What does a Diplomat do?

What is a Diplomat?

A diplomat is a person appointed by a nation state to represent and protect that nation's interests abroad. The four ranks of diplomats are determined by international law, and include ambassadors, envoys, ministers, and charge d'affaires. In modern diplomacy there are a number of ranks below Ambassador. These ranks now rarely show a mission's importance, but rather show the diplomat's seniority within their own nation's diplomatic career ladder. This modern ranking system follows a similar, but not exactly parallel, pattern in different countries, and is as follows:

  • Ambassador (High Commissioner in Commonwealth missions); Ambassador at large
  • Minister
  • Minister-Counselor
  • Counselor
  • First Secretary
  • Second Secretary
  • Third Secretary
  • Attache
  • Assistant Attache

What does a Diplomat do?

Diplomats form and maintain international relations with regards to issues of peace and war, trade and economics, culture, the environment, and human rights, and are also the ones who negotiate treaties and international agreements before they are officially endorsed by any politicians. Diplomats also have the ongoing responsibility of collecting and reporting information that could affect national interests, and are often in a good place to give advice about how the home country should react. They should also do their utmost to represent the views of the home government to the government of the country in which they are posted, and convince these governments to act in ways that the home government would prefer. In this way, diplomats are an integral part of the foreign policy formulation process.

Modern diplomacy is very different from what it was, and is still changing. The role of diplomats is therefore subject to change in the future.

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How to become a Diplomat

Diplomats are, by very definition, required to be excellent communicators, and should be eloquent and articulate. Fluency in a few languages, particularly in that of the country in which they are accredited, is hugely beneficial to a diplomat's work, and aptitude in learning languages is best.

Diplomats are heavily involved in negotiations, and therefore must be able to recognize where they can compromise, but also stand firm on matters where there is no space for negotiation. Above all, they must promote positive and peaceful relations between their home government and the government of the country in which they are posted. Good diplomats work hard to understand the national motives, intellectual and popular culture of the country in which they are accredited, and will develop relationships of mutual trust with influential members of their accredited countries and governments.

They must be active members of the community in which they become a part, and undertake a range of social activities whilst they are abroad to promote the national reputation. They must be willing to work anywhere in the world, and also be willing to travel often. A diplomat must also be extremely trustworthy and reliable, not only because they serve as the official representative of the head of state, but also because they will be entrusted with sensitive information, and are often required to qualify for a top secret security clearance. Diplomats must have a solid knowledge of politics, and the best diplomats take keen interest in global political current affairs.

Some of the personal attributes of a successful diplomatic representative are the ability to remain calm and efficient under pressure, to solve complex problems, and to work well with others. Those diplomats of higher rank would be expected to demonstrate good leadership skills and firm objectivity. All diplomats must be highly organized in order to do their job well.

What is the workplace of a Diplomat like?

Whilst some diplomats remain in their home countries, the majority are posted to overseas embassies and consulates in various places across the globe, but a diplomat's work will take them outside of the office. Diplomats may travel to the UN Offices in Geneva or Headquarters in New York, or to the homes or offices of heads of state.

Commonly, diplomats will only spend a period of around three years in one country, but this can vary depending on the availability of vacancies. Most diplomats will serve in at least one developing country, where there are higher rates of disease, harsh climates, or social unrest. Some home comforts or amenities might become very hard to come by, and family or spouses who accompany diplomats are not often entitled to work.

However, diplomats are often considered members of an exclusive and prestigious occupation, and a state will often give a lot of support to the high status, privileges and self-esteem of its diplomats in order to maintain its own international image. Since diplomats are very carefully selected, they are held in this high regard by members of the community. International law grants diplomats special privileges and immunities.