Diplomacy and Statecraft: Recognizing the Essential Differences


Diplomats are tasked with negotiating on behalf of their governments to broker deals with international governments and other foreign entities. The management of international relationships is a complex, multi-faceted process that is best administered by formally educated diplomats who have experience facilitating productive dialogues. Studying statecraft—the art of skillfully managing government affairs—can also help diplomats develop a holistic understanding of how government organizations make important decisions, improving their ability to carry out their diplomatic duties. It's important to note that diplomacy is technically a subfield of statecraft, but diplomacy and statecraft still have some subtle differences. Through a Master of Arts in Diplomacy program, students can learn that these differences are rooted in the idea that diplomacy focuses primarily on facilitating interstate communications, while statecraft highlights a broader scope of government activities that occur at the international level.

What Is Statecraft?

As an academic and professional discipline, the study of statecraft encompasses all actions that contribute to governing a nation and conducting diplomatic affairs. Statecraft can be divided into subcategories based on different sectors; economic and military statecraft are common examples. Encyclopedia Britannica describes economic statecraft as any use of economic means to pursue foreign policy goals, including both positive and negative approaches. Expanding on that thought, supplying foreign countries with financial aid would be an example of positive economic statecraft, while a negative example may be introducing an embargo that would restrict domestic companies from trading with a specific foreign state. In a similar sense, military statecraft involves using military resources in a positive or negative manner to address national interests. Regardless of the issue being addressed, statecraft is used to inform the decision-making processes that lead to important government decisions.

Statecraft has been studied and practiced by economists and notable political figures for centuries, and those who are most effective in statecraft are known as statesmen. In the twentieth century, heads-of-state, such as Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt, applied statecraft techniques to advance their nations’ interests both domestically and abroad. Churchill was known for using statecraft to make decisions about how Great Britain would aid in defending other nations during World War II, while Roosevelt’s proficiency in statecraft was instrumental in developing the foreign policies that allowed America to expand its global political power. Studying the accomplishments of successful statesmen like these can help students understand what proper statecraft looks like in practice.

Modern diplomats who have earned their Master of Arts in Diplomacy degree may have gained exposure to real-world examples of how government leaders can apply statecraft to effectively manage interstate relationships. This knowledge can serve to inform statecraft-driven negotiations and increase prospects for diplomatic success.

What Is Diplomacy?

Diplomacy supports statecraft’s policy mission abroad and conducts official affairs between states. Many diplomatic objectives are politically driven, with diplomats working to persuade the representatives of other states to cooperate with them to achieve goals. For example, U.S. diplomats may offer protection to another nation in exchange for that nation’s government implementing a policy that favors U.S. interests. In some cases, diplomacy can be applied to non-political objectives as well. An example of non-political diplomacy could relate to the establishment of commercial trade links between nations to enhance both their economies.

A diplomat should be capable of looking out for the interests of their own nation, while still acknowledging how their actions may affect the international community. Successful diplomats leverage statecraft to ensure that their negotiations result in the best outcome for their country, while maintaining good relationships with the countries with which they negotiate. If diplomats favor their own side too aggressively without considering the needs of all stakeholders, it could hurt their ability to successfully negotiate future deals

Notable Differences

Comprehending the slight differences between statecraft and diplomacy requires closely reviewing the core objectives of both fields from a practical standpoint. Diplomacy focuses on carrying out the specific actions that are needed to improve a nation’s relationships with foreign governments. Statecraft is concerned with working at macro scales to plan how a state’s government can interact with foreign governments over extended periods of time. Still, both disciplines are interrelated; while statecraft is used to devise the strategies used to progress international policies, diplomacy is central to executing those plans.

Comparing Skills for Diplomacy and Statecraft

Diplomacy is action-oriented while statecraft is passively focused on planning and building strategies. In many cases, the skills used when managing statecraft-related duties can also complement diplomatic work, but some of those skills can be more critical to one specialty as compared to the other. These are some of the practical skills political leaders and diplomatic figures can establish to help improve their overall level of competence:

Interpersonal Communication: Diplomats must share their ideas, opinions, and observations with their leaders as well as the government officials of their host country. Therefore, it is beneficial to be proficient at active listening, articulating thoughts clearly, and creating formal presentations.

Negotiation: To develop and implement policies that serve their intended purpose, diplomats must be able to negotiate the best possible terms. Professionals must understand how to be assertive in discussing their own demands while remaining sensitive to the needs of the groups they are negotiating with.

Conflict Resolution: Sometimes diplomatic conversations can become chaotic, risking escalation on behalf of any of the parties involved. Educated diplomats learn an array of different tactics that can be used to defuse interstate conflicts to ensure the continued promotion of international peace, even during tumultuous times. These tactics include knowing how to respond to the provocation or how to identify and accommodate another party’s demands to resolve disputes.   

Important statecraft-related skills include the following:

Strategic Thinking: Having the ability to generate strategic plans makes it possible to coordinate the affairs of large populations. By thinking strategically, statesmen should be able to estimate the overall effect their decisions might have, before they commit to them. This gives them an opportunity to correct any flawed components of their plans before implementing them, maximizing their chances of achieving successful outcomes. 

Tact: Statesmen serve as leaders to massive numbers of public citizens, and the government organizations they work for often place hundreds or even thousands of employees under their command. The demeanor they display when interacting with foreign officials can also impact the success of their foreign policies. Statesmen can establish and sustain productive relationships with their subordinates, constituents, and international peers by remaining tactful in all of their interactions.

Leadership: A statesman’s effectiveness as a leader can be a determining factor of how successfully they administer state and interstate affairs. Statesmen should not only have the capacity to lead their own people using policy, they must also be capable of leading other nations during diplomatic proceedings. Earning a reputation as a trustworthy leader can help statesmen develop positive international relationships that can be leveraged to progress their nation’s interests through foreign policy.

Channeling the Skills of Diplomacy and Statecraft into a Rewarding Career

Although diplomacy and statecraft are not the same, there are some occupations that relate to both disciplines. Of the opportunities available to diplomatic professionals in the United States, jobs in the Foreign Service are regarded as the most common path to a successful career in diplomacy. After earning a Master of Arts in Diplomacy degree, graduates can apply their knowledge of statecraft and policy negotiation to pursue a career as a Foreign Service Officer.

What Is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO)?

The Foreign Service is operated by the Department of State as a means to protect U.S. citizens and advance American interests abroad. Joining the Foreign Service means working at one of the many embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions across the globe. Since some of these locations may be dangerous, an FSO should be aware of the best practices for conducting delicate diplomatic affairs abroad. FSO careers are categorized into different tracks—some involving the use of statecraft while others emphasize managing diplomatic institutions.

Consular Officers: This track focuses on performing the diplomatic processes involved with protecting Americans when they are in foreign countries. Some noteworthy responsibilities include facilitating international adoption proceedings, fighting human trafficking, and resolving cases where a U.S. citizen or organization was defrauded by a foreign citizen. A majority of consular officers don’t perform direct diplomatic duties, like policy negotiations. Instead, they work in an office setting consulting with people that need their services.

Economic Officers: This FSO track entails working with foreign governments to diplomatically negotiate solutions to issues that involve technology, science, trade, energy, and environmental concerns. Professionals in this field often leverage their statecraft skills to determine which choices could result in the most optimal outcomes for the U.S. and their host country.

Political Officers: Political FSOs have a largely diplomatic role. They are responsible for negotiating with a host country, interpreting international issues and advising the government on the best course of action. This also requires using statecraft to determine when it would be within the government’s interests to respond to specific events in foreign countries.

Public Diplomacy Officers: These FSOs work to introduce American values to a host country. Their objective is to help foreign nationals understand U.S. culture and history as it relates to their country. Facilitating this cultural exchange draws upon their diplomatic skill set, as these officers work with the locals to host media events that showcase important pieces of American culture or arrange press conferences for the U.S. ambassador.

Compensation Structure for Foreign Service Officers

The salary for FSOs varies depending on experience, education, and expertise. Diplomats in senior roles can expect to earn well into the six-figure range. However, professionals who have not completed diplomacy coursework may be unable to apply the advanced skills needed to progress in their career. After proving themselves to be high-performing statesmen, some FSOs may become ambassadors who serve as the highest-ranking representatives in their respective diplomatic units.

Promoting international peace and creating effective foreign policy requires a diverse skill set that typically includes both diplomacy and statecraft. While diplomacy favors skills such as negotiation and communication, proficiency in statecraft hinges on strategic planning, often at an international level. Completing a Master of Arts in Diplomacy degree can open the door to career opportunities that use a mastery of both diplomacy and statecraft to enhance U.S. foreign policy around the world.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in Diplomacy program provides working professionals with a broad understanding of global communications protocol and a deep knowledge of the world issues that affect international relations. The program allows you to build on your political, governmental, or business expertise with a solid foundation in the theories and practices that direct international relations and political science within the international system.

Recommended Reading

5 Essential Conflict Resolution Skills That U.S. Diplomats Need for International Relations

8 Books for Students Obtaining a Master of Arts in Diplomacy

A Career in the Foreign Service: What You Need To Know


21st Century Statecraft, U.S. Department of State

Strategy & Statecraft, Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

Careers, U.S. Department of State

Economic Statecraft, Encyclopedia Britannica

How Can I Be Appointed a U.S. Ambassador, Forbes

2018 Foreign Service (FS) Salary Table, U.S. Department of State

Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State

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