I have great news for those interested in consular diplomacy. Recently, there have been a few new and fascinating publications on the subject.
The evolution of the consular institution.
Let´s start with the work of Iver B. Neumann and Halvard Leira, two prominent consular affairs scholars. The chapter “The evolution of the consular institution” of the book Diplomatic Tense (2020) analyzes the development of the consular institution from an evolutionary perspective.
This book chapter broadens the authors' previous studies, such as “Consular Representation in an Emerging State: The case of Norway” (2008), “The many past lives of the Consul” (2011), and “Judges, Merchants and Envoys: The Growth and Development of the Consular Institution” (2013).
In “the evolution of the consular institution”, Neumann and Leira examine the evolution of the consular functions, using as a reference “tipping points, understood as the culmination of long-term trends.”[i] They evaluate the process based on the concepts of variation, stabilization, and institutionalization of the consular function.[ii]
The three tipping points of the consular institution identified are:
It is very interesting to learn how the consular functions of the West Mediterranean influenced the East Mediterranean consular practices. Later, the change of the consular institution came in the opposite direction. Besides, the Hanseatic League´s consular procedures also made their mark on the consular institution before spreading to the rest of the world.[iv]
Neumann and Leira dug deeper into the Ottoman Empire´s impact on the extraterritorially of the consuls, also known in the Eastern Mediterranean as capitulations. They also distinguished between the extraterritorial practice used by Europeans in the Mediterranean Sea, which started as a privilege granted by the Muslim rulers to the one applied in East Asia, which was based on domination.[v]
Interestingly enough, the extraterritoriality also affected the Western Hemisphere's new republics. In 1838-39, Mexico suffered the French intervention, known as the “Guerra de los Pasteles” or Pastry War, because of the protection of French nationals affected by the country’s continuous civil wars.[vi]
The chapter also explains the diplomatization process of consular affairs, which culminated in the 20th century with the complete incorporation of the consulates into the diplomatic realm. The process started as states claimed their sovereignty rights, thus questioning the extraterritoriality activities of foreign consuls at home and turning overseas merchants working as consuls into state employees or at least the designation of local citizens as honorary consuls. The process was slow and uneven; therefore, there were a lot of different variations, even at the beginning of the last century. [vii]
At the end of the chapter, the authors ask if an upcoming tipping point could result in the separation of the consular function from diplomacy.[viii] I argue that the opposite is happening. The new tipping point already occurred with the rise of consular diplomacy.
I highly recommend not only the chapter “The evolution of the consular institution” but the whole book Diplomatic Tense. It brings a very innovative view of diplomacy from an evolutionary standpoint, using tipping points to understand better its development through the centuries. Besides, it includes various analyses, from how diplomacy is portrayed in the world of Harry Potter to the visual relevance of new ambassadors' accreditation ceremonies and a hegemonic perspective on the physical appearance of diplomats.
The role of cities in the development of the consular institution
The second work, “The Intercity Origins of Diplomacy: Consuls, Empires and the Sea,” written by Halvard Leira and Benjamin de Carvalho, was published in June 2021 in Diplomatica. A Journal of Diplomacy and Society. In it, the authors “want to prove the connection between cites and diplomacy through problematizing what has counted as diplomacy.”[ix]
The article effortlessly links the idea that cities, not states, played a vital role in developing the consular institutions and diplomacy itself. Leira and de Carvalho offer a different angle on diplomacy and its past. By not looking backward with a preconceived notion centered on the state but looking forward from the point of view of cities,[x] they exemplified the importance of city and inter-city relations, with a particular focus on consuls and their role.
While Embassies have always represented the whole country, consulates stood for cities and their merchants in gone-bye eras. Therefore, cities were precursors and are still playing an essential role in the evolution of diplomacy even today.
For example, in the case of Mexico, its 50 consulates have become a part of their local communities, and from their host city's perspective, they are doing Para diplomacy work. In the blogpost Book review 8: “The meaning of a special relation: Mexico´s relationship with Texas in the light of California´s experience, I referred to the idea that there are city and state diplomacies on the other side of consular diplomacy.[xi]
The innovative perspective presented by Leira and de Carvalho helps to revalorize the contributions of the consular institution and practices to the development of diplomacy as we know it today. Furthermore, by destatizing the notion of diplomacy, they open a door for the reevaluation of the consular institution´s past and provide a base for the rise of consular diplomacy.
China´s Consular Protection in the 21 Century
The third article, “Consular Protection with Chinese Characteristics: Challenges and Solutions” by Liping Xia, is about the evolution of consular assistance of China. From having negligible programs in the past, the government had to work on expanding its consular service due to the ever-growing number of Chinese tourists, investors, and workers traveling overseas.
Xia distinguishes unique features of Chinese consular protection, particularly the whole-of-government approach and its inclusion in the national security strategy.[xii] She notes that “China´s highly centralised political system and the current situation of ´big government and small society´ help to account for the local governments´ role in consular protection. “[xiii] Therefore, provincial and municipal authorities share the burden of assisting Chinese nationals abroad, even establishing liaison offices overseas and providing safety training for traveling outside China.[xiv]
The enhancement of China´s consular assistance is in line with the evolution of consular diplomacy in other parts of the world. As Leira and Græger explain in the “Introduction: The Duty of Care in International Relation, “the degree of care provided for citizens abroad is thus tied not only to the political system but also to the state capacity, the perceived necessity for domestic legitimacy, and the responsiveness of foreign host governments.”[xv] In the case of China, “ as consular protection is closely related to the rights and interest of ordinary citizen, it becomes a favored window to display the good image of the party and be an effective means to win the hearts and minds of the people.”[xvi]
The transformation of China´s consular services to citizens abroad and its different features is a testament to the consolidation of consular diplomacy worldwide in the third decade of the 21st century.
Two more studies.
There are two more works that I have not read, but they seem to be fascinating.
The first is the book Nationals Abroad Globalization, Individual Rights and the Making of Modern International Law (2020) by Christopher A. Casey. According to Doreen Lustig´s review, the work is “a path-breaking account of the history of the rights of aliens and the rights of states to protect national abroad. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of diplomatic protection.”[xvii]
In today´s world, the consular protection of citizens in distress abroad is the crucial function of consulates worldwide. It is also, as Maaike Okano-Heijmans describes as, an element of consular diplomacy that could affect the national interest due to the attention brought from politicians, the media, and the general public, as argued in her work “The Changes in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy.”
The second work is Jan Melissen’s chapter titled “Consular Diplomacy in the Era of Growing Mobility” in the book Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the World: Actors of State Diplomacy (2022). The chapter focus on the communication challenge that MFAs have regarding their citizens traveling and living overseas. “Providing information and assistance to nationals abroad is a major challenge, and governments are well-advised to go about this activity in a more citizen-centric fashion.” I will share my thoughts once I read it.
The more I learned about the consular institution, the more convinced I am that it is an integral element of a country`s diplomatic efforts, with particular emphasis on public diplomacy. Consuls are the faces of the MFA abroad and at home for most citizens, and their actions can save lives or at least bridge the gap between foreign authorities and institutions and nationals in distress abroad.
These recent works all contribute to the reevaluation of consular affairs inside the MFAs, but more importantly, as part of the evolution of diplomacy.
You can also read the following blog post that reviews other new publications on consular diplomacy in this link.
Besides, here are additional posts about consular diplomacy:
[i] Neumann, Iver N. 2020. “Preface” in Diplomatic Tense, p. xi.
[ii] See chapter two “The evolution of diplomacy” for an explanation of the evolutionary perspective of diplomacy. Neumann, Iver N. and Leira, Halvard. 2020. p. 8-25.
[iii] Neumann, Iver N. and Leira, Halvard. 2020. “The evolution of the consular institution” in Diplomatic Tense, p. 41.
[iv] Ibid. p. 30-34.
[v] Ibid. p. 39.
[vi] See for example, Gómez Arnau, Remedios. 1990. México y la protección de sus nacionales en Estados Unidos.
[vii] Neumann and Leira. 2020. p. 33-40.
[viii] Ibid. p. 42.
[ix] Leira, Halvard and de Carvalho, Benjamin. 2021. The Intercity Origins of Diplomacy: Consuls, Empires, and the Sea. Diplomatica 3 (1), June, p. 148.
[x] Leira and de Carvalho. 2021. P. 149.
[xi] Marquez Lartigue, Rodrigo. 2020. Book review 8: “The meaning of a special relation: Mexico´s relationship with Texas in the light of California´s experience” in Mexican Consular Diplomacy in Trump´s Era in Consular and Public Diplomacies Blog.
[xii] Xia, Liping. 2021. Consular Protection with Chinese Characteristics: Challenges and Solutions. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 16 (2-3), March, p. 256.
[xiii] Xia, Liping. 2021, p. 270.
[xiv] Xia, Liping. 2021, p. 260.
[xv] Leira, Halvard and Ninga Græger. 2020. “Introduction: The Duty of Care in International Relation” in The Duty of Care in International Relation Protecting Citizens Beyond the Border, p. 4.
[xvi] Xia, Liping. 2021, p. 272.
[xvii] Lustig, Doreen. 2021. Book Review, Christopher Casey, Nationals Abroad: Globalization, Individual Rights and the Making of Modern International Law. The Law and Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, cited in the book’s webpage.
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.