Distinctive Characteristics of American Diplomacy

Author/s (editor/s):

Jan Melissen, Paul Sharp

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Publication type:

Journal article

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Distinctive Characteristics of American Diplomacy

The central claim of this article is that the United States has conducted a distinctive form of ‘anti-diplomacy’, accepting in practice many diplomatic norms and practices while remaining reluctant to acknowledge the fact. To support this claim, this article argues that since its rise as a world power, the United States has participated in international society’s diplomatic culture in a distinctive way and that this distinctiveness stems from seven interconnected characteristics of American diplomacy: (1) America’s long-held distrust and negative view of diplomats and diplomacy, which has contributed to the historical neglect and sidelining of the US Department of State in the United States’ policy-making process; (2) a high degree of domestic influence over foreign policy and diplomacy; (3) a tendency to privilege hard power over soft power in foreign policy; (4) a preference for bilateral over multilateral diplomacy; (5) an ideological tradition of diplomatically isolating states that are considered adversarial and of refusing to engage them until they meet preconditions; (6) a tradition of appointing a relatively high proportion of political rather than career ambassadors; and (7) a demonstrably strong cultural disposition towards a direct, low-context negotiating style. A consequence of these distinguishing characteristics is that American diplomacy tends to be less effective than it might otherwise be, not only in advancing the United States’ own interests, but also in advancing wider international cooperation. A goal here is to provide a working framework with which to evaluate any US administration’s relationship to diplomacy as the country’s interests and identity evolve.

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