The Return of Diplomacy?
Training of Diplomats as Reflection of a Country’s Place in the World Order

Diplomacy remains a fundamental component of power, a way to convert all types of state resources into influence. Conducting research into diplomacy practices is all the more important today because the crumbling, hegemonic world order is yielding to polycentricity, which has led to increased rivalry between states, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The new report of the Valdai Club is the preliminary result of a study by a team of authors from MGIMO University, who reflect on the experience of training international specialists and diplomatic personnel for different countries throughout the world. The authors proceed from the hypothesis that the quality of diplomatic training can play a decisive role in the desire of nation-states for autonomy and agency in a polycentric world order.

The report is based on an analysis of the training practices of diplomatic personnel in countries which are experiencing a profound transformation in their international position. 

Methodologically, countries are divided into different groups, which are based on the characteristics of the training of diplomatic personnel in their education systems. We identify two axes of variables for the distribution of countries into different groups: functional – fundamental training and global – national epistemology of knowledge.

Functional training is designed to develop diplomats’ applied competencies and skills (project management, management, communications, protocol, document management, etc.). The teaching of classical disciplines in the history of international relations and regional studies has been greatly reduced to a case format; little attention is paid to teaching foreign languages. The content part is often replaced by training courses of a value-based and ideological nature. The functional type is aimed at training civil servants, often in the framework of additional professional education, without emphasising a profile in the field of international relations.

The Return of Diplomacy?
Crafting National Interests: How Diplomatic Training Impacts Sovereignty
Andrey Sushentsov, Nikita Neklyudov
The study of diplomatic practices is crucial as the international order transitions from hegemony to polycentricity, intensifying rivalry between states. This paper represents a preliminary exploration of the training of international analysts and diplomatic personnel worldwide, conducted by MGIMO University. The contributors assert that the quality of diplomatic training holds significant importance in enabling nation-states to attain autonomy and agency in the evolving polycentric world order.

Fundamental training involves an emphasis on special international relations-related disciplines, such as foreign languages, regional linguistics, regional studies, law and economics, as well as the history of international relations and the foreign policy of the country being studied, which is taught in a systematic, chronological manner. High priority is paid to mastering empathy towards the country of specialisation and developing negotiation skills. Fundamental training in most cases involves studying for five to six years as part of a full-fledged bachelor’s or master’s degree programme.

A global epistemology is one that is based on the prism of analysis of international relations that is common in the mainstream of Western political science, and does not have specific national characteristics. In this approach, when training diplomatic personnel, the national experience of the foreign policy of states is not taken into account; the choice being made in favour of universal ideas and concepts.
A national epistemology is aimed at understanding the national experience of foreign policy as a basis for the formation of foreign policy strategy and identity. Popular, mainstream international experience and ideas are tested for compliance with national interests; only after that, they are integrated into the process of training diplomatic personnel.

The high-quality resources of the diplomatic corps are directly related to the training of diplomatic personnel, which manifests itself in the foreign policy of states differently, depending on the country’s position in the system of international relations. It is logical to present the states considered in the report in terms of three trends:

  • completely autonomous countries, capable of building their policies in terms of spheres of influence;
  • countries which are losing autonomy, under pressure from the foreign policy environment;
  • countries that actively seek autonomy but find themselves in restrictive and institutional conditions.

The USA, Turkey, Brazil and India are typologised as autonomous states with a significant level of sovereignty in foreign policy. At the same time, the quality resource of diplomacy manifests itself differently in these countries. For example, for the United States, the lack of fundamental education of the diplomatic corps increases the risks of belated adaptation to the new foreign policy landscape of the emerging multipolar world. Despite facing an increasingly dense international environment, the United States still believes it is possible to maintain unipolarity. The same narrative, which has essentially lost its relevance, persists in the training programmes of future American diplomats. India’s new significant role in the global economy is not yet supported by national traditions of perception of the international system, which could be reflected in the teaching and training of future diplomats. In Turkey, autonomy in international affairs is based more on ideology than on the tradition of training diplomats, despite the existing potential in the education system: a series of its own history textbooks, as well as the teaching of Ottoman imperial history.

Countries that we classify as losing their autonomy are, to varying degrees, able to rely on the resource of diplomatic training in order to reverse the process of loss of foreign policy sovereignty. The greatest potential lies in France, a country balancing between the reform of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which aims to turn diplomats into simple functionaries, and an educational system with a tradition of deep regional studies and language training. Most likely, such a resource has already been lost in Germany, where the educational programme in international relations is implemented in the form of professional retraining, merely giving applicants a set of functional diplomacy skills. Finally, Finland, which has abandoned its independent foreign policy in Europe, does not have appropriate support in ideological and educational terms due to the orientation of education towards the functional training of managers.

Countries which seek autonomy but are limited by institutional frameworks, on the contrary, can count on the resource of fundamental diplomatic training. Poland, despite the rapid changes in the personnel system of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the intensified struggle against the Soviet legacy, maintains an original, developed system of student training, including the widest range of foreign languages in Europe. The transformation of Warsaw into a geopolitical centre of gravity with the largest military-industrial complex will be associated with the development of national traditions of diplomacy. The Republic of Korea, like Poland, has a fundamental level of training for diplomats which has specific national characteristics. This is a country with one of the most developed diplomatic training schools in the world. It has been developed since the 1940s, and provides applicants with the opportunity to study a number of languages comparable to Russian universities, as well as history and political science.

Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, which have recently emerged in the international arena, have yet to formulate a tradition of teaching international relations and, as a result, a unique foreign policy identity to form an autonomous foreign policy course. In Nigeria, one of the largest countries in Africa with explosive demographic and economic growth, a diplomatic training school has not yet been formalised. The same can be said about Saudi Arabia, which until recently enjoyed the fruits of imported international political education. The possession of foreign policy initiative in these countries should be coupled with a creative approach to process the historical experience of international interactions and the creation of their own tradition of training international relations specialists.

Modern Diplomacy
Diplomacy Reborn: Strategist Skills for a New World
Andrey Sushentsov
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.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.