What It Takes to Be a Diplomat

During the author's first day of internship, the Indonesian Institute of Advanced International Studies (INADIS) invited Ambassador Dian Wirengjurit, a former Indonesian Ambassador to Iran, as a guest speaker for an internal discussion about national and international issues. As the discussion progressed, one topic in particular caught the author's attention; the importance of people in diplomacy was raised and became an interesting topic. Considering the never-ending curiosity in the current generation to represent his/her country abroad, or just a matter of exchanging social-cultural expertise, the discussion encouraged the author to write about "What It Takes to be a Diplomat" as a way to introduce the new way of diplomacy, which can be exercised by everyone.

Wearing fancy suits and dresses in conference rooms, having gala dinners with high ranking people in the evening, and traveling around the world is a dream for most people. To some, perhaps the diplomat occupation is one of the most prestigious jobs people could possibly think of. In a glance, most people agree that this glamorous job gets their attention as one of the highest paid jobs and the possibility to meet famous people such as but not limited to presidents, ministers, and public figures.

There are a lot of perceptions about the diplomat profession since there is no exact definition. According to Benjamin Franklin, a diplomat is a person who has the qualities of sleepless tact, unmovable calmness, and a patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunders may shake. Furthermore, Merriam-Webster stated that a diplomat is a person who is employed or skilled in diplomacy. Despite the differences, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia (MoFA) also has its own definition, stated under the Regulation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia Number 3 Year 2016 (Peraturan Menteri Luar Negeri Republik Indonesia Nomor 3 Tahun 2016) about the Code of Ethics,

“A diplomat is a foreign official who carries and performs diplomatic and consular duties and activities to fight for the interests of the nation, state, and the government of the Republic of Indonesia”

From what the author has gathered, the diplomat occupation comes with lots of responsibilities and requirements, commonly involving government to government (G2G) relations. As a matter of fact, becoming a diplomat is not as easy and fun as it seems due to the obligations as well as responsibilities that need to put into account. In Indonesia itself, there are concrete duties being upheld by the MoFA. It is necessary for us to remember the main duties in order to achieve the expected results. There are five main duties of a diplomat as stated by Ambassador Dian, namely representing, promoting, protecting, negotiating, and reporting.

Diplomats have the duty to represent their countries globally in every occasion possible. This is where most of the people perceive this occupation as prestigious; such as seeing Barrack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Joko Widodo on TV speaking in international conferences–whereas diplomats become the voice and the face of the country. Any actions or statements conducted by the diplomat will speak on behalf of the people of their respective countries. Take for example the case of West Papua in Indonesia, when eight Pacific Island countries brought the matter to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last year. In response to the statements, Indonesia used its right of reply and stated that the accusations were designed to support the separatist movement in West Papua and violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia.

Furthermore, promoting culture and opportunities of the country is crucial for a diplomat. In other words, the diplomat also becomes a marketer of the country in order to increase the number of foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism in the respective country. The diplomat will work closely with other partners, namely other ministries, companies, and even individuals, to enhance its presence internationally. "Wonderful Indonesia" is one of the examples in which Indonesia tries to increase the income and influence through the tourism sector by working closely with embassies and the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. It is through this platform that diplomats in foreign countries increase engagement not only with local governments but with the people as well.

Protecting citizens of Indonesia abroad is also one of the duties of a diplomat. It is very common that when Indonesians travel abroad, the embassy sends a message through SMS to notify the people to contact the embassy's number in case of emergency and when in need of assistance. In addition, the embassy also has the duty to protect migrant workers, as President Joko Widodo also stated. Arguably, this is one of the hardest tasks as a diplomat since Indonesia in particular often faces such problems when it comes to migrant workers abroad. The most recent discussion in regard to the matter was in the ASEAN Summit last November in Manila, where Indonesia became one of the pioneers of the ASEAN Consensus of the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

Negotiating and reporting would be the last main duties as a diplomat in Indonesia and supposedly other countries as well. Negotiating the country’s interests and giving the counterpart back in the name of equality is needed when it comes to international relations in order to achieve its interests. This scene is mostly seen on serial dramas and events on the news. The most recent was Indonesia's campaign to become a non-permanent member in United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which ended in success, where Indonesia worked closely with its counterparts in order to gain leverage and a seat in UNSC. It is in line with the last duty of a diplomat, which is to report the current situation together with its development to the higher authority–this applies to all positions, not limited to particular positions in the government.

Aside from the duties explained above. The diplomat also has privileges that differentiate the foreign official with other jobs. The diplomat will have the advantage to access confidential documents and information. Black passports (in Indonesia) is also the advantage of a diplomat where brings the benefit to pass through the diplomat lane and immunity of special circumstances–in other words, free visas and other benefits.

 On top of that, in this era of globalization, involvement among actors is now not only limited to government to government relations. People to people (P2P) relations now have a bigger role compared to decades ago, and have now become to be acknowledged as a modern form of diplomacy. This approach is seen as a modern way since socio-cultural diplomacy, otherwise  known as soft diplomacy, is more popular and attractive to the masses. P2P comprises of competitions, exchanges, and conferences, and even tourism that involves masses that opens the gate for non-official citizens to engage and act as a diplomat–with certain limitations.

People’s engagement in diplomacy is becoming more crucial. Notably, Millennials are the most impactful compared to other generations. This is proven by the fact that Millennial engagement in P2P relations is increasing. In Indonesia itself, the government has conducted numerous activities with its counterparts (companies, institutions, and other countries) in order to include Millennials in the mission. The government has the responsibility to improve the understanding between all actors involved and facilitate the needs of the people such as but not limited to information and connection.

Like what has been mentioned above, tourists are also considered as the modern diplomat. It happens frequently-tourists are generalized by others because of their behavior, which can either damage and benefit the image of a country. Furthermore, when it comes to conferences, exchanges, or competitions, Millennials represent a bigger role beside institutions, such as but not limited to schools, universities, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Participants represent their countries, therefore it is often considered as the modern way to be a diplomat.

To conclude, there are two types of diplomats; a career diplomat and a modern diplomat. Being either one is not wrong as long as the goal is to represent the country and make the best of it. Moreover, differences still occur between the two types as there are different stages and responsibilities that we need to carry, plus the same 5 (five) main duties that need to be fulfilled. However, in this globalization era, everything moves rapidly. Both ways need to synergize in order to maximize the potential.