The Philosophy of the Preamble to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – Analysis – Eurasia Review

By Prof. Dr. Milan Jazbec*

Jhe Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), alongside the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), presents the very essence of diplomatic and consular law, as well as diplomatic theory and practice. Both conventions were adopted and brought into force 60 years ago – the CVCD in 1961 (61 signatories) and ratified in 1964 (192 ratifications) and the CVCD in 1963 (49 signatories) and ratified in 1967 (182 ratifications).

Considering the temporal sequence, structure and their interrelation, the VCCR derives from the VCDR (compare the third and fourth clause of the preamble of the VCCR, as well as the second function of a diplomatic mission), but they share a complementarity not a hierarchical correlation.

It is fascinating how few international legal documents have since received the unprecedented number of ratifications, and how few are universally accepted, respected and implemented. Therefore, they are also interpreted, discussed and elaborated by many research papers, experts and empirical viewpoints. However, almost as a rule, these writings focus on legal and protocol descriptions, and interpretations of the two documents. This means that we are confronted with their continual reinterpretation.

This article delves into the VCDR with the aim of discovering what is hidden in and behind the text, with an emphasis on the preamble and its philosophy.

The Preamble to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Jhe philosophy of the VCDR’s preamble helps us understand the interdisciplinary, interrelated, structural and contextual understanding of its mission.

The preamble is far from being a simple introduction to the body of the text of the convention. We take it as a political manifesto of the States (the parties to the convention) because it reflects their respect for maintaining international peace and security. Therefore, it also reflects the concept of diplomacy, showing a relentless drive for peace, security and the promotion of friendly relations among nations (the fifth function of a diplomatic mission). Last but not least, it cements a broad, clear, and solid legal context for what diplomats do. It is characterized by tradition, continuity, openness and flexibility, vibrant respect, mutual consent and ethics. There is a permanent ambition for these aspects to be present on a daily basis in diplomatic practice.

The preamble consists of opening and closing wording and five clauses (which could also be considered structurally as an opening clause and a closing clause, plus three main clauses). This structure leads to a more substantial understanding of the preamble, offers new insights into its messages, and unveils the authors’ masterpiece, which is very different from a typically dry, formal legal document. Therefore, each clause serves as an independent diplomatic and political message with a noticeable political overtone.

The opening wording: “States Parties to this Convention” opens the VCDR and defines the participating subjects. They are nation-states, the main legal actors of the international community in which diplomacy remains an essential institution. It draws the reader’s attention to the clauses of the preamble and presents its substance, as well as the preamble itself.

The closing wording: “Have agreed as follows”, closes the preamble and opens (ie introduces) the main body of the text of the document. It also concludes the preamble as a stand-alone segment that could serve as a mini-book of diplomatic theory and practice. This is especially noticeable when taking a closer look at the salient points of each clause, namely: ‘Reminder’, ‘Bearing in mind’, ‘Believe’, ‘Realise’ and ‘Affirm’.

The first (opening) clause states:

Recall that the peoples of all nations since ancient times have recognized the status of diplomatic agents”,

With its opening appeal, this clause begins in medias res and presents a very condensed definition of diplomacy and almost everything we should know about it. Diplomacy is an old tool for mediating between various entities, which originated over 5,000 years ago (“since ancient times”). In addition to presenting the timeline of the evolution of diplomacy, it also details its tradition. Diplomacy is nothing without tradition and patience. Moreover, it cements the instrument of diplomatic immunity (“have recognized the status of diplomatic agents”) accepted for millennia.

The second clause states:

Have in mind the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations concerning the sovereign equality of States, the maintenance of international peace and security and the promotion of friendly relations among nations”,

This clause presents the very essence of diplomacy, that is to say the maintenance of peace and security, the prevention of conflicts and wars, and all that is diplomacy. The diplomacies of sovereign and legally equal states pursue this mission and these principles. Moreover, the promotion of friendly relations between nations is a highly ethical objective.

The third clause states:

To believe that an international convention on diplomatic intercourse, privileges and immunities would contribute to the development of friendly relations among nations, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems”,

This clause explicitly declares the goodwill and intentions of states, which presents another ethical dimension, especially bearing in mind the clear acceptance of differences in the constitutional and social systems of states. It confirms the importance of a legal document that would encompass all these specificities and strengths of diplomacy as a method and tool for managing relations between States. This passage clearly highlights the common objectives of the VCDR parties.

The fourth clause states:

Achieve that the object of these privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient exercise of the functions of diplomatic missions as representatives of States”,

This clause reveals what counts as the most important aspect of VCDR. Namely that the functionality of diplomatic affairs goes hand in hand with absolute diplomatic immunity, not in the name of its holder, but of its mission. Diplomacy is a profession, but it is above all a noble mission, and a diplomatic mission serves the interests of the representation of States and not those of their sovereigns.

The fifth (closing) clause states:

To affirm that the rules of customary international law continue to govern matters not expressly regulated by the provisions of this Convention”,

In its final appeal, this clause assures us of the power of customary law, as well as the trust that the parties to the VCDR have invested in customary law and each other. States are free to adhere to the convention, but it is also binding. Once again, it is ethics that is omnipresent in diplomatic work and its legal rules. Moreover, the last clause sums up the whole spirit and philosophy of this law, as well as its message and its concept.

This is diplomacy: a careful and endless choice of words, and a continuous sending of messages in the legal context, which must always be interdisciplinary, innovative and well-behaved.

About the Author:

Dr. Milan Jazbec is a Slovenian diplomat, professor of diplomacy, poet and writer, employee of the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the first generation of Slovenian diplomats. He served as Ambassador to North Macedonia (2016-2020) and Turkey (2010-2015, also accredited to Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria). He has published over sixty books and authored over 130 articles on diplomacy and related topics, all in fourteen languages. Since 2009, he has been the founding editor of the international scientific journal European Perspectives. The views presented in this article are his own and do not represent those of his employer.

The opinions expressed in this explanatory note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of IFIMESion