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Diplomacy: The art of the impossible

Published on 17 April 2024
Updated on 10 May 2024

Diplomacy is a complex social process that generally involves implementing the foreign policy interests of the sending authority in the receiving country. As such, it depends on, and is also determined by, a given historical situation. Hence, many different definitions of diplomacy exist that do not contradict but rather complement each other. Therefore, researchers are encouraged and obliged to contribute new views of this more than five-millennia-old phenomenon and profession.

In the early 21st century, when we face two echoing wars—the classical one in Ukraine and the asymmetrical one between Hamas and Israel—we could claim that diplomacy is an ongoing and continuous search for solutions.

Here, we immediately confront the relation between politics and diplomacy. Politics, which Laswell defined as ‘who gets what, when, and how’, is primarily the art of the possible. Using the same approach, one could understand and define diplomacy as the art of the impossible. The relationship between these two activities is logical and simple, yet it is also complicated and full of complex dynamics. As we know, diplomacy is in the service of a nation state, i.e., its government.

The Congress of Vienna After the drawing by Jean Baptiste Isabey
The Congress of Vienna, after the drawing by Jean Baptiste Isabey (Classic Literature).

Stemming from this point of view, diplomacy is a complicated business that can easily also become a frustrating one. The seeking of a diplomatic solution for Gaza in the UN Security Council, which Malta initiated more than three months ago and which led to the adoption of Resolution No. 2728, clearly illustrates what this means. It takes time; it can be (and is) frustrating and painful, but it is, again diplomatically speaking, rewarding. Then, it is up to politicians to accept and implement it. Diplomats are crucial for some parts of the process but do not have any particular influence on others.

Diplomacy is an ongoing process of discussing issues with an effort to contextualise them. This should serve as a direct contribution to seeking and finding solutions. The former is, by the rule, a brainstorming-like and enjoyable course, and the latter is a painful and quite often frustrating service. As Nikola Tesla supposedly said: ‘Out of a hundred solutions, only one is good; out of a hundred good solutions, only one is implementable.’ This also applies to diplomacy and solution-seeking.

Three elements are crucial here. First, circumstances that enable a given solution to be implementable. Second, the capability of diplomats to craft an implementable solution. Third, political will and wisdom are needed to recognise the right solution and courage is needed to implement it for the common good.

To serve this purpose, diplomats should have, above all, one fact in mind: contacts, contacts, and, again, contacts. Diplomatic persuasion relies on discussing issues with counterparts who come from various environments and positions. Hence, diplomats have to establish a wide range of contacts, simply speaking, from governmental positions to parliamentary opposition. Contacts fuel diplomacy, one could easily claim. Diplomacy is a business that is defined by a long-run perspective.

Adding new definitions to the already existing corpus of understanding this old and vital profession is a thrilling process for researchers. However, one could not claim the same for students since with each new view on diplomacy, there is also a possible new definition, and there is more to study. This is the process of both understanding and applying it. There exists no other way of doing it. Shortcuts and urgency are not harboured in diplomatic vocabulary.

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