The Oxford English Dictionary defines competence as "the ability to do something successfully or efficiently." In foreign policy, competence depends on a sufficient knowledge about the state of the world and the key forces that drive world politics so that one can make well-informed and intelligent policy choices. It also means having the organizational skills, discipline and judgment to pick the right subordinates and get them to combine the different elements of national power in pursuit of well-chosen goals. In other words, foreign-policy competence requires the ability to identify ends that will make a country more secure and/or prosperous and then assemble the means to bring the desired results to fruition.

As in other walks of life, to be competent at foreign policy does not mean being 100 percent right or successful. International politics is a chancy and uncertain realm, and even well-crafted policies sometimes go awry. But, on balance, competent policymakers succeed more than they fail, both because they have a mostly accurate view of how the world works and because they have the necessary skills to implement their choices effectively. As a result, such leaders will retain others' confidence even when a few individual initiatives do not work out as intended.

Diplomacy may be  defined as the art and practice of conducting negotiations and maintaining relations between nations; skill in handling affairs without arousing animosity. The essence of diplomacy is communication between different parties with the goal of reaching agreement on an issue or on a basis for state interaction.  

Ten principles for Diplomatic Operations (Author Paul Kreutzer)

1. National interest. The purpose of a diplomatic effort is to advance the national interest of a state, as determined by its legitimate policymakers, representative institutions, and enshrined commitments and values. Progressive agreements pursued by diplomats are rooted in the national interest and propel it forward. The diplomat applies the national interest first and foremost in preparing to form and implement policy, and is grounded in a deep commitment to the core values and vital interests animating the strategy of the state.

2. Credibility. Diplomacy is by its nature the employment of communication, backed by the inherent resources of each side, to establish an agreement resolving a set of differences and outlining a basis for future relations. The policy presentation must be convincing, conveying the formal attitude of the government, backed by clear, realistic rewards or costs, and underpinned by an institutional and individual reputation for candor and reliability.  Any advantage sought by the diplomatic presentation by provoking uncertainty must be grounded in credibility, in order to deliver an opening. The credible diplomatic presentation maintains the initiative and aims to increase prospects for compromise in favor of the presenter’s position.

3. Clarity. Diplomacy requires the exchange of views and concepts to weave an agreement together from different strands of interest.  However nuanced in presentation, communication must be precise and without ultimately detrimental ambiguity. This is not to claim that diplomacy is literalist or unsubtle; rather, in diplomacy, even a bluff needs to convey its claims convincingly. But greater effort is directed to the communication of intended consequences. The diplomatic approach, informed by a clear communication of the objectives and constraints of the situation, means to unravel misconceptions and determine whether or not agreement can be reached.

4. Comprehensiveness.  The comprehensive diplomatic approach seeks to engage and resolve issues that are often inherently multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental; and to account for the effects on multiple parties of an agreement over time.  The comprehensive approach incorporates public and social media diplomacy, and appropriate multiple tracks of engagement, in shaping and implementing foreign policy. Comprehensiveness in diplomacy is prepared for a variety of skills, disciplines, and methods to be employed to advance the policy objectives.  Comprehensiveness encompasses inherent flexibility and anticipation of variable consequences, so that goals may be achieved through evolving, alternative and opportunistic courses of action.

5. Understanding. Diplomatic operations must be thoroughly grounded in a government’s policy positions and the circumstances surrounding the issues and flexibility possible in the dialogue. Understanding requires commitment to learning, professional development, and curiosity about the diplomatic situation, environment, incentives, history and motivations propelling policy. Effective operational diplomacy also requires solid understanding of counterparts’ goals, beliefs, and underlying cultural outlook.

6. Perceptiveness. Perception requires discerning nuance and applying insight to distinguish issues, motives, interests, and positions in negotiating a mutually acceptable solution. Perceptiveness is essential in diplomacy to discern key moments and points of debate, potential consensus and pitfalls. Perceptiveness additionally gauges how the policy approach appears to interlocutors and wider public interests, and the uses of informational and social networks in shaping and honing the approach.

7. Circumspection. Diplomatic operations focus on a particular policy aim. While the policy approach should be comprehensive with respect to the issues and implications at hand, the objectives must be focused and delineated. The evolving policy should be wary of distractions and unintended concessions. As fundamentally a representative, the diplomat practices reciprocal discretion within the negotiation and communication process; and works conscientiously according to their policy instructions and ability to undertake commitments on behalf of their government and national interest.

8. Confidence-building. Success in diplomatic processes is the product of the parties’ willingness to take the risk of trust that a consensus agreement will achieve mutually acceptable objectives. Confidence-building is often the means and method for bridging from a host of disagreements to a consensus on where progress can occur. The establishment of a diplomatic process, dialogue between the parties, and reaching incremental agreements lay the groundwork for accomplishing objectives, as well as for future unforeseen exchanges.

9. Decisiveness. Diplomacy is a means of state policy to produce results. Diplomats must possess the judgment, capacity, and sense of consequences to make decisions at the appropriate moment, or when their moral authority can advance national interests and values.  Decisiveness enables diplomats to take advantage of uncertainty and hesitation in their counterpart which subtle and dynamic diplomacy can create, setting conditions for a favorable outcome. Decisiveness bridges all levels of policy – the strategic, operational, and tactical — and, far from being a delaying tactic, effectively applied diplomacy can establish change and initiate significant results.

10. Perseverance. The commitment to diplomacy uses dialogue to seek policy ends through negotiation. The outcome of diplomatic processes depends not only on the merits of proposals envisioned, exchanged and debated; but also on the persistence, optimism, and imagination for interlocutors to envision an acceptable end-point to the dialogue.  Perseverance includes the commitment to see agreements realized and put into. Diplomacy does not end if a crisis shifts to violent conflict; coalition-building, de-escalation, and conflict resolution dimensions remain. Operational diplomacy thus reflects a strategic framework, while working to achieve incremental steps that accumulate successes and clear a path to accomplishing the policy end.


Foreign policy informed by the principles of diplomacy would be proactive, goal-oriented, and responsive to an array of foreign policy challenges while shaping conditions to accomplish vital national interests. Foreign policies informed by the 10 principles would be based an openness to rigorous engagement on diplomatic problems, and on dedicated service to provoke analysis and consideration of bold options to achieve state interests.

At the operational diplomatic level, the principles may be applied to the formulation of policies and alignment of diplomatic assets to pursue national objectives. The 10 operational principles are designed to assist policy developers, students, decision-makers, and practitioners of operational diplomacy to achieve their objectives, and to stimulate debate on core considerations in devising diplomatic approaches.

Looking ahead, we may infer some characteristics of foreign policy that incorporate the 10 Principles. First, the strategy seeks to accomplish an important goal, risks considerable resources, and can be effectively communicated (National interest and Clarity).  Second, the dimensions of the strategy are backed by institutional capacity, deliverable consequences and resources for resilient implementation (Credibility and Comprehensiveness).

Third, the strategy is based on sound information, contextual knowledge, and anticipation of opportunities and consequences (Understanding and Perception).  Fourth, the strategy is based on an interactive, accountable, coherent and continuous range of diplomatic engagement (Confidence-building and Circumspection).  Finally, the strategy grounded in operational principles is dynamic and evolutionary in face of opposition, opportunity, and unexpected challenges (Decisiveness and Perseverance).

Foreign policy-makers and diplomats seeking to achieve a policy goal may consider the 10 Principles as they develop proposals and approaches to a diplomatic forum. Stress-testing expected policy plans and resources against the implications of a principles framework may help shape the stages of diplomatic outreach, negotiation, and mutual agreement. Policy points that contradict or fail to meet the parameters of the 10 Principles could indicate a gap in the overall approach, which can be modified or compensated for as the dialogue proceeds.



Add new comment