Following up on my previous post, “Recent studies on consular diplomacy: reevaluating the consular institution,” about recent works on consular diplomacy, I want to share two great articles I just finished reading.
But first, I want to share that the Journal of Public Diplomacy recently published my practitioner's essay titled Beyond Traditional Boundaries: The Origins and Features of the Public-Consular Diplomacy of Mexico. It is open access, so I invite you to read it too.
The first article I just read is titled “Duty of Care: Consular Diplomacy Response on Baltic and Nordic Countries to COVID-19”, and was published by the Hague Journal of Diplomacy (open source article).[i]
The second is “Going East: Switzerland´s east consular diplomacy toward East and Southeast Asia”, written by Pascal Lottaz and focuses on opening Swiss consular offices in the Far East in the 1860s.
So, let´s start with the comparative study of the Baltic and Nordic countries´ consular diplomacy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Duty of Care: Consular Diplomacy Response on Baltic and Nordic Countries to COVID-19”
The article is a must-read for anybody interested in the latest developments in diplomatic practices. It includes discussions on the evolution from consular services into consular diplomacy through the expansion into foreign policy, digital diplomacy, and citizen-centric initiatives.[ii]
There are few comparative studies of consular diplomacy; therefore, this essay is very much welcomed. It also showcases the different responses to the biggest-ever challenge for consular assistance, as the pandemic was once in a millennia occurrence that closed down the entire world.
Birka, Klavinš, and Kits explain the concept of “Duty of Care” and the importance of the state–society relationship in implementing consular assistance to citizens abroad in the real world. They classify this responsibility into two categories the “pastoral care concept [in] which citizens are objects to be protected [and the] neoliberal governmentality conception where citizens are expected to take on more responsibility for their own well-being.”[iii]
The authors define the concept “as the assistance and protection of citizens through guidance and information provision, enabling citizens to make informed decisions and care for themselves. However, when faced with the pandemic, all states made minor adjustments to this approach and assumed some level of a pastoral DoC role by exceeding normal consular services provision.”[iv]
Birka, Klavinš, and Kits also discuss the changes in consular affairs, particularly the refocusing of ministries of foreign affairs into a greater engagement with its citizens and the inclusion of new diplomatic tools such as digital and diaspora diplomacies into their primary functions. The rise of consular diplomacy is part of these transformations and was put to a big test with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The evaluation and comparison of the response of the Nordic and Baltic countries to the pandemic is a significant contribution to the field of consular diplomacy studies. Despite their similarities, the eight countries have essential differences in their consular emergency responses.
The categorization of the countries' consular responses to the pandemic, reflected in tables 2 ”extent of pastoral care provided”[v] and 3 “aspects of consular diplomacy,”[vi] could be applied in other comparative or single-country case studies.
A key highlight of “Duty of Care: Consular Diplomacy Response on Baltic and Nordic Countries to COVID-19”, is the importance of having robust relationships among different MFAs to be able to evolve from consular coordination schemes to full-fledged consular diplomacy, which happened among the Nordic states but not in the Baltic region.
Regarding innovative approaches, Lithuania and Denmark stand out. By using their established connections with their diasporas, the two countries were able to mobilize them to assist their nationals in the first months of the pandemic.[viii] Citizens' active participation in helping governments distribute valuable information and their assistance to some people showcases the new role of citizens in diplomacy and consular assistance.
The study underscores the significant contributions of information and communications technologies to diplomacy. Having a smartphone application with hundreds of thousands of users and being able to send SMS messages to all citizens abroad underline their vital role in today´s consular diplomacy. Even traditional MFAs webpages were crucial in disseminating information to people stuck overseas and their family members in the home country.
Birka, Klavinš, and Kits successfully explain the critical elements of today´s consular diplomacy, and I am sure their comparative study will be highly cited work in the field. It is a must-read for everybody interested in today´s diplomacy, not only consular affairs.
Now, let´s move on to the historical essay on Switzerland's consular diplomacy in the late 19th century.
“Going East: Switzerland´s east consular diplomacy toward East and Southeast Asia”
From the onset, it is hard to imagine why a small land-locked country like Switzerland would be interested in opening consulates in Asia. However, after reading the article, it all makes sense; therefore, this essay is also a valuable contribution to the field of consular diplomacy.
It is fascinating to learn about how trade interests pushed the opening of Swiss consulates in Manila (1862), Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1863, and Yokohama and Nagasaki (Japan) a year later. Back then, the Alps´ nation had only three embassies -Paris, Vienna, and Turin (its three big neighbors)- but had 77 honorary consulates; therefore, most of its foreign activities were conducted by non-official consular officers rather than state diplomats.[ix]
“Going East: Switzerland´s east consular diplomacy toward East and Southeast Asia” showcases the linkage between colonial powers and small European countries in their trade expansion two centuries ago. Switzerland was able to open two new consulates with the assistance of Spain and the Netherlands. Besides, the U.S. and the Dutch helped Swiss diplomats sign a friendship treaty with Japan in 1864 after a failed attempt.[x]
Lottaz identifies the need for new markets for Swiss manufactured goods as the main objective in expanding relations with the Far East, which was driven mainly by a few tycoons, also called “Federal Barons.”[xi] He also ascertains that the expansion resulted from “the opportunity structure of the colonial era.”[xii]
Another issue that surfaced in this research was the concern about giving an advantage to a company with the designation of honorary consul abroad, issue that later was overturned, as the Swiss government designated the same person the second time around.[xiii] This subject still matters today, as demonstrated by the recent investigation into honorary consuls´ criminal activities and nefarious behaviors (See below).
Here are some topics that came up in the conclusions of the article which could be further studied:
The article reinforces the idea that most of the consular activities in the 19th century were focused on protecting trade interests, which were part of the national interest, rather than individual citizens. This perspective differs in the case of Mexico, which early on focused on protecting citizens in distress in the U.S. that had no trade connections.
“Going East: Switzerland´s east consular diplomacy toward East and Southeast Asia” is a worthwhile contribution to understanding the links between trade and diplomacy and the merging of consular and diplomatic functions into what is known today as consular diplomacy.
A brief comment on Consuls and Captives: Dutch-North African Diplomacy in the Early Modern Mediterranean
Before finishing, I just want to briefly comment on the book Consuls and Captives: Dutch-North African Diplomacy in the Early Modern Mediterranean by Erica Heinsen-Roach. It is not new, but it is fascinating historical research that demonstrates that diplomacy is not a uniquely European creation. The fact is that for nearly 300 hundred years, Maghribi corsairs and rulers in Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis, were able to deal on their own terms with European powers, mainly under the title of consuls, who performed diplomatic duties.
The book has a human dimension as it centers on the adventurous lives of Dutch consuls and a couple of non-resident ambassadors stationed on the African shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It provides an excellent example of the role of consuls in diplomacy.
One of the defining elements of consular diplomacy is high-visibility consular cases[xiv]; therefore, what is more relevant than the enslavement of Dutch nationals in the Mediterranean and the government’s efforts to release them?
As seen in the Swiss expansion to Asia, in this case, consular protection of citizens in distress was mainly related to trade interests, as the corsairs’ seizure of Dutch vessels and citizens in the Mediterranean affected the national interests. However, it seems that there is also a humanitarian responsibility, described as “duty of care” by the Dutch authorities, to look after its nationals abroad, particularly in these situations where the government's action made the difference between freedom and slavery.
A final note on the honorary consuls’ global investigation.
Recently, ProPublica and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists launched a global investigation on honorary consuls titled “Shadow diplomats: The Global Threat of Rogue Diplomacy.”
This study is unique as consular affairs are typically covered by the media on crises or high-visibility consular cases, not the consular officials´ performance and activities. Sadly, it focuses on the “rogue” side rather than honorary consuls´ substantial contributions, especially in assisting distressed citizens abroad and promoting greater ties between nations.
Most of the cases described in the research would still exist, as honorary consular usually are citizens of the host country rather than foreigners. The only, and important difference is their status as consular officers granted by both the receiving and the sending governments´. Of course, any criminal activity should be prosecuted, and abuses should be reported and sanctioned.
[i] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). Duty of Care: Consular Diplomacy Response of Baltic and Nordic Countries to COVID-19. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 17(2022), 1-32.
[ii] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022).
[iii] Tsinovoi A. and Adler-Nissen, R. (2018) Inversion of the “Duty of Care”: Diplomacy and the protection of Citizens Abroad, from Pastoral Care to neoliberal Governmentality. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy (13) 2, cited in Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). p. 7.
[iv] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). p. 26.
[v] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). p. 16.
[vi] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). pp. 23-24.
[vii] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). pp. 22-24.
[viii] Birka, I., Klavinš D., & Kits, R. (2022). pp. 22-24.
[ix] Lottaz, P. (2020). Going East: Switzerland´s east consular diplomacy toward East and Southeast Asia. Traverse: Zeitschrift für Geschichte = Revue d´historie 27(1), p. 23-24.
[x] Lottaz, P. (2020). p. 28.
[xi] Lottaz, P. (2020). pp. 25-26.
[xii] Lottaz, P. (2020). p. 24.
[xiii] Lottaz, P. (2020). pp. 24 and 30.
[xiv] See Maaike Okano-Heijmans. (2011). Changes in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy. In Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Fernandez (eds.) Consular Affairs and Diplomacy, pp. 21-41.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed here 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.