The Evolution of Diplomacy
Walter R. Roberts
Mediterranean Quarterly, Summer 2006
Walter R. Roberts is a co-founder of the Public Diplomacy Institute of George Washington University, where he taught a course on public diplomacy for ten years. His government career included service as associate director of the US Information Agency and appointment by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton to the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
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| The conduct of diplomacy has changed significantly over the past sixty years. Prior to World War II, diplomacy was essentially a government-to-government relationship. Since the war, it has broadened to include a government - to - foreign people connection, now called public diplomacy.1IThe word diplomacy has its roots in Greek and was later used by the French (diplomatie) to refer to the work of a negotiator on behalf of a sovereign. There is a long history of diplomatic activity going back at least two millennia. Sovereigns sent envoys to other sovereigns for various reasons: to prevent wars, to cease hostilities, or merely to continue peaceful relations and further economic exchanges. The first foreign ministry was created in Paris by Cardinal Richelieu in 1626. Other European countries followed the French example. As absolute monarchs gave way to constitutional monarchies and republics, embassies and legations became more institutionalized all over Europe, and by the end of the nineteenth century European-style diplomacy had been adopted throughout the world.1. I have witnessed this evolution of diplomacy both as a citizen and as a diplomat. As the latter, I discussed this development on several occasions with George F. Kennan, one of America's top diplomats and a scholar of diplomacy, who was ambassador in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, from 1961 to 1963 while I was the senior public diplomat at the embassy.Large countries had embassies in other large countries and legations in smaller states. Embassies were headed by ambassadors and legations by ministers. Embassies and legations were strictly limited in their contacts with the ordinary citizens of the receiving state. These limitations were codified in the Havana Convention of 1927, which under the heading “Duties of Diplomatic Officers” stated that these officers must not interfere in the internal affairs of the receiving state and must confine their relations to the foreign ministry of the host state. Thus, in their host country, diplomatic personnel from abroad had no relations with the public at large. National day celebrations at an embassy or legation were attended (aside from other diplomats) by locally resident citizens from that country and, for protocol reasons, by officials of the foreign ministry of the receiving state. What a difference from today, when our Fourth of July celebrations overseas are heavily attended by citizens — prominent or otherwise — from the host country.III was born in Austria. My father was a reasonably well-known personality in Vienna — a former professor, later the editor in chief of a respected economic weekly, and a playwright. My parents were socially quite active. Never once did I hear them say that they had been invited to an embassy or legation, or that they had met an ambassador or minister of a foreign country. My father once observed that there were two American envoys in Vienna — the minister (the United States had a legation in Vienna at that time) and the resident New York Times correspondent. He was acquainted with the latter but apparently did not know the former.I, who was interested in international affairs, never visited a legation in Vienna — except when I needed a visa. I remember once calling the American legation because I wanted to write a letter to a man from Chicago whom I had met on a vacation and inquired whether they had...
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