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date: 20 February 2018

The Geography of Diplomacy

Summary and Keywords

The fields of geography and diplomacy are closely intertwined. The traditional view of diplomacy describes it as the conduct of statecraft in all the nonviolent manifestations of external relations. Statecraft encompasses the responses to security concerns, the regulation of transboundary flows, and the pursuance of a state’s material interests and the projection of positive perceptions concerning the state to the outside world. Diplomacy can also be more narrowly defined 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. In the nineteenth century, European diplomacy was overwhelmingly dominated by the major powers. Small powers were only occasionally involved, and some countries like China were practically forced into diplomatic relations with Western powers as European influence expanded. Diplomacy got a niche in the European state system. Of relevance in this context is the field of critical geopolitics, which investigates and deconstructs geopolitical reasoning—that is, the geographical assumptions and claims in the making of world politics. The engineering of geographical representations by diplomats is a new topic in international relations. Two concepts have been introduced to deal with attempts to win the “hearts and minds” of foreign audiences: public diplomacy and nation branding. Future prospects for diplomacy result from efforts to reshape the field’s identity—civilized, effective interaction across divides—in appropriate formats for a new period.

Keywords: geography, diplomacy, foreign policy, diplomatic relations, Europe, critical geopolitics, diplomats, international relations, public diplomacy, nation branding


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 (Taylor 1994; Sassen 2006). Statecraft, the domain of diplomacy, is about the management of that order. Nonetheless, the geography of diplomacy is not a familiar sign under which scholars congregate like diplomatic history. 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. Similarly, diplomats and diplomacy never figure in the titles of articles published in Political Geography and Geopolitics (with one exception: Campbell 1999). Significantly, in a Dictionary of Geopolitics (O’Loughlin 1994), mainly written 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 force 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 1999:33).

In the course of time, geographers have occasionally entered one diplomatic arena or another (Mamadouh 2005). But this applied work was not sustained by a continuous interest in the diplomatic institution as an object of study. Certainly border problems and geopolitics relevant to the practice of diplomacy have been studied within geography and these studies are exhaustively treated elsewhere in this Compendium. But the ways in which diplomacy within the framework of the institution itself has dealt with such problems and has formed geopolitical ideas has only been studied sparingly in geography. Consequently, we deal in this essay 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? We will use the contributions of geographers as well as those from other disciplines.

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, and the pursuance of a state’s material interests and the projection of positive perceptions concerning the state to the outside world. 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. 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. In this piece we will concentrate on the narrower definition, but will not limit our efforts entirely to the terrain thus demarcated.

The diplomatic tradition that we know 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 we could certainly extend the definition of diplomacy to encompass these institutions in order 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 also 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.

In the next section we focus on the basic geographical characteristics of the diplomatic institution itself: the locations of places where it has in the course of time concentrated, the spatial pattern of the networks. This has been a topic of interest in geography and political science for some time. In the third section we consider 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 we use literature from architecture, law, and diplomatic history. The fourth section deals with worldviews and resulting practices of diplomacy. Here we primarily depend on the recent field of critical geopolitics. In the concluding section we take into account the changes that have affected the diplomatic tradition and move to the question of to what extent new actors, new worldviews and new practices have transformed it, and in particular its geographical character.

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, also involving the Holy Roman emperor. Pope and emperor, examples of pre-state political actors (Spruyt 1994), were thus also involved in this jealously guarded network of states. From the 1560s to about 1600 this process was frustrated by the Counter-Reformation, which produced a divide between Catholic and Protestant countries with 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 seventeenth 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 nineteenth century the diplomacy within the European state system was very largely dominated by the major powers. Small powers were only occasionally involved; 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 US 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 simultaneously another internal cluster of the diplomatic web developed (Singer and Small 1966, in particular table 2).

Most of the work done on the map of the diplomatic web relates exclusively 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 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 for 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 remarkable stability of the bilateral web was underlined (Alger and 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 either regional or worldwide integration (see also Russett and Lamb 1969 for bilateral relations). Thirty years later, Nierop (1994) looked with a 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 1950–91 period. He again found that generally the congruence of clusters of different kinds of links is only limited. While very generally clusters tend 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 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 at 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:clusters were primarily regional in character and lacked hierarchy through centralization. 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 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 again 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 US 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 and 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 et al. (2007) have analyzed the actual venues for multilateral political negotiations from 1600 to the present, finding again 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 process is deemed important and highly constrained by geophysical and geopolitical considerations. It should be possible for researchers to construct a geo-diplomatic field map that pictures the conditions for these site selections. Henrikson suggests that some sites (at border lines) may tend to attract more conflictuous 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 in the course of time only gradually evolved. A basic outline was finally put down in two international agreements in the 1960s. Diplomacy always retained an aristocratic veneer even if 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 (Wood and Serres 1970; Cohen 1987), was – perhaps even wider than power – meant to express status. 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. This section concentrates on a few of the more tangible aspects of the diplomatic niche: the position of diplomacy vis-à-vis state territoriality, and the buildings and urban milieus that it uses as its working environment.

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 in order 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 dependent on the withdrawal of the constraints that its successful use implies in the case of diplomats. The inviolability, immunity, and exemption conditions under which diplomats operate can, however, 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 killing a British policewoman, and the failed attempt to kidnap a Nigerian political refugee through the diplomatic bag from the UK), and the prolonged stay of a multitude of East German “tourists” in the West German embassy in Prague in summer 1989 eager to leave the Eastern bloc. Most of these incidents were in the end somehow solved without the use of force.

There is a considerable corpus of diplomatic history writing 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 the work was with a long interruption between 1932 and 1957 reprinted, later under other editors, the last 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 is dealt with by Satow in chapter XVII (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 calls in Satow’s view for the intervention of the hosting government. In this context he mentions 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 1917/1964:218): Satow (1917/1964:219) notes 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 1917/1964:226–7).

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 (1814–15), an international treaty open to all states was finally agreed 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 more sign of the total immersion of the old world of diplomats in its own history and the importance of precedence as a guide for action.

The Convention pays tribute to the existing different traditions of diplomatic exchange. It again underlines the importance of state territoriality by granting the right to receiving states to declare any member of a diplomatic staff persona non grata at all times without explanation (art. 9), to impose the obligation of notification of arrival and departure of all members of missions (art. 10), to limit the size of a mission (art. 11), and to limit the possibility of extra offices in other localities (no definition provided) than where the mission is (art. 12). With respect to inviolability and immunity provisions that introduce exceptions to rules based on territoriality, the convention regulates (art. 20 to the end) the provision of facilities, the right to show flags and emblems, the access to premises, the protection of archives and documents, the freedom of movement, the freedom of communication and transport of documents and goods through the diplomatic bag that should be marked as such (though the installation of a wireless transmitter needs the consent of the receiving state), jurisdictional immunity (with some provisos), and exemption from social security obligations and dues and taxes. A separate Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (agreed 1963, entered into force 1967, UN Treaty Series vol. 596, 261) regulates consular posts and their personnel along similar but not identical lines. It clearly shows the different origin of the consular work and has slightly less stringent immunity and inviolability provisions for persons than in the case of diplomats. For premises and archives and documents, protection is essentially similar.

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 – 1970–2000 – 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 (see

After World War II the Americans translated their preponderant position in 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 (Loeffler 1998; Gill Lui 2004). “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 too: “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 US foreign service, from the Vietcong attack on the American embassy in Saigon in 1965 onwards and further intensified after the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (Langewiesche 2007:1–5). They include the concerns of neighbors, for their own safety, and also about 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 probable consequence has been called “siege diplomacy,” in complete contrast with the image of the US propagated by the wave of postwar modernist embassies and also totally at odds with the guidelines now 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. 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 have on short notice to find a series of accommodations for their freshly installed diplomatic service. Obviously, in such cases the already existing states also tend to extend their number of posts. A unique 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 ministry and local diplomatic corps reciprocally affect each other 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 twentieth century (Leira and Neumann 2007:83–102).

Foreign offices as separate government departments have emerged in Europe since the eighteenth 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 nineteenth 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 their foreign offices (Steiner 1982), but their stature varies.

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 twentieth century their size and accommodation were very modest (Murphy 1994:85). 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 has built their own offices and so a new international center has arisen. The UN was for various reasons finally headquartered in New York (Stoller and 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, and Bangkok. The most important macroregional center is in Brussels (Hein 2000; 2004; Elmhorn 2001).

The role of specific cities during diplomatic summits has been the subject of a number of studies. 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 1919–20 and his later work on the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), Nicolson (1933; 1946) deals rather extensively with the urban stage in which the conferences were set. The most recent 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).

Some cities have also been analyzed for their role as more permanent centers of the ongoing diplomatic dialogue. We take Washington as an example. For a long time, Washington had been a very quiet, smallish town, slightly southern with a warm, moist summer. Washington only became a larger metropole during World War II. It has for a long time had a large, poor, black community that does not figure prominently in the image of Washington in which the corps diplomatique is embedded.

L’Enfant’s original plan shaped monumental Washington with the government quarter, some major residential areas for politicians, government employees and the numerous ancillary services and other government-related institutions to the present day. Compared to other American cities, the building height is very modest and there is a lot of green. Original Washington had some highly symbolic sites that were then renewed and extended from the turn of the century and again in the last decades of the twentieth century. Much of the original flavor was preserved. This is the Washington that writers affectionately picture with the recent addition of the leafy suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.

Henrikson (1983) has drawn an enticing picture of Washington as a distinctive type of capital: one that is not the large city that dominates its country in several dimensions, but a small adaptable city that mirrors the changing mood of the country in different periods. The periodic alteration of government, when the political color of the president changes, provokes an invasion of a new generation of politicians and civil servants, many of whom stay on after a new change has occurred. Consequently the mirror has several layers in which the incoming influences refract, and that in the end produces some sort of balance of divergent views. A kind of social geology has resulted: layers of New Dealers, Eisenhower Republicans, the New Frontier and Great Society generation, and Reaganites (and after some more layers the people of Obama are settling in as we finish this piece). This is what Henrikson reported in the early 1980s. His image of Washington used in the title of his piece, is a quote from an earlier observer: “a small cozy town, global in scope.” His more recent update drawing Washington as the terrain of its diplomatic corps does not radically alter the picture (Henrikson 2007).

Gerhard (2003) concentrated on the growing number of NGOs, think tanks, universities, and the already somewhat older international financial institutions (notably the World Bank and the IMF). In her view this Washington, while remaining cozy, has also become more cosmopolitan: along the edges, considerable gentrification has occurred, producing the renewed and diversified residential and leisure neighborhoods beloved by young urban professionals.

Washington’s unidimensional political center (a one company town living for and off politics) is not unique. It is also to be found in The Hague and Berne. And it existed for half a century in Bonn. In all those intensely political cities, diplomats function in their natural habitat, the world of politics, but that world is still very much larger than the corps diplomatique. Whether this gives them a more blinkered view of their host society as a whole than would otherwise be the case, is an open question.

The Diplomatic Worldview and the Geographic Frame

A more important research theme among geographers is the study of diplomats’ worldviews. They are partly expressed in geographic terms. 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 and Minghi 1991), and courses for practitioners and those in an advisory capacity, e.g., concerned with the drawing and management of boundaries, have been developed in such contexts (e.g., the International Boundaries Research Unit at the University of Durham; see We limit our interest here to some of the worldviews that guide diplomats.

A large body of work in critical geopolitics is relevant here. Critical geopolitics investigates and deconstructs geopolitical reasoning, in other words the geographical assumptions and claims in the making of world politics. From the 1990s onwards it has become a major stream in political geography, but we do not elaborate upon it here, as it is covered elsewhere in this Compendium. However, much critical geopolitics considers either formal or popular politics. Rather rarely does it deal with practical geopolitics, the realm of policy making, that is directly relevant to the work of 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 more 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 and Agnew 1992; Ó Tuathail 1996), Henry Kissinger (Ó Tuathail 1994; 1996), and the Reagan administration (Ó Tuathail 1992b; see also Weber 1994). More recently Toal’s work has been recentered on a concrete conflict: the Bosnia crisis and its aftermath. In a study of the US 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 the State Department press briefings, memoirs, etc., he reconstructs two competing storylines, Balkan Vietnam and European genocide, which correspond to two contradictory conclusions on the need for the US 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 has also 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, e.g., 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: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, analyses the contribution of the Committee on the Present Danger, a think tank launched just after the election of Jimmy Carter as the president of the USA in 1976, to warn for the Soviet threat. In his book Creating the Second Cold War (1990) he shows how their representational work prepared the remilitarization of international politics by the end of the 1970s and their influence on the foreign and military policy of Ronald Reagan, a member of the Committee, elected President in 1980. Dodds (1994) used critical geopolitics to investigate the British representations of Argentina in the period 1945–61 through an archival research of the geopolitical and geoeconomic representations in the Foreign Office.

Another fundamental and influential study of Cold War politics from that perspective is the book Writing Security by Campbell (1992), in which he discloses the identity politics involved in US foreign policy making. 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 this article, he demonstrates 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 argues 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 diplomats could negotiate, not because other solutions were unrealistic but because they were not enunciated.

Similarly, Feldman (2005) discusses how national minorities are constructed as 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.

The study of the elite that shapes foreign policy and diplomatic encounters can 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 allegedly the most powerful political function in the world: the American president, mapping the political geography of the State of the Union addresses for the period 1946–87. 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 with the “empty” ones for Nixon and Ford. Flint et al. (2009) have conducted a similar analysis of the 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 US foreign policy: the Secretary of State, comparing Madeleine Albright to her predecessors Shultz, Baker, and Christopher, and to influential advisers on foreign policy Brzezinski and Kissinger (who also served as Secretary of State 1973–7). On a par, 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.

In a more recent contribution, two geographers, Jones and Clark (2008), have highlighted the role of the European Commission as discourse builder and performer in the case of the European Neighbourhood Policy. They disclose through interviews with civil servants in different positions how the Commission contributes to the external projection of Europeanization toward the countries across the Mediterranean that are offered a special but asymmetric partnership as neighbors and no prospect of membership. A broader investigation of the European Union as diplomatic actor is offered by Keukeleire (2003) considering internal diplomacy (between member states), traditional diplomacy (through the ESDP), and structural diplomacy (based on other external actions).

Rare are studies of diplomats representing smaller countries. 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, especially the Estonian president Lennart Meri, who is the son of a diplomat (Kuus 2007).

Noteworthy is the work of Müller (2008), who explores the situated productions of identities through ethnographic fieldwork at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where future Russian diplomats are educated. He shows how identifications with Europe in everyday life contrast with very different visions of Europe articulated in the process of studying international relations. In that domain a more formalized process of conscious reflection on Russia’s relationship with Europe produces more diverse and distant visions. This is an insightful reminder of the complexity of geopolitical representations, and the Russian example is probably very similar to what could be found among (political and diplomatic) elites in other meta-regions (especially in the Middle East, Latin America, China, and India) regarding their ambiguous relations to the West.

Finally, the engineering of 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 (van Ham 2002; 2008; Szondi 2008). The results of such efforts feed back into popular geopolitics.

Diplomacy as Civilized, Effective Interaction across Divides

During the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the early seventeenth century, the diplomatic institution was formed as part of the emerging European state system. This diplomatic tradition was in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the first years of the twenty-first century gradually undermined, supplemented, and transformed (Anderson 1993; Hamilton and Langhorne 1995; Berridge 2002). The entire set of changes can be summarized in six points.

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 (Nickles 2003; Knuesel 2007), and created new opportunities for direct contacts between members of governments. Rail connections between capitals and then the motorcar and the airplane facilitated face-to-face contacts between the 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 and Langhorne 1995:193).

Consequently, traditional functions of the resident embassy became less self-evident (Hamilton and Langhorne 1995:226, 236). While newly established states started to build up a diplomatic service, in states that had been in existence for a long time (even if their professionalized foreign service was still young like in the US), plans for drastic reductions in the expenditure for resident embassies and thorough overhauls of their tasks were discussed (Hocking and Spence 2005). However, there is also a counterargument stressing 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 in 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 (Neumann 2007; Kleiner 2008; and a critical assessment of such an attempt in the US foreign service, Vaïsse 2007).

2. The increasing spatial scale of social life, based on new transport technologies, and the accompanying increase of transborder traffic demanded further international cooperation (Murphy 1994; Denemark and Hoffmann 2007). 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 put them and the international civil servants on the staffs of these bodies in many respects on a par with traditional diplomatic staff (Dembinski 1988). Diplomats representing the “international community” were for a long time seen 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. 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 the 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 (Hofmann and Türk 2006; Geuijen et al. 2008; Mamadouh and Van der Wusten 2008).

4. Cross-border contacts, educational improvement, and media development prepared the ground for an enlarged popular interest in foreign relations. They have over time become 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 mould 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 to be 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 (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; see Cooper 2008; Pigman and Kotsopoulos 2008).

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 since 1920 embodied this idea. 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 and 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 nineteenth century. They mingled with the official delegates at the 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 but also concerned private diplomatic entrepreneurs, are also active in Track II diplomacy (Chigas 2003), attempts 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 started to mediate 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 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; see 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. Other territorially based actors 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 nonetheless taken the states as the “natural” entities to distinguish foreign from domestic relations. Twinning (Zelinsky 1991:1–31), the construction of cooperative relations between local communities of different countries with some similarities, was after World War II firmly encouraged by national governments in Europe to stimulate processes of reconciliation; particularly France and Germany were active in this respect (Campbell 1987; Cremer et al. 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 (Van der Pluijm 2007; Bontenbal and Van Lindert 2008).

Gradually local and regional governments have deemed fit to become part of cooperative ventures with cities and regions in foreign countries with which the yshare 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 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, though not so much in well-established federal states but more in Belgium and Spain. The resulting activity, which cannot always fully follow the prescriptions of the diplomatic tradition and is not subjected to and protected by the Vienna Conventions, has been called paradiplomacy (Duchacek et al. 1988; Aldecoa and Keating 1999; 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 to obtain 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. At the international level there is an overarching “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization” that seeks to support such efforts in the relevant international organs (see

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, has 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. Repair work and reaching out activities are under way, e.g., in the UN’s and then the EU’s activities to build up parts of former Yugoslavia as viable polities temporarily commanded by diplomats (Dahlman and Ó Tuathail 2005; 2006; Gheciu 2005; Pond 2008) or in the activities of the Independent Diplomat organization and others mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, the most developed intergovernmental organization (perhaps even deserving another label), the European Union overarching the countries of origin of the current global state system, has since the 1980s incrementally constructed its own, active contribution to the worldwide diplomatic web also outside its own realm by establishing a nearly complete set of external delegations in the world’s state capitals which are quasi resident embassies (see also Bruter 1999; Dimier and McGeever 2006). The new European External Action Service will possibly in the medium term transform Europe’s traditional contribution to the global diplomatic web (Duke 2002; Hocking and Spence 2005:287–305; Dimier and McGeever 2006).

Current diplomacy stands in a long tradition. There has always been change, but this professional field is now unusually turbulent. Henrikson (2005b) has recently provided five projective visions of diplomacy’s near future. Most of them continue trends that have been indicated in the preceding points or are responses to those trends. These futures will figure more or less prominently in different parts of the world and at different scales. They all result from efforts to reshape diplomacy’s identity – civilized, effective interaction across divides – in appropriate formats for a new period.


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