in a court of law. I think the final answer lies here, the thing is that if you are bargaining in an intense way, you must offer certain concessions which process will inevitably be viewed as more being more loyal to the contragent state and their wants and needs than to the domestic fractions whom these concessions ultimately affect. But this is only a speculative explanation. Whether it's true, I know not. Most likely, there is a more elegant, simpler explanation.

  • 2
    You seem to consistently assume that diplomats have no leeway in negotiating for their country and have to report back after every sentence uttered. As such the simpler, more elegant explanation is that you don't know how diplomacy actually happens in the real world. Yes, given the course of diplomacy in your answer, diplomats are useless, no the course of diplomacy in your answer is not the way it works. – DonFusili Apr 19 '18 at 8:47
  • But that is the intended general context of my argument. I am examining the mechanics precisely from the viewpoint of an absolute shift of this "leeway" from individual diplomats to a speculative, more converged foreign policy vertical structure. That is the focal point of this entire question. Why grant that particular leeway, if you can assume direct responsibility for the execution of policy? I have intentionally kept the amount of diplomatic liberty and latitude at an absolute minimum. "Have them do everything by themselves" is basically contrary to the circumstances of this question. – Kevin Damansky Apr 19 '18 at 15:29
  • 2
    In that case you're talking about a fictional world and this question is better suited for Worldbuilding.SE – DonFusili Apr 20 '18 at 5:58
  • You have a good point there, one of conservation of effort. You can simply entrust a negotiation to a diplomat and expect it to be accomplished completely and flawlessly, without the need of any oversight. I'm just trying to understand real life mechanics. – Kevin Damansky Apr 20 '18 at 9:16
  • Basically the approach of centralization I am examining here is driven by two basic aspects: quality and risk. It is most applicable when there are grounds to believe that decisions made higher up in the hierarchy are better, more efficient, more acceptable and more consistent than if delegated. Nevertheless, the theoretical difficulty persists; consider a quote from George Ball, a senior US diplomat: "Jet planes and telephones and the bad habits of Presidents, National Security Assistants and Secretaries of State had now largely restricted ambassadors to ritual and public relations.” – Kevin Damansky Apr 20 '18 at 10:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.