Modern Diplomacy
Differences in the Training of International Relations Students in Russia and in the West

Only a few years ago, students believed that they would find themselves in a routine foreign policy process, where there were no opportunities to express themselves. Today, however, students, as in the 1940s, are again faced with the task of shaping a new world where the future of the world order will be determined, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

Looking at the way international relations are taught in different countries, we can note differences in the national epistemology of knowledge about the world. Many states rely on their own foreign policy experience, while others “import” this experience, borrowing foreign policy assessments from the countries which lead their coalitions. Many discrepancies between the leading countries offering their solutions to world problems are rooted in this difference in worldviews. 

The Russian approach to training diplomatic personnel and international relations students in general is based on the experience of Soviet diplomacy during and after the Second World War. In the mid-1940s, the leadership of the USSR realised the need to design the architecture of the post-war world order and, accordingly, prepare a new generation of diplomats to work in a changed international environment. Their tasks were to include laying the foundation of a new political order for the world, creating its institutional framework in the form of the UN, as well as establishing the format of interaction between the victorious states. At that moment, it was obvious that with the impending emancipation of new states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a large-scale expansion of the USSR's diplomatic corps was necessary, as well as the opening of new embassies. 

Modern Diplomacy
Personal Experience or Historical Knowledge? What Will Help Modern Diplomacy?
Andrey Sushentsov
The historicism of diplomacy is not in memorising the “lessons” of history, but in the ability of a diplomat to put foreign policy decisions in context, to understand the systemic causes of international processes, and to be able to analyse these causes analytically. Diplomats must make sure from personal experience that the international system still exists, it is solid and based on military-political, not ideological realities, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

Today we are seeing similar processes. Just 10 years ago, international relations graduates believed that they were graduating into an established, predictable world – in which all bilateral relations were fully established and all multilateral organisations were functioning. 

Students believed that they would find themselves in a routine foreign policy process, where there were no opportunities to express themselves.

Today, however, students, as in the 1940s, are again faced with the task of shaping a new world where the future of the world order will be determined.

Young international experts face a significant challenge: Russia's relations with opponents and allies are being re-established, international institutions are being transformed, and the existing crisis may last a generation. However, the training of international relations students corresponds to its original intent: training specialists to interact with a foreign policy environment saturated with restrictions. 

During the establishment of the national school of international relations, academic disciplines were evenly distributed between the East and the West within the framework of training regionalists. Intensive training in history, as well as rare Eastern and Western languages, disciplined students. It taught them to concentrate their attention on one subject and organise their time and space. After having obtained such a higher education, such a specialist was capable of rapid career growth. The Russian tradition of diplomatic training continues to emphasise fundamental historical training and language teaching, while in the West other approaches in this area are beginning to dominate. 

Together with our colleagues, we are conducting a large research project on training programmes for diplomats and civil servants in the field of foreign policy in 20 leading countries throughout the world. As part of it, we are analysing the working curricula of the world’s leading universities and evaluating what emphasis prevails in the training. The analysis materials have allowed us to draw some preliminary conclusions – we observe that in European countries, the teaching of fundamental disciplines, which have always been the basis of the Russian tradition of training diplomats and international relations students, has sharply decreased. European universities are sharply reducing the teaching of national history, the history of international relations, and regional studies disciplines. They are being replaced by courses on communications, values, and project management, which replace the diplomat’s fundamental understanding of his country specialisation.

As a result, our interlocutor is an official peddling his Manichaean black-and-white picture of the world. Not surprisingly, he has broad competencies in the field of management and marketing in order to sell it competently.

This, of course, is leading to a crisis in the traditional diplomatic profession in the West, and we are seeing the products of this crisis in our current diplomatic interactions. 

When training young specialists in the Russian tradition, considerable attention is also paid to methods of applied analysis, including digital tools that were previously unavailable: working with large volumes of open data and media materials. The challenge for modern researchers of international processes is the opposite of what it was 30 years ago: now information can be obtained in abundance; hence the need for analytical simplification and identification of essential data. The inexperience of young analysts often leads to disorientation in the information space, a deformation of the worldview when consuming “one-voice” sources. Therefore, significant attention should be paid to creating a balanced perception of information among international relations students.

Modern Diplomacy
Possibilities Amid a Crisis: Russian Science and the International Confrontation
Andrey Sushentsov
Strong science means a strong state. The fact is that Russia is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of its own tradition of organising science and knows the international experience of organising this sphere; this yields confidence, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.