Diplomatic Mission

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Diplomatic or Foreign Missions

The embassy abroad, or foreign mission, is headed by an ambassador assisted by a career diplomat who serves as deputy or first secretary. The deputy secretary oversees and coordinates the work of the staff and assumes the responsibilities of the mission as “chargé d’affaires”whenever the ambassador is away or incapacitated or is between ambassadorial assignments.

Definition of Diplomatic Mission

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Diplomatic Mission : A body composed of government officers representing the interests and welfare of their state who have been posted abroad (by the sending state) and operate within the jurisdisdiction of another state (the receiving state). This mission will be accorded protection by the receiving state in accordance with the rules of *diplomatic immunity.

Organization and Activities of Diplomatic Missions


A mission is organized into a series of functional sections that observe, report, and deal with issues in their respective areas. Most missions contain sections for political affairs, economic and commercial affairs, information and cultural affairs, consular affairs, and administrative matters. In addition, a mission usually includes a number of “attachés”from other government departments. Military, air, and naval attachés have traditionally been assigned to foreign missions, but agricultural, commercial, labor, and cultural attachés are becoming increasingly common.

Missions are staffed largely by foreign service officers, with the exception of the attachés who are drawn from their respective agencies back home. The secretaries and clerical staff come from a separate civil service corps. Citizens of the host country may be hired as translators or for nonsensitive jobs.


The activities of a diplomatic mission are extremely varied. They range from such serious tasks as negotiating issues of great political significance and reporting and commenting on important events in the foreign country to meeting with foreign students, arranging itineraries of exhibits about life in the home country, and issuing visas.See more about Foreign Missions here

In addition to their diplomatic and political chores, missions are also in charge of the consular work of the home government. Consular operations are concerned with the economic and commercial relations between nations. Originally, diplomatic and consular chores were kept strictly separate because early theorists felt that national interests should not be “tainted”by private commercial matters. Thus, two separate services—diplomatic and consular—usually existed. Today all major countries have combined these two services, and a single corps of professional civil servants serves in both areas.

Consular work involves a variety of activities. Consuls issue birth, death, and marriage certificates to citizens residing or traveling in the foreign country. Consular officers also regulate shipping, aid their country’s citizens when they travel on business or as tourists, and report on economic and business conditions abroad. Activities are often carried out in consulates located in major trading and commercial cities as well as in the capital city.

The Personnel of the “Corps diplomatique.”

The establishment of diplomacy as a regular branch of the civil service is of modern growth, and even now by no means universal. From old time states naturally chose as their agents those who would best serve their interests in the matter in hand. In the middle ages diplomacy was practically a monopoly of the clergy, who as a class alone possessed the necessary qualifications: and in later times, when learning had spread to the laity as well, there were still potent reasons why the clergy should continue to be employed as diplomatic agents. Of these reasons the most practical was that of expense; for the wealth of the church formed an inexhaustible reserve which was used without scruple for secular purposes. Francis I of France, who by the Concordat with Rome had in his hands the patronage of all the sees and abbeys in France, used this partly to reward his clerical ministers, partly as a great secret service fund for bribing the ambassadors of other powers, partly for the payment of those high-placed spies at foreign courts maintained by the elaborately organized system 300 known as the Secret du Roi (See Zeller).

None the less, in the 16th century, laymen as diplomats are already well in evidence. They are usually lawyers, rarely soldiers, occasionally even simple merchants. Not uncommonly they were foreigners, like the Italian Thomas Spinelly mentioned above, drawn from that cosmopolitan class of diplomats who were ready to serve any master. Though nobles were often employed as ambassadors by all the powers, Venice alone made nobility a condition of diplomatic service. They were professional in the sense that, for the most part, diplomacy was the main occupation of their lives; there was, however, no graded diplomatic service in which, as at present, it was possible to rise on a fixed system from the position of simple attaché to that of minister and ambassador. The “attaché to the embassy” existed (A. O. Meyer, p. 22); but he was not, as is now the case, a young diplomat learning his profession, but an experienced man of affairs, often a foreigner employed by the ambassador as adviser, secret service agent and general go-between, and he was without diplomatic status (See the amusing account of the methods of these agents in Morysine to Cecil (January 23, 1551-1552), Cal. State Pap. Edw. VI., No. 530).

The 18th century saw the rise of the diplomatic service in the modern sense. The elaboration of court ceremonial, for which Versailles had set the fashion, made it desirable that diplomatic agents should be courtiers, and young men of rank about the court began to be attached to missions for the express purpose of teaching them the art of diplomacy. Thus arose that aristocratic diplomatic class, distinguished by the exquisite refinement of its manners, which survived from the 18th century into the 19th. Modern democracy has tended to break with this tradition, but it still widely prevails. Even in Great Britain, where the rest of the public services have been thrown open to all classes, a certain social position is still demanded for candidates for the diplomatic service and the foreign office, and in addition to passing a competitive examination, they must be nominated by someone of recognized station prepared to vouch for their social qualifications. In America, where no regular diplomatic service exists, all diplomatic agents are nominated by the president.

The existence of an official diplomatic service, however, by no means excludes the appointment of outsiders to diplomatic posts. It is, in fact, one of the main grievances of the regular diplomatic body that the great rewards of their profession, the embassies, are so often assigned to politicians or others who have not passed through the drudgery of the service. But though this practice has, doubtless, sometimes been abused, it is impossible to criticize the wisdom of its occasional application.

A word may be added as to the part played by women in diplomacy. So far as their unofficial influence upon it is concerned, it would be impossible to exaggerate its importance; it would suffice to mention three names taken at random from the annals of the 19th century, Madame de Staël, Baroness von Krüdener, and Princess Lieven. Gentz comments on the “feminine intrigues” that darkened the counsels of the congresses of Vienna and Aix-la-Chapelle, and from which the powers so happily escaped in the bachelor seclusion of Troppau. Nor is it to be supposed that statesmen will ever renounce a diplomatic weapon so easy of disguise and so potent for use. A brilliant salon presided over by a woman of charm may be a most valuable centre of a political propaganda; and ladies are still widely employed in the secret diplomacy of the powers. Their employment as regularly accredited diplomatic agents, however, though not unknown, has been extremely rare. An interesting instance is the appointment of Catherine of Aragon, when princess of Wales, as representative of her father, Ferdinand the Catholic, at the court of Henry VII. (G. A. Bergenroth, Calendar of State Papers … England and Spain—in the Archives at Simancas, &c., i. pp. xxxiii, cxix).(1)

Diplomatic Mission

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on diplomatic mission explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.


Further Reading

  • The entry “diplomatic mission” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


Notes and References

  1. Source: “Diplomacy” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

See Also

MPEPIL: Diplomacy and consular relations
Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
History of Diplomacy
Diplomatic Agent
Department of Foreign Affairs
Treaties resources
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
International Law

Further Reading

Diplomacy and peace. Bibliography
Diplomacy and Coffee (Book)

Further References about Diplomacy

Department of Foreign Affairs information.
Department of State information.
Foreign Services information.
Diplomatic Negotations information

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