#learn power wednesdays: Military diplomacy – a contradiction in terms?


In our week on diplomacy in a networked world, I am thinking about power and its expression through diplomacy, the art and practice of conducting
negotiations between states. Monday started with two quotes of the godfather of diplomacy, Henry Kissinger on its role – the reigning in of power. Then I looked at how diplomacy is perceived by the public, notably how it is visually expressed.

Today, I am presenting some examples as to how the military is enlisted to foster national diplomacy.

At first glance, it seems pretty counter-intuitive wanting to join diplomacy and the military at the hip. Isn’t diplomacy rather the parenthesis around war – happening ahead of armed confrontation, striving to prevent an outbreak of hostilities, and afterwards, reconciling former conflict parties?

But looked at closely, the armed forces perform a range of functions that are not per se war-like in nature, and which contribute to efforts of diplomacy – in fact, I would argue that it is one of the key functions of military power in the 21st century to enhance the respective national political/ diplomatic clout.

Militaries are active in preventive diplomacy, in public diplomacy, they are a factor of soft power (for example, training of military personnel, or providing of global public goods, such as pirate-free sea lanes), and through arms sales, they are also party to economic diplomacy. And, some sort of Gunboat diplomacy is never out of fashion.

In Spring 2014, the French Ministry of Defense hosted a two-day conference on Defense and Diplomacy (click here for the programme).


Some reading suggestions:

La Puissance Militaire, Questions Internationales, No 73-74, June 2015

Henry Kissinger. Diplomacy (1999)

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Power in the 21st century, World Politics Review, March 22, 2011 (cashed version, the original is behind a pay wall)

Johanna M

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