views updated May 11 2018


DIPLOMACY. Diplomacy in one form or another has had a long history, dating back to the beginning of political states. Since the nature, size, and composition of these states varied, so did the system of relations between them. Usually such relations were simple and personal, but in time they became more complex as the political entities became better organized and more tightly controlled.


By the middle of the fifteenth century the principal city-states of Renaissance Italy had reached a tenuous balance of power and began establishing more permanent diplomatic relations with one another through the instrument of resident embassies. Resident ambassadors were accredited representatives of one government to another, assigned for an extended period of time for the purposes of negotiating, providing a constant source of important information to the home government, and safeguarding the honor and prestige of the ruler they represented. Primary negotiations of treaties and alliances, as well as other specific assignments, were still carried out by special envoys sent with plenipotentiary powers for that purpose, but the more permanent resident became an additional aid in this process.

The system in the early modern period was far less structured than it was later to become. In the first place, not everyone was convinced that it was the safest or wisest course to follow. Rulers, especially, were reluctant to have representatives of other states snooping around their capital, randomly inquiring about matters that they would just as soon the ambassadors not know. But that led to one of the key dictums of diplomacy, quid pro quo ('something for something'), interpreted to mean that the best way to get information is to give it. Diplomats needed to be well informed so they could exchange their own information for equally or more valuable information possessed by someone else. Even the shrewd Cardinal Richelieu (15851642) advised, "A great prince should sooner put in jeopardy both his own interests and even those of the state than break his word." This advice was not often followed, especially by Richelieu, and agents had to be constantly on the alert not to reveal more than they received. By the seventeenth century it was becoming evident that honesty was the best policy for diplomats because honesty inspired confidence and that, more than anything else, gave credibility to what an ambassador was trying to accomplish. The counsel of Charles Colbert, Marquis de Croissy (16251696), French secretary of state for foreign affairs, to his son who was leaving for an embassy to Portugal in 1684, "to gain the reputation as a perfectly honorable man, and deserve it," was good advice, even though it was not always followed.

The testing period came in the second half of the sixteenth century when Europe was split into hostile camps as a result of the Reformation and the Wars of Religion. "The religious wars," wrote Garrett Mattingly, the authority on early diplomatic history, "nearly wrecked the diplomatic institutions with which Europe had been trying to adjust its quarrels. . . . Successful diplomatic negotiations require that parties involved can at least imagine a mutually satisfactory settlement, . . . But the clash of ideological absolutes drives diplomacy from the field" (pp. 195196). Nevertheless, diplomacy was not driven from the field. Compromises and adjustments continued to be made, and some states, especially France under the cautious Catherine de Médicis (15181589), found ways to balance ideology and necessity with theory and practice and to give early modern diplomacy a valuable new impulse.


By the seventeenth century the machinery of diplomatic relations had reached an impressive level of organization. This is not to say that it operated in a totally logical and systematic way, but many of the misgivings associated with its earlier years were being worked out as diplomacy was increasingly applied to European rulers' changing needs.

The selection of ambassadors was determined by several factors: birth, political and family connections, loyalty to the government, and the likelihood of acceptance by the government to which they were being sent. Depending on where he was going, an ambassador of noble rank was usually chosen; sometimes a man of the cloth was preferred, although this was less likely in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than it had been in the sixteenth. A man's experience in negotiation and familiarity with the political affairs of the country to which he was being sent also made a difference. Language proficiency was another factor in such a selection. Several Italian dialects were used effectively during the Renaissance, but Latin was the most common language of diplomacy, especially for written correspondence and treaties. After the middle of the seventeenth century, when the court of Louis XIV (16381715) set the tone for European culture, French became more widely used, and in the next century it became the lingua franca of diplomatic discourse. What rulers wanted most in their ambassadors, however, was loyalty and dedication to the cause they represented.

Ambassadors were accompanied byor they recruited after arrival at their assigned posta number of lesser officials: secretaries, scribes, stewards, grooms, and assorted personnel. These were normally paid for by the ambassador himself, although by the eighteenth century, the principal embassy secretaries were being appointed and paid by their home governments.

Once a selection was made, there were several steps that had to be taken before the new ambassador embarked on his assignment: ambassadorial staff and other household affairs were arranged and approved, and sometimes negotiation over salary and expenses took time. If the new ambassador was not well acquainted with the court to which he was assigned, or was unfamiliar with the policies preferred by his home government, he had to take the time and effort to acquaint himself with them. He also needed to learn as much as he could about the people, policies, and preferences of his host government, as well as other sources of information he might be able to tap. Then, after receiving his letters of appointment, introduction, instructions, credentials, passport and safe-conduct, cipher keys, and any other documents or household goods, he was ready to depart.

The arrival of an ambassador at his new assignment was the occasion for elaborate ceremony and ritual, beginning with an impressive procession of troops, carriages, and musicians escorting the ambassador through the streets of the city to a reception spot where he would be received and welcomed by an official responsible for receiving ambassadors. Following a second procession to court, the ambassador presented his letters of credence and instruction to the sovereign and delivered his formal oration. The ceremonial entry was simplified in the eighteenth century, and the ambassador was sometimes received at court to present his credentials without prior processions. However, the entry ceremony continued to play a large role both for resident ambassadors and for special agents and ambassadors extraordinary.

Maintenance of ambassadors at foreign posts was traditionally the responsibility of the government to which they were assigned and depended upon the rank and importance of the envoy and the respect due his government. Because this added to the problem of precedence that plagued the ceremonial practices of diplomacy, it gradually became more common for the home government to provide for the maintenance of its embassies abroad. On the periphery of Europe, however, governments continued to provide maintenance allowances to foreign ambassadors and, of course, expected the same consideration for their own representatives abroad. The victory of the concept of extraterritoriality (meaning that the ambassador carried with him the laws of his own country) reduced the issue of maintenance by recognizing the prime responsibility of the home government for maintaining its diplomats.

Along with the principle of extraterritoriality came the comparable assumption of diplomatic immunity. Some degree of immunity had been claimed for embassy personnel since before the Renaissance, but its general approval was less broadly accepted. Through the next three centuries legal immunity of diplomats became more clearly defined and recognized. Consequently, problems and disputes over immunity declined as people came to agree that ambassadors and their staff were entitled to extensive immunity from both civil and criminal litigation and that they were specifically allowed to practice their own religion even though it clashed with that of their host. Sometimes diplomats abused this right of immunity, but by the end of the eighteenth century it was an accepted principle.

Salaries and other payments to ambassadors by the home government varied a great deal during the early modern period. In most cases an agreement was reached before embarking on the mission as to the amount and kind of compensation to be received. But this was sometimes vague and almost never followed completely. Papal nuncios were among the first to receive a monthly allowance, but it was usually insufficient, and the nuncio was expected to supplement this allowance with money from benefices he held. Likewise, secular agents, with or without specific salaries, were expected to get by partly on their own initiative and the promises of future compensation, usually in the form of titles, land, or other symbols of value.

But these did not pay for current needs. Ambassadors' letters to their home governments related sorrowful stories of their financial problems and pleas for assistance. François de Noailles, for example, wrote to the French king in November 1562: "I humbly beseech Your Majesty to please remember that for nine or ten years I have been almost constantly in your service, during which time I have never shrunk from giving freely of my money, labor, or industry, nor of the resources of my friends and parents, or employing all my means of credit for Your Majesty's service. . . . But my present need is such that serious damage could be done to both my desire and my duty." There follows a marginal note about his creditors closing in on him, and then a concluding plea: "Which moves me to beseech Your Majesty . . . to assist me in whatever way you can . . . before my true poverty is discovered here in Italy and the dignity and grandeur and honor of Your Majesty's name suffers incalculable damage." ("Lettres inédites de François de Noailles, évêque de Dax," Revue de Gascogne, VI (1865): 8788).

Had it not been for the custom of giving a departing gift to ambassadors when they completed their missions, their plight would have been greater. The amount or value of such donations depended on so many variablesthe rank of the recipient ambassador, the length of his service, the evaluation of his accomplishmentsit is unlikely that all parties to the transaction were equally satisfied. The most common gifts were gilt plate, gold chains, jewelry, or any item of recognized worth. As the office of ambassador became more professional, the number of such presents declined although there were many other occasions when gratuities were still granted.


The primary duty of resident ambassadors was to obtain and transmit information. This was done in many ways and varied greatly in extent, reliability, and difficulty. The most open method, which had many drawbacks as far as reliability is concerned, was direct interviews with the sovereign or with leading ministers. When at court, the ambassador could pick up information from other agents, but this too might be laced with misinformation and lies; tapping many such sources increased the chances of getting good intelligence. As printed newsletters and newspapers began to appear in the eighteenth century, it became easier to acquire overt information. For more vital and furtive intelligence, ambassadors still relied on paid informants and spies, although the complex implementation of international espionage was increasingly conducted through contacts outside the official diplomatic system.

To communicate this variously gathered intelligence to his home government, the early modern diplomat used the methods available to him: national post, paid couriers, commercial caravans, and private messengers. More confidential communications were put into increasingly complex ciphers. Duplicates and triplicates of important messages were often sent by different routes to insure the delivery of at least one. On occasions demanding extreme secrecy, messages, or parts of them, were given verbally to a courier or other confidant who then delivered the message orally to the proper authority. Such precautions were felt to be necessary because, with increasing frequency, written communications were intercepted and ciphers broken.

By the mid-seventeenth century, London postal officials were routinely opening and copying many of the dispatches intended for foreign diplomats. A secret office was established in 1653 for such activities and by the end of the eighteenth century, it maintained an active staff of semi-undercover employees who deciphered and read foreign correspondence. The same thing was happening in France, where the cabinet noir (black chamber) conducted a similar type of surveillance during the ancien régime. Other countries had their appropriate procedures.


Early modern diplomats were involved in many functions other than information gathering. They might be assigned to important negotiations, according to the powers and instructions given by their home government. Normally, negotiation was the primary duty of special representatives with precise powers for that purpose, but resident diplomats were also involved in a variety of negotiations, especially at major diplomatic conferences and congresses. After four tortuous years of negotiation, the major settlement ending the Thirty Years' War took place in 1648 at two locations in Westphalia: at Münster, where ambassadors and other representatives of the Holy Roman emperor, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and delegates of the German Electoral College met; and at Osnabrück, where other emissaries of Sweden, the emperor, France, several German principalities, and others also convened. The total number of delegates at these two locations reached one hundred thirty-five, the largest assemblage of diplomats ever seen by that time.

The resulting Treaty of Westphalia marked a new direction in the political composition of Europe toward secularly oriented, sovereign, almost absolute states. The various states of the empire were given territorial sovereignty under the nominal authority of the emperor. Calvinism was officially recognized along with Lutheranism. Sweden was given a voice in the imperial councils and a vote in the Diet. France emerged as the leading power in Europe as imperial unity disintegrated and Habsburg Spain declined. Switzerland and the Dutch Netherlands were both declared free and sovereign. Similar congresses met at Nijmegen in 16761679 following the Dutch Wars, at Ryswick in 16961697 at the conclusion of the War of the League of Augsburg, and at Utrecht in 17121713 after the War of the Spanish Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht, especially, created a new order in Europe based on an "equilibrium of power" among the leading states. Belief in this balance of power became a recurring feature of eighteenth-century diplomacy.

Negotiation included far more than treaty arrangements. It also comprised a large range of topics and goals set out by the home government, including interpretation of the rules of trade, persuading a sovereign to follow agreements previously made, convincing the sovereign to pursue policies favorable to the ambassador's master, and in general trying to maintain good relations between the two governments. A good diplomat might be involved in negotiations over many issues, from alliances, boundary disputes, and commercial regulation, to territorial treaties and usurped property.


Another duty of early modern diplomats was to represent their ruler as if he were present. The ambassador stood in the place of his master and therefore represented both his person and prestige. If an ambassador failed to receive, or assert, the proper respect for his ruler, he was held accountable. But not everyone recognized the same hierarchy of station, and therefore ambassadors were locked in a rivalry of rank at public functions, especially those offering high visibility, such as official state gatherings and processions. Public entries of new ambassadors still served to reflect the power and importance of the states they represented, and no expense was spared to make the carriages and horses magnificent and the dress of the ambassador brilliant. Assertions of precedence at such occasions frequently led to awkward dilemmas or even open conflict. In London in October 1661, for example, the Spanish ambassador, thinking he merited a more honored position than the French ambassador, tried to overtake and pass the French coach in a state procession through London. In the ensuing fray several people were killed.

Following the elaborate first audience, proper etiquette still had to be maintained at subsequent official visits of the ambassador to the head of state and to the diplomats of other nations, being especially careful to visit those of highest rank first. Throughout his tour of duty the ambassador was expected to participate in many public functions, from state banquets and weddings to frequent funerals of prestigious persons. Even at these gatherings the issue of precedence continued to arise and sometimes awakened strong feelings and even disputes among diplomats. "Points of honour, rank, and precedence are the most delicate articles of political faith," wrote Rousset de Missy in 1746. How could it be otherwise in an age when hereditary differences in the social orders were universally justified and even considered essential to the survival of any state? The maintenance of that same social stability on the international level was thought to be just as fundamental to the existence of international sociality.


The theory and practice of diplomacy did not always correspond in real life. Diplomatic practice continued along lines determined primarily by precedent and practicality rather than by the suppositions of political theorists. Still, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries their correspondence was closer than it had ever been, due in part to the fact that it was practical diplomats themselves who wrote most insightfully about diplomatic theory.

The first of these practitioner/theorists was Juan Antonio de Vera, a distinguished Spanish nobleman and diplomat who published his El embajador (The ambassador) at Seville in 1620, better known in its French version of 1642 as Le parfait ambassadeur (The perfect ambassador). In this dialogue de Vera talks about the conduct of embassies, privileges of ambassadors, diplomatic procedures, and the qualities needed for success. The leading prerequisite, he insisted, was moral virtue, which meant not only obeying the letter and objectives of his master, but also being true and honest in his dealings with the ruler to whom he was assigned. The illustrious Dutch lawyer and diplomat Hugo Grotius (15831645) provided a reasoned repertory of maxims in his 1625 De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the law of war and peace), allowing for the compatibility of a world of sovereign states committed to their own self-interest and yet consistent with the notion of peace and justice. He also argued convincingly for the extraterritoriality and diplomatic immunity of accredited ambassadors. Another Dutch writer, Abraham de Wicquefort, published his widely popular book on practical diplomacy, called L'ambassadeur et ses fonctions (The ambassador and his functions), in 1681. In this diplomatic manual Wicquefort abandoned the myth of a "perfect ambassador" and supplied diplomatic examples, especially contemporary, of how diplomacy operated in the late seventeenth century. In 1716 an important treatise appeared in Paris, written by a man who had spent his life in the service of Louis XIV's diplomatic business. De la manière de négocier avec les soverains (On the manner of negotiating with princes), by François de Callières, was another book of reflections on the principles and conditions of successful diplomacy, arguing in favor of the careful selection and specialized training of career diplomats rather than relying on the erratic behavior of capricious nobles.


Although much in the operation of eighteenth-century diplomacy was still reminiscent of the procedures and attitudes of earlier times, many changes had taken place and gradual modification continued. Notable among these was the expansion of diplomatic activity. In the time of Louis XIV, European diplomatic relations were still concentrated in western Europe, with fewer continuous contacts with the Ottoman Empire, Poland and eastern Europe, and tsarist Russia. The eighteenth century saw notable expansion of these contacts. Relations between Moscow and the West increased dramatically during the reign of Tsar Peter I (16841725) as reciprocal diplomatic representation was established with western states from Vienna to London. Similarly, connections were expanded between Europe and the Turkish Empire, and even China, although not as fast nor as completely as with Russia. More permanent relations were also established with Scandinavia and with eastern Europe.

In the eighteenth century budding foreign offices also began to appear as the need for greater continuity and order required more specialized effort. Developing out of the earlier royal chanceries, the foreign office became the principal department for handling relations with other states and for dispatching ambassadors to them. Such offices were still small and rudimentary but indicated the direction of later growth. In France the secretary of state for foreign affairs became one of the chief ministers of the government. England and other states also developed more effective machinery for the conduct of foreign affairs. To operate this new diplomatic machinery, a more professional bureaucracy slowly emerged. This gradual growth of professionalism in the management of foreign affairs was one of the marks of more modern times.

See also Grotius, Hugo ; Law: International ; Louis XIV (France) ; Military ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Wars of Religion, French ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .


Adair, E. R. The Exterritoriality of Ambassadors in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. London and New York, 1929. An old but very valuable book.

Anderson, M. S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 14501919. London and New York, 1993. A useful survey yet frustratingly disjointed.

Barber, Peter. Diplomacy: The World of the Honest Spy. London, 1979. Examination of early modern diplomacy and catalog of the British Library exhibition.

Carter, Charles H. The Secret Diplomacy of the Habsburgs: 15981625. New York, 1964. Well-crafted study of Spanish diplomacy and espionage at the court of James I.

. The Western European Powers, 15001700. Ithaca, N.Y., 1971. Emphasizes the use of diplomatic sources.

Chaytor, H. J., trans. and ed. Embajada española [Spanish Embassy]. Camden Miscellany, vol. 14. London, 1926. Anonymous contemporary guide to diplomatic procedure at the end of the seventeenth century. Spanish and English texts.

Hatton, Ragnhild, and M. S. Anderson, eds. Studies in Diplomatic History: Essays in Memory of David Bayne Horn. London, 1970. Valuable collection of articles primarily on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century diplomatic affairs.

Horn, David Bayne. The British Diplomatic Service, 16891789. Oxford, 1961. Comprehensive yet detailed study of a century of British diplomacy.

Jones, Dorothy V. Splendid Encounters: The Thought and Conduct of Diplomacy. Chicago, 1984. In conjunction with the 1984 University of Chicago exhibition.

Lachs, Phyllis S. The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II. New Brunswick, N.J., 1965. A thoughtful analysis of a segment of English diplomacy.

Lossky, Andrew, "International Relations in Europe," The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. 6, pp. 154192. Cambridge, U.K., 1970. Excellent summary of diplomatic relations in the late-seventeenth century.

Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. Boston and London, 1955. The best study to date of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century diplomacy.

Roosen, William J. The Age of Louis XIV: The Rise of Modern Diplomacy. Cambridge, Mass., 1976. Many insights and extensive research, but too many printing errors, and no index.

Thompson, J. W., and S. K. Padover. Secret Diplomacy: Espionage and Cryptography, 15001815. New York, 1963. Simplistic but very interesting.

De Lamar Jensen


views updated Jun 11 2018



There are at least two senses in which the term “diplomacy” is used: the first and more narrowly defined refers to the process by which governments, acting through official agents, communicate with one another; the second, of broader scope, refers to modes or techniques of foreign policy affecting the international system (Nicolson [1939] 1964, pp. 13–14).

In the past it was believed that the narrower notion of diplomacy embraced all official contacts and connections of a peaceful nature between state units (Satow [1917] 1962, p. 1). It is now clear that it does not do so: governments have means of communicating officially that could scarcely be called diplomatic. In 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, official messages were broadcast to save time and the protagonists negotiated in a number of other unorthodox ways (Schlesinger 1965). More generally, public statements of policy, speeches by influential leaders, and revelations to the press have served as means of direct contact with foreign states. In its restricted definition, then, diplomacy refers specifically to the use of accredited officials for intergovernmental communication, not simply to communications links between states.

Origin and development of diplomacy. Employment of diplomatic envoys is as ancient as polities themselves (C. D. Burns 1931), but not until the fifteenth century were the first permanent legations established. The Italian states inaugurated the ambassadorial system, which rapidly spread to the rest of Europe. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century two classes of diplomatic representatives were utilized: ambassadors, who were obliged to vie for precedence in the capital to which they were assigned; and semiofficial agents, who, though less involved in court functions, did not have access to fully authoritative sources of information, At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, four categories of representatives were established: (1) ambassadors, papal legates, and nuncios; (2) envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary; (3) ministers resident; and (4) chargés d’affaires. Precedence was to be based on the rank of the appointment conferred by the home government and on seniority of service in the particular capital. Thus were enunciated the basic diplomatic conventions as we know them today (Nicolson [1939] 1964, pp. 28, 31–33).

Until the twentieth century, members of the diplomatic corps were recruited from the wealthy classes (C. D. Burns 1931). Those selected were generally amateurs, whose rank and social position entitled them to consideration for diplomatic appointment. Examinations, when required, placed inordinate emphasis upon linguistic competence, and a degree of financial independence was a pre-requisite. By World War ii an appreciable democratization and professionalization of foreign services had occurred (Ilchman 1961). Competitive substantive examinations requiring high educational attainment had been instituted in most major coun-tries (Nicolson [1939] 1964, pp. 208–218). Independent means was no longer a requirement for entry into the diplomatic corps, and women became eligible for appointment.

Impact of technology on diplomacy. With the technological revolution of the twentieth century, the role of the diplomatist has changed appreciably. In the 1920s diplomatic officials were still given a certain latitude by their controlling agencies on questions of secondary importance; only in a crisis did they act merely as messengers (C. D. Burns 1931). Today the reporting function has become virtually all-encompassing; negotiations are largely conducted by foreign offices, and diplomatic representatives are utilized only for transmission of requests and responses. The daily traffic of United States messages alone totals more than 400,000 words (U.S. Congress … [1964] 1965, p. 584). Rewards in the American Foreign Service are distributed partly on the basis of the variety and quality of cables sent to Washington. We are now far removed from Jefferson’s complaint in 1791 to William Carmichael, American chargé in Spain, that he had received only one dispatch from him in 21/2 years (ibid., p. 584). This is not to say that ambassadors exercising their independent judgment do not occasionally make determinations of very great importance (Rusk [1964] 1965, p. 582; Merchant 1964, pp. 123–124). At the time of the Dominican crisis in 1965, Ambassador Bennett made assessments of crucial significance concerning the need for United States military intervention; these were heeded and acted upon in Washington. Once information and interpretation have been provided, however, decisions are taken in national capitals. Even on fairly minor matters the local ambassador possesses little power (Kennan [1964] 1965, pp. 589–590).

Diplomatic proliferation. The decline in decision-making authority of the individual diplomatist is partly correlated with the vast expansion of diplomatic missions since World War ii. In 1930 the London diplomatic corps totalled 56 embassies and legations, the largest including only 17 staff members (C. D. Burns 1931). In 1964 London had 96 foreign missions, with an average of 13.6 diplomats each. The United States housed diplomatic establishments from 107 countries. If each of the almost three thousand American diplomats abroad in 1964 had been allotted independent negotiating tasks, the foreign relations of the United States would soon have been in disorder (Brams 1966, pp. 39, 42). Even communications with overseas missions posed great difficulties. Of the 1,300 in-coming daily cables, the secretary of state saw only twenty to thirty; of the one thousand out going cables, he read about six. Increasingly, lesser officials and desk officers have become responsible for the information on which policy determinations are made (Rusk [1964] 1965, p. 578).

Another important feature of present-day diplomacy is its multilateral character. In 1963 the United States belonged to intergovernmental organizations having a gross membership of 1,141; 103 states were represented in this total. France held an even larger number of common memberships (Brams 1966, p. 49). In the same year the United States attended over 400 international conferences and participated in more than 10,000 votes (Merchant 1964, p. 128). As a consequence, much of the organization of foreign ministries has been determined by the need to prepare for and develop positions in multilateral bodies (Beloff 1961). The result has probably been to influence in some measure the content of foreign policy (E. Haas 1958; 1964).

Changing diplomatic techniques. The second and more broadly defined meaning of “diplomacy” applies to modes or techniques of foreign policy affecting the international system. In this extended sense diplomatic techniques have undergone a considerable metamorphosis since the eighteenth century (Rosecrance 1963). The extensive use of propaganda, subversion on a wide scale, and the manipulation of national economic instruments for foreign policy purposes have greatly enlarged the range of multilateral dealings on the world scene. Now even cultural and educational exchange may be seen as a tool in the cold war (Coombs 1964). To be sure, a plentiful armory of diplomatic weapons has been the stock in trade of state action since the time of Machiavelli. The most vigorous use of these implements, however, awaited the French Revolution and the fruition of nationalism (Rosecrance 1963). And it was not until the 1930s and World War ii that the “old diplomacy” was transformed (Craig 1961, pp. 23–25).

The evolution of techniques was, at the same time, an alteration of the boundary between domestic and external politics. While domestic affairs during the eighteenth century had remained largely unaffected by wars, in the twentieth violence came to be expressed internally, as well as externally (Scott 1964). Subversion, propaganda manipulation, and economic pressure combined to sap the sinews of domestic strength.

Of equivalent importance, new systems of action appeared in international diplomacy. The totalitarians inaugurated a new form of diplomacy, consisting of bluff, bluster, and intemperate attack. They did not hesitate to sign agreements with democratic powers, knowing that they could violate them later with impunity.

After World War ii the emergence of a large number of new nations added a new dimension to the practice of diplomacy. In 1914 approximately twenty states had abiding interests in foreign relations, and of these all but two or three were European (Craig 1961). A generation after World War ii there were more than 115 states engaged in world politics and more than half were Afro—Asian. These new nations operated on behalf of divergent objectives, and the techniques they employed were often distinct (Binder 1958). The hypothesis could be entertained that the new nations represented a separate subsystem of international relations. In the twenty years following World War ii an essentially European system of international relations had been transformed into a world system. The world system was not fundamentally European: it consisted of a congeries of separate regional subsystems, unified only at the topmost level of inter-action. Under the circumstances it was not surprising that nations should follow different “rules of the game.” Perhaps the most characteristic difference between European and Afro-Asian systems was illustrated in attitudes toward the balance of power. Even minor shifts in Europe brought forth a countervailing powerful coalition to prevent further imbalance; in Asia even fundamental alterations in the power balance did not stimulate formation of an opposing bloc (Rosecrance 1956).

Diplomatic patterns. Diplomatic techniques are, of course, related to diplomatic patterns. Twenty years after the close of World War ii it was still difficult to discern the direction in which international constellations were moving. In the immediate postwar era, bipolarity was an accepted general description of the state of the international system. As a range of new nations attained independence and refused to align with either of the two major blocs, however, multipolarity was hailed as the emergent system of the future (Rostow 1960). Some authors found a mixed system most realistic, with bipolarity characteristic of military matters and multipolarity of political matters (Liska 1963). Still others declared the two major alliance systems to be incidents of the balance of power process; alliance patterns would be reshaped as new threats emerged, and the world would revert to the combinations and procedures of the nineteenth century (Bull 1964).

Part of the debate revolved around the nature of dynamic processes: international politics could be seen as a sociological process, with political outcomes dependent upon the balance and intensity of communications flows (Deutsch 1953); it could be seen as a power process, with political outcomes dependent upon the external impact of other actors (Hinsley 1963). If diplomacy depended partly upon cultural communications and political, economic, and historical ties, some degree of North Atlantic cohesion might survive after cooperation was no longer strictly necessary on grounds of threats to the peace. If diplomacy was a product of military-political factors only, the quiescence of Russia and the resurgence of China should produce entirely new constellations of force.

Material considerations were also relevant. In economic and technological terms the Soviet Union and the United States were likely to remain the dominant international powers until at least the beginning of the 21st century (Waltz 1964). Their rate of industrial development, as compared to that of the new nations, was likely to increase their preeminence. The challenges to technological bipolarity were to be found within or on the fringes of major-power alliance systems. Japan, western Europe, and China would be independent power centers, in economic-technological terms, at some point in the future. These powers, if they pursued separate international courses, could create an oligopolistic international order, partially akin to the five-power confraternity of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For a considerable period of time, however, western Europe seemed destined to remain disunited: the relaxation of cold war hostilities, if it diminished the need for Atlantic cohesion, also reduced the momentum behind European integration. And as long as western Europe was divided, it would remain a tempting prize in the cold war and a reason for continued, if limited, hostility between the Western and the Soviet camps. In the circumstances, it was interesting that the divergence of interests between the haves and havenots led to so little conflict along North-South lines. East-West disputes continued to be controlling (Russett 1965; Alker 1964). Such patterns, if perpetuated, suggested the projection of a modified bipolarity well into the future.

Determinants of diplomacy. Future patterns of diplomatic action depend, of course, on the same basic factors that underlie international order. Some writers have viewed these as primarily domestic and sociopsychological, arguing that wars are caused by internal tensions and that domestic conflicts, explicit or latent, spill over into the international arena (Freud 1930; M. Haas 1964; and Rosecrance 1963). There has been some historical evidence for this proposition in the period since the French Revolution: the working out of domestic revolutionary issues often had consequences for the international system; patterns of external peace often were correlated with periods of internal stability (Rosecrance 1963). And yet this was not always the case: military power could be either a facilitative or a restraining influence (Hinsley 1963).

It was possible even to advance contrary hypotheses: that domestic change might be caused by international factors (Liska 1963) or, at the least, that domestic conflict was not clearly related to foreign conflict in certain recent periods (Rummel 1963). Such approaches led directly to claims that the form of the international system—specifically the lack of a strong supranational framework, capable of regulating international conflict—ensured the continuance of war (Waltz 1959). Whatever the validity of such contentions (and some evidence pointed in another direction: Deutsch et al. 1957), they could not be fully tested in the absence of international government. World government, moreover, was, as nearly everyone admitted, unobtainable, and theorists of diplomacy were forced back on less funda-mental remedies for international strife. At this level no particular relationship was found between specific alliance patterns and the existence of war (Singer & Small 1965a, p. 35).

Some writers, however, observed a connection between the levels of international threat and a conflict spiral ending in war. The argument was that if threats (or the perception of injury) reach a certain magnitude, a state is tempted to go to war regardless of the military consequences. This theory was intended as an explicit refutation of the deterrent hypothesis, i.e., that states never attack when they believe their opponent is stronger at the time they must make the decision. Its advocates claimed that political threats overbore military threats (Zinnes et al. 1961).

This argument is based upon a partial misunderstanding of deterrent mechanisms that was developed by military writers (Ellsberg 1960). Deterrence is not simply a matter of respective military proportions; it is inextricably connected with the probability that military forces might be used. If a state was sure that its opponent was going to attack it anyway, that state might decide to attack first, despite an unfavorable balance of military force, in order to reap the advantages of the initiative. If the status quo had worsened decisively from the point of view of one state, it might wish to attack (even though the probability of its winning was very small) in order to avoid the disastrous consequences of the situation. In the theory of deterrence, the risks of not striking had to be assessed alongside the risks that striking entailed (Wohlstetter 1959). Deterrence calculations, then, did not rest solely or even primarily on the balance of military postures. Nor did it follow that military deterrence analyses prescribed in crisis situations an increased military threat against an opponent in order to forestall his possible decision for war.

Because of the threat posed by nuclear weapons, it was generally believed that their acquisition by additional countries would raise the risks of war. Such an impact could not be discounted (Beaton & Maddox 1962); neither, however, on the basis of available evidence, could it be confirmed. There remained the possibility that nuclear weapons might turn out to be an expensive detour, useful for prestige purposes but irrelevant for war. As smaller states opted for nuclear capabilities, larger ones were concentrating on conventional and counter-insurgency postures. The very success of deterrence in preventing nuclear war raised the stakes and possible rewards of internal violence and warfare (Huntington 1962). In the longer run deterrent stability seemed likely to focus attention on conventional arenas, in which middle powers might contend much more equally with the great states for position and influence than they would be able to do in a nuclear arms race. Under such conditions the spread of nuclear weapons would merely divert resources from those types of conflicts in which major political and military gains would be likely and enhanced bipolarity could actually result [seeDeterrence].

The prospects for diplomacy. Different international constellations would require different diplomatic methods to attain desired outcomes. A bipolar order places major emphasis upon military competition between two great blocs. Intrabloc diplomacy becomes coalition management, in the face of exterior threat. As long as the danger of war between blocs is not negligible, individual interests are sub-merged in a common opposition to the external foe. In such circumstances diplomacy proceeds by military reassurance of allies and military deterrence of enemies. Integrated or quasi-supranational military-political mechanisms may be set up within blocs. Between blocs only the most tenuous diplomatic connections need be maintained. In other words, a bipolar world largely substitutes military for diplomatic skills and operates within clearly distinguished arenas of common and opposed objectives.

In a multipolar order, on the other hand, enemies and allies are no longer clearly differentiated and different standards of diplomatic competence and practice are therefore required. International outcomes will be determined as much by diplomatic skill as by military force. As long as no single, salient threat to the international system emerges, alliances and antagonisms will be tentative and short-lived. Since the major powers will by and large be able to fend for themselves, military arrangements with other states will be less necessary. Increments to national position will accrue more from diplomatic than from military feats. A truly multipolar order will require a vastly increased diplomatic corps and enhanced diplomatic prescience. Since political combinations will be hard to predict and the number of significant actors very large, diplomatic intelligence and research will be all-important.

In the intermediate case, that of an oligopolar order, military arts would continue to exert an important influence, while the number of crucial national actors would rise to five or six. Major military capacities would be confined to the international oligopoly; other states would not play a significant military role. Relations between the large powers would require a delicate balancing of military and diplomatic techniques. Changes in combinations among the ruling powers might have a decisive impact upon the security of one of their number. Diplomatic virtuosity akin to that practiced in the eighteenth century would be a necessary supplement to nuclear deterrence. A united oligarchy would have theoretical supremacy over the rest of the world; its internal divisions, however, would be likely to sanction diplomatic contests for the allegiance of smaller states. Again military and diplomatic variables would contend for influence.

A tentative assessment of these possibilities would stress the growing influence of diplomacy. If hostilities are focused and raised to peak intensity, military factors are dominant; if they are diffused and lessened, diplomacy becomes preeminent. Even in a bipolar order, diplomacy has played an important part: nations might have wished for war or an overturn of past patterns of international outcomes; if they used coercion to achieve their objectives, however, its expression had to be disciplined and restrained. Negotiation was as essential an ingredient as proportionate force. In the 1960s it remains possible that there will be in the future a revival of historic diplomacy: if unlimited violence cannot be tolerated, diplomacy may flourish anew.

R. N. Rosecrance

[See alsoAlliances; Communism, article onthe international system; Foreign policy; International politics; Negotiation; Systems Analysis, article oninternational systems. Guides to other relevant material may be found underInternational relationsandWar.]


Alker, Hayward R. JR. 1964 Dimensions of Conflict in the General Assembly. American Political Science Review 58:642–657.

Beaton, Leonard; and Maddox, John R. 1962 The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. New York: Praeger.

Beloff, Max 1961 New Dimensions in Foreign Policy: A Study in British Administrative Experience, 1947–1959. New York: Macmillan.

Binder, Leonard 1958 The Middle East as a Subordinate International System. World Politics 10:408–429.

Brams, Steven J. 1966 Flow and Form in the International System. Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern Univ.

Bull, Hedley 1964 Strategy and the Atlantic Alliance: A Critique of United States Doctrine. Policy Memorandum No. 29. Princeton Univ., Center of International Studies.

Burns, Arthur L. 1957 From Balance to Deterrence: A Theoretical Analysis. World Politics 9:494–529.

Burns, C. Delisle 1931 Diplomacy. Volume 5, pages 147–153 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Coombs, Philip 1964 The Fourth Dimension of Foreign Policy: Educational and Cultural Affairs. New York: Harper.

Craig, Gordon 1961 On the Diplomatic Revolution of Our Times. Haynes Foundation Lectures, 1961. Riverside: Univ. of California Press.

Deutsch, Karl W. 1953 Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry Into the Foundations of Nationality.Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press; New York: Wiley.

Deutsch, Karl W. et al. 1957 Political Community and the North Atlantic Area: International Organization in the Light of Historical Experience. Princeton Univ. Press.

Ellsberg, Daniel 1960 The Crude Analysis of Strategic Choices. RAND Corporation Paper 2183. Santa Monica, Calif.: The Corporation.

Freud, Sigmund (1930) 1958 Civilization and Its Discontents. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as Das Unbehagen in der Kultur.

Haas, Ernst B. 1958 The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social, and Economic Forces, 1950–1957. Stanford Univ. Press.

Haas, Ernst B. 1964 Beyond the Nation-state: Functionism and International Organization. Stanford Univ. Press.

Haas, Michael 1964 Some Societal Correlates of Inter-national Political Behavior. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford Univ.

Hinsley, Francis H. 1963 Power and the Pursuit of Peace: Theory and Practice in the History of Relations Between States. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1962 Patterns of Violence in World Politics. Pages 17–50 in Samuel P. Huntington (editor), Changing Patterns of Military Politics. New York: Free Press.

Ilchman, Warren F. 1961 Professional Diplomacy in the United States, 1779–1939: A Study in Administrative History. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Kennan, George F. (1964) 1965 Impressions of a Recent Ambassadorial Experience. Pages 587–594 in Harry Howe Ransom (editor), An American Foreign Policy Reader. New York: Crowell.

Liska, George 1963 Continuity and Change in International Systems. World Politics 16:118–136.

Merchant, Livingston 1964 New Techniques in Diplomacy. Pages 117–135 in Edgar A. J. Johnson (editor), The Dimensions of Diplomacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Nicolson, Harold (1939) 1964 Diplomacy. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Rosecrance, Richard N. 1956 The Aims and Methods of American Policy in Asia. Public Policy: A Yearbook of the Graduate School of Public Administration (Harvard University) 7:3–24.

Rosecrance, Richard N. 1963 Action and Reaction in World Politics: International Systems in Perspective. Boston: Little.

Rostow, Walt W. 1960 U.S. in the World Arena: An Essay in Recent History. New York: Harper.

Rummel, Rudolph J. 1963 Dimensions of Conflict Behavior Within and Between Nations. General Systems 8:1–50.

Rusk, Dean (1964) 1965 Diplomacy as an Instrument. Pages 576–583 in Harry Howe Ransom (editor), An American Foreign Policy Reader. New York: Crowell.

Russett, Bruce M. 1965 Trends in World Politics. New York: Macmillan.

Satow, Ernest M. (1917) 1962 A Guide to Diplomatic Practice. 4th ed. Edited by Nevile Bland. London: Longmans.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. JR. 1965 A Thousand Days. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Scott, Andrew M. 1964 International Violence as an Instrument of Cold Warfare. Pages 154–169 in James N. Rosenau (editor), International Aspects of Civil Strife. Princeton Univ. Press.

Singer, J. David; and Small, Melvin 1965a Formal Alliances, 1915–1939: Quantitative Description. Unpublished manuscript, Univ. of Michigan, Mental Health Research Institute.

Singer, J. David; and Small, Melvin 1965b The Composition and Status Ordering of the International System: 1815–1940. Unpublished manuscript, Univ. of Michigan, Mental Health Research Institute.

U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on National Security Staffing and Operations (1964)1965 The American Ambassador. Pages 584–587 in Harry Howe Ransom (editor), An American Foreign Policy Reader. New York: Crowell.

Waltz, Kenneth N. 1959 Man, the State and War. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Waltz, Kenneth N. 1964 The Stability of a Bipolar World. Dædalus 93:881–909.

Wohlstetter, Albert 1959 The Delicate Balance of Terror. Foreign Affairs 37:211–234.

Zinnes, Dina A.; North, Robert C.; and Koch, Howard E. 1961 Capability, Threat and the Outbreak of War. Pages 469–482 in James N. Rosenau (editor), International Politics and Foreign Policy: A Reader in Research and Theory. New York: Free Press.


views updated May 21 2018


revolution and napoleon
the congress of vienna
the concert in operation
decline of the concert
europe without the concert
the road to world war i
the 1914 crisis

Since the fifteenth century, the European international system had been composed of sovereign states, among which five Great Powers had attained ascendancy by 1750: France, Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Each sovereign state recognized no higher law or authority than itself. The inevitable result was unrestrained competition for power and survival, which reached its climax in the late eighteenth century with the Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795), which its perpetrators did not even try to justify by any law. The only restraint was the idea of the "balance of power": if one state became so strong as to threaten imperial domination over all, the others would unite to prevent it.

revolution and napoleon

This international anarchy became still more ruthless after the French Revolution (1789), whose revolutionary ideals provided both a rationalization for aggression and a new means to sustain it: the nation in arms. A generation of war, lasting from 1792 to 1815, was the result, brought to its climax by the insatiable ambition and military genius of Napoleon. During these years, European diplomacy consisted of little more than efforts, unsuccessful until 1813, to form a coalition that could defeat him.

the congress of vienna

When after Napoleon's fall Europe's statesmen met at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), they came convinced that Europe could not afford another generation of war. Simply reviving the balance of power and taking precautions against renewed French aggression would not suffice. A new diplomatic order for Europe had to be constructed, one that would avoid the flaws not merely of the revolutionary era, but of the age of iron power politics that had preceded and paved the way for it. Their solution was the "Concert of Europe," a concept based on the realization that war was a threat to all, and so all must cooperate to prevent it. The Great Powers, following a novel policy of restraint and limited aims, would work together to settle disputes by consensus rather than confrontation. This policy was successfully applied at the congress: although many disputes arose, involving major national interests that in earlier times would probably have led to war, all were settled peacefully.

To carry on this policy after the congress, in 1815 Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia signed the Quadruple Alliance. It was directed against further French aggression, but its true importance was that it also provided that the signatories would hold periodic meetings to settle problems that might threaten the peace. This was the foundation for the system of conferences that was largely responsible for the relative peace Europe would enjoy until 1914.

the concert in operation

For forty years after 1815, conferences met to deal with any threat to peace. One threat came from liberal-nationalist revolutions against the existing order, which were often in areas where the interests of the Great Powers clashed. For example, in 1820 revolution broke out in Italy. Austria, the predominant power there, was determined to suppress it, but met with opposition from France and Russia, which had their own Italian ambitions. A serious quarrel arose, but in the end, the spirit of the concert prevailed and a peaceful settlement was reached. A greater threat to peace came with the Belgian revolt against Dutch rule in 1830. Belgium had long been a flashpoint, where the colliding interests of the powers had often led to war. But the powers met in conference, and a question that in earlier times would surely have led to war, was settled peacefully by mutual agreement that Belgium would become independent and neutral. Even in the great revolutionary wave of 1848 to 1849, covering the entire continent west of Russia, conference diplomacy prevented any war among the powers. Another danger lay in the "Eastern Question." The Ottoman Empire was in terminal decline, threatened by revolt among its Christian subjects in the Balkans and the territorial ambitions of Russia—ambitions the other Great Powers opposed, because, if gratified, they would upset the balance of power. Several crises resulted, but all were settled peacefully.

decline of the concert

But in the 1850s the Concert of Europe began to decline. The basic cause was the passing of the generation of statesmen who had endured the Napoleonic Wars and their replacement by new leaders who, lacking those traumatic memories, were more willing to go to war to achieve their ambitions. Chief among them was Emperor Napoleon III (r. 1852–1871) of France. He aimed to make France once again the leading power, by acting as the champion of the European nationalist movement. Since the conservative powers, especially Russia, opposed this aim, he deliberately broke with the concert, and engineered a war intended to weaken Russia. For the first time in forty years, the Great Powers went to war—the Crimean War (1853–1856), Russia versus France, Britain, and Turkey. Russia was badly defeated, and for the next decade withdrew from international affairs.

The field was now free for Napoleon III to act. His first target was Italy, where a growing nationalist movement sought to end Austrian domination and create a unified state. In 1858 he negotiated a secret agreement with Count Camillo Cavour, leader of Piedmont-Sardinia, the strongest and most ambitious Italian state: they would provoke the Austrians into war, drive them out, and set up an Italian confederation, in which France was to have a dominant role. Attempts by the other powers to mediate were brushed aside, and once again, war was deliberately provoked, ending in Austrian defeat and Italian unification.

Napoleon's policy had seriously weakened the concert, but Otto von Bismarck of Prussia provided the final blow. Though Bismarck used German nationalism to win popular support, his true aim was to strengthen Prussia by expanding its control over all Germany. Because this aim could be attained only by war, he too rejected the concert. With great skill and unscrupulousness, he provoked a war in 1866 with Austria that led to Prussian control of northern Germany. France opposed any further Prussian advance as a threat to its security, so Bismarck maneuvered France into the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). Victory allowed him to complete German unification, at the cost of lasting French hostility.

By 1871 irretrievable damage had been done to the Concert of Europe. Leaders had defied it, rejected its efforts at mediation, and benefited by deliberately provoking wars. Their success was fatal to the spirit of the concert. Conferences were still held in times of crisis, but not, as in the past, to settle problems in a spirit of consensus, but as tests of power between rival states.

europe without the concert

Europe thus entered upon a new and dangerous era. The Eastern Question reemerged, as revolts by the Christian peoples of the Balkans against Turkish rule multiplied, reviving Russian ambitions, to the alarm of the other powers. Serious crises resulted in 1875 and 1884. Another source of tension was the rise of the "new imperialism" in the 1880s. Unlike earlier European imperialism, which had sought economically valuable colonies such as India, the new imperialism was largely driven by irrational factors, as a means to demonstrate national greatness. The most spectacular example was the "scramble for Africa," in which virtually that entire continent was seized by one power or another. Here too, fierce competition among the powers for colonies lead to several crises, notably the Fashoda Affair in 1898, when British and French expeditionary forces stumbled into each other in southern Sudan, and war between France and Britain seemed briefly possible.

That these crises did not lead to war among the Great Powers was not because the concert revived, but because in each crisis the strength of one side or the other was so clearly superior that its rival did not dare risk war. Another factor making for peace was, ironically, Bismarck. Since he saw his new German Empire threatened by the usual tendency of the powers to unite against any state that seemed to threaten the balance of power, he ostentatiously followed a policy of restraint. Fearing that Germany would be dragged into any European war, he used all his skill to settle crises peacefully. He arranged alliances with most of the other powers, partly to isolate France, but also as a means of influencing his allies to keep the peace.

the road to world war i

Deterioration began when the new German emperor, William II, dismissed Bismarck in 1890. Though the emperor did not have the plans for European domination often ascribed to him, he had little grasp of the realities of international affairs or of Germany's true interests. Moreover, he was tactless and given to rhetorical outbursts about Germany's rightful place in the world. He soon managed to alienate most of Germany's allies and to arouse growing suspicion of his ultimate objectives.

By 1907, Russia and France were allies, and Britain had come to an understanding with them for cooperation. Germany's only remaining ally was Austria.

The stage was now set for the crises that paved the way for World War I. Two crises, in 1905 and 1911, arose from French efforts to annex Morocco, violating German interests there guaranteed by earlier agreements. Germany had cause for complaint, but the threatening way in which it demanded compensation alienated the other powers, which backed France. In both crises Germany retreated, because the question clearly was not worth war, but remained resentful.

The two Balkan crises were far more dangerous, for they involved the vital interests of a Great Power. Since 1903, Serbia had sought by agitation and terrorism to force the multinational Austrian Empire to yield its southern Slavic lands. Austria was determined to resist, fearing that if after the loss of Italy and Germany, its Slavic provinces too were lost, it would mean the end of the empire. Austria could have easily subdued Serbia, but the latter was supported by Russia and its allies France and Britain, while Germany felt compelled to support Austria, its only remaining ally, or face isolation. Thus, Austro-Serb quarrels led to crises that threatened war, in 1908 to 1909 and 1912 to 1913. In both, Austrian policy was essentially defensive, facing an aggressive Serbia backed by Russia. Each side appealed to its allies, and soon Austria and Germany faced Russia, France, and Britain in a crisis that threatened war. On both occasions, Britain and France refused to go to war over Balkan issues, forcing Russia to retreat. Peace was preserved, but the international situation remained very dangerous. Russia, bitterly resentful, was resolved to accept no more defeats, while France and Britain feared that another failure to support Russia would lose its alliance. Austria found its victories did it little good, for Serbia, more hostile than ever, escalated its agitation and terrorism.

the 1914 crisis

On 28 June 1914 Serbian-backed terrorists assassinated Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne. This convinced the enraged Austrians that since diplomatic victories had failed to end Serbian terrorism, only military action would suffice. Austria sent Serbia an ultimatum designed to be rejected and so give a pretext for invasion. Austria wanted only a limited war, hoping that strong German support would force Russia to back down once again. William II promised support, giving Austria-Hungary the infamous "blank check," although he too hoped that a firm stand would prevent a general war. But Russia after two previous humiliations was in no mood to retreat: it promised Serbia full support and mobilized its army. The other powers responded with their own mobilizations. France, afraid to lose Russia's alliance, promised it full support. Last-minute efforts by Britain and Germany to avert war failed—no power was willing to accept another diplomatic defeat, and none realized how disastrous modern war would be: all expected a quick, relatively bloodless conflict, not the four-year-long bloodbath that lay ahead. On 31 August Germany demanded that Russia and France end mobilization, and after their refusal, declared war.

World War I was the logical consequence of Europe's gradual return to international anarchy after 1850. In 1815 statesmen horrified by the disasters of the Napoleonic Wars had created the Concert of Europe in the hope of establishing the basis for lasting peace. Their great effort had been undermined by leaders whose determination to achieve their ambitions had led them to forget the lesson the statesmen of 1815 had learned from bitter experience—that war was the common enemy of all. Europe would now have to learn that lesson again, in an even greater war.

See alsoBismarck, Otto von; Cavour, Count (Camillo Benso); Concert of Europe; Congress of Vienna; Eastern Question; Fashoda Affair; Francis Ferdinand; Napoleon III; William II.


Primary Sources

German Diplomatic Documents, 1871–1914. Selected and translated by E. T. S. Dugdale. 4 vols. London, 1928–1931.

Metternich, Clemens von. Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Edited by Richard von Metternich-Winneburg. Translated by Mrs. Alexander Napier. 5 vols. London, 1880–1882.

Secondary Sources

Anderson, M. S. The Eastern Question, 1774–1923: A Study in International Relations. London, 1966.

Bridge, F. R. The Habsburg Monarchy among the Great Powers, 1815–1918. New York, 1990.

Gulick, Edward Vose. Europe's Classical Balance of Power: A Case History of the Theory and Practice of One of the Great Concepts of European Statecraft. Ithaca, N.Y., 1955. Reprint, Westport, Conn., 1982.

Jelavich, Barbara. A Century of Russian Foreign Policy, 1814–1914. Philadelphia, 1964.

Pflanze, Otto. Bismarck and the Development of Germany. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1990.

Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford, U.K., 1994.

Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918. Oxford, U.K., 1954.

Alan J. Reinerman


views updated May 21 2018





Diplomacy is often simply referred to as the dialogue among nations, but it is more precisely a dialogue among agents of nations, or diplomats. The word diplomacy originated from diploma, which in early modern Europe was the letter of credence that certified an ambassadors power to negotiate and serve as the direct representative or plenipotentiary of the sovereign.


Diplomacy is a central concept in the study of international relations, although scholars often disagree about its function. There is a general distinction in the social science literature between diplomacy as foreign policy, and diplomacy as the process of negotiation and deliberation that promotes peace and cooperation among nations. Diplomacy as foreign policy is the expressed desire of nations to use words before force. It is the default mode of operation for liberal states, and it is often the aim among nonliberal states to engage in diplomacy if they seek acceptance in international politics. Among early political scientists, the word diplomacy was used interchangeably with international relations. In the twenty-first century diplomacy often takes the form of membership in international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, diplomacy as simply foreign policy captures only a superficial element of the workings of international relations. Diplomacy encompasses a great number of international activities that do not include processes of cooperation. As José Calvet de Magalhães points out in The Pure Concept of Diplomacy (1988), states can engage in unilateral contact such as propaganda, espionage, and political or economic intervention. They can also engage in violent contact such as threat, deterrence, and economic war. Thus, the definition of diplomacy as a dialogue among nations is very broad.

Diplomacy as a process of negotiation and deliberation highlights the fact that the art of diplomacy is a skill that certain individuals, called diplomats, possess. Thus, diplomacy is defined specifically as an act of negotiation among accredited persons, not nations as a whole. Social scientific approaches that regard nations as unitary actors ignore the important subtleties of the art of negotiation that can often make or break efforts to reach compromise. Diplomats are people with individual and collective agency who interact over time and who are the products of a rich historical tradition of norms, negotiation, and representation. In political science there are two main approaches to understanding the work of diplomats or the process of diplomacy. One is that negotiations are conducted as hard-bargaining scenarios, and the second is that shared norms among diplomats can result in persuasion and informal methods of compromise.


The first approach, bargaining theory, predicts that diplomats are important to outcomes of international cooperation because they reduce transaction costs in negotiations among nations. Transaction costs consist of the expense and inefficiency that would be involved in international cooperation if statespeople, as nonexpert negotiators, were to conduct all foreign policy on their own. Robert Putnam (1988) is well known for his argument about two-level games among diplomats. In his model level 1 is the negotiation phase, where diplomats bargain at the international table. Level 2 consists of the ratification stage in which there are separate discussions within each group of constituents about whether to ratify the agreement. For Putnam, there is a win-set that represents all the possible level 1 agreements that would satisfy level 2 constituencies. The size of the win-set depends on the distribution of power, preferences, and possible coalitions among level 1 constituents.

Many scholars argue that bargaining theory tends to be overdeterministic and advances a snapshot view. The methodology of comparing initial state preferences to final outcomes misses the critical processes that occur in-between. By ignoring factors such as relationships among negotiators, professional background, expertise, and shared normative frameworks, bargaining theorists pass up explanatory power.

The second approach argues that persuasion and informal methods of reaching compromise occur because diplomats come to share norms as they interact over time. For example, who the diplomats are, whether they have interacted on prior occasions, what kind of training they have received, how they were selected, their skill level, and so on are all important. In effect, diplomats cultivate relationships with one another throughout their careers, giving them a fundamental basis of interaction or shared understandings about the way international relations should work. Naturally, relationship building is often strongest among diplomats who work in international organizations. Thus, they are more likely to reach cooperative outcomes through persuasion and informal means than hard-bargaining approaches would anticipate. Of course, the power and resources of each state have some bearing on the leverage diplomats have in negotiation, but outcomes still rest on the abilities of individual diplomats and on their dynamic as a collective. Robert Jervis argues in Perception and Misperception in International Politics (1976) that perceptions of power, not actual power, are the key to any form of international relations whether in war or peace. Diplomats may often contribute to such perceptions.

Relative power among nations may play a role in determining whether or not state leaders decide to try to cooperate, but persuasion is to a significant extent out of the grasp of power. The ability to persuade is often in the hands of the diplomats. This was evident in the mammoth efforts of Secretary of State Colin Powell in 20022003 to sell the policies of the Bush administrationoften relying more on the perception of his own independence and public respect to bring some credibility to a policy that was otherwise resisted. This occurred perhaps most notably in the UN Security Council debates over the possibility of going to war in Iraq, where some distancing by Powell made him more credible in the assurances he gave.

Despite the many ways in which diplomacy may smooth the interaction among nations, either through hard bargaining or persuasion, diplomacy does not always pay off. A compromise solution may seem continuously out of reach, such as in the relationships between Israel and the Palestinians, India and Pakistan, and nations such as Iran and North Korea with the rest of the world. Sometimes historical, religious, cultural, and political differences within nations may be so strong that even diplomacy may have a hard time providing a solution.

SEE ALSO Cooperation; International Relations; North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Putnam, Robert; United Nations


Cross, Maia K. Davis. 2006. The European Corps: Diplomats and International Cooperation in Western Europe. In The Diplomatic Corps and International Society, ed. Paul Sharp and Geoffrey Wiseman. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jervis, Robert. 1976. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Magalhães, José Calvet de. 1988. The Pure Concept of Diplomacy. Trans. Bernardo Futscher Pereira. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Putnam, Robert. 1988. Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games. International Organization 42 (3): 427460.

Watson, Adam. 1982. Diplomacy. London: Eyre Methuen.

Maia K. Davis Cross


views updated May 29 2018


During the Renaissance, diplomacy—the practice of conducting relations between nations—developed into a permanent activity of government. European rulers began to send ambassadors to live in foreign lands to gather information and to represent their countries. In the Middle Ages, by contrast, rulers usually sent representatives to other states for short periods of time to accomplish specific tasks.

The Rise of Diplomacy. Resident ambassadors first appeared in Italy. The growth of Italian city-states created a need for governments to communicate with their allies and to gather information about their rivals. By the 1450s the dukes of Milan had established embassies in Naples, Genoa, Rome, and Venice. Various Italian city-states followed Milan's example and set up diplomatic posts in other states. Florence appointed an ambassador to France in 1474.

This new focus on diplomacy slowly spread to northern Europe. Various conflicts involving Spain, France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire* led nations to see the usefulness of skillful diplomats. In the late 1480s Spain established embassies in several northern European countries, and by 1547 the king of France had ten resident ambassadors distributed across the continent.

In the 1560s, religious conflicts led Catholic and Protestant states to withdraw their ambassadors from each other's courts. Many of these countries did not reestablish diplomatic relations until the early 1600s. However, numerous states in eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Ottoman Empire did not use resident diplomats during the Renaissance.

Diplomatic Qualifications and Rank. Governments looked for certain skills in the individuals they appointed as resident ambassadors. The most important qualifications were a knowledge of Roman law and a humanist* education. Latin was the common language of diplomacy, but ambassadors also used vernacular* languages to communicate with their home governments. Many Renaissance humanists were skilled at languages and rhetoric* and served as diplomats.

Renaissance diplomats held various ranks. The two lowest-ranking officials were nuncios, who delivered prepared messages, and procurators, who could carry out certain negotiations. Ambassadors and legates had more power; they could speak and negotiate on behalf of major rulers. In the 1500s, only individuals with the title majesty had the authority to appoint ambassadors.

The relative status of different diplomats also depended on the power of the states they represented. In Catholic countries, nuncios representing the pope received greater respect than nuncios of other rulers. In the early 1500s Pope Julius II issued an order recognizing the superiority of the Holy Roman Emperor over the rulers of other states, and this distinction extended to representatives of the emperor.

In addition to resident ambassadors, Renaissance rulers sent special envoys* to represent them at important public occasions, such as the coronation of a monarch or the signing of a treaty. These envoys were usually men of great rank, often nobles. Their rich clothing, gold chains, and other signs of wealth reflected both their own status and the importance of their mission. Rulers received the special envoys with elaborate ceremonies and hospitality, and often gave them generous gifts as a sign of courtesy and respect.

Over time the diplomatic service grew to include other professionals. Resident ambassadors often employed assistants who organized the embassy's papers and maintained the codes used in writing secret communications. By the mid-1500s, European rulers began to appoint secretaries of state to manage the activities of their embassies. Often chosen from the ranks of experienced diplomats, the secretary of state would prepare instructions for ambassadors, oversee negotiations, and supervise the gathering of information.

Working Conditions for Diplomats. One of the most important elements of diplomacy was communication between ambassadors and their home governments. Messages sent to and from embassies often took weeks to reach their destinations. Moreover, rival governments sometimes tried to intercept messengers, to discover the contents of letters and documents or to prevent them from getting through. To make sure documents reached their destinations, officials sometimes sent multiple copies by various routes.

For the most part, ambassadors did not receive regular pay but were given money for particular activities. As a result, many faced financial difficulties. Some rulers took steps to pay their representatives more regularly. Nevertheless, many diplomats complained about late payments and the high cost of living and carrying out their duties far from home.

Another important issue was providing security for diplomats, to protect them from arrest or ill treatment in foreign countries. Most governments granted resident ambassadors some basic rights. However, rulers did not hesitate to imprison an ambassador who committed a crime or other serious offense. Political writers urged diplomats to avoid dishonest behavior and deceitful practices. Yet they also acknowledged that the main responsibility of these officials was to defend and advance the interests of their countries.

(See alsoEspionage; Transportation and Communication. )

* Holy Roman Empire

political body in central Europe composed of several states; existed until 1806

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* vernacular

native language or dialect of a region or country

* rhetoric

art of speaking and writing effectively

* envoy

representative of government sent on a special mission


views updated May 21 2018

diplomacy XVIII. — F. diplomatie, f. diplomatique. diplomatic pert. to original official documents; concerned with diplomacy. XVIII. In the former sense — modL. diplōmaticus, f. L. diplōmat- DIPLOMA; in the latter sense — F. diplomatique. As sb. diplomatic
A. †diplomatist; diplomacy XVIII;

B. (also -ics) study of original documents XIX. A. sb. uses of the adj.; B — F. diplomatique.

So diplomat XIX. — F. diplomate, back-formation from diplomatique. diplomatist XIX. f. F. diplomate or L. stem diplōmat-.


views updated May 23 2018

di·plo·ma·cy / diˈplōməsē/ • n. the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country's representatives abroad: an extensive round of diplomacy in the Middle East. ∎  the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way: his genius for tact and diplomacy.


views updated May 21 2018


DIPLOMACY. SeeForeign Policy ; Foreign Service andindividual nations and treaties.