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date: 18 February 2020

The Geography of Diplomacy

Summary and Keywords

The fields of geography and diplomacy have traditionally been closely intertwined. Diplomacy is conventionally the conduct of statecraft in the nonviolent manifestations of external relations by a specific institution. These nonviolent manifestations can be variously merged with the use of armed force. The political order of the system of states—statecraft emanates from its separate entities—is deeply permeated by geography, notably by the application of territorial control. The art of diplomacy is inextricably linked to spatial perceptions, aims at place-based assets, and plays out in a given geographical context.

As the system of states has evolved by incremental increase, functional cooperation, fragmentations and mergers, and internal centralization and decentralization of separate states, the diplomatic institution has had to adapt. As more and more non-state parties commit themselves to transboundary relations or find themselves so implicated, diplomatic practice becomes more widely required, the core of the diplomatic institution still settled in the apparatus of states.

This article is consecutively concerned with different aspects of the overlap of geography and diplomacy. In the introduction the ways in which academic geographers have over time shed light on this common ground is briefly reviewed. The next section provides an inventory of the mappings of the diplomatic web to get a sense of its general cartography, followed by descriptions of the diplomatic niche, the places where diplomacy is practiced. In the diplomatic worldview and the geographic frame, the geographic notions that are relevant to the diplomatic institution are followed according to reasoning and travel practice. Finally, shifts in the practice, contents, and functions of diplomacy are dealt with over time, based on the major geographical forces that affect the system of states in and beyond which diplomacy operates.

Keywords: geography, diplomacy, foreign policy, diplomatic relations, diplomatic practice, European Union, critical geopolitics, diplomats, international relations, public diplomacy


A list of topics to treat under the heading of geography and diplomacy should be easy to imagine, as the two are closely related. Geography deals with state and territory. The state system is based on a territorial order (Caporaso, 2000; Sassen, 2006; Taylor, 1994). Statecraft, the domain of diplomacy, is about the management of that order. Nonetheless, the geography of diplomacy is not a familiar sign, like diplomatic history, under which scholars congregate. Recent political geography textbooks, the repositories of the ordered stock of knowledge of the relevant subdiscipline, treat the subject of diplomacy sparingly, if at all. The subject hardly figures in their indexes. Significantly, in a Dictionary of Geopolitics (O’Loughlin, 1994), written mainly by geographers, diplomacy does not have its own entry, but three composite concepts in which diplomacy figures, do: atomic diplomacy, dollar diplomacy, and gunboat diplomacy. It expresses the preference for a metaphorical use of the concept suppressing its potential as a relevant site in the evolution of international relations. This is the complete opposite of Sharp’s defense of the study of diplomacy in a historical perspective as the “engine room of international relations” (Sharp, 1999, p. 33).

In the course of time, geographers have occasionally entered one diplomatic arena or another (Mamadouh, 2005). During 1900–1920, British geography professor Mackinder was widely known for his views on the British empire in global relations and was, for a while, diplomatically active (his fame was briefly rekindled during 1940–1945, and his works re-emerged once again after 1990, according to Kearns, 2009). Other geography professors (Bowman for the United States, Demangeon and Martonne for France) acted as advisers to their heads of state and foreign ministers during the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920) and wrote about their experiences (Bowman, 1922). Hartshorne (1938) published an up-to-date review of the results concerning the many border solutions that had been decided at the conference. Border problems and geopolitics relevant to the practice of diplomacy have been studied abundantly within geography. But the ways in which diplomacy as an institution has dealt with such problems and how geopolitical ideas have been formed and maintained within that institution are questions that have been studied only sparingly.

In recent years, the tide seems to have turned. One exemplary indication is a volume about diplomatic cultures edited by Dittmer and McConnell (2016). The editors and three of the eight contributors are geographers, and the different chapters deal with the ways diplomacy is practiced across spaces and in places, including by performers of diplomatic cultures on the edges of or beyond the state system. Clearly, as interest in the study of diplomacy has returned, the frame has been broadened to incorporate more forms of diplomacy than diplomatic relations between states. The interest in the institution in the core area of diplomacy has simultaneously increased. Political Geography, a flagship journal in this field, has published a historically informed case study of the Canadian foreign service (Essex, Stokes, & Yusibo, 2019) and a paper oriented to the methodology on how the emerging transnational diplomatic service of the EU should fruitfully be approached (Kuus, 2018).

In a path-breaking contribution in Political Geography, Müller (2012) referred to existing geopolitical studies as aiming at geopolitical agents, at the producers of geopolitical representations, or at both. He stressed that organizations (as Foreign Ministries, by no means the only ones) were the entities from which, somehow, practical geopolitics emerged, and he asked for further research to open that black box. In his words, this should particularly be pursued by concentrating on people driven and practice-based processes of ordering taking place within each of these organizations. Persons in these institutions through their networks interlinked with all sorts of material equipment produce and reproduce seemingly permanent geopolitical representations that guide policy and diplomatic practice. Latour’s actor-network theory, Bourdieu’s emphasis on social practices, and Deleuze’s assemblages, all ways of seeing social life as far from permanently stabilized were presented as fruitful methods for these tasks. This is part of a broader material turn in political geography (Agnew, Mamadouh, Secor, & Sharp, 2015) that also echoes the turn to the daily experience of diplomacy in international relations (Gould-Davies, 2013).

This article deals with the question: Why and how should we look at the relation of geography and diplomacy in a systematic way, and what are the results of work done so far in this field of study? The contributions of geographers as well as those from other disciplines are discussed.

In its traditional understanding, diplomacy can be broadly defined as the conduct of statecraft in all the nonviolent manifestations of external relations. Statecraft covers the responses to security concerns, the regulation of transboundary flows, the pursuance of a state’s material interests, and the projection of positive perceptions concerning the state to the outside world. This perspective is mostly covered by diplomatic history and IR specialists. Diplomacy can also be more narrowly circumscribed as an institution dealing with these matters in the preparatory and implementation stages of the foreign policy cycle with a distinctive, carefully recruited, and socialized personnel. An incisive tour d’horizon along these lines is provided in Neumann (2012), informed by political science, anthropology, and diplomatic practice. The broad and the narrow definitions differ mainly in the inclusion or exclusion of the more general political perspectives in which foreign policy sits and the final critical decisions in foreign policy in which politicians have the upper hand (Kleiner, 2008). The overlap is considerable as professional diplomats and politicians move between both compartments. This article concentrates on the narrower definition, but does not limit efforts entirely to the terrain thus demarcated.

The diplomatic tradition that we know has evolved within the European, and then in successive stages, the global state system. Where different political collectivities coexisted outside that system, functionally alternative practices developed, and the definition of diplomacy can certainly be extended to encompass these institutions to facilitate comparison (Watson, 1992). The Western diplomatic institution spread, always colored by a diversity of local customs. The steeply increasing transboundary flows of people, goods, services, money, and information, and the increasing capacity of direct and instantaneous interaction between government leaders have radically changed the environment in which the traditional institution of diplomacy and its professionals operated.

The next section focuses on the basic geographical characteristics of the diplomatic institution itself: the locations of places where it has concentrated, in the course of time, and the spatial pattern of the networks. This has been a topic of interest in geography and political science for some time. The third section considers literatures that are concerned with two important geographical aspects of the traditional diplomatic institution, the peculiar position of diplomats on foreign territory, and the buildings and urban environments in which it was set. Geographers have hardly written on these subjects, and this literature has come from architecture, law, and diplomatic history. The fourth section deals with worldviews of diplomats and their resulting practices. Here we primarily depend on the recent field of critical geopolitics, as well as recent inquiries into the daily life of diplomats in political geography and in international relations. The concluding section takes into account the changes that have affected the diplomatic tradition and moves to the question of to what extent new actors, new worldviews, and new practices are transforming it across the world.

Mapping the Diplomatic Web

The initial stages of the diplomatic web in the European state system as fixed by the establishment of resident ambassadors at foreign courts are pretty clear (Anderson, 1993). Milan sent resident ambassadors to other important Italian city-states in the late 1440s and 1450s. In due course, they reciprocated and started to send their ambassadors to other principalities. In 1460–1500, first Milan and then other Italian city-states sent ambassadors to a few European states. From the late 1480s to the 1560s, a diplomatic network was gradually built up among a few European states, notably England, France, and Spain. Pope and Holy Roman emperor, examples of pre-state political actors (Spruyt, 1994), were also involved. From the 1560s to about 1600, this process was frustrated by the Counter-Reformation, which produced a divide between Catholic and Protestant countries and resulted in the recall of ambassadors. During this period the first ambassadors were posted in Moscow (by France) and in Constantinople (by England). After 1600 the earlier network was quickly reconstituted. Peripheral countries like Sweden and Denmark, Poland, Scotland, and Portugal only became involved much later in the 17th century. Until its formal independence in 1648, the Dutch Republic, commercially powerful, but without a monarch, found it difficult to ensure that its representatives at foreign courts and in official gatherings were given the same treatment as the ambassadors of states. The resulting pattern set the terms for the diplomatic relations during the ancien régime. Occasional diplomatic incursions were made in other parts of the globe as Europeans explored the world.

In the 19th century, diplomacy within the European state system was very largely dominated by the major powers. Small powers were involved only occasionally; some even diminished their already small network of diplomatic posts. Some countries like China were practically forced into diplomatic relations with Western powers as European influence expanded. Some emerging large powers, like the United States and Japan, were gradually incorporated into the European system of diplomacy. This was also the case with members of the newly established state system of Latin America, where another internal cluster of the diplomatic web developed simultaneously (Singer & Small, 1966, in particular table 2).

Most of the work done on the map of the diplomatic web relates to the period since 1945. In these years, the European state system definitely became global as a result of continued, massive decolonization. The object of studies encompasses the web made by bilateral relations but also the structure of multilateral links through intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Their numbers grew rapidly during the first part of that period. For newly established states with slender means, multilateral channels became a viable alternative to the direct connection through the exchange of resident ambassadors.

During the 1960s, some studies on bilateral diplomatic relations were notably concerned with the question of how the Cold War, the resulting bipolarity in international relations, and the emerging “bloc” of nonaligned states affected the diplomatic web. The stability of the bilateral web was underlined (Alger & Brams, 1967). Russett’s (1967) pathbreaking but also contested study of international relations compared cluster patterns of shared IGO memberships and other links and attributes for the early 1950s and the early 1960s to see if there was some trend in the direction of regional or worldwide integration (see also Russett & Lamb, 1969 for bilateral relations). Thirty years later, Nierop (1994) looked with similar purpose at a slightly different set of links with a somewhat different methodology over a longer time frame. He considered the evolution of clusters of bilateral diplomatic relations, shared IGO memberships, and international trade for the period 1950–1991. He again found that, generally, the congruence of clusters of different kinds of links is limited. While very generally, clusters tended to become somewhat more regional over this period, they also became somewhat less closely knit. Latin America and Eastern Europe were the most convincing multidimensional regional subsystems in the world during this period. Western Europe stood out in this study as simultaneously closely knit internally and at the same time extremely well connected in all directions.

The European origin of the web is a major factor in explaining the density of the relations among its European members and the cosmopolitan nature of the regions that it forms in the bilateral and the multilateral parts of the web (Brams, 1968). More recently, Neumayer (2008) considered the presence of diplomats from and in each state for each pair of countries in 1970–2005. Explanatory concepts were geographical proximity, military power, and ideological affinity. Former colonial ties had no significant statistical effects and the findings were similar for the Cold War and the post–Cold War period.

Taylor (2005) considered the bilateral diplomatic network, as it had evolved around the year 2000, as a baseline to assess the possible emergence of relevant alternative political orderings in the making: global governance and global civil society. Contrary to earlier studies, he took cities, not states, as the basic unit of analysis. He also looked at all kinds of diplomatic presence, such as consulates and trade missions—not only embassies. He saw foreign ministries as network makers producing a city network that dealt with Westphalian interstate relations. The spatial character of the network turned out to be relatively intraregional and horizontal. The alternatives, the supranational network of global governance (through the locations of UN offices of different kinds) and the transnational network of global civil society (through the location of offices of globally operating NGOs) turned out to have networks with different characteristics. The UN network was hierarchical and showed interregional clusters; the NGO network was somewhat hierarchical but particularly interzonal, straddling the divide between the so-called global North and the South. Consequently, the bilateral diplomatic network was the least globalized despite the clear presence of a few really global political centers, Washington in particular.

Centrality in the diplomatic web or in its relevant parts has repeatedly been studied. The evolution of centrality in the European state system from a diplomatic point of view over the last four centuries has been discussed in van der Wusten (2004). It shows a considerable continuity and stability in the nodes of the web of diplomatic relations. In contrast with the currently dominant regionalizing trend of the diplomatic web as a whole, the United States became a predominant diplomatic center after 1945 at the global level. Its position has been the subject of a few recent papers (Vogeler, 1995; Xierali & Liu, 2006).

Temporary locational shifts could have been produced by the choice of the locations for singular events like multilateral congresses or bilateral summits. Van der Wusten, Denemark, Hoffmann, and Yonten (2011) have analyzed the actual venues for multilateral political negotiations, from 1600 to the present, finding an amazing continuity of the most frequented places across different periods. They turn out to have been a couple of European capital cities plus Geneva. Henrikson (2005a) has distinguished twelve different types of choices for sites and settings of major diplomatic occasions. The selection is highly constrained by geophysical and geopolitical considerations. Henrikson suggested that some sites (at border lines) may attract more conflictual gatherings, while others (crossroads) tend to receive more peace-oriented events. As diplomacy is, in his view, increasingly concerned with peace-oriented events over the longer term, diplomacy should concentrate in the appropriate spots. However, contrary factors (like security concerns regarding the event itself) may well affect such an outcome.

The Diplomatic Niche

Diplomacy got a niche in the European state system as that system emerged. Its habitus was narrowly circumscribed by different kinds of rules that gradually evolved in the course of time. A basic outline was finally put down in two international agreements in the 1960s. Diplomacy always retained an aristocratic veneer, even as it had to deal, among other things, with commercial interests from the start. The first rulebook for running a resident embassy was published in 1490 in Venice. From the very beginning great emphasis was put on ceremony and ritual. The theatre of power, as diplomacy has been called (Cohen, 1987; Wood & Serres, 1970), was meant to express status—perhaps even wider than power. The question of precedence in ceremonies and rituals has always been of the utmost importance. At the same time those rules pacified unbridgeable differences of opinion concerning status in order not to undermine the ongoing dialogue that is implicated in diplomacy. Apart from rules to guide the expression of status, other rules facilitated diplomatic dialogue, notably special rights and protections of the person, the means of transport, the residence, and the archives of the ambassador.

A few of the more tangible aspects of the diplomatic niche are the position of diplomacy vis-à-vis state territoriality and the buildings and urban milieus that it uses as its working environment. These material aspects of diplomacy have been recently rediscovered by new approaches to political geography foregrounding practices and adopting diplomacy as an assemblage.

The autonomy that state sovereignty assumes is limited by its dependency on others. For their survival, states need to control their territory and at the same time keep viable relations with others (Taylor, 1995). To keep viable relations, one needs diplomats. But to function effectively, diplomats should be liberated from the constraints that state territoriality imposes on all other residents.

Consequently the state is defined by successful territoriality and at the same time is dependent on the withdrawal of the constraints that its successful use implies in the case of diplomats. However, the inviolability, immunity, and exemption conditions under which diplomats operate can only be sustained if some sort of specifically diplomatic territoriality is realized. It has taken time to shore up this delicate balance, and unexpected problems are due to arise. Famous contemporary cases are the occupation of the American embassy in Teheran and the capture of its staff in 1979 by Iranian revolutionaries, incidents in London in the 1980s (a shooting from the Libyan embassy that killed a British policewoman and the failed attempt to kidnap a Nigerian political refugee through the diplomatic bag from the United Kingdom), the prolonged stay of a multitude of East German “tourists” in the West German embassy, eager to leave the Eastern bloc, in Prague in summer 1989, or individual activists such as Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London (2012–2019) or the Dutch antiapartheid activist Klaas de Jonge in the Dutch embassy in Pretoria (1985–1987). Most of these incidents were somehow resolved, in the end, without the use of force.

There is a considerable corpus of written diplomatic history around this theme. As incisive contextual change within the European state system became evident, Sir Ernest Satow, a long-time diplomat with Asian experience in the Foreign Office in London, wrote his celebrated handbook on the practice of diplomacy during World War I. The first edition appeared in 1917, and after a long interruption between 1932 and 1957, the work was reprinted, later under other editors, the last being Lord Gore-Booth in 1979. It was firmly rooted in the canons of traditional diplomacy, and the authorial voice sounded concerned about potential changes.

The immunity of the ambassadorial residence was dealt with by Satow (1964) in chapter 17 (also Adair, 1929). The immunity attaches to the house of the diplomatic agent and other buildings dedicated to diplomatic purposes. The immunity extends to carriages, boats, and airplanes. Immunity means that no official of the receiving country can enter. On the other hand, the enforced detention of a private person within a foreign embassy called, in Satow’s view, for the intervention of the hosting government. In this context, he mentioned the case of political refugee Sun Yat-Sen, detained in the Chinese legation in London 1896, with the apparent intention of transporting him to China. A British court declined to intervene, but a formal request to release the man, as his detention was deemed an abuse of diplomatic privilege, was granted by the Chinese (Satow, 1964, p. 218). Satow (1964, p. 219) noted differences between Europe and Latin America regarding the right to give asylum to political refugees in the house of a diplomatic agent. The right of chapel for a diplomatic agent has rarely been disputed but some particularities have occasionally been bones of contention in certain places, notably the right to ring bells and the ostentatious display of the religious building (Satow, 1964, pp. 226–227).

After a number of efforts to codify diplomatic practice into international law, since Friedrich von Gentz’s first attempt as secretary of the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), an international treaty open to all states was finally agreed to in Vienna, in 1961, under UN auspices. It entered into force in 1964 (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in UN Treaty Series vol. 500, 95; Denza, 2008). Interestingly, the 1964 edition of Satow’s guide does not refer anywhere to the Convention. It is one sign of the total immersion of the old world of diplomats in their own history and the importance of precedence as a guide for action. The Convention paid tribute to the existing different traditions of diplomatic exchange. A separate Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (agreed to in 1963, entered into force in 1967, UN Treaty Series vol. 596, 261) regulates consular posts and their personnel along similar but not identical lines.

In order to function, the diplomatic institution needs a material infrastructure, primarily buildings. During its construction and while using it, the inviolability of the grounds, rights of free passage, and secure connections necessitate extra attention. In late Cold War times and beyond, the superpowers of that period quarreled extensively on these issues while constructing new embassies in Moscow and Washington (it took three decades—1970 to 2000—to complete them). Diplomacy’s representational function and its overt manifestation in ceremony and protocol cause additional concerns in questions of accommodation. One wants to make an impression, and prestige counts. A lively illustration is the abundantly documented history of the acquisition, reconstruction, and use of Spaso House, the long-time residence of the American ambassador in Moscow.

After World War II, the Americans translated their preponderant position into a huge building program for new embassies across the world using a number of the best architects of the time to reflect their presence on the international stage in the different capitals (Gill Lui, 2004; Loeffler, 1998). “The new US facilities were showcases for modernist design, airy structures drawn up in steel and glass, full of light, and accessible to the streets. They were meant to represent a country that is generous, open, and progressive.” The Soviets in their turn did the same: “The Soviet Embassies were heavy neoclassical things, thousand-year temples built of stone and meant to impress people with the permanence of an insecure state” (Langewiesche, 2007).

Security concerns have sharpened, particularly in the U.S. foreign service, from the Vietcong attack on the American embassy in Saigon in 1965 onward, and further intensified after the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (Langewiesche, 2007, pp. 1–5). These include the concerns of neighbors, for their own safety, and also the nuisance of the security measures themselves. The style and location of American embassy buildings have now drastically changed. They are constructed following predetermined formats that maximize safety in more peripheral locations. Unavoidably, they have become closed fortifications even if done as gently as possible. Personnel are increasingly tied up in the embassy compounds and can only be approached with difficulty. The ultimate example is the Mega-Bunker of Baghdad. The consequence has been called siege diplomacy, in complete contrast with the image of the United States propagated by the wave of postwar modernist embassies, and also totally at odds with the guidelines simultaneously in force for practicing American diplomacy (Vaïsse, 2007 on “transformational diplomacy”).

The diplomatic corps in general tends to cluster in certain, attractive neighborhoods of the city where the receiving government resides (Mamadouh, Meijer, Sidaway, & van der Wusten, 2015). The quality of the neighborhood, the nearness to the hosting government, and mutual attraction within the corps direct the choices. As such locations also tend to be expensive, poorer or more frugally administered countries may have to locate their ambassadors at some distance. In newly established capital cities, diplomatic residences may be more or less prescribed by physical planning. Rarely has the establishment of diplomatic missions in specific places within a country been a source of political dispute—Jerusalem and its status as Israel’s capital being the main exception.

Newly established states must find, on short notice, a series of accommodations for their freshly installed diplomatic service. Obviously, in such cases the already existing states tend to extend their number of posts. A recent case of reconfiguration of embassies within a country is the consequence of the reestablishment of Berlin as the actual seat of the German government. This forced the diplomatic corps to move to Berlin as well. Some of the major embassies have returned to their prewar addresses (Riding, 2005). The whole operation has resulted in a number of new, freshly designed embassy buildings, providing an opportunity for countries to make a statement about the importance of their local presence and their national identity (Fleischmann, 2005).

Government departments exclusively occupied with external relations are the natural, although by no means the only, local counterparts of resident diplomats. Together they form the set of hinges that enables the traditional pattern of foreign relations to be conducted. How foreign ministries and local diplomatic corps affect each other reciprocally in the course of time is well illustrated by a study of the relations in Kristiania/Oslo since independence in the early years of the 20th century (Leira & Neumann, 2007, pp. 83–102).

Foreign offices as separate government departments have emerged in Europe since the 18th century, as foreign relations became a distinctive part of government business, sharply distinguished from other parts as the core of “high politics.” In the mid-19th century, the foreign offices of France and the United Kingdom were accommodated in highly prestigious buildings along the Seine close to the parliament building, opened in 1855 (Bonnet, 1961), and in Whitehall, opened in 1868 (Toplis, 1987). Most states now have foreign offices (Steiner, 1982), but their stature varies (Hocking & Spence, 2005).

Recurrent multilateral negotiations on all kinds of subjects have resulted in IGOs with permanent secretariats and professional staffs, often with some sort of diplomatic status. Until the 20th century, their size and accommodation were very modest (Murphy, 1994, p. 85). The Peace Palace opened in The Hague in 1913 (Eyffinger, 1988), an incidental result of the Peace Congresses in 1899 and 1907, initially financed by Andrew Carnegie and finally home to the International Court of Justice, introduced the larger scale special purpose buildings for international functions. More recently, a number of additional international functions with a need for office space came to the city (van der Wusten, 2006). The real breakthrough came after World War I with the establishment of the League of Nations and its ancillary organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. After a prolonged temporary accommodation in the city center and much rivalry in the world of architects, a huge official building for the League of Nations was constructed in the outskirts of Geneva (Pallas, 2001). Around this headquarters building, now the second seat of the UN, a whole series of specialized organs of the UN and other global institutions have built their own offices, and so a new international center has arisen. The UN, for various reasons, was finally headquartered in New York (Stoller & Loeffler, 1999) where a new skyscraper and a series of adjoining accommodations were erected in mid-Manhattan. Other centers of IGOs with global reach are in Vienna (Lichtenberger, 1993), Nairobi (Bachmann, 2016, 2018), and Bangkok. The most important macroregional center is in Brussels (Elmhorn, 2001; Hein, 2000; 2004).

Diplomacy thrives not only on messaging across distance, but also on personal encounters—by chance, staged, or driven by circumstance. Acts of hospitality are part of the diplomatic practice, in the premises of the institution (including the ambassador’s home), but also in hotels, bars, clubs, and restaurants in town or at tourist sites. Craggs (2014) underlined the importance of hospitality in the creation and maintenance of the convivial atmosphere that assists in bringing agreement or at least moves towards consensus. She reported on meetings among the diplomatic staff of the Commonwealth nations in a Club in London during the 1950s and 1960s and a staged encounter in a private hotel in Lusaka, leading to a successful round of negotiations in the 1970s. Neumann (2013) discussed a series of these different places in which diplomacy is staged. One of his chapters is dedicated to the national twists in menus served during official dinners for foreign guests as prepared under the guidance of Norwegian diplomatic staff. Another uses the example of Byzantium (in a very different world of diplomacy) to demonstrate the importance of a stage, set up to impress in order to create the conditions for successful negotiation from the point of view of the host. Fregonese and Ramadan (2015) have coined the term hotel geopolitics to explore the multiple roles of hotel spaces (from conference rooms to reception halls, from hotel bars to corridors and private rooms) in diplomatic practices especially in peace negotiations and treaty making. The research agenda they propose features six themes: hotels as projections of soft power, soft targets for political violence, strategic infrastructures in conflict, hosts for war reporters, providers of emergency hospitality and care, and infrastructures of peace-building.

The role of specific cities during diplomatic summits has been the subject of a number of studies. A brief signpost of modern cases with some more detail on the Bandung Conference in 1955 is Shimazu (2012). The most general study covering three centuries of diplomatic highlights (Duchhardt, 1999) goes from the small, festive beginnings in the town halls of Nimwegen and Aachen to the grim atmosphere in Potsdam in 1945. In his inside account of the Paris Peace Conference 1919–1920, and his later work on the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), Nicolson (1933, 1946) dealt rather extensively with the urban stage in which the conferences were set. A monograph on the Congress of Vienna shows the impact of the congress on the urban economy, and the role of the urban population and the numerous spectators from elsewhere in creating the scene in which the various negotiations unrolled (Zamoyski, 2007). Henrikson (1983, 2007) and Gerhard (2007) have written on Washington from the perspective of its diplomatic function.

More recently, assemblage approaches in geography have focused on diplomacy practices with special attention to the inclusion of material and non-human elements. Dittmer (2017) examined four assemblages formed through the relations of humans and their discourses with techniques, things, and administrative rules. His cases are the British foreign service during the mid-19th century with the exponential rise of the paper trail of diplomacy, the cooperation of U.K. and U.S. intelligence services after World War II with listening post and encrypted information, the interoperability within NATO by unifying the caliber of munition, and the emergence of a common Foreign and Security Policy in the European Union by videoconferencing and pre-scripted meetings. Particularly in the second and third case, diplomacy becomes deeply entwined with the armed forces.

Sysiö (2019) uses the airliner as an entry point and discusses three components of what he calls diplomatic aeromobilities through the practices of the Finnish Foreign service: the travel class (diplomats in the cabin), the flag carrier (in this case Finnair) and air transport governance, and the Air Service Agreements (negotiated by diplomats).

Jones and Clark also use assemblage theory in their studies of diplomatic practices in various settings: bilateral (British-India relations in Jones & Clark, 2018), supranational (Iceland and accession negotiations to EU in Jones & Clark, 2015), multilateral (the United Nations in Jones & Clark, 2019). Their inquiry into U.K.-India diplomatic relations examined “how the material and expressive components of the U.K. Foreign Office assemblage are being deployed to champion state goals and global markets (Jones & Clark, 2018, p. 31). In the Icelandic case, they present “insights in the production of geopolitics and the mundane practices by which ‘big-picture’ representations are produced, communicated, and challenged” (Jones & Clark, 2015, p. 5). In their account of the UN assemblage in New York, they studied the centrality of material, visceral, and sensual embodiment in diplomatic performance (Jones & Clark, 2019).

The Diplomatic Worldviews and the Geographic Frame

Diplomats’ worldviews are often framed in geographic terms, and these have been researched by geographers. They derive to a major extent from diplomatic practice, saturated as it is with basic geographic issues due to the territorial nature of the state system. Geographers have studied such practices and their consequences (Prescott, 1987; Rumley & Minghi, 1991), and courses have been developed for practitioners and those in an advisory capacity, such as those concerned with the drawing and management of boundaries (e.g., the International Boundaries Research Unit at the University of Durham). These representations were defined originally as primarily state centric, focusing on territorial borders between states and on geopolitical codes, that is, maps of friends and foes, dangers, and opportunities. Nowadays, the basis of such geographical imagination is questioned, and the geopolitical representations of international agencies, subnational entities such as regions and cities, as well as non-state actors (either businesses, civil society, or social movements) are also seen as crucial part of such representations.

The worldviews of diplomats since the 1990s have been studied more often in the wider field of critical geopolitics. Critical geopolitics aims at the reasonings in academic contexts, among or directed to the general public, and used in the context of policy making to disclose geographical assumptions and claims in the practice of international relations. These result in partly overlapping types of formal, popular, and practical geopolitics. This article focuses as much as possible on practical geopolitics, the set of worldviews that guide diplomats.

Ó Tuathail (Toal) has been one of the most prolific and influential authors in critical geopolitics. His work consists of the critical deconstruction of geopolitics and its practitioners. His many publications deal with policy oriented academic writers such as Sir Halford Mackinder (Ó Tuathail, 1992a, 1996) and Colin Gray (Ó Tuathail, 1994), but also with diplomats such as George Kennan (Ó Tuathail & Agnew, 1992; Ó Tuathail, 1996), Henry Kissinger (Ó Tuathail, 1994, 1996), and officials in the Reagan administration (Ó Tuathail, 1992b; see also Weber, 1994). Nicholas Spykman, one earlier influential, but under-researched author on the edge of formal and practical geopolitics, has only recently been re-assessed in a critical biography (Zajec, 2016)

Later, Toal’s work recentered on a concrete conflict: the Bosnia crisis and its aftermath. In a study of the U.S. response to the war in Bosnia (Ó Tuathail, 2002), he developed a “grammar of geopolitics.” Grounding his analysis on a wide range of written sources, including journalist reports, transcripts of State Department press briefings, memoirs, etc., he reconstructed two competing storylines, Balkan Vietnam and European genocide, which corresponded to two contradictory conclusions on the need for the U.S. to intervene in Bosnia. The performative geopolitical script behind foreign policy borrows elements from these two different storylines into an ambiguous script called Humanitarian nightmare, offering a way to deal with the “pragmatics of foreign policy performance.” The script allows the foreign policy makers to have it both ways. Ó Tuathail also underlines the divergence inside the state apparatus, arguing that the Pentagon was more inclined to perform the Balkan Vietnam storyline and the State Department the European genocide one. Toal addressed the storylines of the British government about Bosnia in a book review essay (Toal, 2004).

Toal’s work is basically concerned with the origins of geopolitical worldviews and interpretive storylines. As they are used in actual policy making, they necessarily have to be combined with real world, geographical features of the settings in which operations take place. These real world features are occasionally also intermediated, for example by cartography. During the negotiations leading up to the Dayton Agreement, a powerful digital cartographic tool of the American military (PowerScene) was extensively used (Henrikson, 2005a, p. 385). By its detailed representation, it not only enforced clarity in the discussion, but it also impressed the capacity of absolute surveillance by third parties on the negotiators.

Dalby, another foundational author in critical geopolitics, analyzed the contribution of the Committee on the Present Danger, launched during détente in the Cold War to warn for the Soviet threat. Creating the Second Cold War (Dalby, 1990) showed how their representation of shifting power prepared the remilitarization of international politics by the time Reagan, a member of the Committee, was elected President in 1980. Dodds (1994) used critical geopolitics to investigate the British representations of Argentina in the period 1945–1961 through an archival research of the geopolitical and geoeconomic representations in the Foreign Office. In parallel, practitioners and journalists have formalized world views that have informed U.S. foreign policy (Barnett, 2003; Brzezinski, 1997; Huntington, 1996; Kaplan, 2012; for critical geopolitical accounts of these representations, see Bachmann & Sidaway, 2009; Dittmer, 2013).

Another fundamental and influential study of Cold War politics from that perspective is the book Writing Security by Campbell (1992), in which he disclosed the “identity politics’” involved in U.S. foreign policy making—the close relation between foreign policy and national identity. In his later work, he scrutinized the “apartheid-like logic of international diplomacy’s political anthropology,” as shown in the negotiations around a settlement for the Bosnian conflict (Campbell, 1999). In that article, he demonstrated how the political imagination of the European and American diplomats, involved in finding an alternative for the war and for ethnic cleansing, was constrained by a nationalist imagination with its specific articulation of identity and territory. Analyzing the maps of the different proposals, he argued that the ethnic framing of the conflict and the territorial framing of a solution made other multicultural articulations of a Bosnian identity unthinkable. Thinking in terms of homogenous national territories limited the possibilities that diplomats could negotiate, not because other solutions were unrealistic, but because they could not be enunciated in the first place.

In a similar way, problematizing the taken-for-granted association between ethnic identity, state, and territory, Feldman (2005) discussed how national minorities are constructed as diasporas associated with a foreign kin-state, and international security concerns within the diplomatic discourses that aimed at reproducing nation-states. Drawing on Der Derian’s interpretation of Western diplomacy (Der Derian, 1987), he deals with the framing of the post-Soviet independence of Estonia as “the re-establishment of Estonia” in the European state system. This made it possible to create foreign support to disempower about half a million Russian speakers on the ground that they (or their parents) migrated to Estonia during the illegal Soviet occupation. If Estonian independence had been framed as secession from the Soviet Union, European diplomats would have been obliged to require protection for that national minority.

Studies of the elite group that shapes foreign policy and diplomatic encounters sometimes single out an influential individual, or better said, a formal position of power in the foreign policy network. O’Loughlin and Grant (1990) focused on the American president, mapping the political geography of the State of the Union addresses for the period 1946–1987. Considering both the foreign policy ratio (in relation to other statements) and the specific places ratios (in relation to general global remarks about foreign policy), they show the richer maps (according to the number of words used to talk about specific places) for Carter and Reagan along with the “empty” ones for Nixon and Ford. Flint et al. (2009) conducted a similar analysis of State of the Union speeches from the Reagan administration through the presidency of George W. Bush. By contrast, Nijman (1998) looked closely at another key agent in U.S. foreign policy: the Secretary of State, comparing the travels of Madeleine Albright (as an indicator of her priorities) to her predecessors Shultz, Baker, and Christopher, and to influential advisers on foreign policy, Brzezinski and Kissinger (who also served as Secretary of State 1973–1977).

In a similar vein, but on an emergent actor in diplomatic arenas. Larsen (2002) analyzed the geopolitical vision of the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the framing of the European Union as a civilian power or as a military one. This vision document was the outcome of intense diplomatic interactions between its member states and a supranational collective actor. Keukeleire (2003) distinguished its internal diplomacy (between member states), its traditional diplomacy (through the European Security and Defence Policy ESDP), and its structural diplomacy (based on other external actions in a wider range of domains, most notably its trade policies).

Geographers have also paid attention to the worldviews associated with European integration and later the European Union as actor in its external relations. Bachmann and Sidaway (2009) contrasted world views associated with the EU to Barnett’s Pentagon map (Barnett, 2003) to illustrate how the EU sees itself as a civilian power (here through ESPON, its planning agency).

The European Neighbourhood Policy, developed in the early 2000s, while the eastward enlargement was realized (2004, 2007), was the topic of many analyses. Jones and Clark (2008), for example, highlighted the role of the European Commission as discourse builder and performer in the case of the European Neighbourhood Policy. They disclosed how the Commission contributed to the external projection of Europeanization toward the countries across the Mediterranean. They were offered a special but asymmetric partnership as neighbors and no prospect of membership (see also Bialasiewicz, 2011; Bialasiewicz, Giaccaria, Jones, & Minca, 2013; for a general review, see Mamadouh, 2015). More recent contributions shift this general policy to what is framed as a return of geopolitics (see Nitoiu & Sus, 2019, and more specifically, Cadier, 2019).

The Lisbon Treaty (2009) significantly affected diplomatic relations within the EU and between the EU and its member states and the rest of the world. It upgraded the position of the High Representative and created the legal basis for the European External Action Service (EEAS). Studies of the EEAS have shifted from representations to practices, partaking in the trend described in the previous section (as do studies of other non-state actors such as the UN; Jones & Clark, 2019), cities (Acuto, 2013; Mamadouh, 2018), the unofficial diplomacies of non-state actors seeking state-like legitimacy (McConnell, Morreau, & Dittmer, 2012). European studies pertain to the making of the EEAS in Brussels (Kuus, 2014, 2018) and in the corps diplomatique on location. Bachmann (2016, 2018) examined EU diplomatic practices in Nairobi and relations with the African Union and its member states. Bicchi (2016) researched the cooperation between the EU delegation and the representatives of the Member States in Jerusalem. This intensification of common foreign policy making (including the secondment of national diplomats to the EEAS) also impacted national diplomatic services and diplomatic relations between member states, as Uilenreef (2013) showed collaborative practices among member states such as the secondments of diplomats, visiting ambassadors, co-location (sharing an embassy in a third country), and co-operation.

Regarding accession negotiations, a fascinating example that addresses diplomatic exchanges is Kuus’s study of the role of intellectuals in the production of geopolitical discourses in Central Europe (Kuus, 2007), especially the Estonian president Lennart Meri, who is the son of a diplomat. Jones and Clark (2015) studied Iceland’s diplomats in temporary and ultimately failed efforts to complete accession talks with the EU after the turmoil in its domestic politics as a result of the banking crisis. They concentrated on the diplomatic practices that underlined Iceland’s unique features as a worthy potential member-state in Brussels. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, diplomats were confronted and had to deal with a fishing sector that underlined its exclusive rights in Icelandic waters thus frontally contradicting EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. The authors presented this constellation as typical of much diplomatic action: necessary integration across the international and the domestic sphere, at home and abroad, and very often mundane in character. Brexit negotiations and the impact of the Brexit on both U.K. diplomacy and EU diplomacy will certainly generate more studies (for preliminary discussions, see Bachmann & Sidaway, 2016; Henökl, 2017; Schimmelpfening, 2018).

Noteworthy is the work of Müller (2008), who explored identifications with and visions of Europe through ethnographic fieldwork at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where future Russian diplomats are educated. He showed how identifications with Europe in everyday life contrast with visions of Europe articulated in the process of studying international relations. A more formalized process of conscious reflection on Russia’s relationship with Europe produces more diverse identities and aloof visions.

Finally, the engineering of broadly accepted geographical representations by diplomats is a new topic in international relations. Two concepts emerged to deal with attempts to win the “hearts and minds” of foreign audiences: public diplomacy and nation branding (Browning & Ferraz de Oliveira, 2017; Szondi, 2008; van Ham, 2002, 2008; with examples from Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Russia, North Korea, Scandinavia, Africa). Hearts and minds had already earlier been targeted in far more aggressive postures—for example, as part of the American intervention in Vietnam by way of the USIA, the bureaucratic arm of public diplomacy, where the State Department played a leading role. The primary aim was not so much the re-orientation vis à vis the United States as the opening up of the peasantry to modernity and the acceptance of the non-communist domestic government. On that case, archival material is now available (Whyte, 2018). The results of all such efforts feed back into popular geopolitics.

Diplomacy as Civilized, Effective Interaction Across Divides

During the later 15th and 16th centuries and the early 17th century, the diplomatic institution was formed as part of the emerging European state system. This diplomatic tradition was in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries and the first years of the 21st century gradually undermined, supplemented, and transformed (Anderson, 1993; Berridge, 2015; Hamilton & Langhorne, 1995). The entire set of changes can be summarized in six points.

  1. 1. The telegraph and then the telephone accelerated the traffic of messages. This diminished the relative autonomy of resident diplomats vis-à-vis their political principals, particularly in more distant capitals (Knuesel, 2007; Nickles, 2003), and created new opportunities for direct contacts between members of governments. Rail connections between capitals, then the motorcar and the airplane, facilitated face-to-face contacts between major political figures, also undercutting the intermediary function of embassies. As press reporting professionalized and news circulated much more quickly internationally, part of the diplomatic reporting by embassies became superfluous. More recently, satellite observations replaced a significant part of intelligence gathering by the embassies of some powers (Hamilton & Langhorne, 1995, p. 193).

    Consequently, traditional functions of the resident embassy became less self-evident (Hamilton & Langhorne, 1995, pp. 226, 236). While newly established states started to build up diplomatic services, in states that had been in existence for a long time (even if their professionalized foreign service was still young, as in the United States), plans for drastic reductions in the expenditure for resident embassies and thorough overhauls of their tasks were discussed (Hocking & Spence, 2005). However, the counterargument stresses that the domain of diplomacy has in fact expanded, and that resident diplomats are still indispensable. Their mode of operation has to change. On account of the compression of time and the density of contacts with which one is necessarily involved, they can no longer be hierarchically organized. They should be more proactive and controlled by indirect rule, which is in fact very similar to the situation in which they found themselves early on (Kleiner, 2008; Neumann, 2007; and a critical assessment of such an attempt in the U.S. foreign service, Vaïsse, 2007).

  2. 2. The increasing spatial scale of social life, based on new transport technologies, and the accompanying increase of transborder traffic demanded further international cooperation (Denemark & Hoffmann, 2008; Murphy, 1994). As multilateral cooperation produced new intergovernmental organizations, additional political actors gradually entered the diplomatic stage. This affected the professional body of diplomats in various ways. Some diplomats working in a resident embassy could be allowed to function as part of the governing bodies of intergovernmental organizations residing in the same country. First with the League, then with the UN, and then with other organizations, others were directly posted with the organizations themselves, based on headquarters agreements between the hosting state and the organization. These arrangements put them and the international civil servants on the staffs of these bodies on a par, in many respects, with traditional diplomatic staff (Dembinski, 1988). Diplomats representing the “international community” were seen for a long time as inviolable as a matter of course (a Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN had already been adopted for the purpose in 1946, UN Treaty Series vol. 1, 15), and UN compounds were hardly secured. The bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad in 2003 (Power, 2008) showed how intensely contested such views could become.

  3. 3. Diplomacy was also transformed through the evolution of the central government apparatus itself. Foreign ministries have always tried to monopolize the conduct of foreign relations within the expanding government apparatuses. They demarcated a separate realm to practice the art of diplomacy. Institutions in charge of war and trade were avid competitors from the time foreign ministries were formed. But the range of transborder contacts widened, and all these different types of contact intensified, while government apparatuses became more differentiated. Newly established ministries and their specialists became involved in official contacts, conferences, and then the more permanent institutions and organizations in charge of these interactions. In this way the monopoly of the foreign ministry in the field of foreign affairs was increasingly contested inside the central government apparatuses of the states involved (Steiner, 1982).

    The most advanced but also very complex example of the resulting configuration of international relations is the array of cooperative forms that commonly make up the European Union. The production and implementation of European rules is only possible thanks to a continuous dialogue between the professionals in the capitals of member states, the specialists of the European services, and the specialized personnel of the Council in Brussels. This is a diplomatic dialogue in which the ministries of foreign affairs play important roles, though by no means always the decisive ones. The diplomatic profession has thus been transformed. There is now a set of diplomatic attributes that belong to the habitus of different kinds of specialized professionals across the services of the central state and the intergovernmental organizations (Geuijen, ’t Hart, Princen, & Yesilkagit, 2008; Hofmann & Türk, 2006; Mamadouh & van der Wusten, 2008).

  4. 4. Cross-border contacts, educational improvement, and media development prepared the ground for an enlarged popular interest in foreign relations. They have become, over time, more widely shared public concerns. No longer should the conduct of foreign policy be in the exclusive purview of the traditional diplomats and their immediate political masters. This is the democratization of additional parts of the agenda of state governments. In turn, this has invited new initiatives by members of the local corps diplomatique to help mold relevant public opinion in the host country. The resulting public diplomacy has often been dismissed from within the diplomatic tradition, but it has ultimately seemed an inevitable part of the diplomatic function (Melissen, 2007). Public diplomacy uses instruments from different fields (cultural performances, scientific cooperation), but also media messages directed to a range of audiences in the host countries. For the performances, and the production and dissemination of these messages, diplomats are increasingly dependent on other actors such as artists and private media specialists. In the case of celebrities, now particularly popular as a manner of gaining public support in the cause of globally operating organizations, some have transformed their role as “public diplomats”—from functional supporters (like Danny Kaye and later Audrey Hepburn, for UNICEF) to that of a much more autonomous diplomatic agent involved in lobbying and advocacy among heads of state (e.g., Bob Geldof and Bono, Richard Gere, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna; see Benwell, Dodds, & Pinkerton, 2012; Cooper, 2008; Pigman & Kotsopoulos, 2007). As public diplomacy is using social media also ever more, its style of messaging tends to resemble ever more the voices of the people, thus erasing the distinction made earlier, in popular and practical geopolitics. One well-documented example is in Pinkterton and Benwell (2014). It is about the Argentinian government once again asserting its claims on the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. More recently, this has become an issue that far transgresses the domain of diplomacy, in the Twitter practice of the American president.

  5. 5. The opening of the protected range of diplomacy as “high politics” for wider debate, sometimes resulting in a quest for “open diplomacy” (Salter, 1932), was also accompanied by the establishment of new forums for civic, open debate on statecraft in the international realm. The Council on Foreign Relations (New York) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (London) have embodied this idea since 1920. Similar bodies have subsequently been formed in other countries. However, such associations always remained the playground of fairly small groups of intellectuals particularly interested in the realm of foreign policy. Still more open forums have been tried more recently (Lortie & Bédard, 2002).

    Extending these developments, new actors have started to play autonomous roles in foreign relations, stretching and redefining the field as they went along. Peace movements, trade unions, and political associations forged cross-border links in the 19th century. They mingled with official delegates at The Hague Peace Conference in 1899 (Eyffinger, 1999). More recently, it has become customary that different kinds of representatives of private interests become involved in international diplomatic gatherings. Citizens groups, more formalized NGOs, and concerned private diplomatic entrepreneurs, are also active in Track II diplomacy (Chigas, 2003), attempting to create new links, mediate, and suggest solutions between parties in conflicts that are states or aspiring states. Innumerable efforts along these lines have been made in the case of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. President Jimmy Carter mediated in this conflict in his official capacity before he engaged himself as a private citizen in many other international conflicts in the pursuit of human rights (see The Carter Center). Recently, Independent Diplomat), an organization led by a disgruntled former British diplomat, has started to offer professional diplomatic services for those who need it and for questions that it deems urgent, to be paid from charitable income and fees. With offices in New York, London, Washington, and Brussels, it has done consultative work for Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus, Somalia, Kosovo, and the Security Council (Ross, 2007). The loosening of the national link between principal and diplomat is reminiscent of the earliest days of diplomacy. The increasing involvement of the citizenry in diplomatic activity has recently resulted in the identification of Track III diplomacy: no state-related professional diplomats involved, but still diplomacy.

  6. 6. Territorially based actors other than states (regional authorities, cities) have become engaged in their own foreign relations as a result of the reconfiguration of states. So far, they have taken the states as the “natural” entities to distinguish foreign from domestic relations. Twinning (Zelinsky, 1991, pp. 1–31), the construction of cooperative relations between local communities of different countries with some similarities, was firmly encouraged after World War II by national governments in Europe to stimulate processes of reconciliation; France and Germany were particularly active in this respect (Campbell, 1987; Cremer, de Bruin, & Dupuis, 2001). Later on, other motivations became more prominent, such as the possibility to assist local communities in poor countries, to stimulate exchanges, and to develop environmental policy making under local Agenda 21. Local governments became engaged in these transnational ventures and some kinds of diplomatic talent were required to maintain and improve these relations (Bontenbal & Van Lindert, 2008; Van der Pluijm, 2007).

Gradually, local and regional governments have deemed fit to become part of cooperative ventures with cities and regions in foreign countries with which they share problems and interests in a multilateral framework. This, again, has been most actively pursued within Europe in the framework of European cooperation, with the Committee of the Regions and various city networks. A very interesting case is on the edge of the EU: six Polish cities engaged in dense cultural cooperation with Ukrainian Lviv by small diplomacy (Nowicka, Sagan, & Studzinska, 2019). A few subnational governments have actually developed quite extensive and detailed “foreign policies” of their own, including the beginning of a diplomatic apparatus. Good examples are regions with a large degree of autonomy, not so much in well-established federal states but more so in Belgium and Spain. The resulting activity, which cannot always fully follow the prescriptions of diplomatic tradition and is not subjected to and protected by the Vienna Conventions, has been called paradiplomacy (Aldecoa & Keating, 1999; Duchacek, Latouche, & Stevenson, 1988; Lecours, 2002; Sharafutdinova, 2003).

Still other actors are trying to represent unrecognized or ill-treated original inhabitants on the territory of generally recognized states. In general, their grievances are expressed with the aim of obtaining some sort of autonomy that nearly always has a territorial component. The play is diplomatic in the sense of an attempt to get some recognition of separateness and the creation of a basis for negotiation between partners recognized as equal (McConnell, Moreau, & Dittmer, 2012). At the international level, there is an overarching “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization” that seeks to support such efforts in the relevant international organs.

As points 1–6 have demonstrated, the undermining of the diplomatic tradition, the emergence of new actors relevant in the realm of foreign relations, and the crafting of new roles, for traditional diplomats and for new entrants in the arenas where diplomacy is practiced, have transformed it. But this transformation was by no means uniform in all individual countries and all parts of the system. In addition, these changes happened in a geographically expanding diplomatic world as European influence expanded across the globe. Political actors outside Europe were in the course of time more intensively incorporated in the diplomatic web of the European centered state system. However, this global web is by no means stable or complete. Sizable parts lack minimally functioning states and do not provide the basis for a functioning diplomatic practice that is recognizably part of the global diplomatic web as we now know it.

The story about diplomacy as an institution is by no means over. Diplomacy as a craft evolves. According to Sending, Pouliot, and Neumann (2015), it is, in its present form, largely positioned as a co-constitutor of world politics. Their book puts relations in the forefront and then concentrates on diplomacy. Relations, some of them diplomatic, shape social constructs such as states. Diplomats were traditionally specialized in representation—it is obviously still part of their expertise—but they are now also deeply involved in governance. In their representational mode, they traditionally emphasize the importance of “keeping the process going.” That is just functional. But in their governance mode “keeping the process going” is just one way of exerting power as Adler-Nissen (2015) stressed in a final chapter. In her view, the self-understanding of diplomats is dominated more by the image of messenger and mediator than by that of manager and policy producer. That makes diplomacy wary, in its own self-awareness, of dealing with power. But academic study should not ignore the link. The implication of the relational approach adopted in the book is that diplomacy cannot maintain the innocence or detachment that some of its practitioners (and theorists) would want it to keep. Diplomacy is deeply entangled in the world it helps constitute.

Current diplomacy stands in a long tradition. Some time ago, Henrikson (2005b) was envisioning, through ongoing trends, a future of diplomacy that could thrive in Sending, Pouliot and Neumann’s (2015) portrayal of diplomacy as co-constitutor of world politics. But the professional field is now unusually turbulent. Illiberal, nationalistic regimes and populism, combined with new media (Manor, 2019; Stengel, MacDonald, & Naber, 2018,), shake the premises of the diplomatic encounters and reshape diplomacy’s identity—civilized, effective interaction across divides—more than the emergence of new diplomatic actors such as supranational organizations and non-state actors.

The liberal-democratic model governing interdependence by multilateralism has weakened. The shift in power balances brings increasing interest in Chinese projects and the different way diplomacy is embedded in these external relations to the fore (Peng & Wegge, 2015; Sidaway & Woon, 2017; Woon, 2018). Illiberal impulses up to the highest levels of the erstwhile self-evident primus inter pares of the state system plus a wave of populism (not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and others) have hit governance practice and, in particular, diplomacy. The traditional expertise of diplomacy is contested and undermined, and its opportunities to flourish are diminished (Babbitt, 2019; Druckman, 2019). One of the ways in which diplomacy might be responding is increased attention to public diplomacy directed at the domestic front (Cooper (2018). It is impossible to know the permanence of these changes. But they can significantly alter the maps and the niches of diplomacy as well as the geographically loaded worldviews and practices of diplomats.

The official websites provide diplomatic histories and current diplomatic activities in various formats.

Correlates of War Project. Provides datasets on diplomatic exchange between states, 1817–2005, and IGOs, 1815–2000.

EmbassyWorld. Provides current information on the embassies in the world, listed by sending and hosting countries.

G. R. Berridge. Various materials provided by one of the most prolific and appreciated authors in the field.

US Department of State.

France Diplomatie.

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Federal Foreign Office (Germany).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Union of International Associations.


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