Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational or polite manner.
The word is often used, incorrectly, as a synonym for foreign policy. Whereas the latter can be described as the substance, aims and attitudes of a state’s relation with others, diplomacy is one of the instruments employed to put these into effect.
The ability to practice diplomacy is one of the defining elements of a state. As noted above, diplomacy has been practiced since the first city-states were formed millennia ago in ancient Greece. For most of human history, diplomats were sent only for specific negotiations, and would return immediately after their mission concluded. Diplomats were usually relatives of the ruling family or of very high rank in order to give them legitimacy when they sought to negotiate with the other state. But the diplomacy in contemporary meaning has existed in Europe since the fifteenth century, when the stat emerged. In this time an organized and fairly coherent system or permanent relations has developed among the actors and, even when these relations have been interrupted by aimed conflict, diplomacy has still been the principal means of communication.
Diplomacy was a complex affair, even more so than now. The ambassadors from each state were ranked by complex levels of precedence that were much disputed. Until the early 19th century endless crises were caused by intended or unintended slights between ambassadors or attempts
by ambassadors to elevate their status and gain favors from the ruler to whom they were accredited. And the Congress of Vienna in 1815 can be credited with ending of such conflicts laying down the procedures for precedence and with promoting the doctrine of the formal equality of states. At the same time, permanent foreign ministries began to be established in almost all European states to coordinate embassies and their staffs. These ministries were still far from their modern form, and many of them had extraneous internal responsibilities. The elements of modern diplomacy slowly spread to Eastern Europe and Russia, arriving by the early 18th century. And by the outbreak of the First World War diplomacy was a fairly well established profession.
Diplomacy has been characterized as ‘the master-institution’ or, more prosaically, as ‘the engine room’ of international relations. Moreover, diplomacy has provided to be a resilient institution; it is one of the few international institutions that have survived the challenges of popular sovereignty and 19th century nationalism.
Diplomacy can thus be understood as ‘a regulated process of communication’ or ‘the communication system of the international society’. The need to communicate is demonstrated, paradoxically, when diplomatic relations are broken.
The main function of diplomacy is negotiation – which broadly means discussions designed to identify common interests and areas of conflict between the parties. To establish the conditions under which negotiations can take place a number of other tasks are undertaken.