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Consular and Public Diplomacies
Consular and Public Diplomacies
When there is a new term linked to diplomacy every day, it is not surprising to learn about the emergence of corporate diplomacy.
The rise of corporate diplomacy could make some scholars uncomfortable, as it is not a government-led activity to achieve a foreign policy goal, e.g., traditional diplomacy. I don´t think it can pass the test proposed by Katharina E. Höne of the DiploFoundation to distinguish imposters from real diplomatic tools, as the reader will see at the end of this post.[i]
In previous blog posts, I wrote about this issue, "New" Diplomatic Tools: Imposter Diplomacy or the Real Deal? and Consular Diplomacy: Cinderella no more, but not yet a princess.
However, in the expanding concept of diplomacy, where non-state actors now participate in the international arena, the idea of businesses adopting some diplomatic practices is intriguing.
Two trends in the corporate world international engagement: Either too powerful or not influential
Currently, there are two overlapping trends regarding the engagement of corporations in global governance. On the one hand, there is the rise of the powerful tech giants,[ii] while on the other, most Multinational Corporations (MNC) do not participate directly in world affairs´ decision-making.
On the one hand, some argue that tech companies are very different from other types of corporations, as they “govern the spaces they control. And by developing new technologies that are deployed as platforms, they can govern entirely new spaces before national governments are even aware that a new governor has emerged.”[iii]
Because of the tech giant’s role as emerging influential global actors, now a few countries, such as Denmark, have named Tech Ambassadors to implement their nation´s Technological Diplomacy -TechPlomacy-.[iv]
An example of the growing power of tech companies is the permanent suspension of several social media accounts to a seating president, no less of the US.
On the other hand, some experts, like Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur in the introductory essay of The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, ascertain that MNC are not a part of the global governance discussions and “deserve a seat at the table and a voice in the room commensurate with their role and influence.”[v]
One reason behind the businesses´ lack of international power or influence could be that no single or unifying international business organization represents all companies, from tech giants to micro-enterprises. There is a myriad of industry-wide associations across the globe that focuses solely on their home country and a few that are genuinely bilateral.
In some multilateral gatherings like G20 and APEC, certain business leaders attend, but they do not participate in the negotiation of central issues. Most corporate involvement in world governance is in an advisory capacity without the power to decide the outcome.
But, let´s not be mistaken. Companies are not powerless in the international arena. They do partake in global affairs, but via their countries´ domestic politics and their government´s involvement in international affairs. However, the corporations’ interests are not the same as the authorities´, so businesses´ power and positions in global affairs do not reflect their significance.
Besides, nation-states have lost the monopoly of international engagement. At the same time, companies gained a certain degree of autonomy from the “home” country and got involved in “state-like” actions such as environmental protection, community development, and even private maritime security.[vi]
What is Corporate Diplomacy?
All these circumstances have resulted in the emergence of corporate diplomacy. Not long ago, as part of the country´s commercial diplomacy, MNC worked closely with their home governments in promoting trade and investment. Nowadays, businesses engage directly with foreign officials and are adopting certain diplomatic practices.
In the book Diplomacia Corporativa, Manuel Alejandro Egea Medrano, María Concepción Parra Meroño and Gonzalo Wandosell Fernández de Bobadilla walk the reader through the rise of corporate diplomacy and its instruments. Their work is focused on Spain´s experiences but includes examples from other parts of the world.
In the book´s first section, the authors explain the growing importance of reputation and credibility in world politics and the ascent of Public Diplomacy. I enjoy reading it, and now I have a better understanding of its relevance in today´s international affairs.
Coming from an IR/Diplomacy background, reading Diplomacia Corporativa was very interesting because I learned about all the tools and ideas developed by business scholars and applied by corporations about the importance and value of the companies´ reputation. In part, this is what Nation-branding is.
John Chipman in “Why your Company Needs a Foreign Policy” indicates that geopolitical risks, power changes in the international system, and economic sanctions demand businesses to have a company foreign policy that includes corporate diplomacy and geopolitical due diligence. [vii]
Today, civil society around the globe is making MNC accountable for their products' sources, even when it is the supplier of the company´s provider. And a crisis can ensue in a second via social media.
The authors of Diplomacia Corporativa use the definition of corporate diplomacy as the
“Instrument framed in a corporate foreign policy that allows generating favorable setting for the company’s interests through the effective management of political influence and its repercussion on the host society, as a result of State´s diplomacy typical mechanisms that grant the company an institutional role and more legitimacy to operate, which leads to a competitive advantage.”[viii]
For IR students, corporate diplomacy could be a source of job opportunities, but they need to make sure that they understand both the private and diplomatic worlds to be successful. It is also an avenue for retired members of foreign services to share their diplomatic expertise and know-how.
Does corporate diplomacy is imposter diplomacy?
To know if corporate diplomacy is imposter diplomacy, Katharina E. Höne proposed that “in order to tell the imposter from the innovator, we need to look closely at diplomacy as a practice, its relation to the state, and the purposes of these new diplomacies.” [ix]
In terms of the state's participation in corporate diplomacy, there is none, except for being on the other side of their lobbying activities, as regulators. However, as mentioned above, MNC are adopting some of the government's roles, such as protecting the environment, overseeing regional development, and providing security.
For me, diplomacy must be conducted by the government to fulfill its role. However, it is an interesting concept with some technics that diplomats could use, especially in public diplomacy strategies.
Regarding the diplomatic practice, it seems that corporate diplomacy performs the traditional functions of representation, negotiation, and communication. Therefore, even if the government is not involved, it could be considered a new tool of international engagement by a non-state actor.
Lastly, the ultimate goal of corporate diplomacy is to gain a competitive advantage in every country the company has interests and is part of a corporate foreign policy, so it fulfills the idea that to be diplomacy has to look for to achieve a foreign policy goal. The fact that is a non-state actor´s foreign policy rather than a government is the distinction.
Overall, I don´t think corporate diplomacy is a real diplomatic tool, and another term should be used to define this new way for companies to engage in foreign countries. Of course, using the term diplomacy helps people to identify the activity in the international arena. Still, it could lead to confusion regarding the government´s role and the ultimate objectives of this instrument.
To conclude, I think that one of the most striking features of corporate diplomacy is the adoption of diplomatic practices and tools for the company to survive and thrive in a globalized world.
By implementing these types of activities, maybe businesses worldwide would finally have a direct seat at the table rather than go through their governments. The new international role of companies could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how it is executed and should be accompanied by seating vulnerable people at the table, which generally are the most affected by any change in the international arena and by corporates decisions.
I believe there should be a greater dialogue between corporations and diplomats to learn from each other and take advantage of new techniques and policies that can help both achieve their goals.
[i] Höne, Katharina E., “Would the Real Diplomacy Please Stand Up!”, DiploFoundation Blog, June 30, 2017.
[ii] The commonly referred U.S. tech giants are Alphabet (Google); Amazon; Apple; Facebook and Microsoft. Besides, there are the three Chinese tech giants Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.
[iii] Blumental, Paul, “Big tech companies are so powerful that a Nation sent an Ambassador to them”, Huffington Post, June 23, 2018.
[iv] See, for example Strategy for Denmark’s Tech diplomacy 2021-2023.
[v] Cooper, Andrew F., Heine, Jorge, and Thakur, Ramesh, “Introduction: The Challenges of 21st-Century Diplomacy” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, 2013, p. 12.
[vi] Egea Medrano, Manuel Alejandro, Parra Meroño, María Concepción, and Férnandez de Bobadilla, Gonzalo Wandosell, Diplomacia Corporativa, 2017, p. 32.
[vii] Chipman, John. “Why your Company Needs a Foreign Policy”, Harvard Business Review, September 2016.
[viii] Authors translation from Spanish. Egea Medrano, Manuel Alejandro, Poder e influencia para operar en mercados internacionales: la diplomacia corporativa como herramienta de dirección estratégica. Tesis Doctoral, UCAM, 2016, cited in Egea Medrano, Manuel Alejandro, Parra Meroño, María Concepción, and Fernández de Bobadilla, Gonzalo Wandosell, Diplomacia Corporativa, 2017, p. 62.
[ix] Höne, Katharina E., 2017.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer, or company
Recently, I had the opportunity to finally read the seminal book on Consular Diplomacy titled Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, edited by Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Fernández. This work allowed me to rethink what is Consular Diplomacy.
Ten years have passed since its publication in 2011. Since then, there has been more changes to diplomacy in general and the consular institution in particular. An example of the relevance of Consular Diplomacy today is the response of all ministries of foreign affairs to the COVID-19 pandemic that required a massive effort to repatriate and assist nationals stranded overseas as the world closed in March 2020.
The book is divided into three sections:
It includes articles about the history and recent developments of consular affairs of Spain, France, the Netherlands, China, Russia, and the United States, as well as consular experiences of the European Union.
The order of the book is a little bit odd because it starts with consular affairs´ contemporary issues and ends with the consular history of three European nations. However, it is a great read that has tons of fascinating information and ideas.
If you can only read a few chapters, I suggest checking out the following:
In the introduction, Jan Melissen identifies four conceptual or empirical observations about the development of the consular institution:
These four observations are beneficial for the reader, as they help navigate through the book´s twelve chapters and explore the concept of Consular Diplomacy.
2. Reconsidering Consular Diplomacy
After reading the book, one of the first things that hit me was that each country has a unique consular affairs history, from China´s recent interest in assisting its citizens overseas to the Netherland´s reliance on honorary consuls.
Learning the consular history of six countries gave me a different perspective of Consular Diplomacy in general, and specifically about the development and characteristics of Mexico´s Consular Diplomacy. I think this is one of the reasons that comparative studies in International Relations are so critical.
For example, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, millions of Russian citizens suddenly lived in foreign countries, which happened to Mexicans after the 1846-1848 Mexico-U.S. War. In both cases, the two countries' governments had to step up their consular work to assist and protect their nationals, now living abroad.
Another example is the problems raised from the extraterritoriality clauses of international treaties with Western powers. In Mexico´s history, foreign government´s interventions on behalf of their citizens were critical in shaping its foreign policy principles. Therefore, learning a bit about the origins of the Capitulations treaties signed between the Ottoman Empire and European powers was enlighten.
Halvard Leira and Iver B. Neumann´s explanation about why the Ottoman Empire granted European nations extraterritorial jurisdiction of their own citizens is excellent for understanding a different perspective from the traditional view of European imposition of those terms.[ii] The book clearly demonstrates that the Capitulations had a significant impact on the development of the consular institution, particularly its judicial attributions.
Before, I thought that Mexico´s consular institution was distinctive. However, after reading the book, now I realize that each country´s consular affairs had a specific evolution that is different from all others. Of course, there are common patterns and trends, but each nation experiences them in unique ways. The themes are similar, but the differences are in the details.
This new perspective is helping me to have a deeper understanding of the differences between the consular services offered by each country, such as the distinction of providing funds for the repatriations of human remains offered by Mexico to only assisting in the paperwork done by the U.S., Canada, and others.
This new understanding is making me rethink the concept of Consular Diplomacy, which is closely related to the history of the country´s consular institution.
Another realization is that every country, in general, has the same diplomatic objectives, but in consular affairs, it varies depending on its specific evolution and the relationship between the government and its citizens. Therefore, I believe that Consular Diplomacy is hard to generalize. There is a need to look deeper into what Melissen states as “the long-time neglect of the societal dimension of world politics and diplomacy”[iii] to grasp the idea of diplomatic activities in the consular realm.
3. The division between diplomacy and consular affairs persists but is narrowing
The second impression of the book is that the link between diplomacy and consular affairs has always been there, but it has changed as societies and the international arena evolved. Even today, after the rise of the Consular Diplomacy, the division between the two still exists.
There is not a single path for the relationship between the two. Each country has its own. However, the incorporation of consular responsibilities to the ministries of foreign affairs from the 17th Century onward is a common feature in most nations.
The consular history of the six countries demonstrates the highly complex interaction of the two services. To me, their amalgamation in the early 20th Century did not diminish the perception of consular affairs as a Cinderella´s service.
It is not till the end of the 20th Century, as Maaike Okano-Heijmans explains in “Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy”, that consular affairs become a true priority not only for the foreign ministries but the government as a whole.[iv]
It is then, when globalization speeded up, together with the digital revolution and the democratization of diplomacy, when Consular Diplomacy was able to break through its `glass ceiling´ and become an openly acknowledged core activity of foreign ministries.
The modernization and standardization processes that consular affairs have endured in the last 20 years to meet the ever-higher expectation of the public is a clear example of the new status of consular services.
Even after the unification of the diplomatic and consular services, most countries still see them as separate entities. The existence of two Vienna Conventions (one for each) is the perfect example of this division. By the early 1960s, when the conventions were discussed, the fusion of the two services was widespread. Why was it so difficult to merge both in just one convention?
4. A greater understanding of the evolution of the consular institution.
The book allows the reader to understand better the multiple responsibilities that consuls had, from being judges, tax collectors, trade promoters, and sometimes even chaplains.[v] No wonder there is still a lot of misconceptions about what consuls do nowadays. Even the word `Consul´, is still mixed up with `Counsel´ (law-related) and `Councilor´ (city authority), which in the past were some of the main attributions of the position.
Through centuries, and as the Westphalia state-system developed, the consular institution experienced a gradual process of specialization of its functions. Consuls slowly were stripped of some of their core responsibilities[vi] and focused on two critical issues of today´s consular affairs: documentary services and assistance to citizens in distress abroad.
At the same time, it seems that a process of homogenization took place in international relations that affected the consular institution. As the articles about the six countries exhibit, consular affairs worldwide suffered the same transformations and are now mostly limited to documentary services and the protection of their nationals. Maybe the concentration on these two activities helped in its rise to the top of the foreign policy agenda?
In contrast, there is not such massive evolution of the functions of diplomats. Since the early days, their fundamental responsibilities of representation, negotiation, and communication, including information gathering, have changed little, even with drastic advances in communications and transportation.
5. The connection between public and consular diplomacies
It is stimulating to see that Melissen links Public and Consular Diplomacies. “In spite of all their differences, consular work and public diplomacy are somehow kindred activities. To all intents and purposes, both are evidence of new priorities and changing working practices in foreign ministries.”[vii]
I think the association between public and consular diplomacies is particularly relevant in the visa policies that directly affect the country´s image among the other nation´s citizens, as the article about the EU´s visa policy clearly showcases.[viii]
I consider that, in some cases, both go hand-in-hand and are closer than we usually think. In the case of Mexico´s it may be one and the same, as I wrote in my blog post titled “Public-Consular Diplomacy at its Best: The case of the Mexican Consular ID program”. Besides, Diaspora Diplomacy is also related to Public and Consular foreign policy efforts.
The idea of the connection between Public and Consular Diplomacies needs to be looked at in a deeper perspective. Hopefully, I can do this in the not-so-distant future.
Jan Melissen wanted the book to “hopefully break some new ground”[ix], which I think it definitely did. Since its release, there have not been works of such dimensions;[x] therefore, it is still the standard-bearer of Consular Diplomacy and a must-read for anybody interested in the consular institution.
Consular Affairs and Diplomacy is an excellent contribution to the field of study, as it associates the history and development of the consular functions with contemporary tendencies of consular affairs. It also demonstrates the always present interrelation of diplomacy and consular services, regardless of its priority ranking.
In a time of a drastic reduction of the State in the international arena, consular affairs are an area that has experienced the opposite. This is partly because of the ever-growing demand and expectations of citizens abroad (and their families at home). Also, since the consular function was never part of the great division between foreign and domestic policies.[xi]
For me, the work made me think again about Consular Diplomacy, mainly as a result of the relationship between the government and its citizens, not just part of foreign policy and diplomacy.
There is definitely a need for more works like Consular Affairs and Diplomacy. Hopefully, there will be more coming as Consular Diplomacy continues to rise in the field of International Relations and Diplomacy studies.
[i] Melissen, Jan, “Introduction The Consular Dimension of Diplomacy” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Fernández (Ed), 2011, pp. 1-4.
[ii] Leira, Halvard and Neumann, Iver B., “The Many Past Lives of the Consul” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, pp. 225-245.
[iii] Melissen, Jan, “Introduction” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Fernández (Ed), 2011, p. 2.
[iv] Okano-Heijmans, Maaike, “Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, pp. 21-42.
[v] See, for example the consular responsibilities of French consuls in Ulbert, Jörg, “A history of the French Consular Services” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, pp. 307-313.
[vi] For example, in France, with the creation of trade attachés in 1919, consulates were stripped from one of their original responsibilities: trade.
[vii] Melissen, Jan, “Introduction” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, p. 2.
[viii] Wesseling Mara, and Boniface, Jérôme, “New Trends in European Consular Services: Visa Policy in the EU Neighbourhood” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, pp. 115-144.
[ix] Melissen, Jan, “Introduction” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, p. 1.
[x] Since the book´s publication, there are some very interesting works released, like the The Hague Journal of Diplomacy´s special volume dedicated to `The Duty of Care´, published in 2018, and Revista Mexicana de Política Exterior volume on Consular Diplomacy (2014), and the books La Diplomacia Consular Mexicana en Tiempos de Trump (2018), The Duty of Care in International Relations: Protecting Citizens Beyond Borders (2019), and Modern Consuls, Local Communities and Globalization (2020).
[xi] Melissen, Jan, “Introduction” in Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, 2011, p. 2.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.