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A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organisations. The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations. Seasoned diplomats of international repute are used in international organisations (e.g. United Nations) as well as multinational companies for their experience in management and negotiating skills. Diplomats are members of foreign services and diplomatic corps of various nations of the world.

Diplomats are the oldest form of any of the foreign policy institutions of the state, predating by centuries foreign ministers and ministerial offices. They usually have diplomatic immunity.


The regular use of permanent diplomatic representation began between the states of fifteenth-century Italy. However the terms ‘diplomacy’ and ‘diplomat’ appeared in the French Revolution. Diplomat is derived from the Greek διπλωμάτης (diplōmátēs), the holder of a diploma, referring to diplomats' documents of accreditation from their sovereign.[1]

Diplomats themselves and historians often refer to the foreign ministry by its address: the Ballhausplatz (Vienna), the Quai d’Orsay (Paris), the Wilhelmstraße (Berlin); and Foggy Bottom (Washington). For imperial Russia to 1917 it was the Choristers’ Bridge (St Petersburg). The Italian ministry was called "the Consulta."[2]

Career diplomats and political appointees[edit]

Though any person can be appointed by the state's national government to conduct said state's relations with other states or international organisations, a number of states maintain an institutionalised group of career diplomats—that is, public servants with a steady professional connection to the country's foreign ministry. The term career diplomat is used worldwide[3][4][5][6][7][8][4][9][10] in opposition to political appointees (that is, people from any other professional backgrounds who may equally be designated by an official government to act as diplomats abroad).[11][12] While officially posted to an embassy or delegation in a foreign country or accredited to an international organisation, both career diplomats and political appointees enjoy the same diplomatic immunities. Ceremonial heads of state commonly act as diplomats on behalf of their nation, usually following instructions from their head of Government.

Diplomatic ranks[edit]

Whether being a career diplomat or a political appointee, every diplomat, while posted abroad, will be classified in one of the ranks of diplomats (secretary, counselor, minister, ambassador, envoy, or chargé d'affaires) as regulated by international law (namely, by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961).

Diplomats can be contrasted with consuls and attachés, who represent their state in a number of administrative ways, but who don't have the diplomat's political functions.


Diplomats in posts collect and report information that could affect national interests, often with advice about how the home-country government should respond. Then, once any policy response has been decided in the home country's capital, posts bear major responsibility for implementing it. Diplomats have the job of conveying, in the most persuasive way possible, the views of the home government to the governments to which they are accredited and, in doing so, of trying to convince those governments to act in ways that suit home-country interests. In this way, diplomats are part of the beginning and the end of each loop in the continuous process through which foreign policy develops.

In general, it has become harder for diplomats to act autonomously. Diplomats have to seize secure communication systems, emails, and mobile telephones can be tracked down and instruct the most reclusive head of mission. The same technology in reverse gives diplomats the capacity for more immediate input about the policy-making processes in the home capital.

Secure email has transformed the contact between diplomats and the ministry. It is less likely to leak, and enables more personal contact than the formal cablegram, with its wide distribution and impersonal style.


The home country will usually send instructions to a diplomatic post on what foreign policy goals to pursue, but decisions on tactics – who needs to be influenced, what will best persuade them, who are potential allies and adversaries, and how it can be done - are for the diplomats overseas to make.

In this operation, the intelligence, integrity, cultural understanding, and energy of individual diplomats become critical. If competent, they will have developed relationships grounded in trust and mutual understanding with influential members of the country in which they are accredited. They will have worked hard to understand the motives, thought patterns and culture of the other side.


The diplomat should be an excellent negotiator but, above all, a catalyst for peace and understanding between peoples. The diplomat's principal role is to foster peaceful relations between states. This role takes on heightened importance if war breaks out. Negotiation must necessarily continue – but within significantly altered contexts.


Most career diplomats have university degrees in international relations, political science, economics, or law.[13]

Status and public image[edit]

Diplomats have generally been considered members of an exclusive and prestigious profession. The public image of diplomats has been described as "a caricature of pinstriped men gliding their way around a never-ending global cocktail party".[14] J. W. Burton has noted that "despite the absence of any specific professional training, diplomacy has a high professional status, due perhaps to a degree of secrecy and mystery that its practitioners self-consciously promote."[15] The state supports the high status, privileges, and self-esteem of its diplomats in order to support its own international status and position.

The high regard for diplomats is also due to most countries' conspicuous selection of diplomats, with regard to their professionalism and ability to behave according to a certain etiquette, in order to effectively promote their interests. Also, international law grants diplomats extensive privileges and immunities, which further distinguishes the diplomat from the status of an ordinary citizen.

Psychology and loyalty[edit]

While posted overseas, there is a danger that diplomats may become disconnected from their own country and culture. Sir Harold Nicolson acknowledged that diplomats can become "denationalised, internationalised and therefore dehydrated, an elegant empty husk".[16]

Famous diplomats[edit]

He was an American leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, statesman and diplomat. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. His efforts proved vital for the American Revolution in securing shipments of crucial munitions from France.
He was an Austrian diplomat and statesman of the Habsburg Monarchy. A proponent of enlightened absolutism, he held the office of State Chancellor for about four decades, responsible for the foreign policies under the reign of Maria Theresa, Joseph II, and Leopold II. Kaunitz was the mastermind of the Diplomatic Revolution (Franco-Austrian Alliance) of 1756.
He was a laicized French bishop, politician, and diplomat. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. He played a major role at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815, where he negotiated a favourable settlement for France while undoing Napoleon's conquests. The name "Talleyrand" has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.
He was a German diplomat and statesman and one of the most important diplomats of his era, serving as the Austrian Empire's Foreign Minister from 1809 and Chancellor from 1821 until the liberal revolutions of 1848 forced his resignation. He led the Austrian delegation at the Congress of Vienna that divided post-Napoleonic Europe amongst the major powers.
He was a British barrister, judge and diplomat. In 1901 he negotiated the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty (with American Secretary of State John Hay), nullifying the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty of 1850, giving the United States the right to create and control a canal across Central America.
He was a samurai and admiral of the Tokugawa navy of Bakumatsu-period Japan, who remained faithful to the Tokugawa shogunate (ja:徳川幕府, Tokugawa-bakufu) and fought against the new Meiji government until the end of the Boshin War (ja:戊辰戦争). He later served in the Meiji government as one of the founders of the Imperial Japanese Navy and as a diplomat and statesman.
At the age of 26, Enomoto was sent to the Netherlands to study western techniques in naval warfare, chemistry and international law. He stayed in Europe from 1862 to 1867, and became fluent in both the Dutch and English languages.
In 1875, he was sent to Russia as a special envoy to negotiate the Treaty of St. Petersburg (ru:Петербургский договор, ja:樺太・千島交換条約). In 1885, he assisted Itō Hirobumi (ja:伊藤博文) in concluding the Convention of Tientsin (ja:天津条約) with Qing China (zh:清朝).
He was an American statesman and diplomat. Presidents William McKinley made Hay Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1897. Hay became Secretary of State the following year.
Hay was responsible for negotiating the Open Door Policy, which kept China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis, with international powers.
By negotiating the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty with the United Kingdom, the (ultimately unratified) Hay–Herrán Treaty with Colombia, and finally the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the newly-independent Republic of Panama, Hay also cleared the way for the building of the Panama Canal.   
He was a British scholar, diplomat and Japanologist. He is probably best known as the author of the book A Diplomat in Japan (based mainly on his diaries) which describes the years 1862–1869 when Japan was changing from rule by the Tokugawa shogunate (ja:徳川幕府, Tokugawa-bakufu) to the restoration of Imperial rule (ja:明治維新, Meiji-Ishin).
He was a statesman and diplomat in Meiji period Japan (ja:日本). In 1875, he was selected by the Ministry of Education as one of the first students to study abroad under a government scholarship, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1878. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 was ended with Komura's signature on behalf of the Japanese government of the Treaty of Portsmouth.
He was a Japanese diplomat and statesman. He was appointed to be Japan's ambassador plenipotentiary to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, ending World War I. Makino and his delegation put forth a racial equality proposal (ja:人種的差別撤廃提案, Jinshu-teki-Sabetsu Teppai Teian) at the conference which did not pass.
He was a British Indian Army officer and diplomat who served as the High Commissioner in Egypt from 1915 to 1917. McMahon is best known for the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence with Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, the McMahon Line between Tibet and India and the Declaration to the Seven in response to a memorandum written by seven notable Syrians.
He was a British diplomat. He is best known for his 1907, vigorous warning that Germany's expansionist intentions toward Britain were hostile and had to be met with a closer alliance ("Entente") with France.
He was a French diplomat and lawyer who negotiated the Sykes–Picot Agreement with the English diplomat Sir Mark Sykes between November 1915 and March 1916. It was a secret deal which proposed that, when the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire (tr:Osmanlı İmparatorluğu, ar:الدولة العثمانية) began after a then theoretical victory of the Triple Entente, Britain and France, and later Russia and Italy, would divide up the Arab territories between them.
He was a prominent pre–World War II Japanese diplomat and the 44th Prime Minister of Japan from 9 October 1945 to 22 May 1946. In 1919, he was named ambassador to the United States and was Japan's leading negotiator during the Washington Naval Conference. He was a leading proponent of pacifism in Japan before and after World War II.
He was a British politician and diplomat as well as the first Secretary-General of the League of Nations (LN) (1920–1933). In April-May 1917 he was a member of the Balfour Mission, intended to promote cooperation between the US and UK during World War I. Between 1918 and 1919 he was a member of the British Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, where he was engaged in the drafting of the covenant of the League of Nations.
He was a Chinese diplomat from the Republic of China (zh:中華民國). He was one of China's representatives at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919; served as an Ambassador to France, Great Britain and the United States; was a participant in the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations; and sat as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague from 1957 to 1967.
He was an ethnic Armenian-born Russian revolutionary and a Soviet diplomat. In 1919, he issued a statement concerning relations with China called the Karakhan Manifesto. In 1921, he was the Soviet Ambassador to Poland; in 1923-1926, the Ambassador to China; after 1934, the Ambassador to Turkey.
He was a Chinese philosopher, essayist and diplomat. He was influential in the May Fourth Movement, one of the leaders of China's New Culture Movement, was a president of Peking University. Hu was the ROC (Republic of China, zh:中華民國) ambassador to the U.S. between 1938 and 1942.
He was a Soviet communist politician and diplomat during the Cold War. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1957–1985) and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1985–1988). Gromyko was responsible for many top decisions on Soviet foreign policy until he retired in 1988.
He was an Austrian diplomat and politician. In 1956 he was made Ambassador to Canada, returning to the Ministry in 1960, after which he became the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in 1964. He was the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981, and the ninth President of Austria from 1986 to 1992.
He is a Peruvian diplomat who served as the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1, 1982 to December 31, 1991. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1940 and the diplomatic service in 1944, serving subsequently as Secretary at Peru's embassy in France. He also held posts in the United Kingdom, Bolivia, and Brazil, and later served as ambassador to Switzerland, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Venezuela.
He entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1969. He is a Japanese diplomat and academic who currently serves as the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan. He is the first head of the National Security Council founded in December 2013. One of Yachi's first tasks as National Security Advisor was to strengthen the new NSC's relations with the American government. 
He is a South Korean diplomat who was the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 2007 to December 2016. Before becoming Secretary-General, Ban was a career diplomat in South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the United Nations.
He is a Russian diplomat, and is currently the Foreign Minister of Russia, in office since 2004. Previously, he was the Russian Representative to the UN, serving from 1994 to 2004.
He is a Japanese diplomat and the current Japan's ambassador to the United States. He was Deputy Director-General of Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and representative of Japan during the six-party talks to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
He is a Chinese diplomat and politician. He formerly served as China's Vice Foreign Minister, Ambassador to Japan, and Director of the Taiwan Affairs Office. As of August 2017, he is the Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China (zh:中华人民共和国).
He is a North Korean politician and diplomat who has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Korea since 2016. He is known as a skillful negotiator with experience in negotiating with the United States on the North Korean nuclear program. In particular, he has headed North Korea's negotiators at the six-party talks. His diplomatic career spans more than 30 years. He was ambassador to the United Kingdom between 2003 and 2007.


  1. ^ Matthew S. Anderson, The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919 (1993), pp. 6.
  2. ^ David Stevenson, "The Diplomats" in Jay Winter, ed. The Cambridge History of the First World War: Volume II: The State (2014) vol 2 p 68.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-21. Retrieved 2015-01-21. 
  4. ^ a b "Career diplomat Aurescu becomes Romanian new FM". xinhuanet.com. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  5. ^ http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/career-diplomat-margaret-twomey-is-new-fiji-high-commissioner/story-fn59niix-1227108642256?nk=48a1c6a6c609bdff015a69446f78632f
  6. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/02/world/europe/john-f-tefft-a-career-diplomat-will-go-to-russia.html?_r=0
  7. ^ http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news12_e/biography_robertoazevedo_brazil_e.pdf
  8. ^ "Carlos dos santos The Career Diplomat That Nurtured Foreign Affairs in Mozambique - International Magazine Kreol". International Magazine Kreol. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "BBC NEWS - Asia-Pacific - Princess trapped by palace guard". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  10. ^ "BBC News - Lady Ashton takes flak in EU diplomatic battle". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  11. ^ ABC News. "Career Diplomats Worried About Influx of Political Appointees at State Department". ABC News. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  12. ^ "Are Political Appointees the Only U.S. Diplomats Who Haven't Been to the Country to Which They Are Assigned?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  13. ^ Stuart Seldowitz, "The Psychology of Diplomatic Conflict Resolution", in H. J. Langholtz and C. E.Stout, Eds. The Psychology of Diplomacy (Westport: Praeger, 2004), pp. 47–58.
  14. ^ Allan Gyngell and Michael Wesley, Making Australian Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 106.
  15. ^ J. W. Burton, Systems, States, Diplomacy and Rules (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 206.
  16. ^ Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomacy (New York: Collier, 1962) at 107.

Further reading[edit]

  • Black, Jeremy. A History of Diplomacy (U. of Chicago Press, 2010) ISBN 978-1-86189-696-4
  • Berridge, G. R. Diplomacy: Theory & Practice, 3rd edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2005, ISBN 1-4039-9311-4
  • Cunningham, George. Journey to Become a Diplomat: With a Guide to Careers in World Affairs FPA Global Vision Books 2005, ISBN 0-87124-212-5
  • Dorman, Shawn, ed. Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America by American Foreign Service Association, Second edition February 2003, ISBN 0-9649488-2-6
  • Callieres, Francois De. The Practice of Diplomacy (1919).
  • Anderson, Matthew S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919 (1993).
  • Nicolson, Sir Harold George. The Evolution of Diplomatic Method (1977)
  • Rana, Kishan S. and Jovan Kurbalija, eds. Foreign Ministries: Managing Diplomatic Networks and Optimizing Value DiploFoundation, 2007, ISBN 978-99932-53-16-7
  • Rana, Kishan S. The 21st Century Ambassador: Plenipotentiary to Chief Executive DiploFoundation,2004, ISBN 99909-55-18-2
  • Ernest Satow. A Guide to Diplomatic Practice by Longmans, Green & Co. London & New York, 1917. A standard reference work used in many embassies across the world (though not British ones). Now in its fifth edition (1998) ISBN 0-582-50109-1
  • Stevenson, David. "The Diplomats" in Jay Winter, ed. The Cambridge History of the First World War: Volume II: The State (2014) vol 2 ch 3, pp 66-90.
  • Fredrik Wesslau, The Political Adviser's Handbook (2013), ISBN 978-91-979688-7-4
  • Wicquefort, Abraham de. The Embassador and His Functions (2010)

External links[edit]

Media related to Diplomats at Wikimedia Commons