In case you have been missing me, I have been on the road. First at this year’s Dubrovnik Diplomatic Forum in Croatia. Then back at IAEA (in Vienna) on Leadership Skills.

Dubrovnik is of course splendid, if not quite as affordable as it used to be. As for the Forum, the event brought out starkly the irrevocable divide in diplomatic teaching philosophy.

On the one hand there is the traditional formal academic approach, tackling the Vienna Convention, the legal basis for international trade and consular work, plus concepts of multi-polar power and international relations. In short, Theory.

Back in real life, those of us who have worked as professional diplomats like to share vital skills, tips and tricks needed when key visit deadlines loom and the minister is in a foul mood. Negotiating how the minister’s close protection team firearms get past customs. Drafting craftily ambiguous records of conversation (see also Sturgeongate). Placement for the minister’s private dinner for eight people (five men and three women) who do not all speak the same language. Giving the media just enough, but no more. In short, Practice.

My main problem with the Theory-based approach is not that is uninteresting. Why not pass the time mulling over different ideas about power and influence and how they all work in our globalised interconnected unipolar/bipolar/multipolar climate change challenged world, depending on your point of view?

No, I object to the fact that such musings make no difference whatsoever in diplomatic practice, and that to pretend they do is a pesky distraction especially for young diplomats wanting to surge ahead.

Diplomatic Training has to be all about skills and leadership. What works, and why? How exactly to be convincingly firm enough to catch a cynical interlocutor’s attention, but also nimbly flexible enough to adapt to Reality? What basic negotiations are at stake in any given situation, and how best to advance one’s own position? How to juggle ten different issues at once when nothing is working and HQ is screaming for action and the media sharks are circling and your key First Secretary is on sick leave? In a word, Technique.

This Forum might well have benefitted from, ahem, rather more Technique and rather less Theory. Plus it was strange that it had almost nothing at all to say on the diplomatic training needed by international officials not attached to national diplomatic services. Aren’t they diplomats in the diplomatic business too? Nothing about Mediation as a separate skill? Nothing about online training and webinars?

Still, it was good to see the Polish Institute of Diplomacy giving a snappy and elegant presentation on their own excellent programme (where I pop up now and again haha).

In fact, so exercised am I on this subject of #DiplomaticTraining  that I might write a piece for DIPLOMAT. So there.