Protocol, the fine tact of the diplomat | Daily News

Protocol, the fine tact of the diplomat

In international politics, protocol is the etiquette of diplomacy and affairs of state. A protocol is a rule which guides how an activity should be performed, especially in the field of diplomacy. In diplomatic services and governmental fields of endeavour, protocols are often unwritten guidelines.

Protocols specify the proper and generally-accepted behaviour in matters of state and diplomacy, such as showing appropriate respect to a head of state, ranking diplomats in chronological order of their accreditation at court, and so on. Diplomatic protocol dictates how politicians and representatives of various nations should behave during their official interactions, as a means to promote civility and convey their respect.

It denotes a pattern of rules, traditions, customs and conventions commonly used in international relations. They have formed over the ages gradually becoming generally accepted norms incorporating all facets of diplomatic practices.

Diplomatic protocol has become indispensable for carrying out all diplomatic functions, be it an official visit, a meeting of statesmen, an international conference, foreign correspondence, the signing of agreements or any other accords, accrediting diplomatic envoys, diplomatic receptions or simply diplomat-to-diplomat communication. Circumvention or neglect of protocol are fraught with unforeseen complications detrimental to interstate relations. Thereby protocol must be regarded as a delicate political instrument of diplomatic practice.

Naturally, each state has a protocol of its own determined by its history, cultural background, and ceremonies among other norms. Still, protocol rules remain essentially unchanged. For instance, diplomatic protocol makes it incumbent to pay honours to officials in accordance with their rank. Each country establishes its own procedure for paying such honours. However, they invariably have to be in accord with the basic principle of interstate relations which are essentially the principle of equality.

In Sri Lanka diplomatic protocol is overseen by the Protocol Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. Basically the functions of any diplomatic mission include representing the home country in the host country and protecting the interests of the home country and its citizens in the host country. Other important tasks are to negotiate with the government of the host country and monitor and report on conditions and developments in the commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific sphere of the host country.

Friendly relations

All missions are entrusted with promoting friendly relations between the host country and their own. They are also charged with developing commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific relations between the two nations. They are also responsible for the issuing of passports, travel documents, and visas.

Specific rules of protocol may differ somewhat depending on the nation or culture. However, there are certain courtesies, such as referring to a leader by a formal title, which are universally understood to be part of maintaining good international relations.

There are various written and unwritten rules of diplomatic protocol, ranging from proper greetings, such as shaking hands or bowing at formal meetings, to making sure that seating arrangements reflect the official hierarchy at social gatherings. Some other examples of diplomatic etiquette include ensuring that a nation's flag is properly presented and handled, and that correct names, pronunciations and titles are always used.

Tensions between nations can result when diplomatic protocol has been intentionally or unintentionally breached. Sometimes diplomatic protocol is ignored when one nation wishes to show its displeasure with another. Diplomats may refrain from shaking hands with their counterparts of the other nation, or they may cancel or postpone meetings indefinitely, or even walk out during formal occasions or negotiations.

One such incident occurred in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, where a foreign ambassador of the world’ most powerful nation played the role of diplomat with consummate skill and finesse.

Local story

Ever since Dwight Eisenhower named him Ambassador to Ceylon, in1957 millionaire New York Dress Manufacturer Maxwell H. Gluck had been trying to live down the howl that went up when he ingenuously admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he did not know the name of Ceylon's Prime Minister. On his first official call, Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike confided genially that Gluck was not the first to have trouble with his name. After four years at Oxford, Bandaranaike told Gluck, he had only two friends who had got it right.

When Gluck paid a courtesy call on Ceylon's Education Minister, the waspish Left-Winger Wijayananda Dahanayake. Gluck had practiced pronouncing the Education Minister's name until he had it down cold. But Minister Dahanayake's secretary had somehow forgotten to remind his boss of the appointment.

When the secretary informed Dahanayake of Gluck's arrival one morning, the minister snapped: “I have no time for ambassadors.” Appalled at this public display of discourtesy, recorded by waiting newsmen, one of Dahanayake's juniors finally persuaded the minister to receive Gluck.

Dahanayake reluctantly assented, but bore down hard on his caller. “Mr. Gluck,” said the Education Minister, “the embassies here have been of no use to the education needs of this country, and I consider them merely appendages of modern civilization.”

Gluck replied with aplomb: “You may be surprised, sir, but I agree with you.” But Dahanayake was not to be appeased. “I have not had assistance from a single embassy here,” he declared, “and I do not propose to go to them with a begging bowl.” Gluck diplomatically refrained from reminding Dahanayake that Ceylon's educational system had in fact received upward of $1,000,000 from the US Government during the past 18 months.

But in the three weeks since he arrived in Colombo Gluck on taking up his appointment in Sri Lanka had bravely proclaimed: “My name is Gluck, and it rhymes with pluck.”

Which prompted the legendary editor of the old ‘Observer’ Tarzie Vittachi to parody the whole encounter with a naughty limerick style skit of his own, purported to have been created by Daha: “ I do not love thee Maxwell Gluck. In fact, I do not give a .... damn!”. 

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