Friday, August 21, 2015

A diplomat's textbook

Nitin Pai,

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THE CONTEMPORARY EMBASSYPaths to Diplomatic Excellence Kishan S Rana Macmillan 168 pages; Rs 800
When we started the with the mission to build the intellectual foundations of an India that has global interests, we were confronted with a hard challenge: there are very few good textbooks and case studies on public policy written for India. Fewer still are written from India for the world. Many "textbooks" in the market seem to be published for the sole purpose of preparing undergraduate students for their university examinations. Few of these are written by practitioners. When practitioners do write books, they are more in the nature of memoirs; accounts of events past than analyses that teach subsequent generations how to think about the issues they discuss.
Which is why Kishan S Rana's The Contemporary Embassy: Paths to Diplomatic Excellence stands out. It is the one of the few books that institutions like Takshashila can immediately recommend to anyone interested in international relations, whether to analyse foreign policy or, indeed, to engage in it. It is as relevant to a person who aspires to be a diplomat anywhere in the world as it is to a journalist or corporate executive who needs to deal with foreign countries and governments. It is lucid but succinct; insightful but thin; pedagogical but not preachy. It has anecdotes but not too many. And it has a beautiful cover that makes it a pleasure to hold.
In six chapters, Mr Rana covers the role of diplomats and embassies in their entirety. If you are a newly independent state wanting to set up your embassy, this book is all that you need. It tells you what diplomacy is, why it is important, and how it is conducted. The author connects age-old diplomatic traditions to the dynamics of the present day, where globalisation, technology, communications and political awareness are transforming the citizen-government relationship. For instance, five years ago, India's Ministry of External Affairs, under the leadership of then foreign secretary and then joint secretary (and now India's High Commissioner to Australia) put social media engagement at the heart of public diplomacy. The idea that foreign ministries must directly engage the public, much less in real-time on social media, would have appeared strange to career diplomats even a decade ago. The index shows that Mr Rana refers to the internet, Twitter and related themes 29 times, and the references are spread throughout the book.
The book starts with an analysis of the context in which diplomats operate: the balance between carrying out the policy directions from headquarters and deciding on the approach that works best on the ground. With usually a small staff, diplomatic missions must be able to carry out political, economic and public diplomacy as the baseline. With the expansion in the number and type of stakeholders a mission must engage -"omnidirectional" in the author's words - this has become more complicated. Today's diplomats must be as competent in their core roles as their predecessors, but must be able to carry out economic tasks like investment promotion, political outreach to sub-state actors and non-governmental organisations, manage disbursement of aid and be technologically savvy. ... 

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