«Introduction Diplomats often find international relations (IR) books strange. If they read - or more likely reread (as many Western diplomats have ...»
I have suggested that one of the reasons for the estrangement between IR scholars and diplomats is that much of IR theory is substantialist, while diplomats work with a relational ontology. For the diplomat, the primary unit of analysis is relations (not states) - what I called the diplomatic folk relatlonalism. The analysis of diplomacy's role in world politics has been hindered by a priori classifications of diplomacy in state focused, actor-centric ways. Diplomats have been interpreted as substantives that act, rather than nouns that come into being.lo6 However, as Barkawi insists in his discussion of Iraq and the war in Syria, we cannot think of "Iraq" as some kind of unitary actor (of course this is true for all states). Instead, we need to recall the web of relations sustaining the war in Syria, the international flows of money, people, material, and arms. The association between peaceful means and diplomacy is problematic. More generally, diplomacy is deeply entangled; it is constantly reproduced and reproducing of other social practices in world politics.
Uncritically taking on the relational ontology of diplomacy has at least two major pitfalls. First is the risk of accepting the view that diplomacy is a meta-relational practice of mediation. Indeed, if we take the diplomats' own account at face value, diplomacy appears almost empty - it is about mediation and representation, not governance. Arguably, others (line ministries, foreign powers, governments, etc.) feed in with political content, but diplomats are not themselves policy makers. A relational approach as the one sketched out in this book should not stop at the analysis of the co-constitution of diplomacy and other aspects of world politics. Further research should look at the way in which responsibility disappears when. diplomacy turns into governance. Deeply entangled in wars, treaty making, refugee crises, and so on, diplomacy is much more than the mediation of estrangement. We also need studies that look into the limits of diplomacy when other international practices, peoples, or technologies manage to silence or marginalize the diplomatic production of world politics.
Second, and related to the first, a relational approach should not avoid the question of power. On the contrary, it should promote a different way of assigning responsibility (today, it is usually with governments, rarely with diplomats). The IR discipline is in need of approaches that can address basic questions about power and influence. A relational approach, as the one proposed in this book, insists that diplomacy's system-maintaining functions, the grease on the wheels, is indeed greasy. Moving from units to relations thus involves less attention to national win-sets and other forms of unhelpful reductionism and more attention to the actual making of world politics.