The Good Diplomat
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Diplomacy is the art of speaking for a nation before nations abroad. A good diplomat is he who understands the reasons why he is being sent abroad by his government. In the first place, he will represent and speak for the policies of his government. In the second, he will expand on those policies and convince the host government that they are the platform on which his country intends to go forward into the future in the interest of all citizens of the country.
And from that point emerges a fundamental truth — that a diplomat, from the ambassador or high commissioner down to a third secretary, is in a foreign capital and in his office at the embassy or high commission as the representative of his country. A diplomat, whether he comes from his country’s foreign policy establishment or is picked from outside it, transcends to a larger role once he is sent abroad. That role consists in his goal of speaking for all citizens of his country, irrespective of the domestic politics back home, in the capital he is based in.
A diplomat certainly is privy to his own political beliefs, but once he becomes part of the government, of the foreign policy establishment, he will subsume his beliefs to those of an articulation and defence of the national interest abroad. A good diplomat is one who does not pretend that everything is perfect with his country; he does not think that the ruling classes are without flaws, that his nation’s politics is without blemish. But a good diplomat knows that part of his job is to defend those ruling classes, not through a barefaced denial of everything going wrong but through employing diplomatic language in his explanation of conditions at home. The good diplomat exudes confidence without being hollow.
Language is of the essence in diplomatic behaviour. A good diplomat is he whose grasp of language is not only grammatically perfect but is also a sign of the intellect he brings to bear in his presentation of his country abroad. The good diplomat, being an individual of self-esteem, will not lower himself in the eyes of the host country through his unabashed and partisan expression of support for his government. Since he serves the state or is expected to serve the state and the government administering the affairs of state, he must stay alert to the fact that this service does not dwindle into being one of loyalty to the party in power back in the home country. Where a diplomat is perceived to be speaking for the governing party, it is respect for him which goes through a swift decline.
Diplomats, again, have a larger canvas of responsibilities beyond speaking for their governments. A good diplomat will take upon himself the duty of enlightening the host nation on the literary traditions of his country, on the contributions of its academics and scientists to the making of its history. It is a diplomat’s job to keep track of reputed visitors — scholars, journalists, opposition politicians, former ministers, music-makers, writers, poets, artistes — from home, officially sanctioned as also personally undertaken, and arrange for them to be introduced to cross sections of society in the host country. Diplomats with a sense of purpose know that nothing highlights the interests of a nation better than interaction between their enlightened classes and scholars of the countries where they serve.
A good diplomat is one who will not be a protocol officer or tour guide for influential visitors from home but an individual who asserts himself before those visitors as he welcomes them to the host country. Good diplomats are not sycophants or hangers-on or on the look-out for better and higher opportunities in the future for themselves. When a diplomat speaks abroad, his audience in his home country is the people of his country. It is the nation he must impress. It is for the people of his country — and they are the taxpayers — to be reassured that their diplomats abroad are speaking for them, that they are qualified to speak for them, that they are not being time-servers.
A good diplomat will organize seminars and lectures for his country abroad. A good ambassador or high commissioner is he who resists the temptation of being the anchor or moderator at these events but leaves the job to a junior diplomat. A good diplomat does not monopolise the conversation but is succinct with his words and only speaks when a critical or crucial point is to be made. He does not waste words but makes sure that his words have weight, that in him diplomacy is seen to be of substance. He is a keen and good listener and informs his audience, through his attention span, that the other person is extremely important for him.
Good diplomats, before they head off to the capitals of the world, are people who educate themselves on the heritage and history of the countries where they will speak for their countries, in the process making sure that they have the heritage and history of their own countries on their fingertips. In a good diplomat must shine the rich traditions his country is heir to, for he is the voice of his nation abroad.
A good diplomat serves his country abroad without self-interest. He does not lobby to be permitted to stay on abroad when the time comes for him to return home. Good diplomats, as they speak for their people abroad, do not file immigration papers that will allow them to become citizens of foreign nations once their careers draw to an end. A patriot par excellence, a good diplomat will not repudiate his country for the crass opportunity of adopting another country as his home.
A good diplomat is an avid reader, has his finger on happenings in all four corners of the world. He does not fumble trying to respond to questions, for his preparation on the issues, those affecting his country as well as the world, is thorough. He has a worldview, has an intellectual approach to international affairs, enough for people to come away enlightened from meetings with him. The good diplomat is an epitome of wisdom.
A good diplomat is an individual of unwavering principles and unshaken morality. He is one who, in the twilight of his career, looks back on his past and puts to himself the question: “How much have I paid back to the country, my country, which gave me the opportunity to serve it in the councils of the world?”
(Syed Badrul Ahsan: contributing columnist, Shottobani)