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The Solemn Changes of Diplomatic Practices: Technological Innovation and Structural Change


Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on the Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocol has enshrined that there are five functions that diplomatic mission consisting of. They are briefly the representation of sending state, the protection of sending state’s interests, the negotiation with receiving state, the report to sending state, and the promotion of friendly relations with receiving state. [1] In practice, the functions of diplomats have importantly contributed to the global governance since they have taken part to render their services and deeply involved in the process of diplomatic implementing within the global agenda. Trace back to the origin of the diplomatic relations, they date to about 2500 BC and refer to relations between city-states in which it was written in the cuneiform script in Sumerian language. [2] Diplomatic practices nevertheless have been significantly seen a huge change of its nature from time to time inevitably. As the consequences of the new change, the study of its progress on the current tracks of diplomatic practices would be prominently importance. Obviously, there are number of root causes that effected the diplomacy, but the real game changers of all that have most influenced on the global governance and diplomatic practice are the technological evolution and the structural change in the global system.

In the current globalising world, the technological evolution has greatly given impact on the daily tasks of the diplomats to conduct their basic functions like never before. The technology provides a superb facility and awesome logistic in the global conference such as electronic voting, fast duplication and circulation of documents, and fast transcription of proceedings with copies almost instantly available in a large meeting. [3] Given the fact that the progress of modern technology in the areas of communication and transportation of cause provided a better channel for diplomats to boost their activities on one hand, while at the same time, it caused a significant trouble for diplomats on the other hand. Regarding to the technological change in terms of communication means, report and information conveying between the diplomats and foreign ministry have been remarkably replaced by electronic devices using with less times consuming. Although literally true, the reporting function are also greatly negative effected in the sense that diplomats have times shorter to govern their strategic tasks as the flow of information highly shares within only few seconds throughout press agents, social media, and other mediums globally. As the occurrence of “the CNN factor,”  it escalates more rapidly and creates a pressure for diplomats to have a quick response during the crisis regarding to the latest development of situation as the wider grassroots have received information through this mass media. [4]  More essentially, with the high tech equipment it provides a more risky situation in which sensitive information and confidential documents are highly targeted by the cyber criminals, terrorist, and even the intelligent agent of the receiving state. Taking account on the technological change in the areas of modern transportation, even though the diplomatic relationships between states have essentially and largely improved, the negotiating function of diplomats has seemed to be declined. Transportation innovation such as airfare has given a new opportunity not only for ambassadors, but also for foreign-policy advisers, foreign ministers, and head of states to undertake more frequent international meetings to exchange their views on the a wide range of economic, political, socio-cultural, and military cooperation to ensure the international peace, security, and stability. Given the fact that, ASEAN Summit Meetings which is comprising of head of states/governments of ASEAN Member States hold the meeting twice annually in the hosting member country. [5] In this sense, the monopoly power that ambassadors traditionally used to obtain is declining and their negotiating and protecting duties with receiving state dramatically face a downward slope as well.

Strategically, the rise of new states as a regional/global power, namely China, Japan, India, German, and Brazil, is shaping the new order of global system which is influenced the way of the diplomatic implementing. With its high economic growth rate, these new emerging states have spread influence over the other countries in order to absorb larger marketplace and insert a new change in the global system for its own interests. There is broad agreement among UN members that the Security Council’s makeup is outdated which some proposals call for reform. [6] In this connection, there are several countries seem to be possible additional members to this council. As these states have strong economic strength, they strategically utilise it as a tool throughout diplomatic channel to persuade and influence on the foreign policy formulation of other nations to attain their political goal on the international stage. In fact, with the economic motivations behind Japan’s cultural diplomacy so strong throughout the 1980s, it is not surprising that on cultural matters, relationship between Japan and Southeast Asia remained hierarchical rather than egalitarian. [7] Additionally, non-state actors’s participation on the process of formulating international policy and international law has constituted a remarkable difference in the global governance and diplomatic practice. Given the fact that Business Groups are increasingly complemented by (sometimes face competition and opposition from) NGOs in the trade policy formulating process, at the national level, and more visibly, at the international level. [8] The participation is of cause the contribution of Civil Society and NGOs taking part in tackling the international issues. In this light, it is a new trend in which the roles and functions of diplomats are confronting with a new system in which agenda and decision-making are influenced by the involvement of IGOs and NGOs which are not solely solving by diplomats as before. About 80 percent of world trade activities are within and between the blocs, only about 20 percent of the world trade activities are by non-bloc members. [9] In this sense, the strategic influence of IGOs and regional blocs also grow stronger as the economic strength comes up with the ability to shape the international agenda meetings, new framework initiatives, and especially on the procedure of decision-making. Furthermore, the common international issues have brought states and other relevant parties to work together closer than ever before. A large range of global issues and non-traditional security such as terrorism, climate change, international financial crisis, drug trafficking, human trafficking, humanitarian crisis, and natural disaster demands all participations from both states and non-state actors to take a collective measure to counter due to one action of a single actor is impossible, but possibly a collective action.

As the consequences of technological evolution, the five functions of diplomatic mission are greatly impact both positive and negative at the same time. While the process of formulating international policy, agenda of international meetings, and decision-making of diplomats are effected by the rise of new powerful states, the involvement of non-state actors, and the emergence of global issue. In this respect, the change in technology and global structure have touched on the different areas of global governance, but poses a common challenge on the future trend of diplomatic practice. Nevertheless, ministry of foreign affairs and diplomatic mission between states remain important as a central point of government to interaction with external environments for implementing their international policy.[10]

Seoul, 21 June 2014

by Khov Ea Hai

Instructed by Prof. Jeffrey Robertson



[1] Article 3, “Vienna Convention on the Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocol”, United Nations, Vienna, April 18, 1961.

[2] Pauline Kerr and Geoffrey Wiseman, “Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practice,” Oxford University Press, 2013,page 16.

[3] Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, “The Dynamics of Diplomacy,” Lynne Reinner Publishers, London, 2009, page 86 2009, page 86.

[4] Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, “The Dynamics of Diplomacy,” Lynne Reinner Publishers, London, 2009, page 86 2009, page 87.

[5] Article 7, “ASEAN Charter,” ASEAN Secretariat, Indonesia, 2008, page 10.

[6] Zachart Laub, “The UN Security Council,” Council on Foreign Relations, Publications, December 6, 2013, page

[7] Peter J. KATZENSTEIN, “A World of Regions,” Asia and Europe in the American Imperium, Cornell University Press, London, 2005, page 153.

[8] Hoekman and Kostecki, “The Political Economy of the World Trading System,” 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Great Britain, 2001, page 466.

[9] Raul Moncarz, “International Trade and the New Economic Order,” Florida International University, Miami, 1995, page 113.

[10] Pauline Kerr and Geoffrey Wiseman, “Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practice,” Oxford University Press, 2013, page 123.


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