Counter-Diplomacy: the many ways to say no

Book chapter published in: J.E.Spence/Claire York/Alastair Masser (eds.): New perspectives on Diplomacy. A new theory and practice of diplomacy, London, I.B.Tauris, p.141-159.

Rwandan troops arrive in South Sudan for deployment in Regional Protection Force, Juba, 8 August 2017. South Sudan’s obfuscation and deferment of international obligations regarding the deployment of the RPF is an example of counter-diplomacy. UN Photo UN7156547

Diplomacy as the professional practice of representing institutional interests, usually on behalf of states through negotiation and communication, builds on a rich corpus of conventions, rules, and norms. Over the past three decades or so, international society has seen an increasing legalization and institutionalization of world politics, including in the field of peace and security.[i] Human rights and human protection norms have gained considerable traction,[ii] even though their evolution is not linear, and their implementation is far from consistent. Faced with such depth of international interventionism, some states deploy what we can call counter-diplomacy. According to Barston, ‘the purpose of ‘counterdiplomacy’ is the use of diplomacy to evade or frustrate political solutions or international rules.’[iii] What are the main features of counter-diplomacy, its origins, practices and consequences for the conduct of principled diplomacy? That is the focus of this chapter.


[i] Abbott, Kenneth W., Robert O. Keohane, Andrew Moravcsik, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Duncan Snidal  (2000), ‘The Concept of Legalization’, International Organization,  3 (54): 401-419.

[ii] Bellamy, Alex J.  (2016), ‘The humanisation of security? Towards an International Human Protection Regime’, European Journal of International Security,  1 (1): 112-133, Kurtz, Gerrit and Philipp Rotmann  (2016), ‘The Evolution of Norms of Protection: Major Powers Debate the Responsibility to Protect’, Global Society,  1 (30): 3-20.

[iii] Barston, Ronald Peter (2013), Modern diplomacy, 4th Ed., New York: Routledge, 5.

To read more, you can buy the book here.


Author: Gerrit Kurtz

Researcher working on conflict prevention, diplomacy, peacekeeping and the United Nations, with a focus on the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Sri Lanka. Non-Resident Fellow, Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin.

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