[To see the full discussions please click on the titles of the snippets that follow.]

March 27, 2024

Remembering Leo Cherne, Citizen-Diplomat

The policy entrepreneur is a curious historical figure. The entrepreneur sells, and the goods need not be tangible. There are norm entrepreneurs, fashion entrepreneurs, and so on. The policy entrepreneur sells something different from an idea or a piece of physical merchandise, however. If politics is the art of the possible, then policy is the operational plan for getting from here to there, and the policy entrepreneur is a Sherpa who sells plans but also optimism….

May 5, 2023

Bloc Diplomacy: How Might It Work?

French president Emmanuel Macron threw down a gauntlet last month: “We don’t want to get into a bloc versus bloc logic,” he said, and added that Europe “should not be caught up in a disordering of the world and crises that aren’t ours.” His declaration was echoed a few days later by Christine Lagarde: “We are witnessing a fragmentation of the global economy into competing blocs, with each bloc trying to pull as much of the rest of the world closer to its respective strategic interests and shared values. And this fragmentation may well coalesce around two blocs led respectively by the two largest economies in the world.”

Both statements apply an outdated understanding of what a bloc is….

March 22, 2023

On Diplomatic Performance

The other day Foreign Affairs featured an essay about post-conflict preparation for Ukraine. Its author is a retired American diplomat, Thomas Pickering. He is a former ambassador to Russia and to several other countries, as well as an Under Secretary of State; but he is perhaps best known for having been the American permanent representative to the United Nations during the 1990–91 Gulf War.

It was in that position that Pickering was said to have so “over-performed” in building an international coalition for the effort to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait that Pickering’s bosses – namely Secretary of State James Baker – were (ironically) displeased by his performance.

The foregoing is all hearsay, of course, but it needn’t be true to make a relevant point: The first principle for diplomats is to serve their superiors, and the public, by not drawing too much attention, or credit, to themselves. It is a sin for any diplomat to upstage the boss, no matter how successful the diplomacy may be….

September 16, 2022

Bloc Diplomacy Trilogy

The next three essays may be found in a single document here.

August 31, 2022

From Bloc to Regime

It is frequently pointed out today that nations are dividing into competitive geopolitical blocs. However, this observation requires some clarification. It is not enough to say that this is taking place or even that the blocs—which are identifiable by geography, function, or a combination of both—intersect rather than strictly oppose other blocs. It must be understood how and therefore why they do those things.

There is another concept that may help further this understanding: regime. The French term refers not only to the structure and exercise of power—as in the ancien régime—but also, as it is more commonly understood today, to a system of norms, influences, obligations, and expectations. Nuclear nonproliferation, trade and investment, migration, and maritime affairs regimes were an important component of the international order during the last century when empires gave way to nations and, by the second half of the twentieth century, became the most important component of peaceful relations….

August 9, 2022

Diplomacy for a World of Blocs

The calamity in Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief a trend that has been taking shape for some time: the division of the world into rival blocs. Clashes – of political and economic interests, and of cultural values – have for the most part taken place within societies and nations. But those clashes have brought about harder alignments between and among states. What were once called the “forces of movement” and the “forces of order” are at loggerheads in nearly every major country. Liberalism and anti-liberalism may continue to be used to justify these divisions, but they are not – nor probably will be – the main causes of them. The source has more to do with tribal and other types of identity, which under strain blur easily with geopolitical chauvinism….

May 24, 2022

Strategic Clarity Carries a Mixed Bag

Today, with President Joe Biden pledging that the United States will defend Taiwan, and with some of the last remaining European neutral powers in Europe – Finland and Sweden – announcing their wish to join NATO, it is easy to believe that strategic clarity has reached an apex. Or at least it is doing so in the way that former President George W. Bush made infamous: you’re either with us or against us….

February 12, 2022

The OSCE’s Moment

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is not the loudest player in the standoff between NATO and Russia over Ukraine, but it is quietly moving out of the shadows of NATO and the EU, and finally receiving the respect and backing it deserves….

August 28, 2021

The Second Diplomatic Life of William Burns

One of the less noticed but more notable aspects of the dramatic NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was the secret journey by the U.S. Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, to Kabul to negotiate the details of the withdrawal with a leader of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar….

July 12, 2021

A Partisan History

Jeremy Black reviews Jonathan Haslam’s new book about the origins of the Second World War.

May 28, 2021

Fifty Years since Ping-Pong Diplomacy

An excellent discussion of US-China relations may be seen at this link.

January 2, 2021

Diplomatica 2(2): Gift and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: Afro-Eurasian Perspectives. Guest-edited by Birgit Tremml-Werner, Lisa Hellman and Guido van Meersbergen

Gifts and tribute are a hot topic in studies of early modern diplomacy, resulting in much stimulating new work on diplomatic exchanges particularly in a global context. The special issue “Gift and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: Afro-Eurasian Perspectives” expands on this ongoing shift towards a global, multicentric perspective by using gift-giving as the lens through which to analyse a diverse set of inter-polity relations spanning the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. It illuminates the role of gifts and tribute as key agents in imperial expansion, conflict management, and the negotiation of protection and patronage in different parts of the world. It also emphasises that to achieve a truly global perspective on the development of diplomatic norms and practices, concerted collaborative analysis from scholars with different linguistic, disciplinary, and subject expertise is needed…

December 30, 2020

Two Europeanists

The world of diplomacy and international relations recently lost two of its intellectual leaders: Guido Goldman and Paul Schroeder. Both men led generous, celebrated, transatlantic lives…

November 1, 2020

When Diplomacy’s Reputation Needs Tending: Some Advice from the Past

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo raised a few eyebrows in August when he spoke, on foreign soil, to the Republican National Convention. Cabinet members, especially the Secretary of State, are held to a high standard in politics because they are meant to be custodians of the nation’s image. Many people regard party politics as tarnish on that image.

Yet, Americans have long championed a gift for image-making. Related to that has been a less cynical belief, even faith, in the appeal of the American way of life, the American dream, a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” and similar truths taught to every American schoolchild.

Today’s national mood and reputation challenge those norms in ways that do not bear repeating. The lamentations are omnipresent in print, on radio, on television, and online. What has been missing until only very recently has been the moral call to arms that usually accompanies such moments in American history.

Two such calls to arms – one from the 1920s and another from the 1950s – are worth revisiting, for they show that diplomacy plays an important role in repairing the country’s reputation, and that diplomacy’s own reputation needs constant, professional tending….

April 27, 2020

Diplomatic History and the Concentricity of Politics

It is not often nowadays that one reads an unabashed defense of ‘traditional’ diplomatic history centered on high politics among states. Thomas Otte’s short tour d’horizon of the field therefore deserves a careful reading….

April 6, 2020

What the “Primacy” Debate in Foreign Policy Gets Wrong

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?

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…

June 19, 2019

Diplomacy and the Academy: A Renewed Case for Court Historians

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”….

August 29, 2018

International Bureaucracy Links

Our colleagues at the International Bureaucracy history project have three new blog entries well worth a read. The links are as follows:




April 2, 2018

Resources for US Diplomacy

The Office of the Historian of the US State Department has added a useful new resource to its website: an administrative timeline of the US State Department since 1789. The history of the Department and its personnel are also featured in two new books, the latter already a bestseller:

America’s Other Army, by Nicholas Kralev

War on Peace, by Ronan Farrow

Also, a recent essay about America’s ‘Russia Hands’ in the New York Times provides a miniature model of the kind of institutional and biographical study we promote as New Diplomatic History.

February 27, 2018

Olivier Roy on Diplomacy

A newly translated book of interviews by the French philosopher and writer Olivier Roy contains this gem of a summary of the diplomatic mind and method.

November 1, 2017

How to get a job in the League Secretariat

‘He used to give me Turkish lessons in Constantinople’. This was how the young Ottoman Greek Thanassis Aghnides landed a job in the League Secretariat in 1919. In the latest blog post, I have explored the peculiarities of the early recruitments to the Secretariat and what it meant for the organisation more generally. You will find ‘He used to give me Turkish lessons in Constantinople’: How to get a job in the League Secretariat, here.

October 19, 2017

Diplomats and Designers

‘Diplomats and designers are key to solving climate change. Here’s how they think we can do it. […]’

October 14, 2017

Marshall Plan Days

James Lowenstein, an American diplomat, is one of the few surviving Americans who worked for the Economic Recovery Program, or the Marshall Plan. […]

October 12, 2017

Wilson’s Death

Emil Eiby Seidenfaden (PhD Student, Aarhus University) has written about publicity from beyond the grave! Or perhaps more accurately, how people within and beyond the League Secretariat sought to use President Woodrow Wilson’s death to champion his and the League’s cause. You will find ‘Wilsonianism from beyond the Grave – Report from the President’s Deathbed’ here.

August 29, 2017

New journal issue: The Global Embassy

We are happy to direct your attention to the latest issue of New Global Studies, which features some of the papers from our second conference held last fall in Copenhagen.

The issue was guest edited by Giles Scott-Smith.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.

August 9, 2017

Le Corbusier and the Idea of a Palace

What’s in a name? Marco Ninno (MA Student, Aarhus University) has written an intriguing piece on how the word ‘palace’ fundamentally influenced the search for an architect for the new League headquarters in Geneva, in this month’s blog post: A modernist in Geneva – Le Corbusier and the competition for the Palais des Nations.

August 6, 2017

History of the Limited Test Ban Treaty: The Role of ACDA

An interesting first-hand account by retired U.S. ambassador James E. Goodby of the origins and role of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in shepherding the Limited Test Ban Treaty may be found on the Hoover Institution’s website, here. […]

June 23, 2017

Denmark and the League

Søren Friis (PhD Student, Aarhus University) has written a fascinating piece on Denmark and the Early Years of International Studies under the League of Nations, exploring some of the formative networks of so-called ‘intellectual cooperation’ in the interwar years.

May 16, 2017

“Fake News”

Emil Eiby Seidenfaden (PhD Student, Aarhus University) has written a timely and intriguing piece on The League and the Combating of ‘False Information’, digging into the interwar discussions on what to do with Fake News.

April 6, 2017

Translators in the League

The latest blogpost of the “The Invention of International Bureaucracy” project concerns the Translation and Interpretation Service of the League Secretariat, and how they contributed, quite literally, to the common understanding of those showing up in Geneva. Interestingly, they hold a prominent place in the early memoirs and academic works of former League staff, as the truest internationalists of the Secretariat.

March 22, 2017

Gender and the League of Nations

Myriam Piguet (MA student, Aarhus University) has written a great piece on gender distribution in the League of Nations, and the differences between ambitions and reality in the early years of the Secretariat.

February 18, 2017

An Untold Story from the League of Nations

A new post from the “Invention of International Bureaucracy” project, written by Mads Drange, a student at the University of Oslo, tells the story of the director of the Minority Section of the League of Nations, Erik Colban, and his role in the forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.

February 15, 2017

What Diplomats Can Learn from Urbanists, and Vice Versa

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….

December 20, 2016

New Project at Aarhus

The Department of History and Classical Studies at Aarhus University has begun a new project called The Invention of International Bureaucracy. This is a summary of the project:

“Over the last 100 years, the international political scene has become increasingly organized. More than 5000 international organisations now regulate global and regional political, economic and technical affairs. As a consequence international bureaucracy, i.e. international executive bodies that function autonomously from nation states and deal with international affairs, has become an important and increasingly contested feature of world politics.

Even so, the history of these non-elected executive bodies is underresearched. This project aims to shine a light on the roots of international bureaucracy and its particular institutional and socio-cultural characteristics by exploring the principles, practices and formative effects of the League of Nations Secretariat. With theoretical inspiration from political sociology and based on extensive multiarchival research, the project will explore the institutional norms and practices of the League Secretariat and investigate its exchanges and connections with national diplomatic and bureaucratic structures, internationalist networks and institutions and subsequent international bureaucracies of the 20th century.”

June 18, 2016

Art Diplomacy and Museum Diplomacy: Could Islamic Art Inspire Middle East Peace?

US Ambassador Samantha Power Takes Diplomats on a Tour of the Met

Visitors from around the world flock to the Met to view art history’s great masterpieces and attend fashionable galas, but to negotiate international relations is surely a first. New York’s premier museum recently became the unlikely venue for a high-security, invite-only meeting organized by Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the United Nations. Mixing business with pleasure, the U.S. ambassador invited key international diplomats to tour the museum’s newest exhibition of Islamic art. […]

June 11, 2016

Habitat III and Mrs. Dalloway

An interesting recent article about the UN’s Habitat III global summit and the confluence of old and new diplomacy Habitat III impasse resolved with Mexico, Philippines to lead talks Still, observers increasingly worried about time lost for New Urban Agenda negotiations.

March 5, 2016

Review of R. Kolb, Commentaire sur le Pacte de la Société des Nations

This book belongs to that rare and virtuous type of scholarship which delivers more than it promises. It represents the only comprehensive study of the League of Nations Covenant since 1939 and one of the most critical guides to the foundations, activities and lessons of the League of Nations in general.[1] Although the commentary is chiefly directed at scholars and practitioners engaged in international law and international organizations, first and foremost in the orbit of U.N. agencies, historians will not regret receiving this tome of 1,410 pages as a gift to their profession, for nothing less it is. To most historians, it will be a gift from strangers. The majority of the contributors hold positions in law across universities and institutes in France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and Germany. Of special note is Francophone Switzerland which stands out as a research hub and where the mastermind of this project, Robert Kolb, serves as Professor of International Public Law at the University of Geneva. Much to its credit, the collection eschews Eurocentric analyses, despite the contributors’ distinctly European affiliations. Given that the Asia Pacific region is currently facing challenges eerily similar to those confronted by the League of Nations, the frequent and fitting appearances of Japan and China are as welcome as they are essential. […]

November 30, 2015

Review of Todd H. Hall, Emotional Diplomacy: Official Emotion on the International Stage 

With a study that is rife with political lessons and rich with analytic achievements, Todd H. Hall has done more than one profession a great service. Combining rationalist and constructivist political science with contemporary history, he defines “emotional diplomacy” as “coordinated state-level behavior that explicitly and officially projects the image of a particular emotional response toward other states.” (2) Hall’s concept expands the study of state-level encounters, specifically among heads of state, by focusing on the premises, expressions and consequences of emotional practice as an element of political competence. The analysis can be summarized as follows. Before an official consensus or a shared perception between two or more officials has necessarily emerged, the initial act of emotional diplomacy communicates “that a normatively significant boundary has been crossed.” (4) This signal prepares the ground for the practice of emotional diplomacy, on the premise that the recipient does not discount it “as strictly instrumental” (8). At its most basic, then, the book points to the trust that can bind the signaler and the recipient (or “target”) into communicative engagement, with the hope of reaching a normative rapprochement. That trust does not prevent but rather enables the further, political use of emotional diplomacy. Targets can choose to “discredit it or elicit further substantive action, or alternatively […] to entrap its authors.” (6) In other words, emotional diplomacy can be both the quid and the quo of a quid pro quo; its deployment is interactive rather than unilateral. […]

September 26, 2015


An interesting look at the diplomatic role played by some scientists.

March 17, 2015

Education Diplomacy

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….

December 6, 2014

Lorimer’s Guide

The Qatar Digital Library has published online the remarkable Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia by John Gordon Lorimer, one time Resident in the Persian Gulf. It is a multivolume historical, cultural and political guidebook to these places, worth many hours of study.

The main website contains several other fascinating volumes from the British Library.

August 20, 2014

“Attention Deficit Diplomacy” Revisited

How Diplomacy Fails: Remarks to the Hammer Forum Review of the Diplomatic Lessons of 1914 for 2014. An address by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.). The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles California, 19 August 2014.

July 23, 2014

When States Change Shape

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 17, 2014

Review of Sasson Sofer, The Courtiers of Civilization: A Study of Diplomacy

Sasson Sofer has written a superb primer on the history and mission of modern diplomacy. It is a short book that can be read in a single sitting, its subject’s vast scope notwithstanding. […]

March 20, 2013

Diplomatic Figures

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

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?

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

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

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….

September 20, 2012

The Task Ahead

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

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…

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

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

Some pictures tell a lot….

May 29, 2012

Summitry Today

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?

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?

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.” …