Protocol (diplomacy)

Protocol (diplomacy)

In international politics, protocol is the etiquette of diplomacy and affairs of state.

A protocol is a rule which guides how an activity should be performed, especially in the field of diplomacy. In diplomatic services and governmental fields of endeavor protocols are often unwritten guidelines. Protocols specify the proper and generally-accepted behavior in matters of state and diplomacy, such as showing appropriate respect to a head of state, ranking diplomats in chronological order of their accreditation at court, and so on. One definition is:

Protocol is commonly described as a set of international courtesy rules. These well-established and time-honored rules have made it easier for nations and people to live and work together. Part of protocol has always been the acknowledgment of the hierarchical standing of all present. Protocol rules are based on the principles of civility.—Dr. P.M. Forni on behalf of the International Association of Protocol Consultants and Officers.


Definitions of protocol

There are two meanings of the word protocol: in the legal sense it is defined as an international agreement which supplements or amends a treaty; whereas in the diplomatic sense the term refers to the set of rules, procedures, conventions and ceremonies which relate to relations between states. In general, protocol represents the recognized and generally accepted system of international courtesy.

The term protocol is derived from the Greek word protokollan (first glue). This comes from the act of gluing a sheet of paper to the front of a document to preserve it when it was sealed, which imparted additional authenticity to it. In the beginning the term protocol related to the various forms observed in official correspondence between states, which were often elaborate in nature. In course of time, however, it has come to cover a much wider range of international relations.

Diplomatic norms and etiquette

The norms of courtesy in international dealings are not much different from the norms of courtesy and good behaviour for individuals. There is no upper limit to politeness. But there is an irreducible minimum below which bad manners become obvious.

Etiquette has existed for thousands of years and strict rules have evolved in different societies regulating proper conduct: who will sit where, when will you bow, how do you address your superiors or the sovereign ruler, what will be the order of processions, what dress will be worn on which occasion, what ceremonies will mark happy as well as sad occasions - in short what is right and proper, what would be acceptable and what would not be acceptable, what is done and what is not done - this is protocol.

Protocol will vary from one society to another. It changes as times change. As diplomatic life has generally become more informal and modern travel has led to more comings and goings protocol too has become less formal and the panoply and fanfare of bygone years has yielded to pragmatism. However there are some fundamental principles which have not changed such as precedence, the forms of correspondence between states, the nature of diplomatic privileges and immunities, and formal state ceremonies. A diplomat learns by experience to avoid giving offense or inadvertently making mistakes, and thereby fosters goodwill among nations.


External links


  • Serres, Jean, Practical Handbook of Protocol, 2010 Edition, Editions de la Bièvre, 3 avenue Pasteur - 92400 Courbevoie, France. ISBN 2-905955-04-3
  • Serres, Jean, Manuel Pratique de Protocol, XIe Edition, Editions de la Bièvre, 3 avenue Pasteur - 92400 Courbevoie, France. ISBN 2-905955-03-1
  • Forni, P.M. Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin Edition, October 2003. ISBN 0-312-28118-8.
  • McCaffree, Mary Jane, Pauline Innis, and Richard M. Sand, Esquire. Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage, 25th Anniversary Edition. Dallas: Durban House Press, September 2002. ISBN 1930754183.

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