Monday, 8 February 2010

The Ambassador - Inside the Life of a Working Diplomat

At the almost obligatory post GDSP tutorial drinks in the student union bar, I was struck by how a number of us were feeling overwhelmed with the demanding schedule and plethora of skills we are acquiring and expected to acquire for a career in diplomacy. The discussion progressed into expressing the anticipation of the feeling of relief when the course is over and we've got 'that job', how life would be great ... I conjured images of sipping champagne at glamorous residences and the background noise of chit chat of subjects of immense global impact on the world we live in.

Mauya, George and I then entered a fairly passionate discussion about what it REALLY meant to be an Ambassador and the real challenges one might face in such a career. The discussion made me recollect a book I read just before starting this course which cited a number of classical and contemporary analyses of what personal and professional characteristics an ambassador must have. The book by John Shaw titled 'The Ambassador - Inside the Life of a Working Diplomat' was an inside view of the experience of Jan Eliasson, the Swedish Ambassador to Washington during the pertinent period from 2000 to 2005 who was considered by many as one of the most skilled and accomplished diplomats.

If you feel overwhelmed, I want you to consider this:

Ottaviano Maggi, writing in 1596, set a high standard for what it takes to be an ambassador.

"An ambassador should be a trained theologian, should be well versed in Aristotle and Plato, and should be able at a moment's notice to solve the most abstruse problems in correct dialectical form; he should also be expert in mathematics, architecture, music, physics, and civil and canon law," he declared. "He should speak and write Latin fluently and must be proficient in Greek, Spanish, French, German and Turkish. While being a trained classical scholar, a historian, a geographer, and an expert in military science, he must also have a cultured taste for poetry. And above all he must be of excellent family, rich and endowed with a fine physical presence." (Mayer, The Diplomats).

All I can say is I'm glad I'm not doing this course in the 16th century :-)

Francois de Callieres, a French diplomat, described the work of ambassadors in exalted terms in a classical essay written in 1716 titled "On the Manner of Negotiation with Princes." An ambassador, he wrote, "indeed resembles in a certain sense the actor placed before the eyes of the public in order that he may play a great part, for his profession raises him above the ordinary condition of mankind and makes him into some sort the equal of the masters of the earth by that right representation which attaches to his service and by the special relations which his offices give him the mighty ones of the earth."

De Callieres sees diplomacy and the work of an ambassador as a high calling and declares a good ambassador as worth his weight in gold. The French Diplomat also provides a list of required qualities for the ambassador that mirrors those of Ottaviano Maggi:

"An ambassador must have an observant mind, a spirit of application which refuses to be distracted by pleasures or frivolous amusements, a sound judgment which takes the measure of things as they are, and which goes straight to its goal by the shortest and most natural paths without wandering into useless refinements and subtleties which as a rule only succeed in repelling those with whom one is dealing. The negotiator must further possess that penetration which enables him to discover the thoughts of men and to know by the least movement of their countenances what passions are stirring within, for such movements are often betrayed even by the most practiced negotiator. He must also have a mind so fertile in expedients as easily to smooth away the difficulties which he meets in the course of his duty; he must have presence of mind to find a quick and pregnant reply even to unforeseen surprises, and by such judicious replies he must be able to recover himself when his foot has slipped. An equable humour, a tranquil and patient nature, always ready to listen with attention to those whom he meets ; an address always open, genial, civil, agreeable, with easy and ingratiating manners which assist largely in making a favourable impression upon those around him these things are the indispensable adjuncts to the negotiator's profession. Their opposite, the grave and cold air, a melancholy or rough exterior, may create a first impression which is not easily removed. Above all the good negotiator must have sufficient control over himself to resist the longing to speak before he has really thought what he shall say." (Francois de Callieres)


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