Thursday, 28 September, 2023

Out of the Box

Foreign Missions and Diplomatic Etiquette

Dr. Rashid Askari

Foreign Missions and Diplomatic Etiquette
Dr. Rashid Askari

Popular News

The recent expression of discontent by the Bangladesh government over a joint statement issued by 13 foreign missions in Dhaka including the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union has shed light on the importance of diplomatic etiquette in fostering bilateral relations. The statement had condemned the attack on Dhaka-17 by-poll independent candidate Ashraful Alom, popularly known as Hero Alom. However, the statement raises questions about the appropriate channels for diplomatic communication and the impact such statements can have on bilateral relations. Foreign missions may have a responsibility to observe the political developments in their host countries, but it is essential to exercise restraint and adhere to diplomatic protocols when commenting on internal matters of the host nation. The crisis has not occurred from the simple fact that the western foreign missions in Bangladesh have condemned attacks on Hero Alom. As a matter of fact, many diplomats in Bangladesh tend to interfere with things that do not concern them. And sometimes they do not know the limits of their power and poke their nose into the country’s internal affairs, especially during elections. Ironically, some political parties entrust them with the responsibility of solving national problems. The 13 foreign missions must have made a mountain out of a molehill in their Hero Alam bid, because, Hero himself expressed his complete satisfaction with the government attempts to nab the men who abused him. So, it was imprudent of the learned foreign diplomats to have jumped on the anti-government bandwagon on the spur of the moment. On the contrary, the law enforcers should have been more careful so as not to allow these sorts of incidents to happen.

The Bangladesh government has reacted strongly to this statement, calling it “against diplomatic etiquette, unwarranted and unnecessary”. The foreign ministry summoned ambassadors from the EU and 12 countries and expressed its discontent over their statements that amount, as the ministry considers, to interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. The foreign ministry also said that such statements are not helpful for fostering bilateral relations between Bangladesh and those countries. The Bangladesh government's response reflects the sensitivity of national sovereignty and the need to avoid any appearance of interference in internal affairs. Diplomatic engagement should be conducted in a manner that respects the principle of non-interference promoting open and constructive dialogue on issues of mutual interest.

The joint statement was also criticized by many analysts and commentators who argued that it was an overreaction to a very negligible internal issue of another country that did not warrant such attention or intervention from foreign missions. They also questioned the credibility and impartiality of those missions who did not condemn other incidents of violence or human rights violations in Bangladesh or elsewhere, and considered it as a breach of diplomatic etiquette.

Diplomatic etiquette can also be challenged or violated by some actors who may have different agendas or interests. Such violations can range from minor breaches or faux pas to serious offenses or provocations that may trigger diplomatic protests or even crises. In some cases, violations of diplomatic etiquette may be intentional or deliberate, while in other cases they may be unintentional or accidental. However, in the age of instant communication and social media, the importance of diplomatic etiquette becomes even more critical. Diplomatic statements and engagements can quickly reach a global audience, influencing public opinion and shaping international perceptions. It is, therefore, imperative for diplomats to exercise caution and sensitivity in their communications to avoid unintended consequences.

Foreign missions' interference in the internal affairs of the host countries may yield adverse results, leading to strained diplomatic relations. When foreign missions issue statements on sensitive internal issues of a host country, it can be perceived as an infringement on sovereignty, causing tensions between the countries involved. In certain cases, foreign missions' statements have exacerbated existing conflicts or fueled political divisions within the host country. The external involvement can polarize the situation and hinder efforts towards reconciliation. It can evoke nationalist sentiments within the host country, leading to public resentment and anti-foreign sentiment. This backlash may result in restrictions on foreign missions' activities and hamper diplomatic engagement. Excessive interference can lead to diplomatic isolation, as the host country may seek to limit contact with foreign missions deemed to be overly intrusive. This isolation can hinder the potential for meaningful dialogue and cooperation. Overzealous foreign missions' actions can adversely affect trade and investment relations. Countries may rethink their economic ties with nations perceived to be overstepping diplomatic boundaries. Foreign involvement in internal matters can have ripple effects on regional stability. Interference may inadvertently fuel regional tensions and exacerbate existing conflicts. When foreign missions make statements without proper regard for diplomatic etiquette or the complexities of internal affairs, it can damage their credibility and undermine their ability to effectively advocate for human rights and global issues. When diplomatic relations are strained due to interference, opportunities for constructive engagement on shared challenges, such as climate change or counterterrorism, may be limited. Taking everything into consideration, foreign missions must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of their actions. Interference in internal affairs may lead to outcomes that are contrary to their intended goals, hindering the prospects for positive change.

The case of Hero Alom illustrates how diplomatic etiquette can be a sensitive and contentious issue in international relations. It also shows how diplomatic etiquette can have implications for bilateral relations between states, as well as for the image and reputation of diplomats and their missions. Therefore, it is essential for diplomats to be aware of and adhere to the rules and norms of diplomatic etiquette in their work, as well as to be respectful and mindful of the cultural and political diversity of the international community. Foreign missions in Bangladesh can take a non-interventionist approach and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the country's development and contribute positively to its progress. This sure will help foster a more productive and respectful bilateral relationship, ultimately benefiting the people of Bangladesh and strengthening international cooperation.


Dr. Rashid Askari is a freethinking writer, academic, translator and former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh