Two men shake hands in front of a large pile of sacks of supplies covered by a “USAID” banner

What are the tools of diplomacy?

While a multifaceted skill set is needed to successfully engage in diplomacy, the two most important skills are:

  1. A thorough understanding of the U.S. perspective on the issue and;
  2. An appreciation of the culture and interests of the foreign diplomats sitting across the table.

Those two skills are the basis of all diplomatic negotiations and are just as important in a simple trade agreement as they are in a more sensitive matter, such as a peace treaty or arms control.

To be successful, diplomats must enter discussions with a clear goal and strategy of what can be exchanged to reach an agreement. They also have to listen carefully to what their counterparts say and find ways to agree or compromise. In negotiating, diplomats often use rewards—such as the promise of a new trade deal, an arms sale, or shipments of food—to encourage an agreement.

When diplomatic interests collide and a deadlock ensues, negotiators might threaten sanctions such as restricting travel, halting financial assistance, or a trade embargo to persuade the other parties to accept an agreement.

Three men in suits having an animated discussion
U.S. and South Korean diplomats speak in Diayoutai, Beijing. AP photo/Elizabeth Dalziel.

The final result of negotiations is usually a formal written communique or agreement that spells out the actions and responsibilities of each side. The most well-known written outcome is a treaty, or a formal, written agreement between sovereign states, among countries, or between international organizations.

In the United States, treaties are negotiated through the executive branch, which includes the U.S. Department of State. Once the negotiators have accepted the terms of the treaty, the president sends the treaty to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent on ratification or endorsement. If the Senate approves, the treaty is returned to the White House for the president’s signature. Many other countries have similar procedures for ratifying agreements.

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan David Hale and World Food Program representative Abdelwahab Jeme meet with the press near Amman, Jordan. AP photo/Mohammad abu Ghosh.

Other forms of agreements include:

  • CONVENTIONS are agreements between countries covering particular global matters that are less formal than a treaty. Conventions often include many countries as signatories, and the original signatories encourage other countries to join even after the original agreement is reached. In 1973, for example, representatives of 80 countries agreed on a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect rare plants and animals around the world from extinction.
  • ALLIANCES are often formed among nations for mutual economic, political, or security benefits and can be multilateral or bilateral. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was a military alliance formed in 1949 to protect Western European nations against threats from the Soviet Union and its communist Eastern European allies. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Eastern European nations have joined NATO, thus changing and expanding the alliance.
  • ACCORDS are voluntary agreements that countries enter into instead of a treaty or while they try to work out the terms of a treaty. Accords often end hostilities, such as the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995.

Additional Links