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Author: Richard Langhorne

History and the evolution of diplomacy


Update: Visit our page on History of Diplomacy and Technology, where we try to discover how civilizations dealt with ‘new’ technologies, from simple writing, via the telegraph, to the internet.

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Diplomacy as practiced by foreign services and foreign ministries has seemed in recent years to be in decline. Governments in the post-collectivist age have wielded few economising axes more deeply than in respect of the management of their overseas representation. The urge to save increasingly hard won tax revenue was backed up by the sense that foreign services needed modernising – which tended also to mean minimising. This notion had been present before the real force of the anti-collectivist gale had developed.

One of the English writer Nancy Mitford’s wittiest novels is called Don’t tell Alfred and was written in the 1960s. The Alfred in question in the professor of Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford and has been unexpectedly summoned to become the British Ambassador at Paris. Not all the family was impressed by the apparent honour: ‘’Now listen, Mother dear”, said Basil, “the Foreign Service has had its day – enjoyable while it lasted, no doubt, but over now. The privileged being of the future is the travel agent”(1) .

A serious part of the atmosphere which this quotation catches was caused by the steadily increasing sense that the gathering and assessment of information about foreign societies and governments which had been the principal purpose of diplomacy since the emergence of the Resident Ambassador had been overtaken by other and more efficient means of communication. At times the change has seemed more significant than the fact that diplomacy had always had other functions and that the relative significance of the different functions of diplomacy undergoes constant modification, sometimes slowly sometimes fast. Some discussion of previous ebbs and flows in these functions may thus be appropriate.

Origins of diplomacy

We do not know when human societies first felt the need to communicate with each other, but it is safe to assume that they did so from the very earliest times. We know that diplomatic status existed very early and it is both evident and instructive why it should have been so. If it has been decided that it may be better to hear the message than to eat the messenger, then there have to be rules about who a legitimate messenger is, and there have to be sanctions which will ensure his uneatability.

The earliest diplomats were a response to a felt need for a mechanism to convey messages between societies safely and reliably. It is instructive to note that right from the beginning, diplomacy, even in its crudest forms, evolved in response to political needs reciprocally felt. It has continued and is continuing thus until today and we shall shortly look at some outstanding and complex examples of the process in action.

Diplomacy conducted by non-diplomats

Once diplomacy actually existed and was conceded to be irreplaceably useful, a reverse factor also became possible. The nature and functioning of the diplomatic machine at any particular historical moment could of itself shape the way in which principals – whoever they might be – conducted their exchanges. Thus it has occasionally occurred that functions which had developed within diplomacy came to create a particular international activity simply because they existed. We will, therefore, look at an example of that process as well.

Of course, sometimes what the machine could not do, or could not be seen to be doing without damaging its basic function, could be done by other means – by Secret Services, for example, or by hired assassins. But sometimes it just meant that what could not be done was not done and opportunities were lost. For this purpose, perhaps one example will suffice.

In the period just before 1914, when most foreign services were not equipped to handle commercial matters, the British Board of Trade – the then Ministry of Commerce – asked the Foreign Office to provide information about arms manufacture in Imperial Russia. The Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, replied to this enquiry that he had not been sent as His Majesty’s Ambassador to the Russian Court to do arithmetical computations for the Board of Trade.

Evolution of organisation of diplomacy

Let us begin by giving some outstanding examples of the process where an unfolding international and diplomatic need evoked a corresponding addition or development in the machinery of diplomacy. This has certainly been the more usual process of modification. The growth of very complete – perhaps too complete – systems for the giving and checking of full powers was a reflection of the increasing significance of diplomatic activity and the greater risk of serious harm flowing from embassies being disavowed.

The habit of issuing minute instructions, and the consequential almost hysterical desire on the part of others to know what they contained in advance of negotiations, was evoked both by the emergence of greater central control of diplomatic activity and by the greater potential damage a careless or over confident ambassador could cause(2). And both of these again reflected a rising level of diplomatic traffic.

The evolution of foreign ministries followed from the desire of rulers and their ministers to maintain a continuous flow of diplomatic business in which cross relationships between diplomatic partners, between internal sources of political influence and between differing issues could be carefully followed and controlled. To do this successfully, and to have instantly available knowledge of current obligations and commitments required an institutional memory obtainable only through a properly managed single foreign ministry archive(3) .

These kinds of development occasionally engendered reluctance from contemporary traditionalists. None, however, encountered the fierce opposition and disapproval from the principals themselves that accompanied the emergence of the resident ambassador. There could be no doubt that this was an inescapable response to particular circumstances otherwise it could not have triumphed over the objections of the proprietors of the system itself. The origin of the problem lay in a change of emphasis in the purpose of diplomacy.

Internal circumstances in northern Italy in the renaissance period had produced a highly competitive group of small city states, each directly bordering others, none able to triumph over the others either directly or in alliance groups. The most significant – Venice – was not concerned with territorial power so much as trading expansion. External circumstances for the time being provided no threat of intervention.

The Byzantine Empire was in its final decline, the Muslim advance had stopped short in the eastern Mediterranean and the development of centres of political power in northern Europe was still in gestation. The result locally was a stalemate: war, apart from being an inconvenient way of extruding power for very small entities – mercenaries notwithstanding, had proved to be incapable of giving victory to any state or group of states.

The attempt to gain a sudden and final advantage by means of a great diplomatic coup became an obsessive preoccupation. It might be achieved by constructing the so far elusive winning combination of states; but it might also be achieved by altering the balance of power by subverting the regimes of neighbouring states. Neither Popes nor secular rulers would necessarily refuse to stoop even to poison in this regard, but more usually sought to operate by creating or supporting opposition groups in the hope of due reward when they had clawed their way to power. It was not a pretty picture nor did its apologists suggest otherwise(4) .

Ugly or merely pragmatic, the international situation had produced a new diplomatic need. Whereas, with the exception of the Byzantine Empire, the main thrust of previous diplomatic activity had been to convey messages and the answers to messages from one principal to another, often spun out over long periods of time, the priority had now become the acquisition of knowledge about the political and military situation of others, the information to be reported with maximum speed and secrecy. Domestic security and external advantage both demanded it. The functioning of the system, however, only reflected the previous need.

Emergence of embassies

Embassies occurred ad hoc induced either by a particular issue about which information needed to be exchanged or by a ceremonial occasion – e.g. a funeral or an accession or a wedding. The stay with the host was likely to be relatively short, if luxurious, and the opportunities for spying or interference were naturally very restricted. The only practical answer was to keep a representative on the spot and have him report by courier – so secretly that a whole new range of possible ways of concealing documents came into vogue which make swallowing contraceptives full of drugs seem crude by comparison.

The resident ambassador thus appeared. Martin Wight said that he represented the “master-institution’’ of western diplomatic development(5). The rulers of the period, however, objected to his existence in the strongest terms and from time to time cleared them all out. But as much as they did not want them to report on their domestic situations or indeed to intervene in them, they wanted just as much to receive such information and have such opportunities in respect of others; and the stresses of the contemporary international environment enforced a reciprocal if unwilling tolerance of the existence of permanent representatives(6). Their usefulness entrenched them, although they did not immediately supplant the older temporary missions, which simply carried on, gradually losing business to the residents and becoming finally purely ceremonial.

It was to take over a hundred years before this development was complete and the slow pace was partly due to the patchy emergence of the fully sovereign and secularized state across the rest of Europe. It was this evolution which led to the gradual restriction of diplomatic representation to states and thus to the office of ambassador achieving greater prominence as the sole international extrusion of his ruler’s power and policy. The conjunction of these two factors contributed to the increasing acceptance of the significant role of the permanent resident embassy.

The other delaying factor arose from the intense diplomatic complications caused by the corrosive ideological split brought about by the Reformation. This produced sharply fought wars both general and civil and led to a kind of diplomatic “cold war”, where embassies of Protestant rulers at Roman Catholic courts and vice versa became the focal point for dissident groups within the host state, possibly sanctuaries for them, where they could attend religious services otherwise banned and develop plots for the future, perhaps to be aided and abetted by the forces of the resident’s principal. Not surprisingly, it was only when the full force of this struggle blew itself out after 1648 that the position of the resident ambassador became generally recognized de jure as well as de facto, as it had been in Italy a hundred years or earlier.

Emergence of multilateral diplomacy

Later periods produce further examples. Adjustment to the communications revolution of the 19th century and the creation of international organizations first in response to practical requirements and later answering to an overwhelming moral need to sustain peace when the contemporary conduct of war had produced unacceptable casualties.

More recently, the diplomatic machine has needed to integrate the need for representation by a rising number of private international organisations concerned with humanitarian and environmental matters with the existing structure of states. In this case, the process is very difficult since the practical point of entry has been on the very edges of the machinery of diplomacy gained through a particular arm of the United Nations system.

In this there is more than a resonance of the other form of diplomatic development which was mentioned at the outset: development characterised by shaping a response to a new need by reference to a pre-existing element in the machine(7) . One of the most interesting examples of this second process occurred at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and it repays examination.

The Congress of Vienna was an historically peculiar event in many ways, not least that it was technically at least, an illegitimate meeting, as Metternich typically grasped(8). The basic assumptions upon which it proceeded were, however, far more significantly odd. Unlike the practice at previous peacemakings, the makers of the Vienna settlement were less concerned about punishing and disabling the vanquished – though quite clear about removing Napoleon himself from further active participation in international politics – than they were about protecting the world from the ravages of an ideology.

The extraordinary trajectory of the Napoleonic imperium had left behind a strong sense that what had fuelled its course was not so much the intrinsic power of France, which was correctly sensed never to have been greater than that of the other great powers, but the positive effects of the ideology of the revolution on those who espoused it and the negative effects on the power and security of those who did not(9). The consequences of concluding that the long and – by contemporary standards – destructive war had in effect been caused by an ideology, rather than a state or a ruler, profoundly affected what the Congress tried to do. It meant that the usual behaviour of states was changed and that jockeying for relative power via shifting alliances was in effect suspended. Indeed, a deliberate effort was made to maintain the wartime coalition, implicitly – explicitly after 1818 – including France, who signed the settlement, for the stated reason of defending the system against any resumption of revolution.

The consequence of this sea change for diplomacy was, to begin with at least, that there appeared to be no means for giving effect to the obvious wish of the powers to institute a kind of cooperative management of the international system. Diplomacy had steadily developed as the means by which sovereign rulers communicated with other sovereign rulers. It was the great assertion of sovereign individuality, functioning in a sometimes avowedly – or sometimes simply politely – adversarial mode, depending on circumstances. If it was asked to give expression to the wish that rulers cooperate on what was intended to be a permanent basis, it was not easy to see how that could be done.

Two ideas were tried out, one very traditional, the other uniquely naive. The first was that an extra treaty should be signed in order to give a special force and legitimacy to the settlement as agreed. It was to have been called a Treaty of General Guarantee. For various reasons, though drafted and revised, it was never signed. The second was the Tsar of Russia’s notion that a highly simplified version of the tenets of Christianity – modern terminology would suggest “born again” as the most accurate description – would serve as the basis for a new kind of international security. This was called the “Holy” alliance, and amidst a good deal of covert giggling it was signed in 1815. The other parties did not believe in its likely efficacy, and felt right up to the end of the negotiations, resumed post-Waterloo, that something else was required. More or less in despair, the British delegate, Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, drafted a clause which turned a piece of recently evolved diplomatic practice into the cornerstone of the international system, which, mutatis mutandis, it has remained.

This clause established the peacetime conference as the mechanism by which governments would give expression to their wish for permanent cooperation in the face of a revolutionary threat, or, as later became the case, against any threat of disruption. The idea that the most effective response to a crisis was to call a meeting in peacetime to discuss it before it got out of hand was new. Conferences or congresses had of course been well known devices, but always in the context of bringing an existing war to an end. Such a thicket of protocol had come to surround them, that by the mid-eighteenth century, powers were beginning to try to avoid formal meetings and resorting to informal ones, without traditional rules.(10)  But the main purpose was still the same.

Towards the end of the war, there was a final example of this kind of meeting in its traditional form. Late in 1813, Napoleon had allowed his minister Coulaincourt to hint at a possible peace negotiation and the abortive Congress of Prague was the result. To achieve the abortion, the French side resorted to wonderfully old fashioned mechanisms, demanding formal proposals submitted through a mediator and denying the legitimacy of viva voce discussion. The allies drew the correct conclusion that the negotiations were not serious and withdrew(11) .

The failure of the Congress of Prague was almost simultaneous with the events that were to provide the basis upon which the modern peacetime conference was later introduced. After the battle of Leipzig in 1813, which to most observers signaled the coming end of the Napoleonic imperium, there was a general belief that the Emperor must soon sue for peace in order to obtain the best possible terms, and that the sooner he initiated the process, the more of his Empire he would save. The likelihood that negotiations would soon start made it important that an allied response should be more or less immediately available, and for the British who were the most geographically remote of the partners, there was an obvious risk that the first stages of a peace negotiation might take place without their participation.

To fend off that possibility, the British Cabinet took the hitherto unheard of step of sending the Foreign Secretary on a personal mission to the continent which began at the very beginning of 1814. From mid-January, Castlereagh joined up with Metternich, the Prussian, Hardenberg, and Czar Alexander I of Russia in Switzerland and the group remained together until the war ended and beyond(12) .

The ever extending length of the mission was caused by the refusal of Napoleon to see the apparent logic of his position. To him, anything other than victory in war was synonymous with losing his throne, for he understood that his domestic power was dependent on foreign domination. He thus fought on through appallingly wintry conditions and survived by some of the most remarkable generalship of his career, until the end came in May with the retreat to Paris and his abdication.

The continuation of the coalition thus became a more significant objective and achievement than preparing for peace, and it is clear from the course of events that the political direction which was provided by the foreign ministers and rulers was essential in protecting the coalition from breaking up, as all previous ones had done. What in effect had happened was that a de facto rolling conference of the allied powers was established, ready to deal on a daily basis with the thrills and spills of a major alliance at war à l’outrance.

The success of this operation caused its members to proceed in the same way with the making of the Treaty of Paris of May, 1814 and the preparations for the Congress of Vienna, originally scheduled to meet in August of 1814 but persistently postponed until November(13).

The difficulties inherent in creating a major resettlement of Europe were in themselves immense, and the determination of the representatives of the Great Powers to do the job without the participation of others produced major tensions with smaller powers, notably the King of Sweden. But despite the great crisis of December/January over the future of Poland, the core group succeeded in constructing a new European order and did so by including France among the negotiating parties, thus completing the process by which affairs were being conducted essentially by a directorate of all five of the Great Powers.

Initially nobody noticed that what had occurred constituted major revision of the machinery of diplomacy, except in so far as they objected to it as a new and excluding phenomenon. As the settlement proceeded, and particularly after the episode leading to the battle of Waterloo, the notion first adumbrated by Pitt the Younger in 1805 that the final agreement needed some exceptionally definitive and permanent expression grew in strength. As was noted earlier, two possible routes were discussed: the first was the drafting of a special Treaty of General Guarantee. This was redrafted several times, but it fell by the wayside and was never signed.

As time passed, the Czar of Russia came to prefer the idea of encapsulating new rules for the international community in a specifically Christian – and, indeed, wholly naive – form; and successfully insisted on the institution of the Holy Alliance in September 1815(14). From a different point of view, Lord Castlereagh also became unenthusiastic, as each day that put distance between the British Parliament and a real military emergency, increased its reluctance to have anything further to do with obligations to intervene in defence of a general European agreement. He dared not risk what President Wilson was later to do, knowing more certainly what his fate would be. Since there was to be no treaty of General Guarantee and no one really believed in the efficacy of the Holy Alliance, something else was required.

What eventually happened was the codification of the new piece of the diplomatic machine that we have seen coming into existence(15) . The pre-existence of its development made possible the implementation of the wishes of the powers: the system became the message and the significance of an historical development became crucial. It was not called into being by the demands of the moment – that path had been attempted but failed – and the character of its origin shaped the nineteenth-century international system in profound ways, most particularly by stressing the practical and consensual over the application of the rigid principle.

We may thus conclude that in at least two ways understanding the significance of historical development leads to a clearer vision of why we have what we have, and, perhaps, how it may be expected to evolve. Looking at the present and likely evolution in the immediate future, we can identify at least two significant developments. They both arise out of the changing nature and increasing numbers of principals in the global system. The complexities that these introduce can be listed: the spectrum of power, size and efficiency among states has widened sharply and produced a parallel widening in the range of the activities about which they may wish to be represented. In turn this has affected the functioning of associations of states – the most usual form of international organisations – who have discovered limits to the effectiveness of bi-lateral relationships.

The recent difficulties encountered by the IMF in dealing with the financial crisis in Asia is a clear example of this. If both states and associations of states have experienced baffling complications and loss of power in their global dealings, the role of private, usually humanitarian organisations has sharply increased in significance, chiefly because the major crises in global politics are being caused by semi- or complete collapse of weak state structures. The consequences are unlike the previous patterns of international politics and have not proved amenable to traditional systems of control. They have instead induced the participation of large numbers of private organisations, with no tradition of self representation and little machinery for achieving it. Indeed, in so far as having to join the diplomatic nexus means joining the world of states, there can be an element of reluctance involved: fear of the ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ syndrome.

However, all the signs are that this reluctance is being overcome. Private organisations are developing their own diplomacy both between themselves and between actors in the state system; and the way they have been doing it is remarkably reminiscent of the early days of state self representation. The decisions of the UN to avoid bilateral compulsions by adopting coordinating status in humanitarian crises and to give recognition to greatly increased numbers of private organisations have provided another example of how existing parts of the diplomatic system can provide the means of responding to the needs of the current situation and to some degree actually shape them.

It is very different, however, in other areas of activity. Organisations, whether states or not, that have a vertical structure and relate to each other over geographically precise events and issues can in various ways inherit the machinery of diplomacy already constructed. The need to deal with other aspects of globalisation seems likely to provoke much more radical change. The reason is that important developments in human behaviour are no longer occurring in relation to the destruction, reform or establishment of human authorities, but in relation to burgeoning areas of new activity. These tend to be arranged horizontally across global geography, time zones and cultures. They are commercial, financial and intellectual.

They represent new areas of power, speaking chiefly and dramatically to individuals and they are particularly capable of profoundly affecting the economic fate of individuals. Unlike previous centres of power, they have not yet developed either internal organisation and control or the means of representing themselves, either to each other or to state or nonstate structures. The limitations that this imposes on global relationships have recently been made sharply clear during the Asian economic crisis. This has proved to be alarmingly immune to treatment by the usual authorities, and those authorities have discovered no means of speaking to the real deployers of power – unsurprisingly, since there is, for example, no known means of finding representatives of global currency dealers, let alone negotiating with them.

This amounts to a crisis of representation and there is nothing in the existing machine that is going to help. The problem will worsen until areas of activity have also become centres of organised power and have acquired the need to deal with others like them. History suggests that this transition always happens in the end, but offers no guidance as to how it will be done on this occasion or how long it will take or if violence will be involved in the process, which it generally has been. It is only possible to conclude that, in the contemporary world, this is certainly the most significant space to watch.


1. Nancy Mitford, The Nancv Mitford Omnibus, London, 1986, p. 561.

2. See Keith Hamilton and Richard Langhorne, The Practice of Diplomacy, London, 1995, pp. 48 – 49 and 52 – 53.

3. See Hamilton and Langhorne, pp. 71 – 75.

4. See Macchiavelli, Guicciardini. Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomatic Method, Oxford, 1954, pp. 31 – 35, also commented on the “wolf-like habits” of Italian diplomacy.

5. M. Wight, System of States, London, 1977, p. 53 also p. 141.

6. The classic statement of this is in Philip de Commynes, Mémoires, Paris (n.d.), VI, pp. 198 – 199, ‘’It is not very safe to have ambassadors coming and going so much because they often discuss evil things. But it is necessary to send and receive them…My advice is that it is both politer and safer that they be well treated and (that) wise and trusty servants….attend them. For by this means it is possible to find out who goes to see them and to prevent malcontents from taking them news….For every messenger or ambassador sent to me, I would send two in return, and if the princes become bored with them and say that no more should be sent, I would still send them whenever I had the chance or the means. For no better or safer way is known of sending a spy who has the opportunity to observe and find things out. And if you send two or three people it is impossible to remain on guard so constantly that one or the other cannot have a few words, either secretly or otherwise with someone”.

7. See Richard Langhorne, “Current Developments in Diplomacy”, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 8, 2, (1997), pp. 1 – 15.

8. See a newspaper article by Metternich justifying rather uncomfortably the summoning of the Congress of Vienna in d’Angeberg (L.J.B. Chodzko) Le Congrès de Vienne et les Traités de 1815, I, pp. 362 – 364.

9. As early as 1805, William Pitt, Prime Minister of England spoke of “all the Calamities inflicted upon Europe since the disastrous era of the French Revolution”. Memorandum on the Deliverance and Security of Europe, 19 January, 1805, printed in H.W.V.Temperley and L.M. Penson, The Foundation of British Foreign Policy, CUP, 1938, p. 18.

10. See Rousseau’ s blistering description of this: “Il se forme de temps en temps parmi nous des especes des espèces de diètes generales sous le nom de congrès, où l’on s’assemble pour ne rien dire; où toutes les affaires publiques se traitent en particulier; of l’on delibère en commun si la table sera ronde ou careè, si la salle aura plus ou moins de portes, si un tel plenipotentiare aura la visage ou le dos tournè vers la fenêtre, si tel autre fera deux pouces de chemin de plus ou de moins dans une visite, et sur mille questions de pareille importance, inutilement agitèes depuis trois siècles, et tres dignes assurèment d’occuper les politiques du nôtre. ” quoted in E. Satow A Guide to Diplomatic Practice, London, 1922, p. 2.

11. Metternich, Mémoirs, Documents et Ecrits Divers, I, Paris, 1879, pp. 175 – 176.

12. Castlereagh’s own expectations were instructive: “One of the great difficulties which he expected to encounter in the approaching negotiations would arise from the want of an habitual confidential and free intercourse between the Ministers of the Great Powers as a body; and that many pretensions might be modified, asperities removed, and the causes of irritation anticipated and met by bringing the respective parties into unrestricted communications common to them all, and embracing in confidential and united discussions all the great points in which they were severally interested.” C.K.Webster The Foreign Policy of Lord Castlereagh, London, 1931, I, p. I99.

13. For the Vienna Congress, see C.K. Webster, The Congress of Vienna, London, 1950.

14. E. Hertslet, The Map of Europe by Treaty, 1814 – 1875, London, 1875, p. 317.

15. The relevant text is in the renewal of the Quadruple Alliance which accompanied the Second Treaty of Paris of 20 November 1815. Clause 6 read: “To facilitate and to secure the execution of the present Treaty, and to consolidate the connections which at the moment so closely unite the Four Sovereigns for the happiness of the world, the High Contracting Parties have agreed to renew their meetings at fixed periods for the purpose of consulting upon their common interests, and for the consideration of the measures which at each of those periods shall be considered the most salutary for the repose and prosperity of Nations, and for the maintenance of the Peace of Europe.” Hertslet, I, p. 375.

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Foreign ministries and the management of the past

In his paper, Keith Hamilton looks at Foreign Ministries’ treatment of historical diplomacy, and specifically, the publication of diplomatic documents. Through his historical analyses, the author examines the various aims of these documents, such as, to shed light on past developments and help in current and future negotiations; to influence parliamentarians and a wider public; and to further international relations’ studies.


Secret Channels: The Inside Story of Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations


The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey

If God ever gave mankind a mission – it was not so much to multiply as to walk. And walk we did, to the farthest corners of the earth. Homo sapiens sapiens is the only mammal to have spread from its place of origin, Africa, to every other continent – before settling down to sedentary life ogling a TV screen or monitor, that is.


A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era

It’s not often that a fascinating and important new book — in this case about an accomplished diplomat, journalist, whistle-blower, novelist, dissembler and controversial celebrity of Victorian times — is made available, totally free of charge, to anyone with a computer, internet access and Adobe software for downloading a book-length PDF file.  This is what Professor Emeritus G R Berridge, prolific writer and author of the classic textbook Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, has done with his latest book,  A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era: The Life and Writings of E. C. ...


Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-2006

In writing her history of the origins and evolution of the office of high commissioner, Dr Lloyd, who is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Keele University, has drawn on a vast range of sources. She has sifted through archives of public and private papers not just in Britain but in Ireland, Canada, and South Africa; and she has conducted many interviews and much correspondence with former high commissioners.


King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America


Negotiating with the Chinese Communists: The United States Experience, 1953-1967


The Breaking of Nations

Robert Cooper is Director-General of External and Politico-Military Affairs for the Council of the EU and thus a man steeped in world affairs. Though he makes no claim to establishing a ‘theory’ of how nations grow and decay, he has presented in this slim volume a rigorous typology of today’s nations. His thoughts are worth setting out in some detail.


International Diplomacy Volume III: The Pluralisation of Diplomacy


Ottoman Diplomacy


Twentieth Century Diplomacy: A case study of British practice, 1963-1976

Book review by Geoff Berridge What is so original about the book is that the author has asked himself: What are the major forms of diplomatic contact? And followed this with the question: How and to what effect were they each employed by one state over a period sufficiently short to make detailed research possible […]


Twentieth-Century Diplomacy: A Case Study of British Practice, 1963-1976

Some years ago, John Young, Professor of International History at the University of Nottingham and long-serving Chair of the British International History Group, turned his thoughts and research in the direction of diplomatic procedure. This is the first monograph to be the product of his shift in direction and it is to be most warmly welcomed. It is original in focus, impeccably researched (private papers and oral history transcripts have been sifted as well official documents in The National Archives), crisply written, and altogether a major contribution to the contemporary history of diplom...


A kind of diplomatic incantation: Exchanging British and Japanese diplomats in the Second World War


Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy

Review by Geoff Berridge


The Queen’s Ambassador to the Sultan: Memoirs of Sir Henry A. Layard’s Constantinople Embassy, 1877-1880

Once more students of Ottoman diplomatic history are in debt to the scholar-publisher, Sinan Kuneralp, for Sir Henry Layard was one of the most remarkable and controversial of British ambassadors to Turkey in the nineteenth century and served there during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 – and yet the volumes of his memoirs dealing with this period have hitherto languished unpublished in the British Library, in part perhaps because of their size. (Layard admits himself to having been ‘somewhat minute, perhaps a great deal too much so’, p. 692.)They are here published almost in their entir...


Blundering Into Disaster: Surviving the First Century of the Nuclear Age


Diplomatic Classics: Selected texts from Commynes to Vattel


The ‘Working’ Non-Aligned Movement: Between Belgrade, Cairo, and Baku – The NAM’s Leadership Visibility

The objective of this chapter is to highlight lessons learned, promote best practices, and carry takeaways that are useful for other levels of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), or even other forums.

The Falkland Islands War: Diplomatic Failure in April 1982


The Practice of Diplomacy: Its evolution, theory and administration

First published in 1995, the long-awaited second edition of this valuable textbook on the history of diplomacy has at last appeared. The first chapter has been expanded to include non-European traditions, and a wholly new chapter has been added to take account of developments over the last 15 years. It is for the main part a work of relaxed authority, clearly written, and – unusually for an introductory work – full of intriguing detail which it would be difficult if not impossible to find in other secondary sources.


The languages of the Knights

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): In his examination of the languages used by the Knights of St John in Rhodes and Malta during the 14th to 16th centuries, Professor Joseph Brincat applies the methodology of historical linguistics. As an international and multi-lingual entity, the Order faced difficulties with its administrative methods intimately linked to linguistic issues.


The Law of Nations or Principles of the Law of Nature Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns

Public diplomacy: Sunrise of an academic field


The Power of Small States: Diplomacy in World War II

This Is an inquiry into how the governments of small and militarily weak states can resist the strong pressure of great powers even in crisis periods. The continued existence and, in deed, startling increase in the number of small states may seem paradoxical in the age of superpowers and the drastically altered ratio of military strength between them and the rest of the world. It is well known that the ability to use violence does not alone determine the course of world politics. Some of the other determinants can be observed with exceptional clarity in the diplomacy of the small ...


Back Channel to Cuba: The hidden history of negotiations between Washington and Havana

This book went to press after the much-publicised handshake between US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December 2013 – but before their historic, simultaneous announcements a year later, assisted by a prisoner exchange and the good offices of the Vatican, that they were resolved to end their 50 years of estrangement and normalise relations.


British Diplomacy in Turkey, 1583 to the Present: A Study in the Evolution of the Resident Embassy


Diplomacy in Ancient Greece


The Congress of Arras, 1435


The Diplomats, 1939-1979


US Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Success Story?

The post-'9/11' revival of interest in US public diplomacy encompasses a wide variety of opinions, all overwhelmingly critical.


The Beijing-Washington Back-Channel and Henry Kissinger’s Secret Trip to China


Regionalism in the Post-Cold War World


History and the evolution of diplomacy

Update: Visit our page on History of Diplomacy and Technology, where we try to discover how civilizations dealt with ‘new’ technologies, from simple writing, via the telegraph, to the internet.


Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-2006

Book review by Geoff Berridge


The Nineteenth Century Foreign Office


The Forgotten French


Philosophy of Rhetoric

There are several reasons which have induced the author of the following sheets to give the public some account of their origin and progress, previously to tbgir coming unaer its examination. They are a series of Essays closely connected with one another, and written on a subject in the examination of which he has at […]


British Diplomacy and the Descent into Chaos: The career of Jack Garnett, 1902-19

I am in favour of biographies of relatively obscure individuals like Jack Garnett because there are plenty of them on the famous; moreover, studies of this kind often turn up interesting details (including how the famous were seen from the foothills) and stimulate thought on bigger questions. John Fisher’s well written and thoroughly researched study of this early twentieth century British diplomat, into which contextual detail is expertly woven, is no exception.


Years of Upheaval

U.S. Propaganda in the Middle East – The Early Cold War Version


The Professional Diplomat


Kautilya’s Arthasastra on war and diplomacy in Ancient India


Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations


The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland

Central Eurasia refers to the countries in the Caucasus and to the five countries of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These countries that had once been part of the Russian and Soviet Empire were broken off and set adrift when the Soviet Union self-destructed at the end of 1991. They belatedly joined Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, three countries that also emerged from the sphere of influence of an empire, the British one, to become – in the words of Charles De Gaulle speaking of the newly independent African states – the dust of empire.


Under the Wire: How the telegraph changed diplomacy

Nickles, who is a State Department historian, has written what I believe is the first full-length study of this important and intriguing subject. Excluding an introduction and short conclusion, it has seven chapters presented in three parts ('Control', 'Speed', and 'The Medium'), each having a chapter devoted to a case study: the Anglo-American crisis of 1812, the further Anglo-American crisis of 1861 ('the Trent affair'), and the Zimmerman telegram of January 1917 - which of course also involved the United States.


Guicciardini on Diplomacy: Selections from the Ricordi


The History of Diplomatic Immunity

This is a massive book in more than one sense. It is over 700 pages long, including an invaluable bibliography which itself stretches over 70 pages. While dwelling chiefly on the Western tradition, it also takes in the Ottoman Empire and the Far East.


The Imperial Component in Iran’s Foreign Policy: Towards Arab Mashreq and Arab Gulf States

One of the most important developments the Middle East has witnessed in the 20th centaury was the success of the Iranian revolution of Islamist ideology, with ambitions to control.


The Office of Ambassador in the Middle Ages


The Cinderella Service: British Consuls since 1825


A Diplomat in Japan

The first portion of this book was written at intervals between 1885 and 1887, during my tenure of the post of Her Majesty's minister at Bangkok. I had but recently left Japan after a residence extending, with two seasons of home leave, from September 1862 to the last days of December 1882, and my recollection of what had occurred during any part of those twenty years was still quite fresh. A diary kept almost uninterruptedly from the day I quitted home in November 1861 constituted the foundation, while my memory enabled me to supply additional details. It had never been my purpose to...


Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Ask anyone who was the person that most influenced world history: few would mention Genghis Khan. Arguably, however, Genghis Khan and the Mongols were the dominant force that shaped Eurasia and consequently the modern world. Not for what they destroyed – though they wrought much destruction all over the continent – but for what they built. They came close to uniting Eurasia into a world empire, and in so doing they spread throughout it technologies like paper, gunpowder, paper money, or the compass – and trousers. They revolutionised warfare. More lastingly, in the words of the author: '...


The Evolution of Diplomatic Method


Instruzione e formazione del diplomatico: la tradizione inglese


The Turkish Embassy Letters

English dragomans and oriental secretaries: the early nineteenth-century origins of the anglicization of the British embassy drogmanat in Constantinople


The Origins of the Diplomatic Corps: Rome to Constantinople


International Diplomacy Volume IV: Public Diplomacy


The evolution of diplomacy in the Caribbean

This paper will focus on the development of diplomacy in the Caribbean and how it impacts the development of small Caribbean States, paying attention to the regional, bilateral and multilateral levels of diplomacy.


FDR’s Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the rise of Hitler to the end of World War II

What effect did personality and circumstance have on US foreign policy during World War II? This incisive account of US envoys residing in the major belligerent countries – Japan, Germany, Italy, China, France, Great Britain, USSR – highlights the fascinating role played by such diplomats as Joseph Grew, William Dodd, William Bullitt, Joseph Kennedy and W. Averell Harriman. Between Hitler's 1933 ascent to power and the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki, US ambassadors sculpted formal policy – occasionally deliberately, other times inadvertently – giving shape and meaning not always intended by ...


Peacemaking 1919


Did diplomatic immunity exist in the ancient Near East?


Politics and Culture in International History, 2nd ed


Room for Diplomacy: The history of Britain’s diplomatic buildings overseas, 1800-2000

Mark Bertram joined the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works after reading architecture at Cambridge and remained in the civil service as architect, project manager, administrator, estate manager and – in his own words – ‘quasi diplomat’ for the next thirty years.


Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana

This book went to press after the much-publicised handshake between US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December 2013 – but before their historic, simultaneous announcements a year later, assisted by a prisoner exchange and the good offices of the Vatican, that they were resolved […]


Evolution of Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities

Excerpt from the lecture 1: Principles and concepts, evolution and instruments; Online course on Diplomatic Law: Privileges and Immunities.


The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies, 2nd ed


Diplomatic integration with Europe before Selim III


The British Diplomatic Service 1815-1914


A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, vol. 2


A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, vol. 3


Just a Diplomat

Close students of the new, Conservative Party Mayor of London, the at once engaging and alarming Boris Johnson, will know that he has Turkish cousins. One of these is Sinan Kuneralp, a son of the late Zeki Kuneralp, probably the most distinguished and well liked Turkish diplomat of his generation. Sinan Kuneralp is a scholar-publisher and runs The Isis Press in Istanbul, a house at the forefront of publishing scholarly works and original documents on the Ottoman Empire, chiefly in English and French. The three works noticed here are all its products and reflect the publisher’s own special in...


International Diplomacy Volume II: Diplomacy in a Multicultural World


In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents


The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics 1851-1945


Side-Lights on English Society, or Sketches from Life, Social and Satirical


To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

When I feel dispirited about the current crop of political leaders in Switzerland or around the world, I like to take refuge in one of the most uplifting political stories of mankind – the American Revolution.


The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations


Misunderstood: The IT manager’s lament

Communication between information technologists and their clients – including diplomats - does not work as well as it should. We know that information technology has become ubiquitous. We also know that diplomats rely extensively on web services, electronic mail and documents in electronic form. Yet when communication does not work well, technologists poorly understand the needs of the diplomatic community. As a result, technical solutions may not address the real needs of end-users. This paper is a study on inter-professional miscommunication.


A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, vol. 1

Although special questions and particular periods of diplomatic history have been carefully studied and ably discussed by historical writers, it is a noteworthy fact that no general history of European diplomacy exists in any language.


International Diplomacy Volume I: Diplomatic Institutions


Diplomacy and Secret Service

Intelligence officers working under diplomatic protection are rarely out of the news for long, and the last two years have been no exception. How did the relationship between diplomacy and secret intelligence come about? What was the impact on it of the bureaucratization of secret intelligence that began in the late nineteenth century? Is diplomatic immunity the only reason why intelligence officers still cluster in embassies and consulates today? What do their diplomatic landlords think about their secret tenants and how do the spooks repay the ambassadors for their lodgings? These are among ...


Documenting diplomacy, Evaluating documents: The case of the CSCE

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Rather than individual documents, Dr Keith Hamilton looks at the process and purpose of compiling collections of documents. 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.


Diplomacy at the Highest Level: The Evolution of International Summitry


The origins, use and development of hot line diplomacy


Summits: Six Meetings that Shaped the Twentieth Century


Tilkidom and the Ottoman Empire: The Letters of Gerald Fitzmaurice to George Lloyd, 1906-15

Gerald Henry Fitzmaurice was Chief Dragoman at the British Embassy in Constantinople before the First World War and George Ambrose Lloyd was a young Honorary Attaché based in the Embassy from the autumn of 1905 until the end of 1906. In Gerald Fitzmaurice (1865-1939), which leans heavily on the private letters that Fitzmaurice wrote to Lloyd between 1906 and 1915, I describe the ups and downs of the close friendship which developed between them. I also deal more or less fully with many of the subjects raised in the letters. Why, then, publish them separately?


A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West

Note: The author of this review compares Noam Chomsky's A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West and David Fromkin's Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields.


A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era: The Life and Writings of E. C. Grenville-Murray, Second Edition (Revised) 2015

Unlike Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, the most well-known whistleblowers of the present day, Eustace Clare Grenville-Murray (1823-1881), the illegitimate son of an English duke and an actress who was also a lover of Lord Palmerston, did not make public highly classified documents. Instead, while serving as a diplomat behind the fragile shield of anonymity, he employed satire and ridicule in books, periodicals, and newspapers to attack the aspects of diplomacy he disliked.


The Diplomacy of Ancient Greece – A Short Introduction

Employed against a warlike background, the diplomatic methods of the ancient Greeks are thought by some to have been useless but by others to have been the most advanced seen prior to modern times.


Searching for the prehistoric origins of diplomacy

What if diplomacy had started in the first contact between two distinct bands of nomadic Homo sapiens hunter-gatherers in the Palaeolithic period, even before the advent of agriculture and the transition from nomadism to Neolithic sedentary societies? In this post, prepared especially for this blog, a summary of the author’s argument, originally published by the Cambridge Review of International Affairs [1], is presented to DiploFoundation readers searching for the ancient origins of the diplomatic practice.


DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War

DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain's ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War.


The Ambassadors: From Ancient Greece to the Nation State

Nation, Class, and Diplomacy: The dragomanate of the British embassy in Constantinople, 1814-1914

In Markus Msslang and Torsten Riotte (eds.), The Diplomats’ World: A Cultural History of Diplomacy, 1815-1914 (Oxford University Press for the German Historical Institute, London: Oxford and New York, 2008), pp. 407-31


England and the Avignon Popes: The practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe

In England and the Avignon Popes, Karsten Plöger, who is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in London, has provided an invaluable book not only for students of medieval diplomatic method but for students of diplomacy in general. It is a work of immense and meticulous scholarship: exhaustively researched, well organized, carefully worded, penetrating, and beautifully written.


Byzantine Diplomacy: Papers of the Twenty-fourth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies

The papers presented at the 24th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, held in Cambridge in 1990, are collected in this volume. It is a detailed examination of Byzantine diplomacy from the empire’s emergence in late antiquity to its death throes when the Ottoman Turks conquered it. This is not just a narrow study of political […]


British Envoys to Germany 1816-1866


Gerals Firzmaurice (1965-1939), Chief Dragoman of the British Embassy in Turkey


Strategic Public Diplomacy: The Evolution of Influence

The British Interests Section in Kampala, 1976-7


The Washington Embassy: British ambassadors to the United States, 1939-77


The History of Diplomatic Immunity

This is a massive book in more than one sense. It is over 700 pages long, including an invaluable bibliography which itself stretches over 70 pages. While dwelling chiefly on the Western tradition, it also takes in the Ottoman Empire and the Far East. It begins in ancient times (though having less on the second […]