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We intend to examine in this unit, diplomacy as a primary political instrument used by nation-states in the pursuit of their national interests. We will try to understand what diplomacy means, and the various types of diplomacy or combinations of diplomacy that a country may resort to in the pursuit of its goals in the international system. Further, we will also examine economic diplomacy as an important instrument of enhancing a country’s interests.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  Explain the meaning and uses of Diplomacy 
  2.  Discuss the various types of Diplomacy 
  3.  Explain what is meant by personal Diplomacy 
  4. Explain the meaning of Economic Diplomacy 


3.1 Meaning of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the primary political instrument used by nation-states in pursuing foreign policy goals. It is a technique of coercion, persuasion (technique), adjustment, and of reaching agreement through direct communication. It refers to the process of bargaining among states in order to narrow areas of disagreement, resolve conflicts or reach accommodation on issues over which agreement cannot, otherwise, be reached. Diplomatic negotiation may be initiated not really for agreement but for propaganda purposes. If relationships are cordial between nations the duty of ambassadors, envoys, or foreign ministers is to maintain a kind of continuity or whenever there is a crisis, they involve themselves in more rigorous diplomatic exercise. They may bring in a third party like states or international organizations, e.g. Nigeria, France and United Nations in the Congo, Middle East, Angola; the AU in Chad or Sudan; Western Sahara, Nigeria in Sudan, etc. These are ad hoc bodies and may terminate after the crisis. A state in a crisis may push a party or parties in a dispute to defer to a neutral ground e.g. Vienna, Geneva, Helsinki in disarmament discussions. Of significant importance was the shift of the United Nations General Assembly from New York to Geneva to allow Yasir Arafat of the declared Palestine State to address the United Nations when United States refused to grant Arafat Visa to the United States for reasons of security.

There is also the problem of sitting arrangement (technique), whether a meeting should be an open or a closed one. At times actors prefer a close encounter to hide away from the pressure of the press and other powerful lobbyists. In the negotiation process, actors put their demands on the genuineness of claims and diplomatic skill of diplomats. Failure of course could lead to crisis depending on the nature of the demand. The use of threat and rewards is to force states to follow a given line. They range from diplomatic breakage, economic sanctions, like the one imposed by the USA; the European Union, from the Babangida to Abacha regimes in Nigeria, for their anti-democratic dispositions; and the Commonwealth suspension of Nigeria from the body on abuse of human rights (hanging of Ken Sawo Wiwa in 1995). Some approaches like candour and frankness are very necessary for compromise attainment. However, a lot of deception, duplicity and lies colour diplomatic negotiations.

Diplomacy is different from foreign policy, for while foreign policy is the substantive aspect. In principle, this distinction may be necessary but in practice, both are complementary. Types of diplomacy include permanent tradition diplomacy; personal diplomacy; permanent conference diplomacy; parliamentary conference diplomacy; multilateral diplomacy; ad hoc conference diplomacy; revolutionary diplomacy and economic diplomacy, etc.

3.2 Types of Diplomacy

3.2.1 Permanent Traditional Diplomacy 

This is where a traditional permanent structure is usually used in diplomatic discussions. That is for all diplomatic discussions, must involve the states’ ministry of external affairs, through its minister, and direct to its Ambassadors, charge de affairs, protocol, information attaches, etc. The head of government would normally allow the external affairs minister make all the pronouncements, on behalf of the state whenever the Head of Government wants to make such pronouncements the minister maybe of the legislature must also have an input. In cases of change of government, this structure is not altered, although personnel may change such as the ministers and Ambassador sometimes. No matter how radical or revolutionary a regime may be it cannot afford to change this structure all the time.

3.2.2 Permanent Conference Diplomacy

Here diplomatic discussions are carried out through various conferences. Particularly over issues that go beyond the power of individual state organizations such as the ECOWAS, AU, UN, Non-allied Movement (NAM), European Union (EU), the Commonwealth, Arab league, WTO, etc hold annual summits and extra-ordinary summits on general or specific issues concerning World Conflict and Peace. Thus, before ECOWAS launched ECOMOG, it met, discussed and approved military monitoring action on Liberia to curtail conflict and promote harmony in the war torn area.

The AU annual summits normally highlight African problems with possible solutions. With one voice they call on the international community to resolve crisis on economic matters. Within the OAU/AU there was the committee on Southern Africa Liberation and Apartheid. There is also a mediation and reconciliation committee, with peacekeeping missions. One problem with the AU however, is the inability of its leaders to put weight behind agreed actions. This was the reason why it failed in its peacekeeping mission in Chad, where Nigeria was abandoned to carry the burden.

3.2.3 Parliamentary Conference Diplomacy

Each state constitution recognizes the importance of establishing committees on foreign affairs. It normally debates foreign affairs issues and pass them on to the whole house for general debate. As it is normal, parliament must ratify treaties signed by the Head of Government. The inability of Nigeria’s Supreme Military Council to ratify the cessation of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun by Gowon is the cause of the present problem between Nigeria and Cameroun at the Bakassi Peninsula. .

3.2.4 Personal Diplomacy

This is a diplomatic style where the Head of State or the Foreign Affairs Minister, dumps the permanent traditional structures for personal initiative. This entails diplomatic shuttles and allies, traveling from one country to another for image laundering and other matters. Although the journeys are usually in the company of by staff of the relevant ministries, the promises by the envoy are made out of his own volition. General Yakubu Gowon, and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo are the best examples in Nigeria. During one of the diplomatic shuttles Gown promised to pay the salaries of Grenada civil servants for six months. The danger in this type of diplomacy is that the environment he visits easily influences a weak leader. But for strong leaders it is difficult. This was why the expectations of the Nigerian government were high that Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Nigeria may influence her thinking over apartheid in South Africa. However, Nigeria miscalculated, because Britain believes in following the traditional policy-making process.

3.2.5 Ad Hoc Conference Diplomacy

This is a temporary diplomatic format set up by states or organizations for specific purposes, and it terminates after the purpose might have been achieved, e.g. The OAU’s Apartheid Committee. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was one time co-chairman, Eminent Persons Group on South Africa, etc. As soon as apartheid was crushed in 1994, the ad hoc committees were disbanded.

3.2.6 Economic Diplomacy

This connotes the means by which government influences and controls certain productive arms of government in concert with the private sector interest in the economies of other countries for her domestic benefit, which are economic and political. The concept dates back to 1580 when the policy of technical assistance was in vogue with objective of promoting export markets. There is offensive economic diplomacy where a country in pursuit of its international relations, with its buoyant economic is not only ready to change the course of events and situations, but also has the capability to strike first at any instance when its national economic interest is at stake. This may entail the extension or denial of financial benefits, petroleum products, food supplies, the granting or denial or withdrawal of trade concessions, the establishment or disinvestments of foreign investment etc. Nigeria for example, nationalized BP assets in Shell PDC on August 2, 1979 over Zimbabwe’s independence. The Arab states oil embargo of 1973 was to pressurize the western world. The Monroe Doctrine, Marshal economic plan and Brezhnev doctrine etc. are such other examples.

There is also the Defensive Economic Diplomacy, where a country that is exploited and objectified, reacts violently at its opponents and tries to force them out rather than succumb to servitude. A country may want to be a master of itself. For example, Japan, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, etc.,
put up such struggles to sustain their sovereignty. There is also the need to restructure the existing international economic order. Nigeria’s economic diplomacy started in 1988 on the heels of the economic crisis and the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The emphases were:

  1.  attraction of foreign investment; 
  2.  aggressive promotion; and 
  3. debt management. 


Diplomacy is a very important dimension and instrument of carrying out foreign relations by countries. It involves tact, some element of cunning, lies, and a certain amount of pressure or force, both potential and real: and ironically some element of trust and frankness. 

What a combination!
Now, you can understand the amorphous character of diplomacy. It is usually at the discretion of the envoys and leaders of countries to know which approach is to be pursued or combinations of approaches to use at any given instance.


We have discussed the meaning of diplomacy and types of diplomacy. Even, in our personal relationships, some degree of diplomacy is usually necessary for us to achieve our aims. Therefore, you can imagine the importance of this to nations.


  1.  What is diplomacy in International Relations? 
  2.  Define diplomacy and discuss the various types of diplomacy?


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