Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Confidence MacHarry is a Security Analyst at the same firm and can be found on Twitter @MacHarryCI. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.
Title: Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security.
Date Originally Written: April 30, 2020.
Date Originally Published: June 10, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The authors believe that the relegation of career diplomats in shaping national security policy has robbed governments of vital perspectives sorely needed in great power competition.
Summary: Career diplomats are an essential component of any national security apparatus. Their ability to understand allies and adversaries at the most basic levels means that governments are less likely to stumble down the path of armed conflict while securing the most favorable positions for themselves on the international stage. When diplomatic efforts take a back seat to those of military and security forces, the likelihood of conflict increases.
Text: Diplomacy is one of the few professions which has remained true to its earliest history, albeit with a few marked adaptations to suit changing times. Harold Nicholson described diplomacy as “guiding international relations through negotiations, and how it manages ambassadors and envoys of these relations, and diplomatic working man or his art.”
The Greek style of diplomacy was founded on the abhorrence of secret pacts between leaders arising out of the distrust Greeks have for their leaders. The Greek diplomats pursued this narrative of intergovernmental relations, beginning with relations between the city-states, eventually extending to governments of non-Greek origin, most notably Persia.
The rise of international organizations has transformed the conduct of diplomacy between two entities into a multifaceted discipline. In its original form as relations between states, the conduct of diplomacy involved the exchange of officials in various capacities. Usually, the ambassador is the most important officer of one state’s relations to another. But, as international relations has grown over the last two centuries, diplomacy’s substance has transcended politics to include economic and socio-cultural relations, hence the entrance of consular officers and other subject matter experts amongst others. The exchange of ambassadors is not done without ceremony, and before a country accepts an ambassador, the sending country has to inform the recipient country about who is being sent. When the ambassador arrives, he or she is required to present a letter of credence to the head of state of the host country.
For relations between states to happen without friction, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 spelled out the rules of engagement. Article 27.3 states that the diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained, while Article 27.4 states that the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use. Given the vulnerability of communications sent by wireless, by telephone, or by correspondence through public facilities—described in the commentary on Article 27.1 and 27.2 and increasing as technology advances and leaking meets with public sympathy—States attach prime importance to the security of the diplomatic bag for reliable transmission of confidential material.
No nation survives on autarky. Diplomacy, along with economic and cultural resources, makes up the soft power of a nation. The importance of diplomats in ensuring state existence cannot be overemphasized and can be seen in the role they play in both peace and war. The ability to achieve foreign policy objectives via attracting and co-opting rather than hard power or coercion means that the country is spared the costs of waging wars.
Career diplomats (along with intelligence officers and analysts), through long service and academic study, serve as cultural experts and assist their political leaders in understanding developments from foreign countries. Diplomats understand the ideological leanings, beliefs, and fears of allies and adversaries. Such understanding is useful in crafting appropriate responses to developments. Diplomats are best positioned to seek out countries who share the same ideals with them, making alliances for national security easy. By building relationships with their counterparts from other nations, more channels for conflict resolution between countries become apparent.
These diplomatic understandings and relationships also facilitate both sides taking advantage of opportunities for military, political, and economic cooperation. Cultural attachés can facilitate educational exchanges, military attachés can prepare for joint exercises, and trade attachés can help businesses navigate the business environment in a foreign nation. All of these efforts deepen the bonds that bind countries together and make the peaceful resolution of disagreements more beneficial for all parties.
More importantly, career diplomats help their nations understand shared security threats and ensure a more effective joint response. The work that was done by American diplomats to persuade China and Russia that a nuclear-armed Iran was not in their best interest comes to mind. The sanctions regime that was created forced Iran to negotiate the status of its nuclear program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The alternative, military action against Iranian nuclear sites, had no guarantee of success and risked a wider, Middle East conflict.
Ultimately, diplomats are required in the entire spectrum of relationships between nations. In peace, they facilitate understanding and rapport between countries. In a crisis, they defuse tensions and calm fraying nerves. In war, they can negotiate terms to bring all sides to lay down their arms and win the peace. All these tasks can only be done if the political masters can be convinced that the price for peace is cheaper than the blood of brave men and women. If peace is valued, then competent civil servants positioned to represent their countries to the world and provide the platform to realize this goal.
 Nicholson, H. (1939). Diplomacy.
 Denza, E. (2016, January 14). Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from
 Smith, A. (2007, October). Turning on the Dime: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from
 Nye, J. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.
 DePetris, D. (2016, August 9). Diplomacy, Not Force, Was the Best Choice With Iran. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from
 Almond, R. (2016, March 8). China and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from