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Amb. Philip Hughes discusses his course on the Art of Diplomacy

International Flags 444x718In this interview, Amb. G. Philip Hughes discusses the course that he teaches at IWP on The Art of Diplomacy (IWP 636, 4 credits). Amb. Hughes is the former US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and previously served as Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.

What do you cover in your course?

We cover a lot.  The readings cover diplomacy as it has been historically practiced and as scholars have written about it.  

The lectures cover diplomacy from a conceptual and practical point of view. There are two parts to the lecture portion of the course.  We first review diplomacy – what it is and what it isn’t — and discuss how it relates to the other instruments of national policymaking.  The course then goes into a series of sessions on how diplomacy is practiced in different contexts – bilateral, multilateral, with adversary countries, with hostile regimes, with neutrals, and with allies and friends.

A third part of the course is a part the students do themselves.  They can do either a paper or a hands-on project.  I encourage the project.  The latter is an opportunity to do what diplomats do – solve a very hard problem or achieve a complicated goal using all the resources at their command.  

Can you tell us a little more about the project portion of the course?

Diplomacy is an abstraction for many people.  It has become a slogan – it means unctuously saying nothing, or being evasive or indirect.  Instead, I argue that diplomacy is about persuasion – often persuading others to cooperate with you, and ally with you to achieve a common goal.  

So, how do you put this into practice if you are not a government diplomat?  All of us have goals, and for some of these, we need others to help us.  This project centers on persuading others to help achieve a goal.  

For their project, students select a personal goal that is difficult to achieve and that cannot be achieved without enlisting the cooperation of others.  They then identify the people they need to persuade, the resources and assets at their disposal to deploy, and how they will achieve this goal by leveraging their assets creatively. Instead of boundaries, students are encouraged to think of their resources as assets that they can manipulate. 

What makes your course unique?

Probably the opportunity to interact with so many practitioners of different aspects of diplomacy.  In addition to my own experience, I bring six or seven guest lecturers who have represented the US in different diplomatic capacities, before the UN or other international organizations, bilaterally, or as negotiators of international agreements.  For instance, our guest lecturers have negotiated trade and arms control agreements.  Others have had responsibility for the interface between diplomacy and intelligence or between diplomacy and public diplomacy.

Is one likely to find such a course at an institution other than IWP?

Probably not. I think it’s unlikely.  This course offers a range and depth of practitioners with hands on experience that we bring to the students, as well as a component where students do a hands-on exercise.  The latter gives them a unique opportunity to think about what diplomats do and then to really do it themselves.  

What makes your course useful to students?

At a minimum, students learn to be better, deeper analysts of diplomatic developments and international relations.  If they choose to become practitioners of diplomacy, they learn many practical lessons about how this craft is practiced most effectively from people who have actually practiced it.