A diplomat (from Ancient Greek: δίπλωμα; romanized diploma) is a person appointed by a state or an intergovernmental institution such as the United Nations or the European Union to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations.

French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord is considered one of the most skilled diplomats of all time.

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 organizations (for example, the United Nations, the world's largest diplomatic forum) 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.

The sending state is required to get the consent of the receiving state for a person proposed to serve in key diplomatic positions such as an ambassador, also referred to as the head of the mission. The receiving state of the proposed diplomat may accept the diplomat or refuse to accept the diplomat without having to provide reasons for its refusal or acceptance of the person. While the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff is already on duty in the receiving state, the receiving state may still decide at anytime that the person is no longer wanted in the state and is considered persona non grata. When this happens, the sending state may discharge the person.[1]

Diplomats are the oldest form of any of the foreign policy institutions of a state, predating by centuries foreign ministers and ministerial offices. They usually have diplomatic immunity, and in their official travels they usually use a diplomatic passport or, for UN officials, a United Nations laissez-passer.


The headquarters of the United Nations in New York City, the world's largest international diplomatic organization.

The regular use of permanent diplomatic representation began in the states of 15th-century Italy. However the terms "diplomacy" and "diplomat" appeared during 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.[2]

Diplomats themselves and historians often refer to the foreign ministry by its address: the Ballhausplatz (Vienna), the Quai d’Orsay (Paris), the Wilhelmstraße (Berlin); Itamaraty (from the former Itamaraty Palace in Rio de Janeiro, now transferred to Brasília since 1970) and Foggy Bottom (Washington). For imperial Russia to 1917 it was the Choristers' Bridge (St Petersburg). The Italian ministry was called "the Consulta".[3]

Career diplomats and political appointees

Though any person can be appointed by the State's national government to conduct said state's relations with other States or international organizations, a number of States maintain an institutionalized 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[4][5][6][7][8][9] 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).[10][11] While officially posted to an embassy or delegation in a foreign country or accredited to an international organization, both career diplomats and political appointees enjoy the same diplomatic immunities, as well as United Nations officials. Ceremonial heads of state commonly act as diplomats on behalf of their nation, usually following instructions from their head of Government. Sasson Sofer argues that, "The ideal diplomat, by the nature of his mission, is destined to clash with the expedient needs of his country's politics."[12] On the other hand professional politicians often ridicule diplomats. President John F. Kennedy often denigrated career diplomats as "weak and effeminate" and moved foreign policy decisions out of their hands.[13]

Diplomatic ranks

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 who help businesspeople, and military attachés. They represent not the foreign ministry but other branches of their government, but lack the diplomat's role in dealing with foreign policy at the highest level.[14]


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 use secure communication systems, such as emails, and mobile telephones that allow reaching even the most reclusive head of mission. This technology also 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 people. 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, history, economics, or law.[15] "Emotional intelligence" has recently become a component of many foreign service training programs.[16]

Status and public image

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".[17] 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."[18] 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

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".[19] Nicolson also claimed that personal motives often influenced the diplomatic pursuit of the national interest. For example, he wrote: "Nobody who has not actually watched statesmen dealing with each other can have any real idea of the immense part played in human affairs by such unavowable and often unrecognisable causes as lassitude, affability, personal affection or dislike, misunderstanding, deafness or incomplete command of a foreign language, vanity, social engagements, interruptions and momentary health."[20]

To prevent disconnection and apathy from their own state, many foreign services mandate their employees to return to their home countries in between period serving abroad.

International Day of Diplomats

Diplomats have started celebrating International Day of Diplomats on October 24 since 2017.[21] The idea of celebrating International Day of Diplomats on the day the United Nations was founded was proposed by Indian diplomat Abhay Kumar to mark the occasion as diplomacy becoming the principal means of resolving disputes.[22]

See also

  • Batman rapist – unidentified English serial rapist who is believed to have remained unapprehended due to being the son of a diplomat[23]


  1. "United Nations Treaty Collection". treaties.un.org. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  2. S. Anderson, Matthew (1993). The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919. p. 6.
  3. 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.
  4. "Independent Diplomat: Paul Whiteway". Archived from the original on 2015-01-21. Retrieved 2015-01-21.
  5. "Career diplomat Aurescu becomes Romanian new FM". Xinhua. Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  6. Siddons, Andrew (1 August 2014). "John F. Tefft, a Career Diplomat, Will Go to Russia". The New York Times.
  7. "Carlos dos santos The Career Diplomat That Nurtured Foreign Affairs in Mozambique". International Magazine Kreol. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  8. "Asia-Pacific - Princess trapped by palace guard". BBC News. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  9. "Lady Ashton takes flak in EU diplomatic battle". BBC News. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  10. "Career Diplomats Worried About Influx of Political Appointees at State Department". ABC News. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  11. "Are Political Appointees the Only U.S. Diplomats Who Haven't Been to the Country to Which They Are Assigned?". The Huffington Post. 19 February 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  12. , "The diplomat as a stranger." Diplomacy and Statecraft 8.3 (1997): 179-186.
  13. Ann E. Towns, "‘Diplomacy is a feminine art’: Feminised figurations of the diplomat." Review of International Studies 46.5 (2020): 573-593 online Archived 2022-07-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. Gordon A. Craig, "Military diplomats in the Prussian and German service: the attachés, 1816-1914." Political Science Quarterly (1949): 65-94 online Archived 2022-07-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. 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.
  16. PT210 Advanced Leadership Skills, Foreign Service Institute Training, at fsitraining.state.gov/Catalog/CourseDetails/PT210
  17. Allan Gyngell and Michael Wesley, Making Australian Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 106.
  18. J. W. Burton, Systems, States, Diplomacy and Rules (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 206.
  19. Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomacy (New York: Collier, 1962) at 107.
  20. Harold Nicolson, The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, 1812-1822 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1946), 19.
  21. First International Day of Diplomats celebrated in Brasilia Archived 2018-09-03 at the Wayback Machine Business Standard, October 25, 2017
  22. Why the world needs International Day of Diplomats, our everyday peacekeepers Archived 2018-09-03 at the Wayback Machine Daily O, 12 October 2017
  23. Thompson, Tony (14 May 2000). "Diplomat's son suspected of 'Riddler' rapes". The Observer (UK). p. 15.

Further reading

  • Anderson, Matthew S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919 (1993).
  • 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
  • Callieres, Francois De. The Practice of Diplomacy (1919). online
  • Carta, Caterina. The European Union diplomatic service: ideas, preferences and identities (Routledge, 2013).
  • Cornut, Jérémie. "To be a diplomat abroad: Diplomatic practice at embassies." Cooperation and Conflict 50.3 (2015): 385-401.
  • Craig, Gordon A. "The Professional Diplomat and His Problems, 1919–1939." World Politics 4.2 (1952): 145-158.
  • 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
  • de Wicquefort, Abraham (2010)[1716]. The Embassador [sic] and His Functions. ISBN 9781140831136. OCLC 1227564311 (original).
  • Dorman, Shawn, ed. Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America (2nd ed. American Foreign Service Association, 2003), ISBN 0-9649488-2-6
  • Jones, Ray. "The Social Structure of the British Diplomatic Service, 1815-1914." Histoire sociale/Social History 14.27 (1981). online
  • 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
  • Satow, Ernest. A Guide to Diplomatic Practice (Longmans, Green & Co. 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. online
  • Sofer, Sasson. "Being a ‘pathetic hero’ in international politics: The diplomat as a historical actor." Diplomacy and Statecraft 12.1 (2001): 107-112.
  • Sofer, Sasson. "The diplomat as a stranger." Diplomacy and Statecraft 8.3 (1997): 179-186.
  • Stevenson, David. Chapter 3 "The Diplomats" in Jay Winter, ed. The Cambridge History of the First World War: Volume II: The State (2014). Volume 2. pp. 66–90.
  • Wesslau, Fredrik (2013). The Political Adviser's Handbook. ISBN 978-91-979688-7-4.
  • Wiseman, Geoffrey. "Expertise and Politics in Ministries of Foreign Affairs: The Politician-Diplomat Nexus." in Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the World (Brill Nijhoff, 2022) pp. 119-149.
  • Media related to Diplomats at Wikimedia Commons
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