Texts have always been a crucial element of diplomacy: the richness and complexity of diplomatic activities, including negotiations, representation, social activities and media coverage is crystallised in texts - diplomatic documents. If texts and documents are an integral part of the process of diplomacy and one of the usual results of diplomatic activity, we can learn more about diplomacy through texts. First, we can learn about a specific event or activity by reading the documents it has produced, either as byproducts or as results. In addition, we can learn much about diplomatic events or activities by analysing diplomatic documents more deeply. Such analysis can range from simple procedures such as looking at the form of a document or placing it in its historical context, to applying a complete set of analytical tools to the document, such as DiploFoundation's "DiploAnalytica".
Dr Keith Hamilton, historian in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and senior editor of documents on British policy overseas, explains why looking at the form of a document may be important:
The contents of a document, its substance, is usually far more important than the form it takes. And where a document is an internal communication...it would hardly seem to matter whether it is called a memorandum, a minute, a note or a submission. Yet where international agreements are concerned it would hardly do to equate an exchange of notes with a memorandum of understanding, or a declaration with a treaty. Form matters in these cases because form frequently establishes, or at any rate reflects, the nature of the obligation entered into and the degree of commitment involved, whether the engagement be moral, political or ultimately legal. ("Documenting Diplomacy, Evaluating Documents: The Case of the CSCE," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001)
Dr Alex Sceberras Trigona, former Maltese minister of foreign affairs, proposes that through analysis of diplomatic documents, "diplomatic knowledge which is clearly more than the diplomatic information contained in the document itself can be gained. This method therefore not only re-asserts the primary importance of the diplomatic information in diplomatic documents but also leads to acquiring elements of unrecorded diplomatic knowledge." ("Knowledge and Diplomacy," Knowledge and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2000) Trigona proposes an information technology assisted method of analysis, called DiploAnalytica, which is described in more detail below.
Dr Ivan Callus and Ruben Borg of the University of Malta have experimented with applying deconstruction, a form of literary criticism, to diplomatic discourse. They write that the purpose and function of deconstruction, and its potential contribution to diplomatic language, is "to force the discipline to which it applies itself to look at its own language and to develop an almost pathological awareness of its own linguistic strategies." ("Deconstruction and the Undoing of Diplomacy: A Case Study Involving the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001)
Every diplomatic document has a context; the specific set of circumstances under which it was created. This includes history, the relationships between the parties to the document and the prevailing political, economic and social conditions of the time. J. Thomas Converse, chief of the Records Management Section of the Inter-American Development Bank, focuses on context, along with validation, trustworthiness and longevity, in his discussion of archives and diplomacy. ("How do you know what you think you know?" Knowledge and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2000)
Converse proposes that one of the key elements of a definition of archives is that archival documents are created as a means for, and a by-product, of activity, rather than for the purpose of informing future generations. In fact, this is the reason that archival documents are inherently trustworthy and useful - precisely because they are not created with any regard to how they might be used by other people in other times. Diplomatic documents fall neatly into this category of documents created as a means, or by-product of activity: diplomacy produces a large number of documents which individually seem insignificant, but as a group may tell a complete story.
Converse provides several interesting examples, including the following one dealing with concentration camp records:
The records of Hitler's Germany, for instance, captured by the U.S. Army after the fall of Berlin in 1945 were useful at the War Crimes trials in Nuremberg precisely because they were created without consideration of how they might be used outside the context of their creation. They did not have subject files arranged under the title "Atrocities" or "the Holocaust" but rather they were organic records of routine transactions relating to, for example, the administration of concentration camps. These routine transactional records might include orders of the day, receipts for supplies (such as poison gas), bills of lading for the shipment of personal effects (such as eye-glasses and gold teeth), personnel records which listed everyone from the camp commanders to the guards (including periods of service and position descriptions), routine periodic reports from the camp medical unit (which might include the results of experiments on human beings), mortality registers, incident reports of uprisings and how they were quelled; in short, all the usual, mundane records likely to be produced in the daily course of business in a well-ordered military installation. Only by reviewing such routine records does the full impact of what went on in these camps hit home. And these routine records were accepted without question by the War Crimes Tribunal because they were inherently trustworthy...because they had no interest in documenting anything other than the routine transaction at hand, the act of inclusion in the files served to validated the records, they were maintained in a meaningful order and they were preserved over time.
Documents of diplomacy preserved in archives are a valuable resource for students of diplomacy and the general public, if and when they are made available to the public. Dr Keith Hamilton, historian in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and senior editor of documents on British policy overseas, describes the process of compiling and publishing collections of documents ("Documenting Diplomacy, Evaluating Documents: The Case of the CSCE," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001) He focuses on his own experience as the editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas, and particularly on his work publishing a collection of documents concerning the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1972 until 1975.
Published collections of diplomatic documents have, however, to be approached with caution. They are by their nature selections. Not only do their compilers, the editors, exercise choice in deciding which individual documents should make up the collection; they may also decide on the issues to be so documented, and the periods and geographical areas to be covered. Editors may have complete freedom of access to archival sources. They may also, as I do, have considerable freedom in deciding which documents to publish. Yet, while they may be free from official influences and wedded to objectivity, they are unlikely to be able to put aside their own peculiar academic interests, their presumptions and even sometimes their prejudices. Their selection is almost certainly bound to reflect their current perspectives.
Diplomatic archives remain the raw material of international history. They are a source of knowledge whose effective management no foreign ministry can afford to neglect, and in so far as they offer the aspiring diplomat enlightenment on past and sometimes current conduct they may provide guidance on the methods most appropriate to achieving specific ends. Yet studied in isolation, they are, in a rapidly changing world, rarely likely to provide a full or real education in diplomacy.
We present here a new method of analysing diplomatic processes and dissecting diplomatic documents. We hope that this method will not only be useful to students of international relations and related academic disciplines, but also to practitioners in the field, be they diplomats, journalists or military personnel. We believe that DiploAnalytica will provide an indispensable tool for students and practitioners alike by enhancing their diplomatic skills, diplomatic knowledge and understanding of diplomatic processes.
Contribution by: Jovan Kurbalija; Date entered: 5/1/2002 10:18:30 PM
Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy
A large collection of documents relevant to diplomacy and international relations, maintained by the Yale Law School.
Contribution by: Hannah Slavik; Date entered: 5/1/2002 10:19:24 PM
Top Ten Words of 2001
"It has been a good year for words. We've learned some new ones, corrected some old ones, and now we are keeping a few that matter." Ten words: Ground Zero, W. (Dubya), Jihad, God, Anthrax, Euro, Wizard, -stan, Oprahization, Foot-and-Mouth
Contribution by: Jovan Kurbalija; Date entered: 5/26/2002 2:21:31 AM
"Generation Text" frustrates teachers
This September 21, 2002, International Herald Tribune article looks at changes in the written English used by American teenagers, influenced by text-based Internet communication. Jennifer Lee writes: “Teenagers have long pushed the boundaries of spoken language, introducing words that then become passé with adult adoption. Now teenagers are taking charge and pushing the boundaries of written language.” With almost 60% of the online population under 17 in the US using instant messaging, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, abbreviated text has become an online lingua franca for teenagers: “English adapted for the spitfire conversational style of Internet instant messaging.” Abbreviations such as ‘u’ for ‘you’, ‘c u l8r’ for ‘see you later’, and ‘ttly’ for talk to you later, are used for speed an efficiency online. “As more and more teenagers socialize online, middle school and high school teachers like Harding are increasingly seeing a breezy form of Internet English jump from e-mail into schoolwork.”
Contribution by: Jovan Kurbalija; Date entered: 9/23/2002 6:49:36 PM
Language of Diplomacy Slows Laws on Terrorism
In this September 23, 2002, Washington Times article Charles J. Hanley writes that more than a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the drive to tighten international laws to prevent terrorism has been slowed “by disputes over the dry, legalistic language of diplomacy.” Discussions over creating new international agreements or strengthening existing treaties are underway, but making little progress. For example, with a Russian proposal for an international convention defining potential acts of nuclear terrorism and requiring states to act against them, “dispute focuses on a definition of nuclear terrorism. Some states want the treaty to describe the use of nuclear weapons by governments as a form of terrorism…an effort to use the treaty to pressure nuclear powers into forswearing atomic arms.” In addition, “dispute over the definition of terrorism remains the stumbling block in the ‘front-burner’ talks at the United Nations for a comprehensive treaty obliging states to combat terrorism. Proposed by India and under intensified discussions since the September 11 attacks, this convention would incorporate major elements of a dozen specialized legal instruments dealing with terrorism.” Islamic groups within the UN also have specific requirements for a definition of terrorism: it should “exclude actions on Palestinian soil. ‘The definition has to make a clear distinction between acts of terrorism and a struggle for liberation from foreign occupation,’ said Yussef Kanaan, a spokesman for the Islamic group. This doesn't mean "blowing up skyscrapers in Tel Aviv," he said, but only actions within territory under Israeli occupation.”
Contribution by: Hannah Slavik; Date entered: 10/1/2002 1:22:14 AM
Document Drafting - OSCE
In the following excerpts from the World Street Journal Europe article "Soviet Ghosts vs. the OSCE - Who's Wining?" (20-22 December 2002, p A9) the author, in analysing the part of the OSCE Porto Declaration on the Trans-Dniester region and Moldova, writes: "The document also introduced the phrase, 'provided the necessary conditions are in place' - a step backward from the 1999 Istanbul documents, which mentioned no conditions. This phrase can mean anything, and can be used at will to delay a withdrawal indefinitely.
Here again, the OSCE's meeting in Portugal unnecessarily took a step back from the Istanbul decisions. Seemingly ingoring the noncompliance with those, the final document in Portugal urged the parties to agree on the "duration and modalities of the functioning of the Russian military bases," as if to imply their continuation. Georgia tried in vain to overcome Russia's opposition to the words "duration and modalities of termination of the functioning" of these bases. Moscow also ruled out a reference to the "free consent of any state to any foreign military presence on its territory."
Contribution by: Jovan Kurbalija; Date entered: 1/16/2003 6:07:29 AM