Challenges of today’s diplomatic language
1. Diplomacy is an instrument of performance in promoting the foreign policy of the State. It is an activity whose efficacy, since ancient times, has required an intelligent, thorough and timely action on the part of the diplomatic agents.
2. In no way diplomacy could be a simple free exchange of friendly words and procedures. Much more than that, it is essentially the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of relations among States. Consequently, the diplomat must be an effective negotiator and, according to contemporary requirements, an effective commercial developer, among other functions inherent in his responsibilities.
3. Unlike other communication systems, the network of diplomacy by its nature cannot be neutral in the service of the respective interests, skills and even occasional rivalries. In this context, it is clear that a genuine representative of a State, acting professionally, cannot compromise in any way on the very existence of his nation.
4. In practical terms, effective diplomatic communication involves interpretation of messages and words, and even of the “signs” and gestures. The diplomat has to be able to understand the meaning of the interruption of communication, silence and withdrawal of the other party in a discussion, and even the exaggeration of his compliments.
5. The so-called “professional language of diplomacy” is basically a cautious form of expression that gives the opportunity for the diplomat to remain calm and unruffled when that proceeding is in the interest of his State. This language has proved to be the only tool that allows, through cautious gradations, a properly formulated serious warning to his counterparts without using unnecessary threatening words.
6. An agreed “diplomatic style” of communication is used in oral and written presentations of that character. For centuries, in a gradual process, the exercise professional diplomacy has been creating expressions, idioms and literary terms required to interact properly, not only in the diplomatic task, but also in diverse international settings.
7. There is always the need for tact in the execution of diplomacy by using a number of conventional phrases in diplomatic communication. Thus, when a president, a foreign minister or head of diplomatic mission informs another that his government “cannot remain indifferent” to certain international controversy, it is clear he means that his government will intervene in that dispute. If his letter or speech uses phrases such as “the government of my country is disturbed,” or “view with grave concern,” then it is obvious that the government he represents intends to take an aggressive stance in that particular case.
8. By cautious gradations, the diplomat can properly make an important caveat in speaking with a representative of another State on very serious security matters. There are even times when he can raise his voice without being impolite and non-conciliatory. If he says, “My government would be inclined to carefully reconsider its position,” this means that friendship is about to break. When he says “the government of my country feels obliged to express reservations with respect to . . .” a particular situation, he actually means that “the government of his country will not allow” that situation to continue.
9. The expression “in that case my government will be forced to consider its own interests” or “to declare itself free of commitments” means that the other side must expect a deterioration in the relationship. If a foreign government is put on notice that a certain action on its part would be considered “as an unfriendly act,” that government must interpret the words as an unspoken threat to action, a fact recognized by the international community. In that sense, when a government says it “is compelled to decline all responsibility for the consequences,” this means it is about to cause an incident that will lead to action of enforcement. And if a government asks, in terms of the most exquisite politeness, for an answer, for example, “before noon on the tenth day,” its communication is then considered an ultimatum.
10. There is no doubt that diplomatic language is correct and successful when used carefully and selectively. If this procedure is neglected, it can aggravate and even generate new levels of “unforeseeable consequences.”
Editor’s Note: Credits to Amb. Manuel Morales Lama