So Who Were The Greatest "Real" Diplomats
of the Last Millennium, Anyway?

by Larry Peery

Several people responded to my query about who TDP readers thought were the ten greatest "real" diplomats of the last millennium. I suggest you read what they wrote before reading what I have to say. I was quite impressed with Dan Kirkwood's list, and it makes a good jumping off point for our discussion. I definitely got a chuckle out of Theo's rationale for picking Marco Polo as the greatest, and Chamberlain as the worst, diplomat of the last millennium.

Any list like this one, or the thousand others that appeared in every newspaper, magazine, and web site last December; has to be very subjective. I know mine is. After a few days of thought I narrowed my choices down to 34 names (one for each SC on the board!). From then on, it was mostly pick and choose. You may or not agree with some of my choices, but I'm sure most of us would agree on the core picks, and Dan did a good job of spotting most of them.

What I found even more interesting than picking the top ten names was coming up with a criteria for selecting them, and a rationale for including each of my choices on the list. That took some thinking. Also keep in mind that I'm an aging baby boomer from California who studied political science, history, and religion in university oh, so many years ago! And that's not to mention the influence 33 years of playing Diplomacy has had on my thinking.

Just what is a "real" diplomat? To keep it as simple as I could I classified them into three groups:

  1. Rulers, such as monarchs or presidents, who acted as their own foreign affairs department. These were the men, or women, who had a vision.
  2. Statesmen, such as foreign ministers or secretaries of state (although sometimes private individuals filled this role), who had a plan to achieve the ruler's vision.
  3. Ambassadors, usually but not always ambassadors (official or otherwise), who were the technicians that executed the plan that achieved the vision.
Originally, I had intended to include only people from the third group on my list, but it is almost impossible not to include the others.

Note also how conveniently our three groups fit the traditional division of diplomacy into its three branches, and the three corresponding branches of Diplomacy:

  1. vision/goal;
  2. plan/strategy;
  3. execution/tactics.

Traditionally, diplomats have dealt with each other as individuals, as representatives of various official or unofficial governmental institutions, or as representatives of a few powerful non-governmental organizations. Today, the emphasis is more and more on the first (personal) and last (NGO) types of diplomacy. Traditional foreign ministers and secretaries often get left at home as their bosses go off to conduct jet-setter diplomacy.

Although there are some changes in the details: the rise of high tech tools and weapons for the modern diplomat; the increasing focus on economic issues; and the growing emphasis on "cyberspace" as the diplomatic and military battleground; the basics really haven't changed much. Today we talk about Bill Gates' "cyberspace." Two generations ago it was Hitler's "living room."

No matter how we classify it, or what we call it, we're dealing with the struggle for order, the classic struggle between the "Old Order" and the "New Order" that has paved the way to progress. And that deals with war, peace, the status quo, change, expansion, contraction, and that perennial favorite of every diplomat, "The Balance of Power."

At its most basic, we are left with two groups: the builders and the destroyers. Sometimes they represented the Old Order. Sometimes the New. But each of my great diplomats was one or the other, and sometimes both at the same time.

And again, it's all about the struggle for bodies and space. Sort of reminds you of Diplomacy, huh?

Looking back at the last thousand years I identified five major events or periods which I consider to be critical moments in diplomatic history. Three of them: the Congress of Vienna, the Versailles peace talks, and the founding of the United Nations; should be well known to most of you, and the participants need no particular identification. Suffice it to say that the subjects under discussion and the participants in the talks were interesting enough to make our list.

My fourth choice is really representative of a whole series of events that came afterwards, usually attended by the same core group of diplomats. The founding of the ECSC (European Coal & Steel Community) brought together France, Germany, and the BENELUX countries in a common organization focusing on economic issues and one specific, solvable problem. It was the point of beginning for modern Europe, I think, and it proved that men of peace could and would accomplish as much as men of war.

Finally, let's go back, way back -- almost to the half-millennium point. For your consideration I offer what some consider the greatest single concentration of high-minded diplomats in history, the early to mid 1500s. Here were titans like: Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, Carlos I and V of Spain, Suleiman I of Turkey, Martin Luther, Ivan IV of Russia, and Akbar of India. What other period can compare with them?

From my discussion you can see that I was looking for a diplomat who was a builder, not a destroyer. One who possessed a dream, a plan, and the skills to make it a reality. A man or a woman who knew the past, but was prepared to face the uncertain future. And last, but not least, one who could function equally as well as an individual or as an institutional representative.

Dan offered Bismarck pride of place on his list of ten, but where is his banker, the guy who financed all of Bismarck's schemes? I find it interesting that Bismarck and Hitler, Dan's villain, were the only two "commoners" on his list. All the others: Metternich, Talleyrand, Nicchia, Elizabeth II, John Paul II, Frederick II, Meiji and William of Orange were definitely, eventually from/of a higher strata.

My list is a bit more eclectic than Dan's, and some of my choices are clearly personal favorites of mine but, hey, it's my list! So, here goes.

From early America I'd have to include Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Without them, who knows what would have happened to a very young and innocent United States of America? Woodrow Wilson had a vision and a plan of course, but his technique was definitely faulty. Still, not including him would be a bit like leaving Jesus out of the New Testament. The United States has been well served in the last fifty years by a legion of skillful professional diplomats, some high-minded and some not. I'd include Henry Kissinger, as our century's equivalent to Metternich and Talleyrand, but more for his influence as a teacher and educator than as a practicing diplomat. Madeleine Albright is everything a diplomat isn't supposed to be, and yet has been remarkably successful during her service.

Albright wasn't the only great female diplomat that came to mind. In fact, a lot of them demand serious consideration for our list: Isabella of Spain, who used her credit card with a bank in Siena to finance Columbus's trips; Margarethe I, who created the Kalmar Union in Scandinavia; Eleanor of Aquitaine; and, I think, I would include Mother Teresa on my list as well.

Although the pope may not have any legions, as some fool said, he does have an army of nuncios and Jesuits deployed around the world. They provide him with the world's best intelligence service, and that's the key to his power. Was Pius XII Hitler's pope? And what of Cardinal Casaroli? Was he the engineer who bridged the gap between Paul VI and John Paul II?

On a more global peerispective, I'd include the following: Rama V, the king of Thailand who kept his country out of the clutches of the British and French empires; Ataturk, to bring Turkey into the modern era; and from the WWII era I'd include Churchill and Smuts; with Tito, Molotov and Stalin bringing us into the Cold War. While you have to link Molotov with Stalin; I don't think you have to link Chou En-lai with Mao, so I won't.

If you ran into me in Namur at this year's WDC, you probably know who my choice for the "real" diplomat of the millennium is. If you didn't, you'll just have to wait until next time. It appears I'm out of space for this issue.

And the winner is......Manus Hand!

[Editor's note: Hey Larry, you stole my list! --Manus]

Larry Peery

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