Diplomacy is the art and science of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals. Often, diplomacy refers to representatives of different groups discussing such issues as conflict, trade, the environment, technology, or security.

People who practice diplomacy are called diplomats. Diplomats try to help their own country, encourage cooperation between nations, and maintain peace. A group of diplomats representing one country that lives in another country is called a diplomatic mission. A permanent diplomatic mission is called an embassy. An ambassador is the lead diplomat at an embassy. A large diplomatic mission may have representation besides a single embassy. Other places of representation are called consulates.

For example, the embassy of the United Kingdom is in the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. The United Kingdom also has consulates in Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; New York City, New York; Orlando, Florida; and San Francisco, California. The British ambassador to the United States is Sir Nigel Sheinwald. Sheinwald and the rest of the British diplomatic mission are responsible for representing British policies to the U.S. government, as well as assisting British people in the U.S. This often involves helping them with legal matters, such as visas or work permits.

American diplomats work for a branch of the Department of State called the Foreign Service. More than 12,000 people work for the Foreign Service, helping Americans who travel abroad and pursuing American foreign policy.

The U.S. has 265 diplomatic missions around the world. The largest U.S. diplomatic mission is in Mexico, which has an embassy in Mexico City and 22 consulates and consular agencies throughout the country.

Ambassadors are appointed by the president of the United States. The U.S. has ambassadors in most countries, but not all. An ambassador or diplomatic mission does not represent the U.S. in Cuba, for instance. The U.S. had supported the government of Fulgencio Batista, until the dictator was overthrown by the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

The U.S. withdrew diplomatic recognition from Cuba in 1961. Diplomatic recognition is the act of one nation or state accepting the independence and legitimacy of another nation or state. Today, the U.S. is represented by a branch of the Swiss embassy in Cuba—the United States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana (USINT Havana). Similarly, Cuba is represented by another branch of the Swiss embassy in Washington.


American diplomatic missions are staffed by foreign service officers and foreign service specialists. Foreign service officers are formal members of the Foreign Service. There are five major branches of work for foreign service officers: consular affairs (helping Americans living or visiting foreign countries); economic affairs; management affairs; political affairs; and public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is the practice of representing the U.S. in social and cultural activities, such as sports events, films, books, and radio broadcasts.

Foreign service specialists provide important support services for diplomatic missions. This includes health care, construction and engineering, and English-language programs. Often, foreign service specialists must provide security for Americans in the event of a natural disaster or political unrest in a country.

History of Diplomacy

The art of diplomacy began in ancient times. Treaties between different cities in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, date back to 2850 B.C. Leaders of Egypt and Canaan (an ancient country in the Middle East) exchanged diplomatic letters in the 14th century B.C. Writing on the walls of ancient Mayan buildings in what is now Mexico indicate that Mayan cities exchanged diplomats. Embassies were first established in northern Italy in the 14th century.

For most of history, diplomacy was concerned with bilateral relations, or negotiations between two nations. A country or region often had dozens of trade or border agreements, each limited to a single other country or region. Bilateral relations are still a very common form of diplomacy.

In the 20th century, diplomacy expanded. Today, the United Nations (UN), an international organization that works to promote cooperation and settle conflicts among nations, plays a large role in diplomacy. The General Assembly, the main body of the UN, has 195 members.

Diplomacy also grew to include summit meetings. Summits are meetings between top government officials. Summits can be between national leaders, such as presidents or prime ministers. Economic summits often involve business leaders, as well as treasury secretaries or trade ministers.

Camp David, in the U.S. state of Maryland, is the site of many summits between American presidents and foreign leaders. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter held an important summit with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Egypt and Israel had been in conflict for more than 30 years. Often, as during the Six Day War of 1967, the conflict was violent.


The summit between Carter, al-Sadat, and Begin resulted in the so-called “Camp David Accords.” This established the basis for the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Begin and al-Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and the treaty is still enforced today. The Camp David Accords are considered a triumph of diplomacy.

Diplomacy also involves large international conferences. Like summits, international conferences are usually attended by heads-of-state or other national leaders. Conferences are usually much larger in scope—dozens of leaders may meet to discuss migration or border issues, trade, or the environment.

The United Nations Conference on Environmental Development, for instance, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. More than a hundred heads-of-state attended the conference, in addition to thousands of professional diplomats and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Diplomats at Rio’s so-called “Earth Summit” reached an agreement to limit carbon emissions.

How Diplomacy Works

Diplomacy is accomplished by negotiation, or bargaining. Usually, each group in a negotiation will ask for more than they expect to get. They then compromise, or give up some of what they want, in order to come to an agreement. Often, an outside diplomat will help with the negotiations. For example, Martti Ahtisaari, a Finnish diplomat working for the UN, helped Namibia gain independence from South Africa in 1990.

Sometimes, one side in a negotiation refuses to compromise. When this happens, others involved in the negotiation may use diplomatic sanctions. Diplomatic sanctions involve the reduction or removal of all embassy staff from the offending country. Lighter diplomatic sanctions may involve the refusal of a president to visit the offending country or meet with its leaders. Nicaragua cut off all diplomatic relations with Israel, for instance, in 2010. Nicaragua was protesting Israel’s attack on a shipment of aid to the Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has conflict.

Countries may also threaten to use economic sanctions, or penalties. In 2006, many countries agreed not to trade with North Korea in an effort to stop the country from illegally testing nuclear weapons.

Other times, diplomats threaten to use force if a settlement is not reached. In 1990, Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. When Iraq refused to leave Kuwait, the United Nations approved a military response. A coalition, or group of nations working together, fought the Iraqi army, forcing them out of Kuwait.

Successful negotiation results in a diplomatic agreement. The most formal kind of an agreement is a treaty, a written contract between countries. The Treaty of Versailles, for instance, formally ended World War I. It was signed in Versailles, France. Diplomats from the Central Powers, including Germany and Austria, were not allowed to negotiate the treaty. However, diplomats from other Central Powers nations and the Allied Powers, including the United States, approved the treaty.

Some treaties require years of diplomatic negotiation. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the United States and the Soviet Union began in 1969. The talks continued through 1979. The treaties that resulted from these diplomatic negotiations (named SALT I and SALT II) reduced the number of nuclear weapons being produced.

Another type of agreement is a convention, which is signed by multiple nations and becomes international law. The most famous are the Geneva Conventions, which outline the treatment of prisoners of war, civilians, and medical personnel in a war zone. The first convention was signed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1864. The fourth, and perhaps most important, was signed in 1949 after World War II.

Protocols, the least formal diplomatic procedure, change or expand an existing agreement. The Kyoto Protocol is an update to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC was produced at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in Kyoto, Japan, was produced in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol aims to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

diplomacy
Although the president of the United States is officially the nation's "Chief Diplomat," the Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton, right) is the leader of the diplomatic corps.

Recognition
When a country declares independence, it needs to be recognized as independent by other countries. Countries may recognize new nations by receiving ambassadors and diplomatic missions. The first nations to recognize the new United States of America in 1779 were France, Morocco, and the Netherlands.

Free From Harm
Top diplomats have immunity, or protection, from search, arrest, and lawsuits in the country to which they are sent. They cannot be fined, arrested, or harmed in any way, even during war, and they are not searched when they cross borders. This diplomatic immunity allows them to do their work and negotiate freely. Embassies are also not subject to the host country's rules. In fact, they are considered part of the territory of the sending country.

abroad
Adverb

in a foreign country.

Allied Powers
Noun

alliance of countries that participated in World War I, led by the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. Also called the Triple Entente.

ambassador
Noun

person who represents a place, organization, or idea.

ancient
Adjective

very old.

Anwar al-Sadat
Noun

(1918-1981) Egyptian president (1970-1981).

appoint
Verb

to assign to a position.

assist
Noun

to help or support.

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

bilateral
Adjective

having to do with two nations, representatives, or other organizations.

Noun

natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

Camp David Accords
Noun

(1978) agreements that led to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.

Noun

city where a region's government is located.

carbon emission
Noun

carbon compound (such as carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere, often through human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

Central Powers
Noun

alliance of countries that participated in World War I: the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Also called the Triple Alliance.

civilian
Noun

person who is not in the military.

coalition
Noun

a group of people or organizations united for a goal.

conflict
Noun

a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

consulate
Noun

place that represents the interests of a nation or state in another nation, but lacking the presence of an ambassador.

convention
Noun

formal meeting, usually with representatives from different regions or parties.

Cuban revolution
Noun

(1959) revolt that led to the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

Department of State
Noun

department of U.S. government responsible for international relations, whose mission is to "Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community."

Noun

art and science of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals.

diplomat
Noun

person who negotiates important political and economic agreements, usually for a government.

diplomatic agreement
Noun

result of a meeting between two or more nations or other organizations.

diplomatic mission
Noun

group of diplomats representing one country that lives in another country.

diplomatic recognition
Noun

act of one nation or state accepting the independence and legitimacy of another nation or state.

diplomatic sanction
Noun

penalty or punishment, such as withdrawal of embassy personnel, imposed by one nation or group of nations on another nation.

Earth Summit
Noun

(1992) informal name for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also called the Rio Summit.

economic
Adjective

having to do with money.

economic sanction
Noun

penalty or punishment, such as increased taxes on imports, imposed by one nation or group of nations on another nation.

embassy
Noun

residence of an ambassador or place where representatives of a nation conduct business in another country.

engineering
Noun

the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

environment
Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

foreign policy
Noun

courses of action or thought that guide a nation's relationship with other nations.

Foreign Service
Noun

branch of the U.S. State Department concerned with representing and carrying out the foreign policy of the U.S. and helping U.S. citizens abroad.

foreign service officer
Noun

diplomat who serves with the U.S. Foreign Service, formulating and representing U.S. foreign policy, often in embassies and consulates.

foreign service specialist
Noun

employee of the U.S. State Department who provides administrative, technical, and security support for the Foreign Service system, both within the U.S. and abroad.

Fulgencio Batista
Noun

(1902-1973) Cuban leader (1934-1944, 1952-1959).

Gaza Strip
Noun

self-governing Palestinian territory in Israel located on Israel's southwestern coast and bordering Egypt.

General Assembly
Noun

main unit of the United Nations, made up of representatives from all member states.

Geneva Convention
Noun

series of international agreements establishing rules for the treatment of prisoners of war, medical and religious personnel serving in a conflict, and a conflict's dead and wounded soldiers and civilians.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

greenhouse gas
Noun

gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

independence
Noun

state or situation of being free.

indicate
Verb

to display or show.

international conference
Noun

large meetings that usually involve the leaders of several nations.

Noun

unit made up of governments or groups in different countries, usually for a specific purpose.

Jimmy Carter
Noun

(1924-present) 39th president of the United States.

Kyoto Protocol
Noun

(1997) international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

legal
Adjective

allowed by law.

maintain
Verb

to continue, keep up, or support.

Maya
Noun

people and culture native to southeastern Mexico and Central America.

Menachem Begin
Noun

(1913-1992) prime minister of Israel (1977-1983).

Mesopotamia
Noun

ancient region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, today lying mostly in Iraq.

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

Noun

political unit made of people who share a common territory.

natural disaster
Noun

an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

negotiate
Verb

to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

NGO
Noun

non-governmental organization.

Nobel Peace Prize
Noun

award recognizing the contributions of a person or organization to "work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace."

nuclear weapon
Noun

explosive device that draws power from the splitting and combining of atomic nuclei.

Palestinian Authority
Noun

(Palestinian National Authority) organization responsible for governing the semi-independent areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in Israel.

personnel
Noun

employees or all people working toward a common goal.

prime minister
Noun

leader of government in parliamentary systems of government.

prisoner of war
Noun

person captured and held by an enemy during a conflict.

protocol
Noun

series of rules.

public diplomacy
Noun

practice of representing the interests of a nation or other organization in social and cultural activities.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

representative
Noun

someone or something who acts in place of a group of people.

security
Noun

safety or stability.

Six Day War
Noun

(1967) conflict between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

Soviet Union
Noun

(1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

stabilize
Verb

to anchor or make strong and reliable.

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)
Noun

(1969-1986) series of summits and agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union to limit the production of nuclear weapons.

summit
Noun

meeting or conference of top leaders.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

trade
Noun

buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

Noun

official agreement between groups of people.

Treaty of Versailles
Noun

(1919) agreement between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers that formally ended World War I.

United Kingdom
Noun

nation made of the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

United Nations
Noun

international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

unrest
Noun

troubled, conflicted, or disturbed situation or state of mind.

USINT Havana
Noun

organization that represents the interests of the United States in Cuba, as the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations there.

visa
Noun

document allowing a person to enter a foreign country.

work permit
Noun

legal document allowing someone to seek employment, usually in a foreign country.

World War I
Noun

(1914-1918) armed conflict between the Allies (led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) and the Central Powers (led by Germany and Austria-Hungary). Also called the Great War.

World War II
Noun

(1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)