A Cultural History of Foreign Policy (1815-1991)
Research Project of Prof. Dr. Schattenberg
It is often claimed that diplomats have at their disposal a uniform semiotic system: they wear the same clothes, maintain the same smiles and speak the same French – in a word, they are a species unto themselves. By contrast, my thesis is that diplomacy is a form of intercultural communication in which at least three different semiotic systems are at play: the language and cultural horizons of the one diplomat, the foreign language and the interpretative system of his counterpart and finally the common language of diplomatic protocol.
When diplomats meet, two foreign cultures always come into contact. As a result, protocol has developed over time as a common semiotic system that is comprehensible to both sides and serves as a reliable basis for operation. As a universal language, protocol has the task of creating predictability and maintaining the dignity and honour of both countries.
To a large extent, protocol and the regulation of diplomatic relations go back to the Viennese Congress of 1815. In 1917, however, Soviet Russia ripped itself out of this consensus: its representatives claimed that diplomacy was a bourgeois and capitalist relict that was unfit to represent the dictatorship of the working class.
The foreign policy of the Soviet Union can be understood as a constant struggle over the "correct" external representation, which could vary considerably depending on the party leader or foreign minister. The Soviet representatives drew on a broad repertoire from respecting protocol to infringements and provocations and finally to complete rejection of the comme-il-faut. By contrast, the representatives of Western countries generally kept to the established codes. Often, they did not understand that the Soviets were moving on an entirely different level and using a different semiotic system.
The plan is to write a readable, scholarly cultural history of diplomacy spanning almost 200 years. It will not recount events year by year but rather put congresses and large conferences under the microscope. It will analyse the cultural mechanisms governing the interaction of the 19th-century great powers, while also telling the history of Soviet foreign policy as a history of cultural misunderstandings.