Saikat Mahanty
October 28, 2022

There was a considerable change in the working mechanism of Global Diplomacy after the Cold War. As the involvement of new actors and Economic Globalization around the globe [1]increased. According to Brian White, “Diplomacy becomes global, complicated and fragmentary.” The fast, changing and developing global order has paved the way for many new non-Governmental organisations, Multinational corporations, and other important interest groups. Diplomacy can broadly be divided into two parts: One which was prevalent till the end of eighteenth century, was known as Old or Traditional Diplomacy and the other that started off from the nineteenth century was known as Modern Diplomacy. The main line of difference between old and new diplomacy was that in Old Diplomacy the power was limited to the government under the ambit of Ministry of External affairs, while in New Diplomacy it is vice- versa. According, to Italian Diplomat “Giandomenico Picco,” “Diplomacy is one of the last monopolies of government, which is accessible and performed by NGOs and individuals having credibility.” He also argued that it would be a big mistake to consider that government diplomacy has declined, as the entry of inexperienced players has ended the effective monopoly that diplomats enjoyed over international relations. But government diplomacy still continues to have a key role.

Famous American author and academician Kenneth W. Thompson gave the interpretation of old European Diplomacy as “Diplomacy has sought to mitigate and reduce conflicts by means of persuasion, compromise, and adjustment. It was a diplomacy rooted in the community of interests of small group of leaders who spoke the same language, catered as often to one another as their own people, and played to one another’s strengths and weaknesses. When warfare broke out, they drew a ring around combatants and sought to localize and neutralize the struggle. The old diplomacy… conducted its tasks in a world made up of states that were small, separated, limited in power, and blessed ironically enough, by half-hearted political loyalties. Patience was a watchword; negotiations and talks would be initiated, broken off, resumed, discontinued temporarily, and reopened again by professionals in whose lexicon there was no substitute for diplomacy.”


“Old Diplomacy” or “Traditional Diplomacy” is also identified as “bilateral diplomacy” and the “French” or “Italian” system of Diplomacy. If we look at the structure of Traditional Diplomacy, it constituted a communication process between recognizably modern states rather than any other forms of political organization like the Catholic church. Traditional diplomacy was also Europe- centric and was moreover constituted with five big nations i.e., England, France, Prussia, Austria, and Spain. As a result, most of Asia, Africa and Latin America were either isolated or became subjected to colonization. Traditional diplomacy also witnessed gradual institutionalization and by seventeenth century, these institutions became professionalized as diplomacy was an ad-hoc activity and needed permanent and resolute workforce of diplomats.

The working process of Traditional Diplomacy was organized on bilateral basis and was usually undertaken in secrecy that was characterized by different rules and procedures. From the fifteenth century, diplomacy was regularized and with the development of diplomatic protocol and a series of rights, privileges and immunities were attached to both diplomats and diplomatic activities.

The working or main agenda of Traditional Diplomacy has also been proved to be very narrow and hollow as compared to the present period. According to Brian White, “The agenda was not only set by the relatively underdeveloped state of bilateral relationships between states but, more importantly, “the preoccupations of diplomacy reflected the preoccupations of political leaders.”  [2]


The golden age of diplomacy started off together with the balance of power system, which was followed by drastic changes in international politics since 1918, and it came to be replaced by the drastic changes in international politics since then. At the core of this change was the suspicion of the public about the entire system of balance of power, which was the main reason for the First World War. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his speech on War aims and Peace treaties in front of the U.S. Congress said that the [3]14 points agenda opened a new view of Diplomacy as Open Covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view”.


There were a number of other factors that led to the change in the nature of diplomacy. The primarily among them was the development in technology and communication, that to a great extent changed the role of a diplomat. In the present time, an ambassador of the highest level cannot conduct his office independently and can be removed from his position by the government easily, erstwhile this power was reserved with the Diplomat himself. Now he has to shuffle between his own office and home office. Improved communications have now reduced the authority of a diplomat to make his decisions and to represent his own country. This efficient communication system has clearly reduced importance of diplomats, and diplomacy now overlaps with policy making.

As far as public opinion is concerned it plays an especially key role that intrudes in the conduct of foreign policy to a great extent, Diplomacy ceases a matter of handful of people. It has assumed a democratic character where the political leaders have to take the public into confidence. The structure of international society went through several changes as Europe was no longer the centre of international affairs. After the Second World- War, there was massive de- colonization of Asian and African countries, and this consequently increased the number of independent countries. As a result, the influence of these nations also increased, and they have a greater say in international affairs. The “democratization” of foreign policy is a significant development. As the United Nations has become an important international organization it represents a new genre of diplomacy, as the UN has become an international platform for countries to argue and put forward their interests at a global level.

Famous British Diplomat [4]Harold Nicolson criticized Open Diplomacy in his Journal, Public and Instant Diplomacy, as he said that negotiations require “concessions and counter concessions” and once the news of concessions is divulged, the public might acquire a negative attitude and force the diplomats to abandon the negotiations. Nicolson also raised serious shortcomings of diplomacy by conference. As such kinds of multilateral diplomacy suffer from several defects and therefore cannot function properly because political leaders are not competent to manage diplomatic negotiations.


 This new kind of Diplomacy has though become popular and has some basic characteristics as well. Some of these characteristics are:

  • Structure: The structure of new diplomacy has been the same as that of old diplomacy. States being the major actors in this diplomatic system as well, countries have established their permanent embassies abroad. The main difference between their structure is that the stage now has to be shared by the state with non- state actors like inter-governmental organizations and non- governmental organizations.

  • Process: The changing international scenario has influenced the choice of states as actors, the increase in the number of non- state actors, have led to changes in the nature of new diplomacy and its negotiation process. Diplomacy has now become an overly complicated activity involving states and non- state actors. Alongside bilateral negotiations, groups of states have negotiated multilaterally in inter- governmental organizations like United Nations and with other non- governmental organizations as well.

  • Agenda: Agenda of new diplomacy contains a number of contemporary issues like economic, social and welfare, which is commonly identified as low politics, as well as military issues, and issues of war and peace, identified as high politics.

[5]According to N.D. Palmer and H.C. Perkins the most effective form of Diplomacy that was perceived in the twentieth century till the present were: Democratic Diplomacy, Totalitarian Diplomacy, Summit Diplomacy, Personal Diplomacy, Diplomacy by conference and Parliamentary Diplomacy.


Democratic Diplomacy: Democratic Diplomacy was particularly, the commonest form of diplomacy by the turn of twentieth century. The participation of people in politics and importance of public opinion led to democratization of diplomacy, wherein the governments were no longer domain of aristocrats and diplomacy was the sole affair of diplomats and ministers. The experience of democratic diplomacy was not satisfactory as there were a number of shortcomings that had been pointed out by Nicolson. [6]Sir Harold Nicolson points out that the most potent source of danger is the “irresponsibility of the sovereign people” that means the failure of common people to understand foreign policy intricacies that arise not from absence of facts but from the ignorance and inability of people to apply their thoughts and intelligence to comprehend foreign affairs.

Totalitarian Diplomacy: The rise of this type of this type of Diplomacy in totalitarian states like Germany, Italy and Soviet Union after the First World War introduced a new but disturbing kind of diplomacy that was much different from its predecessors. As these states used modern techniques of military, political and psychological power to expand their spheres of influence and gain control over other states. For this, these states invoked doctrines of racial superiority, materialism, and militarism to boost their national interests. Diplomacy came to be used as an instrument of national policy and in doing so, the language and practice of diplomacy was degraded. In dealing with these states the old techniques of Diplomacy were degraded as these states became agents of conquest, double- dealing and espionage. Lord Vansittart who was the private secretary to the Prime Minister of United Kingdom said that [7]“the object of totalitarian diplomacy, was quite contrary to the eighteenth or nineteenth century diplomacy, was to create and maintain bad relations among states.”

Summit Diplomacy: This involves direct participation from foreign ministers, Heads of States and Heads of Governments in diplomatic negotiations. This concept is not new at all, as there were a number of personal meetings that were held during the Second World War. The meeting of 1941 resulted in the signing of Atlantic Charter, the meetings of Asian and African Prime Ministers were either through exchange of visits on bilateral basis or at major international conferences, which have been frequent in the past and present as well, like the Asian- African Conference at Bandung in 1955, Conference of Non- Aligned states in Belgrade in 1961 and Cairo in 1964.

Personal Diplomacy: Personal Diplomacy takes other forms wherein the normal channels of diplomacy are used to a limited degree. The Heads of states have embarked on a practice of using their personal agents or representatives to handle delicate problems in international relations. They sometimes even tend to consult their personal favourites rather than foreign ministers. This has been in practice since many decades as Henry Wriston has pointed out in his study on American Foreign Relations that, [8]they have been employed in American diplomatic relations from the colonial times. Besides employing personal agents, another quite widespread practice, among Heads of states is to directly approach his counterpart in other country. Churchill and Roosevelt developed this practice and later on this was used by Kennedy and Khrushchev, through hotline.

Diplomacy by Conference: In the post war period, international conferences proliferated in the conduct of foreign policies and have a greater significance than normal diplomacy through foreign offices and diplomatic establishments. In most parts, they involve periodic meetings of regional and international organizations that were attended by a number of representatives of member states and sometimes the non-member states too. The idea to follow this type of Diplomacy was provided by League of Nations after the First World War. A number of conferences followed after the First World War, like the Paris Peace Conference (1918), the London Conference (1930) and others. During the Second World War some important conferences that were held were: the Teheran Conference (1943), the Bretton Woods Conference (1944), The Yalta Conference (1945) and the San Francisco Conference (1945). There are a large number of conferences that takes place related to disarmament, nuclear regimes, sustainable development, and environmental issues.

Parliamentary Diplomacy: [9]Kenneth W. Thompson in his book has pointed out that “there has been a novel, revolutionary and worldwide institutionalizing of diplomacy.” This has led to the result of three developments, which are striking:

  1. Increasing incidence of public multilateral negotiations
  2. Expansion of diplomatic activity into the cultural and educational fields
  3. Multiplication of informal channels of contact.

These factors led to growing importance of what has been called as ‘parliamentary diplomacy.’ Dean Rusk in his book has suggested that [10]this type of multilateral negotiation involves a continuing organization, a regular public debate was also exposed to the media of mass communication,” rules of procedure which govern the process of debate, and formal conclusions, ordinarily expressed resolutions.” The best example of Parliamentary Diplomacy is United Nations General Assembly and other UN bodies.

Economic Diplomacy: Economic diplomacy is not a new concept. In fact, it has had a long history. But trade and aid were widely in use since the Second World War in order to obtain a favourable outcome in negotiations. During the Cold War, economic aid and trade were used as instruments to win over allies and maintain respective spheres of influence by both United States and Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall were prominent examples of such aid given to European countries aiming to contain the spread of communism. The Soviet response to the European Marshall Plan was the Molotov Plan, which was a series of bilateral agreements with the East European countries to help them tide over economic crises with an aim to preserve communism. Post-Cold war trade and aid, along with the transfer of technology, capital and information were still used while conducting economic diplomacy. Mostly, the third world countries were targets and usage of these techniques by rich countries gives an upper hand in bargaining situations to the developed countries. Therefore, economic diplomacy between equal partners may bring out outcomes that are beneficial to both, such diplomacy between rich and poor may result in inequitable returns from negotiations.

Nuclear Diplomacy: Nuclear diplomacy has different forms and meanings depending on whether negotiating states are nuclear haves or have nots. Under these circumstances there can be two things i.e., deterrence or compliance or coercive diplomacy. Deterrence comes into play if the parties participate in negotiation, and they are nuclear haves. The possession of nuclear weapons will deter them from using the nukes. On the other hand, if the other party does not possess nukes, then that party compelled into doing certain things that the nuclear- haves might desire. Though, there is an unprecedented risk attached to this type of nuclear diplomacy as a crisis situation might escalate and reach the point of a nuclear war as manifested during Cuban Missile Crisis.

Public Diplomacy: This diplomacy became extremely popular in the U.S. in 1960s as it signified engagement with foreign policy in the context of realising foreign policy objective. The assumption of this form of people- to- people contact also involves inclusion of academicians, NGOs, cultural groups, tourism, films, theatres, internet, and blogging. The main aim of this diplomacy was to increase contact among people and improve the image of a country abroad, alongside traditional mechanism of diplomacy. The public-private partnership has increased immensely due to improvement in communication, media, and internet revolution. The USA also uses public diplomacy for improving public relations and its image in other countries through Voice of America, which is an organization of academic exchanges, seminars, film shows and host of other activities. These activities are conducted by USIS in several countries. Educational exchange programmes in India are conducted through USIEF (United States- India Educational Foundation). However, public diplomacy for long was seen as a mere propaganda. Nevertheless, scholars and practitioners of public diplomacy have always tried to overcome this interpretation of the term and have embarked on policies aiming to enhance contact among people.

[1] White, B., Diplomacy” in Baylis, J., Smith, S.(ed), The globalisation of World politics: An Introduction to International Relations. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005

[2] White B. Diplomacy” in Baylis J. Smith, S. (ed), The globalization of World politics: An Introduction to International Relations. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005

[3] President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, The National archives, 1918.

[4] Public and Instant Diplomacy by Harold Nicolson

[5] International Relations. The World Community in Transition by N.D. Palmer, H.C. Perkins

[6] Sir Harold Nicolson and International Relations: The practitioner as Theorist

[7] The Decline of Diplomacy, “Foreign Affairs, XXVIII, January 1950

[8] Henry Wriston, Executive Agents in American Foreign Relations, The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1929.

[9] International Relations: Kenneth W. Thompson. Political Realism and Crisis of World Politics: An American Approach to Foreign Policy

[10] Dean Rusk (Parliamentary Diplomacy- Debate vs. Negotiation, World Affairs Interpreter, XXVI, Summer,1955)

Saikat Mahanty is a Third Year Law Student at Amity Law School, Noida.

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