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Jan Melissen on academic opportunities around diplomacy

Jan Melissen is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs of Leiden University, and Professor of Diplomacy at the University of Antwerp (Belgium). As of 1 March he transferred from the Clingendael Institute to Leiden University. We asked some questions about himself, his job and the study of diplomacy at Leiden University.

1. What does your job entail?

My aims at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) are threefold. I contribute to the development of the study of global affairs at ISGA by demonstrating and facilitating a ‘think tank’ at the university. Policy-oriented studies must be supported with a solid academic foundation. Also, it is my ambition to strengthen the brand of The Hague as an internationally recognized centre for the study of diplomacy. It helps that ISGA is already the home of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, which is the leading academic journal in the relatively young and interdisciplinary field of diplomatic studies. At Leiden, the Advanced MSc International Relations and Diplomacy is now also very well established.
Last but not least, I see The Hague as the city of peace, justice and diplomacy.  There is huge potential in debating the role of diplomacy in international politics in our city. I combine my role at ISGA with my part-time job as Professor of Diplomacy at the University of Antwerp. I look forward to supervising more PhDs on the theory and practice of diplomacy, and I am interested in strengthening early career research, even graduate student research, in this globally burgeoning field.

Jan Melissen

2. What is diplomacy? And what interests you so much?

States and a growing variety of non-state actors, ranging from cities to major companies, from Shell to Ikea, and international organizations, all practice diplomacy. They represent themselves and their interests in an environment that is no longer the preserve of states. In diplomacy, the concerns and interests of ‘ordinary people’ are also increasingly centre-stage.
The individual has become a much more important unit in the game that states play. Now that we are emerging from the long twentieth century, dominated by wars, cold war, and the systemic impact of decolonization and revolutions, there is a growing realization that the idea of an orderly world of states was a self-created optical illusion. In our networked world, diplomacy is the engine room of international politics, but diplomats are no gatekeepers of global order. International relations have become increasingly messy, thus creating greater challenges for diplomacy as a regulating mechanism. The technological revolution shows a more rapid pace of change than ever in diplomacy: practitioners find themselves in the midst of an unprecedented upskilling exercise. This is no small task for bureaucracies resistant to change.

3. Have recent changes in international relations had an impact on how we study them?

More than ever, it is important to see the academic and practice-oriented study of diplomacy as a knowledge chain in which students, early career researchers and seniors are intimately connected. I am convinced that the traditional gap between those who teach and those who learn is narrowing. It only takes a quick look at how, in Europe and beyond, graduate programmes with a core component on diplomacy have mushroomed to realize that there is a need for an academic body of knowledge still catching up with demand. In some ways, the Netherlands is lagging behind for instance Belgium, where diplomacy is being taught in university curricula in Antwerp, Brussels, and Leuven and at the College of Europe in Bruges. However, the world recognizes The Hague as a hub in the academic study of diplomacy and professional diplomatic training.

4. What are your goals regarding The Hague Journal of Diplomacy and your own research.

This year, 2020, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy is celebrating its 15th anniversary. We have also launched a media platform linked to the journal, on the premise that academic researchers increasingly want online debates on their work. That is why The Hague Journal of Diplomacy is also active on Twitter and LinkedIn. We mark this special year with special issues, blogs, forum discussions on 21st century diplomatic challenges, local seminars in which our students connect with practitioners and offer their analyses of trends in diplomacy, and more.

My own research focuses, broadly speaking, on the societization of diplomacy, i.e. the multiple ways in which the practice of diplomacy has become enmeshed with society. This is one of the key trends in diplomacy in our time. In a way, we have all watched the world through Westphalian, state-based lenses but this is an incomplete narrative and one, for that matter, that is bracketing societies and people. In parallel, the impact of the technological revolution on diplomacy should be seen in terms of its impact on relationships – matters of diplomacy. But my work is of course a very small part of much broader research challenges around diplomacy. Many opportunities are on offer in The Hague!

Jan Melissen is a Senior Fellow International Relations and Diplomacy at ISGA. He is lecturing Diplomacy Theory and Practice and Diplomacy and Communication in the Master of Science International Relations and Diplomacy (MIRD).

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