The work of the modern diplomat entails a singular paradox. A diplomat may feel his or her contribution to the formulation of foreign policy may be limited, and yet his or her role in helping to shape it has actually become more pronounced.
A distinction is hereby made between formulating and shaping foreign policy. The first refers to the decision-making process leading directly to the adoption of a certain policy; the latter applies more widely, to the input aiding in the decision-making process and to the output helping in presenting and arguing on behalf of the policy decided upon. The process of shaping a foreign policy includes that of formulating it; but not vice versa. The formulation of foreign policy is a more focused exercise entailing the manner by which a decision is actually reached (or discarded). The shaping of foreign policy applies in a broader context to include the many dimensions of the decision-making process as well as the manner by which it is conveyed.
The role of the modern diplomat has become more varied and dynamic: conveying to the decision-makers the information and analysis that may assist in determining the strategy to be pursued, on the one hand, and contributing in articulating and molding the manner by which this strategy is to be explained and implemented as a coherent policy, on the other hand.
Modern communication and high technology have rendered the role of the diplomat less central in the formulation of foreign policy and yet have turned it into a more multi-dimensional one in shaping it.
The large number of media outlets, the speed by which information flows, compels the modern diplomat to be apprised of events and to react to them within a time-limit hitherto unknown to diplomats in the past.
The increasing role of public opinion, whether directly or indirectly, in shaping foreign policy require of the modern diplomat to have the ability to anticipate trends, if at all possible, and to try to help shape them in the interests of his or her country, once they have become apparent.
The modern diplomat is increasingly exposed to, and has to deal in a subtle manner with, a variety of professional, social and cultural groups within his or her host country deemed to be important in furthering bi-lateral relations or a broader foreign policy agenda of his or her own country.
Some of the five conceptual categories thus mentioned apply to the work of the modern diplomat in different settings. Thus, for instance, Court-Room Diplomacy or Tour-Guide Diplomacy may apply to a one-to-one dialogue with an official, to a lecture at an academic institution or to an interview with the electronic or printed media.
These five categories are advanced with a view to clarifying the role of the modern diplomat. Rather than refer to the work of the modern diplomat in general terms, a conceptual division as suggested in this article may contribute to further advance our understanding of this important area of both theoretical and empirical study.
There is a misperception regarding the role of the modern diplomat. Some observers confuse the role of the modern diplomat in formulating and in shaping foreign policy. The more limited role as regards the first does not denote any adverse change concerning the latter. Indeed, in a sense, the role of the modern diplomat in helping to shape foreign policy has increased as his or her role in formulating it has decreased. It has certainly become thematically more multi-dimensional and operationally more dynamic.
The five categories proposed in this article, as well as the distinction drawn between formulating and shaping foreign policy, are aimed at delineating a conceptual framework within which, it is hoped, further studies on the role of the modern diplomat may be conducted.