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The Practice of Diplomacy: Its evolution, theory and administration

Year: 2011

The series of chapters on the ‘old diplomacy’ and how it came to terms with the twentieth century is a tour de force. I am bound to say, however, that I think it was a mistake to employ the concept of ‘total diplomacy’ – inspired by the more familiar term ‘total war’ – in an attempt to give shape to the long chapter dealing with developments over most of the last century. In a struggle in which military confrontation was likely to produce mutual annihilation, diplomacy serving as the spear of a national effort uniting all public and private bodies was nothing more than a superpower Cold War aspiration which was imperfectly realised, to put it mildly, especially in the West (as Dean Acheson feared when introducing the American public to the phrase in February 1950 The Department of State Bulletin).

As a result, it works better as a footnote in the history of ideas about diplomacy than a term which expresses the theme of an era. There is also a certain conceptual shakiness in handling diplomatic activity itself: the authors cannot seem to make up their minds whether there is no essential difference between what professional and amateur diplomats do (the fashionable assumption of the new chapter on the most recent developments, headed ‘Diplomacy Diffused’) or whether what the latter do is ‘quasi-diplomatic’ or ‘paradiplomatic’ (terms occasionally used elsewhere). It is also a pity that the authors did not think to badger Routledge into using footnotes rather than endnotes, and at least dispense with ‘op.cits’; and the index, as with so many books these days, is disappointing (the reader relying on the index for information on service attachés, for example, will miss completely the interesting discussion of their role in intelligence gathering on pp. 190-2). But these are just quibbles. This book is much the best introduction to the history of diplomacy available. I have always recommended it as a companion to my own textbook on contemporary diplomacy, and shall continue to do so.

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