Three Different Types of Diplomacy

The funniest offspring from the concept of ‘diplomacy’ are: Panda diplomacy, Ping Pong Diplomacy and Gunboat diplomacy. There are other types of diplomacy that are more important for you to know about, however:

  1. Traditional Diplomacy (what we just call ‘diplomacy’),
  2. Public diplomacy,
  3. Citizen diplomacy.

In the following, I will define those three types of diplomacy.


Diplomacy has been called the engine room of international relations. It can be a tool of foreign policy, an activity or a skill. Diplomacy can be defined broadly as the management of international relations. This definition is a broad definition that captures much of what people normally think of when they hear the word diplomacy.

Contrary to other definitions, this definition does not limit which agents can do diplomacy. Some argue diplomacy only takes place between professional diplomats, government appointed representatives or mutually recognized agents. I agree with definitions that establish that diplomacy is in fact a system of representation, and so it would not be diplomacy if the two parties in communication did not recognize each other as representatives. However, as the later defined concept citizen diplomacy points to, not only states engage in diplomacy. Traditional diplomacy, however, most often happens between representatives of the governments of two different countries.

Diplomacy is in most definitions characterized as a system, an institutional framework or a regulated process, which points to the fact that there are some common norms of conduct. There is debate over whether diplomacy is always peaceful and the opposite of war and violence, in which case coercive diplomacy would be a contradiction in terms. It is possible to argue that diplomacy is a continuum with peaceful relations on one end and end harsh negotiations and perhaps coercive forms of diplomacy (threatens to use force) on the other. In order to stay true to common usage of the word diplomacy, however, it should be understood that for the most part it is the conduct of peaceful relations between different groups.

Origins: 1350 BC (Carlsnaes 2002:213-215).

Public Diplomacy

Public Diplomacy can be defined as the ways in which a governments and other diplomatic actors communicates with citizens in other societies with the intention of informing or influencing them. Governments use Public Diplomacy to try and minimize negative reactions to or misunderstandings of their foreign policy by publics abroad.

Public Diplomacy is considered an instrument of Soft Power or of “winning hearts and minds” as some call it. Soft Power is basically the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion (Nye, 2004). Soft power theorists argue that the opinions of foreign publics have become increasingly important to a country’s foreign policy, in which case Public Diplomacy becomes more important (Nye, 2008). Cultural diplomacy is a technique of public diplomacy, often manifested in the form of arts-, educational or sports exchanges (examples are the before mentioned Ping Pong Diplomacy).

Origins: late 19th century (Pigman 2010:121-137).

Citizen diplomacy

Citizen diplomacy poses a bigger challenge to define since it is a far less studied concept. It is also one out of several concepts describing the same thing: Track two diplomacy (as opposed to official or track one diplomacy), popular diplomacy, people’s diplomacy. A google search for citizen diplomacy reveals half as many results (10.500.000) as one for public diplomacy (Ca. 25.900.000 resultater) and only a 6th of the results a search for traditional diplomacy gets (63.800.000).

Citizen diplomacy is another word for what I call Do-­‐It-­‐Yourself (DIY) Diplomacy. It means cooperation between the peoples of countries as opposed to their governments. Citizen diplomacy steps in where traditional diplomacy ends. For instance when two countries do not recognize each other’s right to exist (Israel & Palestine), or when diplomatic relations between two countries has been cut off (Armenia & Azerbaijan).

Citizen diplomacy is nothing new; known examples are: sister/twin cities or the “jazz diplomacy” of the cold war ear, where citizen diplomacy helped break down stereotypes and antagonism between the USA and the USSR (Lisa E. Davenport: “Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the Cold War Era”).

The campaign to ban landmines in the 90’s has been highlighted (Williams, Jody and Stephen D. Goose 2008:181) as an example of successful use of citizen diplomacy. The pressure to ban landmines started from a coalition of Nongovernmental organizations that highlighted the disproportionate humanitarian problems caused by the use of this weapon. The Campaign was started in 1992 and by 1997 the Ottowa Treaty was signed, also officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. In 1997 the Nobel Peace Prize was actually awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, calling it a “convincing example of an effective policy for peace”1.

Track two diplomacy is sometimes used to describe a subcategory of citizen diplomacy specifically linked to conflict resolution. Track two diplomacy often involves unofficial “policy related, problem solving dialogue” (Saunders 1991:49) between two conflicting groups:

Track-II talks are discussions held by non-officials of conflicting parties in an attempt to clarify outstanding disputes and to explore the options for resolving them in settings or circumstances that are less sensitive than those associated with official negotiations.” (Agha, Hussein et al. 2003:1)

Track two diplomacy has been widely used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and becomes especially relevant in situations where the governments of two countries do not recognize each other’s right to exist or where official diplomatic relations have been cut off for whatever reason.

Origins: 20th century.

1. “Jody Williams – Nobel Lecture”. Nobelprize.org. 5 Dec 2012 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1997/williams-lecture.html