The core competencies of a diplomat still consist of the ability to realistically assess the situation based on sober thinking, rationality, pragmatism, to a qualitative analysis of one’s own interests as well as empathy, the ability to put oneself in the place of another, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Before the 2022 crisis, many spoke of a crisis in the profession of diplomacy. In many countries, diplomats began to be trained to become other kinds of bureaucrats: such countries saw their arsenal of diplomatic skills related to conflict resolution drain away, and as a result began to lose the ability to conduct tough negotiations with uncompromising opponents. However, in the context of the global crisis, diplomacy is experiencing a rebirth.
The Russian school of diplomacy was founded by people who understood the fundamental importance of historical knowledge for future diplomats.
The first faculty in Russia to produce diplomats, the International Faculty, was established as part of Moscow State University in 1943 and a year later was transformed into MGIMO. Many professors came to work at MGIMO precisely from the Faculty of History of Moscow State University, including Yevgeny Tarle, Alexei Yefimov, and Aleksei Narochnitsky. In the working curriculum of the first set, more than half of the courses were devoted to historical disciplines — the history of the country and the region, the features of political systems and foreign policy of foreign states, world history, the history of international relations, etc. This made it possible to prepare a new generation of Soviet diplomats by providing them with an array of historical knowledge. Students deeply absorbed the principle of historicism, which allows one to see cause-and-effect relationships in the flow of events, to train in the skill of searching for patterns in historical material, in order to apply it in foreign policy practice. Over time, MGIMO graduates became the main participants in complex negotiations on arms control, detente, and settlement of regional crises.
The fundamental training of Russian diplomats allowed them to develop a strategic understanding of international relations. What is this approach? It is a rational assessment of one’s own interests and their priority. If the interest is vital, you are ready to fight for it; if it is secondary, you can give it up in exchange for something. It is also important to know how you support this foreign policy goal with resources; whether you have enough of them or not. What course of action do you choose to pursue this goal? Are there any alternative courses of action? Such a rational approach to achieving foreign policy goals is a product of the exemplary Russian education in the field of foreign policy.
The modern age makes the job of a diplomat more difficult in two respects. The first difficulty is the digital information space that we consume through smartphones. It makes the amount of information consumed a hundred times greater than it was a few years ago, in the pre-digital era, and makes special demands on realism, pragmatism, the ability to soberly assess incoming data, and the ability to communicate in this digital environment. Second, the modern communication environment is very different, depending on the generation that diplomats are addressing. The generation born in the 60s, 80s and 2000s are different groups in terms of their worldview.
On the other hand, the steep increase in the flow of information demands the adaptation of current approaches to train diplomats to work with the new reality. The main such approach is the formation of the skills of a “diplomat-researcher”, capable of a deep analytical study of information flows.