Covid-19 epidemic, global warming, terrorist risk … diplomacy in search of reinvention

By Marc Semo

Posted today at 6:45 am

Some 115 linear kilometers of diplomatic archives contain in particular the originals of the treaties and international agreements which, for five centuries, have made France. A cave of Ali Baba of the national novel which left the golds of the Quai d’Orsay in 2009 for a modern brick and concrete building in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis). The oldest documents date back to the Middle Ages, long before the word “diplomacy” appeared. “It appears in the dictionary of the Academy only in 1798, at the same time as the expression“ public opinion », notes historian Laurence Badel.

The first occurrence in a public article of the word “diplomat” is attributed to Robespierre six years earlier. But the function is old with codes that have long remained more or less those advocated by François de Callières in his treaty. How to negotiate with sovereigns; the usefulness of the choice of ambassadors and envoys and the qualities necessary to succeed in these jobs, published in 1716 and become a classic.

The climate emergency and the other challenges of a globalized world force diplomats to adapt, to redefine themselves, and even to reinvent themselves. For a long time the ambassadors dealt primarily with their peers. Today a diplomat comes out of his office. He must know how to write and tweet. It no longer has a legitimate monopoly in international relations where a growing number of non-state actors, transnational companies, NGOs and other representatives of civil society are asserting themselves.

“An honorary title? “

“Globalization has created a theater so vast that ambassadors are often seen as accomplices. This leads one to wonder about the purpose of the ambassador’s “job”: would he not have withered away with the State? There would only remain an honorary title, the residual symbol of a dying profession? “, asks, provocatively, Marie-Christine Kessler, research director at the Center for the Study and Research of Administrative and Political Sciences (Cersa) in her book The ambassadors (Presses de Sciences Po, 2012).

The question is recurrent. And crucial for a country like France, which wants to preserve its international influence through a universal diplomatic network, the third in the world with 160 embassies and 89 consulates, behind the United States and China; a network in permanent risk of overheating, due to a lack of sufficient resources after years of budget cuts that were finally stopped.

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