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IDIG End-of-Year Debate: Between Peace and Diplomacy

5 July 2021

11 mins

Last week, master’s students and PhD students from the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance (IDIG) came together for the IDIG End-of-Year Debate. The debate featured recent problems and discussions about diplomacy, its functions, areas of potential development and transformation. In this blog Current PhD student, Alicija Prochniak, shares her own insights and thoughts from this event. Take a look at the outline of the event and Alicija’s views below.

The End-Of-Year Debate

On the 23 June, students from the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance gathered for an extracurricular End-Of-Year debate.

Convened and facilitated by, Dr Tatevik Mnatsakanyan (Lecturer in Diplomacy and International Governance), the event aimed to bring Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance (IDIG) students together in a closing discussion and interaction – to share ideas, reflections and creativity on some big questions on Diplomacy. Students from master’s programmes offered by the IDIG and IDIG PhD students took part in this dynamic event.

Entitled Between Peace and Diplomacy: Connecting the Dots, Seeking Transformations, the debate challenged participants to engage in a critical and creative exercise to address one overarching question: What is the relationship between diplomacy and peace; and in a final analysis, how can we rethink potentially transforming such relations?

Starting with a mini-lecture, Dr Tatevik Mnatsakanyan demonstrated how the question was relevant not only to IDIG students from the MSc Security, Peace-building and Diplomacy programme, but to all students studying diplomacy, across all IDIG master’s programmes. She presented some examples and the historical conditions of the development and coming to prominence of the age-old adage and assumption that readily links the idea of diplomacy with that of peace, promotion of peace, or with peaceful practice; offered some critiques, and then laid out a framework-provocation. The latter was asking participants to reverse the habitual way of thinking about diplomacy, and shift the focus on the age-old adage on diplomacy as “peaceful”: instead of trying to unpack what “peaceful” might mean and whether and how diplomacy achieves that, the participants were invited to scrutinise “violence”, and thereby ask the focal question: “What produces violence?”.

The debate then evolved by first interrogating what forms violence may take – from most physical and visible, to less immediately visible, often referred to as “structural violence”; to forms of knowledge that may result in both physical and structural violence. In light of such approach, then, the age-old question on diplomacy takes on a new shape: when facing the question “Is Diplomacy the realm of peace?”, students were now compelled to ask: What produces violence? And therefore, whether and in what ways diplomatic practices produce violent relations or conditions for violence; and how these can be transformed.

Students then worked in a group exercise to debate the question. The debate proved to be a lively interaction among the participants exchanging some fascinating ideas, examples, and ways of thinking.

Alicija’s Insights

The debate, in its structure, posed a very challenging and thought-provoking question about the relationship between peace and diplomacy, and challenged us to think about instances and mechanisms through which the outcomes of diplomatic practice can produce violence or conditions for violence, rather than peace.

During the course of the IDIG End-of-Year debate, participants took on the challenge and explored various ways of unpacking such proposition – through examples and situations, as well as conceptual thinking. Below, I would like to share some of my own thoughts on the problem-provocation set out in the debate. 


Today’s understanding of diplomacy in the world is largely a product of the post-Renaissance state system that developed in Europe since the Peace of Westphalia.

By the end of the 20th century, the majority of the countries around the world had adopted the diplomatic customs pioneered and practised in Europe. The ancient definitions as such did not entail that diplomacy itself was a peaceful task. The latter understanding and connotation became more prevalent especially due to  events in the 20th century, when the main task of diplomacy, during and after the two World Wars, the Cold War and the outbreak of civil wars following the collapse of the USSR were said to be the maintenance of peace. The main diplomatic efforts in the 20th century were hailed as concentrating on peaceful resolutions.

Nonetheless,  diplomacy should not be equated with peace. More recently, scholars have demystified these preconceptions and presumptions about diplomacy.  

Thus, Cohen has argued that placing diplomacy and violence/war on two opposite ends of the spectrum is a form of political myth, functioning mainly in the European and Western circles.[1] Other scholars, on the other hand, have alerted to the blurring lines between diplomacy and violence.[2]  The main task for students and scholars of diplomacy is to challenge the assumption that diplomacy and violence are contractionary and mutually exclusive terms. Moreover, the critical tasks of academia must be to investigate the premises of such false assumptions, explore new ways of conceptualizing the notion of diplomacy and observe the practice, in particular cases when diplomacy and violence go hand in hand, or where diplomacy produces violence.

In order to do this, the starting point is to accept that violence must be traced and critiqued in more than just its physical form. Indeed, Johan Galtung[3] has famously stated that it is also a form of violence when social and political structures and institutions end up harming people by creating conditions that prevent them from meeting their basic needs or lead to inequalities. Galtung calls these conditions  ‘structural violence’.

Diplomacy and Violence: Against Reconciliation?

One area, where diplomacy may not be described with the term “peace” could be explored in relation to reconciliation processes. The narrative of reconciliation was the main approach of the South African government after the period of Apartheid in this country. The government adopted a strategy of reconciliation, and despite its critics, it may be argued to have helped the society to move beyond some of its historical resentments and differences.

However, more often than not, official government narratives of state and national identity building appropriate the agenda of past conflicts, the memories of injuries, damages, and traumas, as well as incorporate or else enhance prejudices and resentments towards their political agendas.

In situation where representations of “Self” and “Others” are built on simplistic binary oppositions, and foreign policy is guided by the resultant anger and hatred, rather than reconciliation efforts, we witness a situation where the tools of diplomacy are put to use to produce conditions for violence, or directly help escalate violence rather than promote peace. There are political leaders who use divisions along ethnic or ideological lines within and across  nations in order to gain popular political support; using diplomatic tools to advocate for the recognition of their cause (political support aboard), or more rights for the leader’s group leading to political polarization of society. In these instances, the tools of diplomacy are used to institutionalize the leaders’ positions and the status quo, and to preserve the division which in effect may lead to more physical violence. This situation is currently witnessed in some Eastern European countries where Russian-speaking minorities and their rights within different nations lead to political unrest. 

Diplomacy, Violence and the Structure of Global Trade

Another area where diplomatic practice can be traced to the potential production of violence is the inherent in the very structure of global trade. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) could be seen as indisputably one of the major achievements in the workings of International Organizations. In 2003, following the recommendations of the Fowler Report, United Nations General Assembly set up the process to stop the illicit diamond trade between the developing countries and the rest of the world.

However, the institutionalization of global trade, the large number of international organizations which regulate the transaction flows, and their historical legacy do not always provide fair and equitable conditions for economic relations. Scholars have argued that the broad acceptance of the market logic, the way markets operate and their importance for global politics, have led to situations of structural violence.

On a global level, such approaches and political practice are in fact sanctioned and preserved through diplomatic exchanges. In today’s globalised world, states are competing for means to create wealth within their territories[4]. This, however, is producing unequal structures: the structuralist approach in political studies argues that international capital today increases the level of surplus value extraction through the use of overseas workers to maintain the profitability of the national economies[5]. Modern society is thus characterized by the place given to economic and market institutions. In such circumstances, the usual tools of diplomacy and negotiations between countries may actually extend and preserve the conditions of structural violence. 

Developmental theorists such as Raul Prebish have argued that capitalism may be preserving and increasing global inequalities; as the structure of global trade often traps countries in a vicious circle of dependency and poverty[6]. The current terms of commerce make it difficult for countries that export primary commodities to develop. The prices of raw materials and commodities are much lower in relation to the high prices of manufactured goods and technology which those countries most often have to import. The additional problems of overpopulation, unfavourable weather conditions for agriculture, dependence and unstable commodity export markets set conditions which developing countries cannot escape without assistance from outside[7].

For example, recently the European Union banned the use of palm oil in biofuels because of concerns that its cultivation accelerates deforestation and global warming. However, the export of palm oil was a major source of income for certain countries. While dependence on the export of such commodities has proven not to be the most sustainable model of development for such countries, this diplomatic act, nonetheless, demonstrates how the imposed ban may inflict the violence of hardship on these countries, without the provision of alternative and fairer means of economic sustenance and interaction. Here, we witness the violence of trade diplomacy cloaked in the innocence of “doing good to the planet” and of one-sided “environmental diplomacy”.

Concluding thoughts

The Loughborough London IDIG End-of-Year Debate proved to be a very successful way of encouraging students to share their knowledge, experiences and stimulated critical thinking and discussion. All students came up with very interesting examples and ideas which were also discussed in smaller working groups to allow deeper deliberations. It would have been difficult to describe here, in such a short blog post, all the insightful comments presented by all the participants. Therefore, only two of the discussed cases, and my thoughts on them, were included above. However, I believe all participants agreed that while the conditions to transform current practices may be challenging, there are still opportunities for the discipline of diplomatic studies to transform into a more nuanced research area addressing the problem and the question posed at the centre of this debate. Further examination and debate within the field, as well as inter-disciplinary consultations, can help the academia to better understand the nature of violence and its relationship with diplomacy and political practice. This new research would help develop innovative scholarly thinking, as well as diplomatic policies and solutions which could address more adequately the reality of structural violence in its many forms.  

We would like to say thank you to Alicja Prochniak for writing this thought-provoking blog and sharing her insights. You can find out more Alicja’s research here.

To find out more about the master’s programmes offered by the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, please visit this web page.

To find out more about our PhD opportunities within the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, please visit this web page.


[1] Cohen, Raymond (1999) ‘Reflections on the New Global Diplomacy: Statecraft 2500 BC to 2000 AD’, in Jan Melissen (ed.), Innovation in Diplomatic Practice, Palgrave MacMillan, Pages 1-18.

[2] Barston, R. P. (2006) Modern Diplomacy, Third Edition, Pearson Longman, p. 1.

[3] Galtung J. (1969) ‘’Violence, Peace, and Peace Research’’, Journal of Peace Research, Sage Publications, Vol.6, No.3, p.167-191.

[4] Strange, S. and Stopford John M. (1991) Rival States, Rival Firms – Competition for World Market Shares, CUP.

[5] Watson M. (2014) Historical Roots of Theoretical Traditions in Global Political Economy, Ch. 2 in Ravenhill, J. (ed.) Global Political Economy, Fourth Edition, OUP.

[6] Gilpin, R. (2001) Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, PUP.

[7] Gilpin, R. (2001) Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, PUP.

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