April 6, 2020

What the “Primacy” Debate in Foreign Policy Gets Wrong

by Kenneth Weisbrode

Americans and people around the world wondering about the diminution of American leadership should be paying more attention to a vivid debate that has been taking place among academics and pundits. It sounds arcane but it has big implications for the reshaping of elite opinion about foreign policy….

January 22, 2020

Paradiplomacy or Parrot Diplomacy?

by Kenneth Weisbrode

The World Economic Forum celebrates its 50th anniversary this week at Davos. The annual meeting and its profile have grown so large over the years that “Davos” now substitutes in the public mind for globalization and all the negative and positive elements associated with globalization…

September 25, 2019

Two New Podcasts

NDH is happy to feature two new short podcasts with Giles Scott-Smith, the co-editor of our journal, Diplomatica: one on diplomacy in a populist era; and a related one on the diplomacy of Brexit.

June 19, 2019

Diplomacy and the Academy: A Renewed Case for Court Historians

by Kenneth Weisbrode

An odd but familiar complaint was heard recently: political history contra mundum. It appears so regularly that it has become trite. Someone – usually a prominent journalist – asks why students are not being taught anything “relevant”….

November 5, 2018

Interview with Prof. John Watkins

Following his keynote at the NDH3 conference, Professor John Watkins was interviewed about his last book, After Lavinia: A Literary History of Premodern Marriage Diplomacy, which appeared with Cornell University Press in 2017.

Feb 15, 2017

What Diplomats Can Learn from Urbanists, and Vice Versa

by Ian Klaus

No matter where you sat — in a negotiating chair, as a representative of civil society, as a member of the media — the process that led up to the recent Habitat III conference on sustainable cities presented a trilemma….

Mar 17, 2015

Education Diplomacy

by Kenneth Weisbrode

Our friends at the DiploFoundation blog have published an interesting thought-piece about education and the New Diplomacy:

‘New diplomacy’ has become somewhat of a buzzword. In its current form it mainly describes new actors becoming more visible in the diplomatic process. We have also seen new terms such as health diplomacy being used more frequently. Here, I am wondering about the potential of so-called education diplomacy….

Jul 23, 2014

When States Change Shape

by Kenneth Weisbrode

These days when columnists announce the beginning of a new thirty years’ war in the Middle East, the redrawing of the Sykes-Picot map, and even the anticipated departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom, it is worth asking about the diplomatic implications….

March 20, 2013

Diplomatic Figures

by Louis Clerc

Not to turn this blog into a series of obituaries, but two fascinating diplomatic figures have died recently. One of them is probably known of this blog’s readership: the French Stéphane Hessel, who passed away late February; the other certainly less so: the Finn Max Jakobson, who died on March 9th….

March 7, 2013

The Inventor of Diplomacy is Dead

by Kenneth Weisbrode

llan Calhamer, the man who invented the board game called Diplomacy, has died. That his game reached its peak of popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s but appears to have gone out of fashion since may be of interest to historians. The game, according to Calhamer’s obituary,” leaves nothing to chance: there are no dice to roll (as in the comparable board game Risk, which relies on armies to conquer the world), no cards to shuffle (ditto), no pointers to spin. Instead it relies on strategy, cunning and above all verbal prowess.” It is set appropriately in pre-World War I Europe and the players are the then Great Powers. The game was reputedly a favorite of Henry Kissinger and John F. Kennedy….

December 14, 2012

Concerned Citizens and Secret Operatives?

by Louis Clerc

The French scene provided recently two archetypes of informal “diplomats” and other operatives: the concerned citizen, and the dubious cast of private operatives, politicians, diplomats and soldiers one can find around “intelligence” or “secret” issues….

November 30, 2012

A case d’école in informal diplomacy: Carne Ross’ Independent Diplomat

by Louis Clerc

In August 2009, Foreign Policy blogger Michael Wilkerson decided to write a short piece about the intriguing organization run by former British diplomat Carne Ross, Independent Diplomat. Referring to an Associated Press piece and a few other sources, he described Ross’s outfit as diplomats-for-a-fee, professional lobbyists providing unrecognized international entities with the know-how and networks they need to bring up their cases in international arenas. Money would come from either the clients themselves or from foundations and donors eager to help the international representation of micro-nations, autonomous regions, governments in exile and the like. Ross, who says he left the British Foreign Service in disgust after Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, did not appreciate Wilkerson’s snarly tone. He commented, and Wilkerson shot back. Four years before, The Guardian had also published a long piece on Ross….

October 11, 2012

“Semi-official diplomacy” case: Martti Ahtisaari and CMI

by Louis Clerc

The first thing one notices when opening the Helsinki-based Crisis Management Initiative‘s website is the big DONATE button. Money, of course, is of the essence for an organization such as this. It was reminded to the Finnish-speaking readership through a long article in Helsingin Sanomat (paywall, in Finnish) a few weeks from now; under the title “A peace mediator with money issues” (“Rauhanvälittäjää riivaa rahapula“) was basically a long advertisement piece for the CMI. The organization’s executive director, Tuija Talvitie, showed journalists around and complained about the scarcity and project-based nature of the Center’s funding….

Sep 20, 2012

The Task Ahead

by Kenneth Weisbrode

Four years ago I wrote a short note in the quarterly newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations about the state of our field. I’ve been asked to update and expand upon it here.

The first thing to mention, and to question, is whether that appeal should apply to non-Americans. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t – at least in theory. Yet it is important to acknowledge the initial audience. Some American historians, like some Americans, tend to regard themselves and their country (including its history) as “exceptional.” The note was addressed in part to these people. It was an attempt, on the one hand, to challenge the basis for an obsession with novelty in the promotion of particular subjects and methodologies, an obsession that seemed to me at the time to be especially prevalent among historians based in the United States who neglect the consequences of intellectual spontaneity, bordering on amnesia; and, on the other hand, to suggest that neither Americans nor historians are the first and only people to succumb to fads, however much the plight of the “American diplomatic historian” seems an especially peculiar one….

July 20, 2012

False Hierarchies

by Giles Scott-Smith

Several interesting themes have been coming up on this site in recent months: the issue of explaining diplomatic behavior, the periodisation of history according to standard perspectives, the actor/activity nexus, the whole relevance question. I trained as an International Relations scholar, not a historian, which can be an advantage in terms of conceptualizing material, but a disadvantage in terms of missing the subtlety of historical characterization. Prosopography is new to me, but it looks like I’ve been taking elements of that approach for quite a while. One of the things I have exactly been struggling with is the way in which certain individuals can be ‘categorized’ as international actors – what is their identity, their motivation, what are their goals? Do these different levels fit together? How and why does someone put themselves in a position where historians might see them as worthy of ‘diplomatic history’? …

June 18, 2012

Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy…

by Louis Clerc

While discussing amongst participants in this network, one of the things that seem to endlessly fascinate us is the role of individuals in international relations – especially private individuals. Not official diplomats, but private individuals involved for one reason or the other into high international politics. What exactly is their role? To what extent can they act? And why? …

June 6, 2012

Plot and Character

by Kenneth Weisbrode

A frequent criticism of the prosopographical approach, at least as it is applied to modern history, is that it lacks an argument. Pick a group of individuals, trace their networks, elaborate their points of contact and association, and so on, and what are you left with? A fuller characterization, to be sure, but what else? What does a network analysis really tell us other than that a network exists? This is similar to the charge leveled against much of sociography: that it tells only part of a story and only provides part of a study. What did these people think and do? Why are they and their actions significant? And what does the understanding of their network tell us that we don’t already know about their life and times? …

May 29, 2012

Niche Diplomacy and military envoys

by Louis Clerc

Some pictures tell a lot….

May 29, 2012

Summitry Today

by Kenneth Weisbrode

The recent triple crown of summits—NATO, G8 and EU—has produced the usual complaints. Are these summits really necessary? What do they accomplish? Don’t they just raise and then disappoint expectations? Summit organizers are becoming defensive, emphasizing silver linings, the longer term and the like. Commentators generally have done the opposite, stressing the negatives. The Financial Times’ Philip Stephens for example has suggested that the summits signify the fall of the West, again (“Summits that Cap the West’s Decline,” 24 May). As historians, we have the luxury of saying it’s too soon to tell whether or how these summits and the discussions that took place there matter. But it is not too early to ask what they represent to the evolution and the exercise of diplomacy, and to compare this form of multilateralism with others as a way of asking how well it reflects, and serves, the current international environment. Do multilateral summits make sense in a global era? …

May 24, 2012

The Vatanen touch?

by Louis Clerc

Following in the steps of other sportsmen-philosophers, the Finnish rally driver Ari Vatanen has been throughout his career a reliable source of candid, shot-from-the-hip soundbites. This one comes from a seminar organized by the Finnish authorities in relation with the 1989 Lahti Ski World Championship: …

May 21, 2012

Who can be a diplomat?

by Kenneth Weisbrode

This Sunday’s New York Times contains an interesting portrait of the musician called Diplo. The critical line is this one:  “He is less an artist or a producer than a negotiator, a collaborator, a generator of interesting coincidences.” …