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Need to improve image of diplomacy

Published on 17 April 2012
Updated on 19 March 2024

‘America rightly honors its great generals who protect the nation and win our wars. We should also recognize our great diplomats who outwit our enemies, open new roads to the future, and win the peace.’ Writes Nicola Burns in his text Masters in the art of diplomacy.

Burns article illustrates low public acceptance of diplomacy. He refers to the United States, but the situation is similar worldwide. While thousands of museums celebrate war victories and military history, one cannot find many museums dedicated to diplomacy.

The public perception of diplomacy is mixed and sometimes confusing. As Ivo Andric, a Yugoslav diplomat who won the Nobel Prize for literature observed, diplomacy has ‘external, brilliant facets which both attract and deceive people. In many circles, diplomacy is perceived with a mixture of envy – for the so-called diplomatic style of life – and with criticism of its failures as well as appreciation of its importance.

Even our everyday language, usually one of the best indicators of the collective subconscious, associates diplomacy with evasiveness, lack of commitment and, in some cases, lying.

On a deeper level of analysis, the public suspicion of diplomacy might be related to diplomacy’s core tool – compromise. Compromise is not considered an ethically superior practice in many societies, especially when contrasted with national pride and stubborn heroism. But, historical examples of true (not rotten) compromise were often heroic acts. They involved telling domestic publics difficult truths and going against the tides of national pride. Leaders who made historica compromises were real statesmen.

Today, diplomacy is not only a peaceful and ethical option to the use of force in international relations, presenting an alternative to war. Diplomacy is a necessity. Complex global problems such as climate change, global trade, Internet governance, and migration, to name  a few, can be managed only by diplomatic methods.

Since we will need more diplomacy and more compromise in the future, a clearer public perception of their advantages will be useful. Perhaps diplomacy itself needs to improve its public diplomacy?


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1 reply
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    I can’t help but remember how
    I can’t help but remember how disappointed I was when I had my first glimpse of a diplomatic pouch. I grew up with James Bond and George Smiley and a health regard for the mystique surrounding the Foreign Office. I had expected a hand-tooled leather bag with brass locks and catches. Instead, I saw a stencilled plastic sack secured with a plastic tie. The public’s perception of diplomacy is indeed skewed!


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