– Professor John Hughes is Professor in Practice at LSE IDEAS, the Foreign Policy Think Tank of the London School of Economics and Political Science
Soft power in diplomacy is important. And governments recognise that as well. The British Council, Alliance Française, and Confucius Institutes attest to that.
Many governments, like the UK with Chevening and Commonwealth awards, have scholarship programmes bringing in hundreds of foreign students each year.
I know because I have been Chair of the Marshall Scholarship Commission bringing in, over many years, top level graduates from the USA, two of whom are now members of the US Supreme Court.
Why would governments invest in education? Because it pays off. Not necessarily in a commercial way, although that can be true in some particular cases. But for any diplomat access to the people who make decisions is important.
Continuous education is key to fine-tuning diplomacy
Diplomacy is a competitive profession. If ministers or other key decision makers in your host government have studied in your country, you have an advantage in making meaningful contact with them.
As a former British Ambassador in Venezuela and Argentina, I know that well. International relations is not just about relations between states. Its bedrock is relations between people.
Education is important in another sense to diplomacy. How are diplomats educated? That varies around the world. In Latin America there is a long tradition of law often being the main educational background of new diplomats. In the UK, anything goes!
The important points are simply, are you bright, adaptable, personable, and capable of learning languages? Tick those boxes and whether you studied chemistry, maths, literature, history, or economics is relatively unimportant.
Yet the ever changing and expanding agenda of diplomacy requires diplomats to work hard to conquer new subjects, work in new fields.
Adaptability is critical in diplomacy
Adaptability is so important. Meeting that challenge is what brings some diplomats, and non-diplomats thinking of switching to the public sector.
But the skills of diplomacy; negotiating, listening, analysing, reporting, representing, carry over into the work of those wishing to remain in the private and NGO sectors, of whom we have many on our courses at LSE.
Refreshed and re-invigorated, our new mid-career graduates are thereafter well able to take charge of their own destiny. That’s pretty important in an ever-changing world.
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