Glossary of Diplomatic Terms
Glossary of 'special terms' used in this website, relative terms derived from compiled dictionaries, Wikipedia, legal encyclopedias and official government standards. Only the most essential terms applicable to our international mission, understanding international law and limitations under diplomatic protocols appear listed. The terms listed below have been collected from a variety of well-known sources. Any variation of accepted international understanding are explained in captions.
The procedure by which a nation becomes a party to an agreement already in force between other nations
International agreements originally thought to be for lesser subjects than covered by treaties , but now really treaties by a different name.
An agreement reached ad referendum means an agreement reached by negotiators at the table, subject to the subsequent concurrence of their governments.
Diplomatic courtesy requires that before a state appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee is acceptable to the receiving state. The acquiescence of the receiving state is signified by its granting its agrément to the appointment. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens.
A written summary of the key points made by a diplomat in an official conversation. Literally, a document left with the other party to the conversation, either at the time of the conversation or subsequently, as an aid to memory.
When an agreement is signed between two states, or among several states, each signatory keeps an official copy for itself. Alternat refers to the principle which provides that a state’s own name will be listed ahead of the other signatory, or signatories, in its own official copy. It is a practice devised centuries ago to handle sensitivities over precedence.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
The chief of diplomatic mission; the ranking official diplomatic representative of his country to the country to which he is accredited, and the personal representative of his own head of state to the head of state of the host country. The term "extraordinary" has no real meaning. Years ago it was given only to nonresident ambassadors on temporary missions and was used to distinguish them from regular resident ambassadors. The latter resented others having this appellation, as it seemed to imply a lesser position for themselves. Eventually therefore, it was accorded to them as well. "Plenipotentiary" also comes down through the years. Today it simply means possessed of full power to do an ambassador’s normal job.
An official who has been named to be an ambassador, but who has not yet taken his oath of office.
A term often used to denote the wife of an ambassador, and misused to denote a woman chief of mission. The latter is an ambassador, not an ambassadress.
Used in diplomacy to mean the giving of refuge in two senses: first, within the extraterritorial grounds of an embassy (not generally done in American embassies); and second, when one states allows someone to live within its borders, out of reach of the authority of a second state from which the person seeks protection.
Civilian attachés are either junior officers in an embassy or, if more senior, officers who have a professional specialization such as "labor attaché", "commercial attaché", "cultural attaché", etc. On the military side, an embassy will generally have either an army attaché, naval attaché, or air attaché – and often all three. In American embassies, the senior of the three is called the defense attaché and is in charge of all military attaché activities. These consist largely of liaison work with local military authorities and of keeping informed on host country order of battle.
See "Pouch". Bag is the British term. "Bag Day" is the day the pouch is sealed and sent to the home office. Hence, bag day is the day when all non-telegraphic reporting must be finalized and dispatched.
A state of belligerency is a state of armed conflict. Belligerents are direct participants in the conflict.
Bilateral discussions or negotiations are between a state and one other. A bilateral treaty is between one state and one other. "Multilateral" is used when more than two states are involved.
Bout de Papier
A very informal means of conveying written information; more informal than an aide mémoire or a memorandum.
The formal act of severing diplomatic relations with another state to underscore disapproval of its actions or policies. It is generally an unwise step, because when relations between states are most strained is when the maintaining of diplomatic relations is most important. It makes little sense to keep diplomats on the scene when things are going relatively well and then take them away when they are most needed. An intermediate step which indicates serious displeasure but stops short of an actual diplomatic break is for a government to recall its ambassador indefinitely. This is preferable to a break in relations as his embassy will continue to function; but again this comes under the heading of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. If a dramatic gesture of this kind is needed, it is far better promptly and publicly to recall an ambassador for consultations, and then just as promptly return him to his post.
Calls and Calling Cards
"Calling" has largely disappeared from private life, but it is a practice which is still useful in a diplomatic community where the early establishment of extensive contacts is a must. Soon after a diplomat’s arrival at a new post, therefore, he will embark on a program of call on those with whom he will be dealing – and whom he must lose no time in getting to know. In modern, less formal times, calling cards do not have nearly the same role in diplomatic life they once did. But with the traditional initials, p.p. (pour présenter); p.f. (pour féliciter); p.c. (pour condoléance); p.r. (pour remercier); or p.p.c. (pour prendre congé) inscribed at their bottom left-hand corner, they remain a still useful and accepted way to convey simple messages of presentation, congratulation, condolence, thanks, and farewell.
An action by one state regarded as so contrary to the interests of another state as to be considered by that second state as a cause for war.
As in "chancelleries of Europe," i.e. foreign offices.
The office where the chief of mission and his staff work. This office is often called the embassy but this is a misnomer. Technically, the embassy is where the ambassador lives, not where he works, although in earlier times when diplomatic missions were smaller, this was usually the same building. Today, for clarity’s sake, many diplomats now distinguish between the two by using the terms "embassy residence" and "embassy office".
Chancery, Head of
An important position in British embassies not found in American diplomatic establishments. An officer, usually head of the political section, charged with coordinating the substantive and administrative performance of the embassy. In an American embassy, the ambassador looks to the deputy chief of mission to do this.
Chargé d’Affaires, a.i.
Formerly, a chargé d’affaires was the title of a chief of mission, inferior in rank to an ambassador or a minister. Today with the a.i. (ad interim) added, it designates the senior officer taking charge for the interval when a chief of mission is absent from his post.
Chief of Mission
The ranking officer in an embassy, permanent mission, legation, consulate general or consulate (i.e. an ambassador always, and a minister, consul general, or consul when no more senior officer is assigned to the post). A "chief of mission" can also be the head of a special and temporary diplomatic mission, but the term is usually reserved for the earlier listed examples.
A message or other document conveying a policy or an instruction is "cleared" in a foreign office, or large embassy, when all officials who have responsibility for any of its specific aspects have signified their approval by initialing it. Some officers gain a reputation for insisting on changing, even if only in minor ways, everything that is places before them – and it is occasionally alleged they would do so even if it were in the Ten Commandments being presented to them. Conversely, others are occasionally so casual that their clearance seems to mean only that the document in question does not appear to take away any of their jurisdiction. A clearance procedure in some form is essential for adequate coordination, but when overdone (as it often is), it can be a stifling , time-consuming process, and a bane of diplomatic life.
Any group of authorized individuals with similar qualifications that jointly control or operate an international mission.
A brief public summary statement issued following important bilateral or multilateral meetings. These tend to be bland and full of stock phrases such as "full and frank discussions", and the like. Occasionally, getting an agreement on the communiqué turns out to be the most difficult part of the meeting.
An effort to achieve agreement and, hopefully, increased goodwill between two opposed parties.
A treaty to which the Pope is a party.
Conference or Congress
International meetings. In the diplomatic sense, a congress has the same meaning as a conference.
An official doing consular work for a nation in a locality where it does not maintain a regular consulate. This official is usually a national of his host state, and his work is usually part-time.
An office established by one state in an important city of another state for the purpose of supporting and protecting its citizens traveling or residing there. In addition, these offices are charges with performing other important administrative duties such as issuing visas (where this is required) to host country nationals wishing to travel to the country the consulate represents. All consulates, whether located in the capital city or in other communities, are administratively under the ambassador and the embassy. In addition to carrying out their consular duties, they often serve as branch offices for the embassy, supporting, for example, the latter’s political and economic responsibilities. Consulates are expected to play a particularly significant role in connection with the promotion of their own country’s exports and other commercial activities. Officers performing consular duties are known as consuls or, if more junior, vice consuls. The chief of the consulate is known as the consul.
A bigger and more important consulate, presided over by a consul-general.
A host-country national appointed by a foreign state to perform limited consular functions in a locality here the appointing state has no other consular representation.
An agreement between two or more states, often more, concerning matters of common interest. While supposedly used for lesser matters than embraced in a treaty, it often deals with important subjects indeed – international postal and copyright laws, for example, of the law of the sea.
Counselor of Embassy
A senior diplomatic title ranking just behind an ambassador and a minister. In many embassies there is no minister, and the counselor is the number two man, i.e., the deputy chief of mission. (In a very small embassy, the second may not have this rank). In a large embassy, the second ranking officer may be a minister, or minister-counselor, in which case the heads of the more important sections have counselor rank. Thus, for example, the embassy’s political counselor, economic counselor, an administrative counselor are well-known and much-respected positions in diplomatic life.
State departments and foreign offices generally have an office for each country with which the have active dealings. These offices are often called country desks, and if a large country is involves and there is a large embassy to support there, the desk is likely to be staffed by a large number of officers. A smaller country may require a one-officer desk only.
An American diplomatic term meaning the ambassador’s cabinet. It consists of his deputy chief of mission, heads of all important embassy sections, and the chiefs of all other elements (military, agricultural, aid, information, and cultural, etc.) working under him in the "embassy community".
The name for letters given to an ambassador by his chief of state, and addressed to the chief of state of his host country. They are delivered to the latter by ambassadors in a formal credentials ceremony, which generally takes place shortly after his arrival at a new post. Until this ceremony has taken place he is not formally recognized by the host country, and he cannot officially act as an ambassador. The letters are termed "letters of credence" because they request the receiving chief of state to give "full credence" to what the ambassador will say of behalf of his government.
Embassy shorthand for the deputy chief of mission.
This can have two quite distinct meanings in diplomacy. It can first, of course, mean a unilateral statement by one state, ranging from an expression of opinion or policy to a declaration of war. It can also mean a joint statement by two or more states having the same binding effect as a treaty. In this latter connection declarations can be put forward either in their own right or appended to a treaty as an added understanding or interpretation.
Again used in two senses in diplomacy. "Delegation" can be the term used to refer to the specific powers delegates by his government to a diplomat acting in certain specific circumstances. It also refers to an official party sent to an international conference or on some other special diplomatic mission.
An approach, a making of representations. Still very common term used by diplomats to indicate the official raising of a matter with host country officials, often accompanied by a specific request for some type of action or decision in connection with it.
An easing of tension between states.
The body of foreign diplomats assembled at a nation’s capital. In cities where consuls and consul general are resident, the are collectively known as the consular corps. The dean of both corps is usually that official who had been at his post the longest. There are exceptions to this later rule, however. For example, in some Catholic countries, the papal nuncio is always the dean. The dean represents the corps in collective dealings with host country officials on matters of a ceremonial or administrative character affecting the corps as a whole.
The practice of feigning illness to avoid participation in a diplomatic event of one kind or another and at the same time to avoid giving formal offense. "Diplomatic deafness" is a somewhat related concept whereby older diplomats allegedly turn this infirmity to advantage by not hearing what they prefer not to hear.
Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities
Historically accorded in recognition that the diplomat represents (and is responsible to) a different sovereignty; also in order that the legitimate pursuit of his official duties will not be impeded in any unnecessary way. They include inviolability of person and premises and exemption from taxation and the civil and criminal jurisdiction of local courts.
It has the same meaning as "diplomat". An outdated word rarely used now in spoken diplomacy but occasionally still appearing in the literature of diplomacy.
A written, as opposed to a telegraphic, message from an embassy to its home office or vice versa.
A career diplomat who specialized in economics rather than political, administrative, or other matters.
The residence of an ambassador. In recent years, also inaccurately used to denote the building which contains the offices of the ambassador and other key members of his staff. The proper term for the latter, as noted above, is the "chancery". As also noted above, confusion is nowadays avoided through the practice of using the two terms "embassy residence" and "embassy office".
Denotes a close understanding between certain nations. It suggests mutual and complementary efforts, and a sense of compatible objectives. It can be agreed on orally or in writing, but as a concept is generally less binding than a treaty relationship.
Nowadays used to refer to any senior diplomat. Earlier it had a specific hierarchical connotation, being used to designate diplomatic agents of less than the highest rank.
An archaic but still much-used title for addressing an ambassador. Theoretically, an American ambassador is not supposed to be addressed this way, but he generally is – along with all his other ambassadorial colleagues. "Mr. Ambassador" is more accurate and less silly. That he is; he may or may not be "excellent."
Exchange of Notes
A common way of recording an agreement. The contents of the notes are, of course, agreed upon in advance by the two nations participating in the exchange.
A document issued to a consul by the host country government authorizing him to carry out his consular duties.
Something which is done as a gesture of good will and not on the basis of an accepted legal obligation.
The term for the process, governed by formally concluded agreements, by which fugitives fleeing justice from one country are returned from the country where they have sought refuge. It does not apply to political offenses.
The exercise by one nation, as a result of formally concluded agreements, of certain sovereign functions within the territory of another state. A curtailment of the jurisdiction of the latter state in certain specified areas and/or in certain specified respects.
Final Act (Acte Final)
A formal summary statement, drawn up at the conclusion of a conference.
The name given to a once marshlike area near Washington’s Potomac River, and now somewhat irreverently bequeathed to the U.S. Department of State, one of that area’s best-known modern occupants.
Foreign Affairs Community
An American government term used to denote the State Department and other government departments and agencies (Defense, Commerce, Agriculture, Treasury, U.S. Information Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Agency for International Development, etc.) which have special interests and responsibilities in the foreign affairs field.
Shorthand for a career American diplomat, i.e., an American Foreign Service officer.
A document which authorizes a diplomat to conduct and consummate special business on behalf of his government, such as the settlement of a dispute or the negotiation and signing of a treaty. Before signing a treaty, a diplomat is obligated to show his full-powers document to the other parties involved.
An effort by a third state, or by an individual or an international body, designed to stimulate the processes of settlement in a dispute between two other states.
Guarantee, Treaty of
A treaty which requires signatories to guarantee that situations agreed upon will be maintained. The honoring of such commitments can precipitate armed conflicts.
These are rare now, but they were once very common. A legation is a diplomatic mission similar for most practical purposes to an embassy, but lower in rank, and presided over by a minister rather than an ambassador. For most of the last century, American diplomatic representation abroad was limited to legations, and for much of this century, the U.S. was represented in more countries by legations than it was by embassies.
Letters of Recall
Also presented by a new ambassador, along with his letter of credence, to the chief of state of his host country during his credentials-presentation ceremony. It is the official document which formally recalls his predecessor.
Apart from its cabinet-officer connotation (i.e. "foreign minister"), a minister has traditionally been a chief of diplomatic mission who headed a legation rather than an embassy. As so few legations are left, the title is now borrowed more and more to designate the second-ranking officer of a large embassy. It has, therefore, come increasingly to mean the senior counselor under the ambassador. To avoid confusion with the old connotation, the United States and a number of governments designate these senior deputy chiefs of mission by the hyphenated title "minister-counselor".
A temporary agreement, in writing, of an interim character, pending the negotiation of more definitive arrangements.
Refers to the ceremonial side of diplomacy, including matters of diplomatic courtesy and precedence.
Another name for an agreement. Originally a protocol was considered a somewhat less formal document than a treaty, but that is a distinction no longer valid. A protocol may be an agreement in its own right. It also may constitute added sections which clarify or alter an agreement, or it may be used to add new subjects of agreement to the original document.
The official of a committee or subcommittee whose jobs is to prepare a summary report of its discussions and conclusions.
The establishment of improved relations.
The act, subsequent to a treaty’s having been negotiated, by which a government commits itself to adhere to that treaty. In the United States, it is inaccurate to speak of the Senate’s ratifying a treaty. The executive does this, but only after the Senate has given its consent.
Commonly used in connection with the recognition by one state of 1) the existence of another state (for example when a new one is formed), or 2) the existence of a government which is in effective control of a state. The term "de facto recognition" means recognition that a state, or a government of a state, in fact exists – but it also means the withholding of full official recognition of this. When the latter is extended, it is termed "de jure recognition". It is a distinction based more on diplomatic convenience than on logic.
Shorthand for the most senior leadership of the U.S. State Department. It is where the offices of the Secretary of State and his most senior aides are located.
A diplomat whose assignment at a foreign post is nearing its close. A phrase borrowed from the military.
Where many of the U.S. State Department’s regional and other assistant secretaries have their offices. Shorthand for the assistant secretary level of the department’s leadership.
Shorthand for a temporary duty assignment.
A diplomatic discussion covering most (or at least a number of ) subjects of current and common concern.
A formal mutually binding agreement between countries. The term comes from traiter, to negotiate.
A last statement indicating a final position. On occasion a prelude to the initiation of military action.
A term used when one government wishes to tell another that an action the latter has taken is regarded as so serious that it might lead to a military action against it. An action which risks war.
Written authority to enter a country for either temporary or permanent residence, depending on its wording.