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The Role of Diplomat and Functions


Communication and technology has been the driving force of a new world order of globalization affecting areas of the international system bringing about certain developments and changes that affects statecraft and the roles of the professionals that carries out this functions for the state.

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The role of a diplomat has a tremendous impact on foreign policy decision which consequently finds expression through certain means such as communication and technology, with the primary motive of using information and representation as a vital instrument of diplomacy. Diplomacy therefore can be said to be defined “as the professional management of relations across sovereignty” (Melissen, 1999, p.1).

Over time the growth in communication and technology has had major effect on how diplomats carry out their functions and the major roles they play bringing about certain changes from the diplomacy of the Ancient periods to the present day modern diplomacy. However, in examining how the changes in communication and technology has affected the role of the modern diplomat this essay is going to examine the historical context of diplomatic communication, the roles of the modern diplomat, the impact of communication and technology in diplomacy, how certain changes have affected the roles of the modern day diplomat and thereby concluding with certain solutions that would improve the negative effects of communication and technology on the roles of the modern diplomat.


Diplomatic communications in the past was basically done by non technological means through the use of very obscure methods such as signs, wooden tablets and the use of messengers.

According to Melissen the first record of a diplomatic communication was in form of a letter written on a stone which was to be delivered by a messenger who walked 2000 kilometers to perform his roles.(1999,p.3). The use of the messenger symbolized representation of the country in communicating certain issues of foreign policy to the other country making sure that every information was confidential and delivered to the right person with total understanding of its content. During this period the method of delivering letters was one of the most effective ways to carry out diplomatic relations with the messenger as the professional who has the ultimate role of making sure the purpose of the representation is achieved and also responsible for giving his home government feedback on his diplomatic mission. The messenger served as a form of sovereign equality between the countries and was being sent because of certain qualities which he possessed and as the country’s confidant. (Melissen 1999,p.4)

Also elites in the society and men of very high reputations experienced in states affairs were also given roles of negotiating agreements on behalf of their state government. (Leguey-Feilleux 2009, p.25)

The messengers served at different levels of state postings for a period of time reporting and collating many conversations with the king, palace officials and other foreign diplomats (Melissen 1999, p.4). They basically helped in carrying out major functions that facilitated the several achievements of their government.

The messengers also engaged in several strategic activities such as forming alliances with neighboring countries and intelligence collation of political issues. (Melissen 1999, p.5). They were also used to foster trade negotiations between counties on behalf of their home countries.

These messengers also had to be resident abroad to constantly perform duties because traveling was very dangerous and often difficult. (Leguey-Feilleux 2009, p.24). At this time there were no good road networks or viable transportation system in other words messengers traveled very long distances to perform roles in very unsafe conditions. Consequently Leguey-Feilleux emphasizes on the fact that, these messengers were been used as a source of contact between their countries and their neighbors playing roles of mediation and were also used to make preparation for court visits, served as agents on temporary and adhoc missions, engaged in crucial debates with other representatives over their government’s policies and engaged in information gathering of both internal and external relations (Leguey-Feilleux 2009, p.31-36)

Consequently diplomats also submitted protest, presented legal claims for review, made proposals, represented at social functions and tolerated diversity of civilizations (Melissen 1999, p.9)

There was also the exchange of objects, drawings and gifts that clearly stated out the diplomatic intentions of the diplomats and the kind of relationship they want to maintain. (Bianca, 2009, No 1).

Despite all these roles clearly stated there were some limitations that brought about the need for an improvement on the roles of the diplomat (messenger). Challenges such as animosity in a mission and bad behavior altered communications between states and made some representatives unfriendly with each other. (Eban, 1998, p.27).

Governments were also in doubts of the representatives they sent on missions in other words they were not given total authority on certain issues of international politics considerably there was the problem of cultural and language differences which sometimes made missions not so productive and some times the messengers were captured for ransom.(Leguey-Feilleux,2009,p36-40).

But with time things began to change especially as country moved from one political era to another and with the creation of improvised means of communication and the lingering evidence of interdependence which is today known as globalization coupled with the conscious growth of technology.

Melissen confirms this by emphasizing on the growth of civilization as flourishing diplomatic practice (1999, p.7).

According to Leguey-feilleux, the fourteen and the fifteenth century improvement on communications and technology intensified diplomatic practices and sharpened the roles of a diplomat marking the renaissance period the beginning of modern diplomacy which brought about significant diplomatic innovations. (2009, p.37)

During this period slight changes were made to make the roles of the diplomat more efficient and specific. As regards this there were more diplomatic missions established abroad giving the instance of the first realistic resident embassy in Italy (Melissen1999, p.13)

New forms of activities arrived; government started using couriers, ciphers, codes, telegrams, pomps and ceremonies were seen as being vital but traveling still remained difficult. (Leguey-feilleux, 2009, p. 42)

In addition the nineteenth century brought an improvement to the roles of diplomat with the creation of multilateral diplomacy where by diplomats had a larger playing ground to perform their roles. (Leguey-Feilleux, 2009, p 43).


Gradually with the emergence of the twentieth century the roles of the modern diplomat increased in different dimensions and moved considerably to a global level with obvious changes in communication and a severe impact from technology.

According to the Vienna Convention some of these roles are as follows;

  • The representation of state socially, politically and ceremonially in other countries.
  • The protection of states interest, overseas nationals and states commercial activities.
  • Negotiations on behalf of government and signing of agreements.
  • Information gathering of states activities externally, and in missionary cases, gathering information from host countries.
  • The promotion of cordial and friendly relations in the international system. (Encyclopedia Britannica,2009, No.164602)

Other major functions are as follows;

which finds expression in political activities, trade activities and consular activities. This trade activities as to do with knowing about commercial developments, while the consular deals with the major local activities of its host country and political activities are majorly maintaining good political relationships abroad. (Eban 1998, p.33-39)

Consequently the roles of the modern diplomat can extend to his family basically on the social aspect and morals of good behavior. According to Wood, the roles of a diplomat has a form of professional identity on their wives and family, giving the example of the wife of a Mexican diplomat who contributed to her husbands roles by writing a book on diplomatic identity.(2004,volume 25)

Diplomats also play major roles such as being among a committee to draft a charter giving the example of Lord Gladwyn a British diplomat who took part in drafting the United Nations Charter. (Stout, 1996, p.2)

Diplomats also create relationships and maintain good level of communication between external affairs and internal structures.(Watkins, 2008, No1).


Globalization is the major catalyst of the wind of change that has blown into the works of the modern diplomat. Starting from the consular diplomat to the political and all other areas, the issues of global interdependence and its continuation through technological means of communication as left little for the diplomat to function on but in no doubt there are some major achievements as a result of this change.

Consequently technology as brought about faster means of carrying out diplomatic statecraft functions which can be seen according to Melissen “through the invention of devices such as telephone, technological transportation systems, telecommunications and the internet. (1999, p.171)

As a result of this diplomats can do their works faster without fear of danger especially while traveling, there are better methods of communicating with friendly relations without walking long distances, there are more graphical technological instruments that describes complex economic and political situations that helps the diplomat to be effective in his work and also help the government of the day to whom he reports to. According to Melissen.

The creation of the rail way transportation gave the diplomats a very good edge in performing their functions on land, also with the creation of electric telegraph and fax machines which has enabled faster communication between diplomatic relations.(1999,p.171)

Leguey_feilleux also describes major technological innovations as substantially contributing to the evolving of new diplomatic methods that shapes the roles of the modern diplomat at the level of communication (2009, p.46).

The impact of the media in fostering the roles of the modern diplomat are not underestimated as well, giving information and sometimes helps in relaying diplomatic intentions to the public creating a from of feedback process from the public to the government.

The creation and the application of IT (information Technology) is no exception to the fostering of modern diplomatic roles with the increasing performance of hardware and software for information gathering (Melissen, 1999, p.171).

With this development information is easily accessible and can be codified there by serving as a source of security for important documentations and intelligence finding.

This would practically make the diplomat work more efficiently to accomplish missions.

Looking closely all this impact on modern diplomatic roles finds expression in digitalization bringing new management tools, low cost on access to information and integrated resources of information. (Melissen, 1999, p.171)

The use of media especially as regards public diplomacy has fostered the role of the diplomat in breaking down cultural barriers between its policy officers and the specified public. (Gilboa,2000,No. 3)

This thereby creates a political atmosphere for better functioning.

Despite all this major impact of communication and technology, there has been major changes that as served to displace the roles of the modern diplomat. Melissen confirms this by saying that, “the position of a diplomat is related to the sovereignty of a state which as a result of globalization as thrown into questions the viability of a state to manage social, economic and political affairs.”(1999, p.173)

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Looking closely as well, the creation of international organizations, such as ILO (international labor organization), United Nations and Commonwealth undertake certain functions diplomats carry out because of the states membership and inability to solve certain problems. (Leguey- Feilleux, 2009, p.45).

Economic initiatives such as the Bretoonwoods system and GATT were majorly done out of the context of the roles of the diplomat, it was basically done and concluded by international organizational members (Leguey- Feilleux, 2009, p.45).

Without any doubt, the use of telephones, media and satellite communication has weakened diplomatic representatives (Melissen, 1999, p.171)

Heads of states now conclude on foreign relations via telephones without the representation of the diplomat and also hold conference meetings with other heads of state via video calls and internet conferencing. This gives the diplomat little to do because its role on representation is being replaced with some form of technological breakthrough.

Also some international organizations perform major diplomatic assignments on their own by sending special officers on special missions, interfering in external dispute thereby altering the roles of the diplomat (Leguey-feilleux 2009, p.46)

Further more there is the emergence of transnational actors whom as a result of technology have supporters around the world, yielding into political power itself without any form of representation. (Leguey-Feilleux 2009, p.46) For example looking at the connections between elites of a society with other elites outside its countries who basically have business relationships with each other and make decisions that affect states policies without official representative of the state.

Consequently also the relationships between diplomats and their government is changing, when there are misconceptions on issues states actors just use the most effective technology to communicate.(Leguey-feilleux,2009,p.86)

More so giving the fact that the concept of power as changed in the international system, there is no more clear distinction of the concept of diplomacy. (Melissen.1999, p.175). This simply refers to the obvious that major international organizations mediate the act of diplomacy on their own especially when it comes to war situations or peacekeeping without totally involving diplomats but involving state actors at some point.

More over the source of information is regarded to be more powerful than even territory and physical resources. (Melissen 1999, p.175)

According to Nye and Owen in this fast growth of an international political system aided by technology, information is seen as the ultimate weapon of state relations (Nye and Owen cited in Melissen, 1999, p.175). As a result of this states actors on their own hirer special officers to look into certain issues and bring viable information rather than leaving it to the diplomats.

Nye and Owen further argue that; the importance of technology, education and institutional flexibility is increasing and its changing the roles of foreign policy actors and also their governments in managing and promoting national interest.(Nye and Owen cited in Melissen 1999,p.175).

the understanding this gives is that supranational organizations are becoming more powerful in the international system which affects statecraft and consequently affects the works of the technocrats under its administration not making them effective as they use to be.

Information technology is gradually making spatial concept irrelevant looking at the use of satellite in space to get first hand information which basically alters a diplomat’s role in gathering information (Melissen 1999, p.176). This basically implies that others especially the media already have the same information as well and can deliver the information even before the diplomat does.

Another major effect of technology is the Media. According to Leguey-feilleux, The CNN factor makes information instantly known around the world which mounts pressure on state to find solutions in time which consequently gives diplomats very short time to deliberate, strategize and respond to issues. (2009, p.87).

Eban in his book calls this “The Intrusive Media” (1998, p.75). The media is basically seen as an obstruction often which basically slows diplomatic duties and bring about inadequate decision making. But Eban points out to the fact that no matter the situation of the media the diplomat still as to put in to consideration his partner and his own public opinion.(1998,p.75)


Consequently the many changes in communication and technology has its major positives sides using the telephone as an example which can be used to carryout roles especially in warring situations without being in physical danger of any kind. Giving the example of the “mediation by telephone in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which brought the signing of the Oslo peace process between the two countries in 1995” (Leguey-Feilleux, 2009, p. 89). Technology has also helped to facilitate the work of diplomatic intelligence with the creation of electronic spying, network power, early warning and crises management and cyber security.(Leguey-Feilleux,2009,p.92-94)

Therefore the role of a modern diplomat can basically be managed with respective cooperation from the state actors, civil service and the Foreign Service itself. With each understanding the underlying factors of its functions without clashes of any kind as regards communication, information and technology.


  1. Leguey-Feilleux, J.(2009),The Dynamics of Diplomacy (Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc.).
  2. Eban, A. (1998), Diplomacy for the Next Century (Yale University).
  3. Melissen, J. (1999), Innovation in Diplomatic Practice (Macmillan Press Ltd.)
  4. Wood, M. (2004), “A Diplomat’s Wife in Mexico: Creating Professional, political and National Identities in the Early Twentieth century” A Journal of Women Studies Volume 25.
  5. Stout, D. (1996), “Lord Gladwyn, British Diplomat, U.N Leader (News) (Obituary)” Daily News Los Angeles CA,October 27.,pp.2.
  6. Gilboa, E. (2000), “Media coverage of International Negotiation: A taxonomy of levels and effects” International Negotiation Journal, Volume 5, NO.3
  7. Bianca, C. (2009) “Digging for Antiquities with Diplomats:Gisbet Cuper (1644-1716) and His Social Capital” Republic of Letters : A Journal for the study of knowledge, politics and the arts Volume 1, No.1
  8. Watkins J. (2008), “Toward a New Diplomatic History” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies Volume 38, No.1.
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica, (2009). “Diplomacy”, Retrieved 07/01/10, from Encyclopedia Britannica online. Http://www.britannica.com/EB checked/topic/164602/Diplomacy.
  10. Melissen, J.(2009), “America’s Information Edge” in S. Nye and W.A. Owen, Innovation in Diplomatic practice. (Macmillan Press Ltd),PP. 175


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