As an infamous German dictator once said, “When diplomacy ends, War begins”. The darkest period of the 20th Century could easily be defined by this statement, when Europe was in turmoil after two massive wars and the rest of the world scrambling to take sides or risk being swallowed up in the bushfire of conflict. Only the post-war realisation that this kind of relationship between countries was not only unsustainable, but also unreasonable created institutions with one goal in mind: diplomacy.
The United Nations, the European Union, any liberal institution after 1945 that promotes international peace and cooperation was the result of a common consensus that we work better together as allies than across the battlefield as adversaries. This understanding is slowly being undermined and forgotten though, with new challenges to diplomacy gaining traction in the long-time bastions of diplomatic cooperation such as the EU and the US. What Western democracies need now more than ever is an influx of diplomacy, with rifts long in need of mending being transformed into ties that bind together the fibrous exchange between nations.
While good diplomacy depends on many things, primarily what it requires are good diplomats. Young men and women entering into government and NGOs looking to represent their country while also building a mutual understanding of the need for lasting peace. An international community of values based around shared acceptance can only be achieved with constant maintenance performed by the proper caretakers. The need for innovation in areas such as the tech industry underscores the importance of having good-hearted ambitious diplomats ready to clear hostile debris from the avenues of communication so that prosperity follows as a result of that unobstructed innovation..
London, as a major hub for international exchange, is perhaps the most obvious candidate for an education grounded in diplomacy. London hosts many of the top schools in the world for a degree called ‘International Relations’. The degree consists mainly of studying the interconnectedness of politics, economics, and law at an international level, although it is not only limited to these disciplines. “ International Relations” spans an entire field of theories concerning everything from human nature, political organisation, class and truth. The most fundamental questions about what it means to be human are considered next to the practical application of theory to real life situations using case studies. Undergraduates, and further graduate studies, offer so much for those hoping to become involved at the level of state policy and government, or those looking to contribute to the vast volume of knowledge that is International Relations by critically engaging with its unsolved problems.
An undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations (IR)can expect to be greeted with a foundation year in which the different strands of IR theory are explained and examined in contrast to each other. Every IR course also starts with the seminal piece of IR scholarship, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. The recounting of this war saw a particular moment known as the “Melian Dialogue”
become the foundation for the entire field of study. It saw the rising Athenians in Greece issuing an ultimatum to the besieged island of Melos: pay tribute and surrender to the superior Athenian navy, or be destroyed. After a series of diplomatic exchanges, the Melians failed to argue their way out of their predicament and were enslaved. However, the questions raised by this outcome has inspired centuries of debate over what should or shouldn’t have been done by both sides given the situation. Could the Melians have convinced the Athenians to leave them to be neutral? Had the Athenians’ attempt to show strength actually undermined their ability to rule since rebellions resulted thereafter? Only an IR scholar would be best equipped to answer these timeless questions about war and peace.
After the introductory period, the true scope of the field comes into focus. One of the unique parts of an IR degree is the freedom one has in studying what interests one . If the history of diplomacy interests you, many courses exist which seek to understand the particular dilemmas faced by nations throughout history when it came to their international relations. Economics is another area which is seriously considered, with the domestic and international structure of the economy having so much to do with trade and wealth distribution among nations. Students interested in war and conflict can study the military aspect of IR where strategy and industry have combined to determine the fate of nations. Another route could be the philosophical considerations of theories; examining the fundamental assumptions put forward by some of the greatest thinkers of all time. Human rights, international law, the environment and resource management, the list of possibilities seems endless.
Two possible roads emerge once finished with studying for an undergrad in IR: academic work or the world of practical application. These two are not mutually exclusive either, with many choosing to move back and forth between them as they see fit. Academics go on to specialise in graduate programs like MA and MPhil programmes, taking into consideration the specific areas of research they would like to undertake. Of course, the next step would be a PhD, but some opt for more hands-on experience first, since a PhD requires years of study which candidates have already completed in their undergraduate and postgraduate years. Those looking for jobs have an endless amount of opportunities, since IR is such a broad degree, it touches on an entire spectrum of skills which can be useful in various career paths. Whether it be political consulting for large companies, working with NGOs in struggling countries, negotiating peace through diplomacy in their home government, or advocating for a moral agenda through policy, IR prepares you to take on the world.
Tackling the world’s problems is no easy task, but those not up to the colossal task need not apply. Only the sharpest minds most devoted to peace and prosperity should pursue this path, with personal diligence and a desire to better understand the world around them almost a prerequisite. Now more than ever, the call for solutions to be put forward by those brave enough to speak, can be heard all around the world. Will you be up to the challenge?