Diplomatic style as foreign policy insight : a case study of South Korea




Robertson, Jeffrey

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Diplomatic style is problematic. In academic research it is dismissed, misconstrued, treated perfunctorily, or wholly absented. Despite substantial expansion in the field of diplomatic studies, it has attracted scant attention. Yet, practitioners maintain a faith-like confidence in it. They allude to its importance in memoirs and instructional texts, and assume it gives them an advantage over scholars in analyzing foreign policy. For scholars and analysts, this raises the question, does diplomatic style really provide additional insight into foreign policy? This study assesses whether the ability to recognize and comprehend diplomatic style provides additional analytical insight above and beyond that which is available through academic research. I first explore the concept of diplomatic style and present a framework for its analysis. I construct four Weberian ideal types of diplomatic style - purposive-rational, value-rational, traditional, and emotional, which provide a means to contrast and compare concrete examples. Using South Korea as a case study, I elicit experiential narratives of diplomatic style from practicing and retired South Korean diplomats, and practicing and retired members of the Seoul foreign diplomatic corps. I then analyze, contrast, and compare these narratives with the Weberian ideal types. I find a tendency towards emotionalism, and concerns regarding status, generational change, cosmopolitanism, and estrangement, to be characteristics of the South Korean diplomatic style. While these phenomena are featured in academic research, I argue that focusing on diplomatic style highlights their relevance to foreign policy. In particular, the relevance of estrangement is difficult to ascertain from academic research alone. Therefore I also argue that the ability to recognize and comprehend diplomatic style does not provide additional analytical insight into a state's foreign policy, above and beyond that which is normally available through scholarly research, but rather narrows the vast range of information analysts must cover, and thus is an important guide to the factors which are 'policy relevant'. Hence the study makes three core contributions. First, it contributes to the field of diplomatic studies by presenting a comprehensive framework for the conceptualization of style in diplomatic practice. Second, it contributes to the field of Korean studies by highlighting influences on South Korean foreign policy, which were previously disparate and difficult to isolate. And finally, it presents a tangible policy solution to address the scholar-practitioner gap through a focus on diplomatic style.






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