Gastronomic Diplomacy Without Strategy Is … Lunch


Katharine Hone ( and Charles Crawford ( have both responded to my earlier blog on multiplying “new diplomacies” ( This blog is by way of reply, and of clarifying some issues in my original blog. If I focus more on Katharine it is because I largely agree with Charles.


Using hyphenated diplomacies is not necessarily unhelpful, provided we don’t turn them into separate diplomacies in their own right. Thus referring to public or digital diplomacy can sometimes be helpful in limiting what we are talking about, provided we understand that both form part of a broader diplomatic strategy to secure policy goals. They are not ends in themselves (sadly too often today that is what they become). Likewise, distinguishing between economic (governments negotiating the frameworks for international trade), commercial (governments promoting their companies) and business (companies acting like diplomats – if they do – see below) diplomacy can be useful. But not, as Charles says, if the terminology becomes too rigid.


Charles is right that non-governmental actors in international relations are nothing new. Nor are diplomats capable of networking with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental actors (see the diaries of Ivan Maisky, Soviet Ambassador in London in the 1930s). But two developments have increased the importance of such non-governmental actors: new information and communications technologies (ICT), which have enhanced their capacities both to gather information and influence decision-making; and the emergence of a global issues agenda including climate change, internet governance etc. Diplomats do have to interact with non-state actors, whether NGOs or companies, more than in the past. But this does not make such non-state actors diplomats.


Katharina’s response is thoughtful, but unfortunately repeats much of the confusion I complained of in my original blog. Firstly it confuses different kinds of new diplomacy. I would argue there are three kinds: agency (focused on who is doing the diplomacy, e.g. business or NGO diplomacy), process (tools which can be used to promote broader diplomatic strategies) and substance (areas or issues which diplomacy can/should address). Thus when talking about digital diplomacy, Katharina appears to be talking about diplomacy being used to address issues arising in cyberspace, whereas most scholars talk about digital tools being used to advance broader diplomatic agendas (I addressed this distinction in a CPD blog: A similar confusion arises over “environment diplomacy”, which apparently combines both the subject matter to be addressed (e.g. climate change) and a new kind of diplomacy needed to address it. Apart from this category confusion, it is not at all clear what this new “kind” of diplomacy would be.


I do agree with Katherina that thinking of diplomacy only in terms of the Vienna Conventions is too limiting (most western diplomats tend to live in breach of Article 41 anyway). I would not exclude the possibility of non-government diplomats. But simply asking what diplomats do, and then assigning the title of diplomat to anyone else doing it (or describing as “diplomacy” anything where people are doing diplomat-like things) won’t wash. Many people gather information, communicate, represent and negotiate (I am not sure what “reproduce international society” means). Some people do all of them, but without being diplomats. For example, private sector lobbying companies do all of these things, but without being diplomats. Most multinational corporations do these things, but without being diplomats. If we want to apply the term “diplomat” to non-government actors without emptying the term of all meaning, we have to start thinking about what it might be like to be a diplomat. It is not just what diplomats do, but the diplomat like way in which they do them, or the diplomat like way in which they see the world while doing them. The key question then becomes not “is a non-governmental actor doing the same things as a diplomat?”, but “is the non-governmental actor doing it in the same way as a diplomat?”. For reasons I will save for another blog, this could one of the key questions in 21st century international relations.


I suspect that only diplomacy scholars fear diplomacy becoming anachronistic. Real world diplomats are too busy managing the changes in global affairs (they were, after all, crucial to the Paris Climate Change Accords). The greater danger is that Diplomatic studies is losing the link between diplomacy, strategy and policy objectives. Diplomacy as practiced is not some kind moral activity aimed at international peace and understanding. It is an approach to securing policy objectives established by the authorised decision makers. It combines in strategy with other approaches (e.g. warfare, economic or cyber coercion). This will not change if we accept that non-governmental actors are “doing diplomacy”: their authorised decision-makers will similarly set policy objectives which their diplomacy will be deployed to promote. The promotors of the “new diplomacies”, by treating them as ends in themselves, break this link to broader strategies and objectives. Cultural diplomacy does not promote a country’s culture as an end in itself, but to increase that country’s influence and thus its ability to secure its policy objectives. A football match without any broader diplomatic strategy is a football match. Gastronomic diplomacy without any broader policy objectives to promote is lunch. Talking of which ….


2 thoughts on “Gastronomic Diplomacy Without Strategy Is … Lunch

  1. Thanks Shaun for igniting this debate. Personally, I agree with you in everything and I think we needed someone to point out at the insane lack of rigor with which everybody now talks about diplomacy. I believe governments and diplomats have a responsibility in all this. I celebrate that some countries have started to question the status quo of their Foreign Services (the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, even Chile is now launching a structural reform of their MoFA), but there’s still much to do in order to better understand what should diplomats do, or look like, nowadays. As you say, to talk about it only in terms of the Vienna Convention is restrictive, but without a proper update of the “terms of reference” of diplomacy, states won’t improve their performance in the current, fast-paced world. Thanks Shaun for calling us to consider diplomacy at its essence.

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