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- "A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age."
- –Robert Frost
- "In diplomacy there are two kinds of problems: small ones and large ones. The small ones will go away by themselves, and the large ones you will not be able to do anything about."
- –Patrick McGuinness
Historical Context Edit
To “practice” diplomacy is one of the defining actions of a nation, and diplomacy has been “practiced” since the first city-states. Originally diplomacy was conducted by a ruler’s emissary, generally for a specific mission, returning home when negotiations were complete (if lucky, many an emissary’s head got sent back instead). Thus, the “diplomatic service” was composed of members of the ruling family or high-ranking nobles … a dubious honor if one failed to settle matters. Until the Renaissance, there were no permanent relations, save that between the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor through the 8th Century AD. In the Far East, relationships were more violent, although the Song dynasty would establish a pattern of resident Chinese envoys in neighboring nations.
The origins of “modern diplomacy” can be traced to the cities of Northern Italy in the early Renaissance. In the 1400s, Milan – goaded by Francesco Sforza – played a leading role in the establishment of permanent embassies in other city-states to establish trade, make defensive pacts, and present a united front to the papacy. Most of the traditions of diplomatic service – such as the presentation of an ambassador’s credentials to a head of state – began here. In 1455 Milan was the first to place a permanent representative in the court of a major power – in this case, France. The practice spread, with Spain being the first nation to “exchange” ambassadors with another sovereign state (England). By the late 16th Century permanent embassies were the standard for international relations … unless the countries were at war, of course.
Ambassadors were usually nobles with little experience in negotiating (or much of anything else); they were supported by a large staff of specialists, from lawyers and linguists to soldiers and spies. As the European powers spread around the world, making contact with strange civilizations in distant places and carving out empires, diplomacy became too important to leave in the hands of amateurs. By the late 1600s the need for skilled professionals was increasingly met by university graduates in international law, languages, cultural history, economics and such.