Diplomats are a type of public servant that can either work in their ministry headquarters or be deployed elsewhere. Their usual destinations are another nation state (embassies and consulates) to foster bilateral collaborations and protect their nationals abroad, as well as international or supranational organizations to defend national interests in the multilateral environment. Likewise, diplomats may represent a nation state or an intergovernmental institution such as the United Nations or the European Union.
Their main functions are:
Representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state
Initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements
Participation in the design of treaties or conventions
Mediators of international relationships in the fields of trade, commerce, technology, culture, science, etc.
Providers of stable channels of communication
Their actions are covered by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) (See Link). They usually have diplomatic immunity and use a diplomatic passport for their official travels.
Regardless of the country, they belong to one of the longest established civil servant corps, but depending on the country, they have different requirements to become a diplomat and then distinct career levels, years for each deployment (either abroad or within the Foreign Affairs Department in the national headquarters), etc.
Profiles of diplomats in science diplomacy
More and more, diplomats are considering science,
technology, and innovation as fundamental parts of their foreign policy agenda.
Diplomats can thus be appointed as:
Special ambassadors or envoys for science diplomacy: This role raises the importance of science diplomacy within the ministerial department and their main function will be that of coordinating all science diplomacy officers deployed abroad and within the ministry.
Foreign Affairs Ministry’s headquarters officers: Diplomats may belong to specific government department units in the national headquarters that are in charge of scientific affairs. For instance, Spain has a Directorate for Culture and Scientific Relations within a public agency dependent on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and European Union, and it coordinates all cultural and scientific counsellors abroad. Although it does not have the same political value as the special ambassadors stated above, this approach incorporates an anchoring to the administrative landscape that would survive different political contexts.
Scientific counsellors: Some countries such as Austria or Switzerland appoint diplomats as scientific counsellors in their embassies abroad. These diplomats by training have a portfolio of science, technology and innovation and strive to improve bilateral and multilateral scientific collaboration between their countries and their host destinations.
Tech ambassadors: The growing importance of tech cities, start-ups, and tech giants in the global economy as well as in international affairs has led to certain countries deploying diplomats to technology hubs as tech ambassadors. For instance, Denmark appointed a diplomat to Silicon Valley to oversee The Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador as part of its global Techplomacy strategy (Klynge, Ekman and Waedegaard 2020). In general, tech ambassadors help countries to enhance their relationships with these stakeholders and oversee the global development of tech affairs (cybersecurity, big data, etc.) (Melchor 2020).
Special envoys to international organisations and large research infrastructures: Nation states that participate in international organisations (such as the Union for the Mediterranean) and large research infrastructures (such as CERN) usually have two delegates in the governing body of these institutions. One delegate represents their government’s administration, the other represents national scientific interests. The former tends to be the diplomat who would be key in leading negotiations and defending national political interests, whereas the latter tends to be a scientists who provides technical expertise and advice as well as a better understanding of the national scientific landscape and interests.
What the experts think
You may watch the insights from three seasoned diplomats, who have worked at embassies, diplomatic academies, and international organisations, about science diplomacy in the videos below.
Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Spain in Washington
What are the competences and skills a good diplomat needs to have in order to embed themselves in a big Embassy as the Spanish one in the US?
Deputy Director of the Diplomatische Akademie Wien – Vienna School of International Studies
What skills do you require to work as a diplomat? What skills are required in science diplomacy?
Miguel Garcia-Herráiz Roobaert
Deputy Directorate General for EU External Relations and Trade, Secretariat of State for EU Affairs, Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation
What is your background and current position? What are your main responsibilities?
– Melchor, Lorenzo (2020): “What Is a Science Diplomat.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 15 (3): 409-423 (Link) – Klynge, Casper, Mikael Ekman, and Nikolaj Juncher Waedergaard (2020): “Diplomacy in the Digital Age: Lessons from Denmark’s TechPlomacy Initiative.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 15(1-2), 185-195 (Link)