PART OF THE International Women ISSUE

‘Diplomacy is hard work, sometimes seeking to bridge seemingly impossible divides.’

Diplomatic protocol may be well-established but its interpretation and correct application in a rapidly-changing and complex political environment could not be more relevant. Rosalie Rivett highlights the important relevance of Protocol as it applies to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and provides factual and anecdotal examples of this vital aspect of statecraft and international diplomacy.

Extract from Diplomatic Protocol 
By Rosalie Rivett
Published by Whittles


The delicate art of diplomacy has been used for good, even sometimes for ill, throughout history to achieve the desired aims of nations and their leaders, and to promote foreign policy. It is both an elegant art and an effective one when deployed by the finest practitioners. It is also an evolving art, adapting itself to meet a fast-moving world where events and technology are themselves moving at breathtaking speed. Diplomacy is the soft power, underlying every nation’s ambitions; without it wars could break out, peace treaties might never be negotiated or signed, and trade missions might flounder. Diplomatic protocol, it has been said, is the etiquette of diplomacy: it is one thing to want to strike up a conversation, but quite another to know how the dialogue should begin. Very often it is the diplomats who have to initiate that dialogue, even when two countries are at war with each other in an attempt to reach a peaceful and, importantly, face-saving solution. Protocol – an instrument of statecraft – is an essential part of the framework for these discussions to take place.

The world has become so small, thanks to instant communications and ever faster forms of travel, that an event on one side of the world can spark an immediate reaction on the other, and all of it instantly recorded and shared online. There is no longer time to pause and ponder while a letter or telegram wends its way from an embassy to the home nation. Reaction has to be almost instantaneous, appropriate and designed at the very least not to exacerbate what might already be a volatile situation. It has to be diplomatic and governed by established protocol – the rules of diplomatic exchange. And last but not least, it has to be media friendly.

With these changes some even question whether the role of the diplomat is becoming redundant with modern technology rendering coded messages, confidential reports and face-to-face meetings superfluous. However, as anyone who has sent or received an email or text or even tweet will know, there is the potential for misinterpretation when perhaps written in haste, simply because they were so easy to tap out and send; one must above all beware of predictive text. Technology has its place and its uses, it even has its own word to describe how it is used – ‘netiquette’ – but it must be handled with all the care a diplomat possesses, and will never, I suggest, replace the finesse of an accomplished ambassador.

The very best diplomats, I suggest, do their best work unseen by the public without drawing attention to themselves – the very antithesis of this selfie-obsessed world. They must entertain, of course, and host gatherings to mark important occasions such as national days and national cultural events, but their primary duty of representing the interests of their home government is usually conducted away from the glare of publicity.

A diplomat must be able to understand how protocol and etiquette should be applied when facing issues of cultural perception, negotiation, the increasingly sensitive area of religion and beliefs, and importantly tribal issues, which are critical in some countries and often seldom understood, if even recognised, by outsiders. With a complete understanding of these topics, any diplomat will be prepared to face situations from hosting a world summit, state or official visit by a head of state, while understanding the protocols practised by international and multilateral and multi-ethnic organisations such as the United Nations, to even more high-profile, potentially difficult and complicated situations.

When the United Kingdom voted in its 2016 referendum to leave the European Union after 40 years of membership, the impact reverberated around the world, but once the immediate shockwaves had died down it became a time for quiet diplomacy to negotiate the terms of Brexit; it is probably going to have a significant effect on worldwide diplomacy for many years to come, and it is therefore considered prominently in this book.

Brexit was one example: sadly there are regular, more brutal events which also require delicate handling, and such handling can only be achieved through preparation and understanding of the rules of diplomatic behaviour.

Diplomacy is hard work, sometimes seeking to bridge seemingly impossible divides. Speaking of the painstaking dialogue that the former US Senator, George Mitchell, tried to conduct in 2009 between the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, the then US Secretary Of State, Hilary Clinton, said: ‘As well as anyone in his generation, George understands the slow hard work of diplomacy.’

Diplomatic Protocol seeks to help its readers understand the history, role and purpose of diplomatic protocol and how it should be conducted. Without analysing the many distinct aspects and cultures of individual nations, it endeavours to offer a guiding hand to established and aspiring diplomats alike, showing how the basics of common courtesy, consideration, a willingness to understand and, finally, plain good manners will help diplomats to be themselves as they move effortlessly and effectively from post to post.

Diplomatic Protocol: Etiquette, Statecraft and Trust by Rosalie Rivett is out now published by Whittles priced £25.

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