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Diplomacy in Ancient Greece/* *Key Note Speech by Dean (Ambassador) Alexis Alexandris

Monday, 13 July 2015

Diplomacy in Ancient Greece/*  *Key Note Speech by Dean (Ambassador) Alexis Alexandris

*/Diplomacy in Ancient Greece/*

*Key Note Speech by Dean (Ambassador) Alexis Alexandris*

*Graduation Ceremony, 2015*

Your Royal Highness Shaikha Dheya Al Khalifa of Bahrain,

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Excellencies,

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Dear Mr. Colum Murphy,

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Members of Faculty, Students,

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

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It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to be addressing such a  distinguished audience today. Allow me, in this respect, to  wholeheartedly thank Mr. Colum Murphy for providing me with this unique  opportunity.

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In the conventional literature, the early emergence of diplomacy is  traced back to Ancient Greece, which is considered the starting point of  a path which has led to the career diplomats of today. Indeed, this path  commences with the proto-diplomats, such as heralds and /proxenoi/ of  Ancient Greece. In antiquity, in order to mitigate the inherent  foreign envoys, a  gradual practice arose of assigning diplomatic privileges to the herald.

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In this vein, Homer presents Talthyvios who was a close associate of  Agamemnon and Evryvates, the associate of Odysseus, who were both  recognized heralds frequently carrying out diplomatic functions.

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These heralds were placed under the special tutelage of the God Hermes,  a choice which according to Harold Nicolson- in his classic "Diplomacy"-  "had an unfortunate effect upon the subsequent repute of the Diplomatic  Service", alluding to the fact that the God Hermes symbolized for the  Ancient Greeks the qualities of charm, trickery and cunning.

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Mythology aside though, in practice as Greek civilization developed and  as the relations between the city-states became complicated, competitive  and at the same time intertwined, the need arose for qualified  individuals who possessed the necessary qualities for the art of  negotiation. As a result, from the sixth century onwards, the Greek city  states chose their finest orators to represent them as Ambassadors.  Through such Ambassadors or /Presveis/, we see the emergence of  oratorical diplomacy. Their main task of these envoys was to present the case of their city before popular assemblies of foreign cities, by delivering very eloquent and long speeches.

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In this respect, the reaction of Sparta to the rising power of Athens is a most typical example, because it brings to the fore the  *representational element of diplomacy*. More specifically, as Sparta  felt threatened, it resorted to the creation of an alliance which would  counter growing Athenian power. For this purpose, we know from Thucydides (c. 460–395 BC), that in 432 B.C. the Spartans organised a Conference in their capital, during which the members of the
Peloponnesian League discussed the rising Athenian threat. At this  Conference, the delegations from Megara and Corinth delivered long  speeches to the Lacedaemonian Assembly in which they presented their  case against Athens. Interestingly, though, at the Conference a visiting Athenian delegation, which had not been invited officially, was also allowed to intervene in the debate, something which points to a very elaborate system of diplomatic relations which had already flourished by then.

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This dimension of /Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War /should not be overlooked. Actually, in most contemporary analyses of this masterpiece, the narrative which prevails is that it constitutes a story of failed hegemonic attempts which subsequently lead to the disintegration of the Greek world as a consequence. In this respect, Thucydides is viewed as the father of Realpolitik and the precursor of the realist school in international relations, further developed in the twentieth century by prominent thinkers such as Hans Morgenthau and E.H.
Carr, among others. Indeed, the /Melian dialogue/ often stands out as the epitome of the realist approach.

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However, in my view, Thucydides is much more than that. His work should also be seen as a set of guidelines for diplomatic practice. His account of the events of 432 B.C. highlight the centrality of representation as a core function of diplomacy, as well as the importance of inter-state communication. That is to say, before the Peloponnesian War broke out, which of course sidelined diplomacy, the opposing sides acted /diplomatically/ by sparing no efforts to present their case to the outside world. On the one hand, the Spartans were called to represent
how the Athenian threat was perceived in Sparta and what would ensue as a consequence if Athenian power remained unchecked, and on the other hand, the Athenians were tasked to refute these arguments, while simultaneously proclaiming that Athenian hegemony was more or less inevitable.

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The study of Ancient Greece is critical also for the understanding of multilateral diplomacy, which is so well served in the beautiful city of Geneva. Citing again Thucydides, let me remind you of the speech delivered by the Spartan King Archidamus in the aforementioned Spartan Conference, in which he makes reference to international arbitration. In fact this must be the first example of inter-state arbitration in diplomatic practice.

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And Harold Nicolson again explains: /"How came it that a Spartan statesman, addressing a popular assembly of 2,260 years before President Wilson, can have referred (at a moment of acute tension) to the method of arbitration as one which was known to, and ought to be accepted by, his audience? The fact was that the Greeks, for all the passion of their rivalries, had emerged from the theory of tribal rights to a conception of common interests."/

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Indeed, in Ancient Greece a system such as today's United Nations existed long before the Peloponnesian War. I am referring to the *Amphictyonic Councils* of the seventh century B.C. Their main purpose was the safeguarding of shrines and treasures and the regulation of pilgrim traffic, nevertheless, they often also dealt with political matters of common Greek interest. The participating States in this
League undertook the commitment never to destroy the city of any fellow state or to cut its water supply. Moreover, in the case that this commitment would be violated, the violating state would immediately become an enemy of the League in its entirety, which could, as often happened, impose sanctions.

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I will now touch upon the importance of Ancient Greece to *the evolution of the theory of diplomacy and international relations*, which I briefly alluded to earlier. Indeed, Thucydides stands out as the most timeless thinker, of great value to the practice of contemporary diplomacy. He portrays city-states as self-interested, power-seeking rational actors, who seek to maximize their security and chances of survival. In seeking to promote these goals cooperation between states is a way to maximize each individual state's security. In the/History of the Peloponnesian War/ the */Melian Dialogue/* is perhaps encompasses all these elements. In 416 B.C. and while the Athenians are about to destroy the island of
Milos, the leadership of the islanders asks for the conduct of deliberations with the Athenian envoys, in a desperate attempt to save their state. The response they get from Athens is cynical: "The strong do as they want and the weak suffer what they must." What is equally important though is the final argument of the Melians, which touches upon the core of contemporary international relations, regardless of the fact that the Athenians ignored it. The Melians concluded the discussion with a prophetic remark that before annihilating them Athenians should  meditate upon the long-term consequences of such an action. This last  warning, which 2,500 years later, is still open to interpretation,  points to an idealistic direction and perhaps constitutes a significant  rebuke of the realist school. In my view, this text amounts to a warning  by the Melians to the Athenians that they should not forget that the  respect of international law is a common commodity which after all links  national interest with justice.

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Conflict resolution took many forms in the ancient Greek  world. In this regard the Olympic Truce, /ekecheiria/, was a tradition  that dates back in the 8^th century B.C. A truce was announced before  and during the Olympic Games to ensure the host city state was not  attacked and the athletes and spectators could travel safely to the  Games and peacefully return to their respective countries. During the  Truce, lasting up to three months wars were suspended, armies were  forbidden to disrupt the Games, the legal disputes were stopped and the  conflicting parties were able to discuss their differences in the  congenial and festive atmosphere of the Olympic Games.

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Again written diplomacy came to full practice during Alexander  the Great when state secretaries, the famous /epistolographoi/, took  note, registered and officiated the minutes of negotiations and sealed  the subsequent agreements.

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In conclusion, in my brief speech today, I have attempted to pinpoint  the timeless or diachronic importance of Ancient Greece to modern  diplomacy. Whether one refers to the development of diplomatic practice  or the evolution of the theory of diplomatic theory, Ancient Greece  undoubtedly remains a point of reference for students of international  relations. In this regard, I would encourage you, if you have not  already done so, to delve into the relevant texts and I assure you that you will not regret it.

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Thank you for your attention.

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