// 08.04.2021 //



Headlines since the fall of the Soviet Union 

1991: France begins the decade as top diplomatic dog with the most clout in the presidency and membership of the UN security council and global international organisations
1993:The top 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council dominate the diplomatic world with the UK at number 2
1999: Russia's Putin put his foot on the diplomatic gas as he becomes President, reversing a decade of decline
2000: The UK's Tony Blair pushes Britain to the top of the diplomatic league following his formulation of the Chicago Doctrine and successful interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone
2004: The Iraq War plunges Britain from 1st to 5th in the diplomatic league
2006: China begins its diplomatic climb as France recovers its post-Iraq diplomatic clout
2008: US falls during the Bush Presidency after the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles
2013: Russia's diplomatic aggression pays off as it rebuilds and expands its position in the Middle East and its near abroad
2017: China's 30 year rise and diplomatic push through initiatives like the Belt and Road Project brings it to 2nd in the League of Nations
2019: The UK, post-Brexit and post Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya interventions collapses into 5th place for the first time since the Iraq War

Smart diplomatic power – why it’s important
So far, we’ve tracked all but one of the Smart Power apps. We’ve covered economic power, militarily power, people power, energy power and culture power. That’s 85% already of the League of Nations. Today we look at diplomatic power – which represents an important 5% more of the total. We measure who’s winning in the diplomatic league of nations by assessing their power through membership in the UN Security Council (60%), membership in the most important international organizations (20%) and how many worldwide diplomatic missions (20%) they have. All are critical to how they can deploy power.


Current Diplomatic Situation
Establishing a robust diplomatic infrastructure is the first practical step towards bolstering a country’s diplomatic influence. 


The size of a country’s diplomatic network is only one indicator of the effectiveness of its diplomacy. Membership of international bodies, including the UN Security Council, as well as the scale and make-up of military forces are considerations.  

But in an increasingly interconnected world, analysts say diplomatic connections are rising in importance, which we capture looking at the nationality of people playing key roles in the most important international organisations. Diplomatic effectiveness may be quantified through a country’s membership in international organisations, having its citizens among the heads of these organisations and a seat on the UN Security Council. 

Who’s winning?

  • Diplomatic outreach affects the image and perception of trustworthiness of entire countries, so, therefore, also impacts on their soft power. What we look at is that the rise or fall of the country’s soft power will be reflected in the presence or absence of its representatives in the important international structures.
  • Globally, the French, the Americans and the British were the best at diplomacy, followed by the Russians and the French. Of 61 countries – among them all OECD, G20, and most Asian countries – 34 grew their networks between 2017 and 2019.
  • By 2020 the four countries with the highest results are France, China, the US and Russia. Just behind them is the UK which dropped by two positions since 2015 because of the weakening diplomatic position with the European Union (including the loss of an EU commissioner and the diplomatic inertia caused by Brexit).

Top stories
China has overtaken the United States to have the largest diplomatic network. China has invested massively in its diplomatic infrastructure, which serves as a telling metric of its international ambitions. With 276 posts globally, China has for the first time surpassed the United States’ network by three posts.  

In two years, Beijing has grown its network by 13 diplomatic posts, following the opening of seven new missions and the shutdown of two. It’s ascent to the top spot has been rapid. In 2016, China was in third place behind the US and France, and by 2017 it had moved to second place ahead of France. 

Top countries have braced for Brexit – and are quicker off the mark than Britain. The UK has been slow off the mark to become the “Global Britain” it promised. Despite Boris Johnson’s 2018 announcement of plans to open three posts in the Pacific, since 2016 it has seen no change in its number of embassies and has closed or downgraded 11 consulates and offices. This represents a 4% fall in diplomatic outreach – the largest drop in the G10.  

Quantifying diplomatic power by missions alone, the UK is now 11th out of 61 states - falling out of the top 10 in a leading ranking of diplomatic powers for the first time. This position represents a drop of two places and ranks Britain behind Italy, Spain and Brazil.  

So, the UK government’s “Global Britain” strategy, which aims to propel the nation towards a dynamic future outside the EU, has got off to a slow start. Britain’s foreign service was sending fewer diplomats overseas, opting instead to have non-resident diplomats or locally engaged staff. This shows a disconnect between the government’s stated post-Brexit diplomatic ambitions and the resources allocated to them.

By contrast, Ireland boosted its network by eight places – the largest increase in diplomatic posts of any country. With its largest import partner and second largest export partner now out of the European Union, Dublin has called it Ireland’s “Brexit strategy”. The Netherlands too has explicitly linked its diplomatic push to Brexit, adding seven posts in two years and more openings expected by 2021. 

India is now hot on the heels of the UK in terms of diplomatic missions. India has expanded its diplomatic footprint, increasing its representations by 13 posts, a 7% increase from 2016. It is ranked 12th with 123 embassies and high commissions and 54 consulates globally.   

United States diplomacy has entered a period of limbo.
At the same time, the United States’ diplomatic presence has been marginally eroded since 2017. Without any new openings in recent years, and after closing the doors of its consulate-general in St Petersburg in 2018 amid rancorous relations with the Kremlin, Washington’s total posts are down one post to 273. 

With a hollowed-out State Department – only 73% of key positions are filled, according to the Washington Post’s tracker set up for this purpose – and the former Trump administration’s attempts to cut the State Department and USAID budgets by up to 23%, American diplomacy is still looking rudderless if judged by active global outreach. 


But the US remains – by a wide margin – the most popular place for countries to maintain embassies and consulates. The US is home to some 342 posts. China, with 256, is a distant second. 

Smart Power Conclusion 
As we see, diplomatic power is another lever China has pulled successfully to challenge the West’s decision-making consensus. Although, in our League, the legacy power of nations like France flatter to deceive, China’s remarkable rise has upset the post-Cold War order. 

Traditionally, global governance has been centred on interstate diplomacy and formal, intergovernmental organizations - like the United Nations, the WTO or the World Bank. Other areas, such as traditional security issues, remain firmly within the remits of central governments.  

However, as globalisation has spurred higher levels of economic growth around the world, the economic rise of not just China, but Brazil, India, and other emerging markets has upended the traditional power balance among countries - along with traditional structures of global governance.  
Whereas, since 1945, the top UN Security Council states could set the rules for the global economy, today a much broader consensus among nations is required. This is reflected in the increased importance of the G20 (as opposed to the more exclusive G7) as a critical venue for international economic coordination, and in the emergence of greater numbers of institutional investors from emerging markets who now wield global influence, such as the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which began operations in 2016. 

However, this wider dispersion of global power has also created new sources of friction and risk, and even in some cases the greater possibility of armed conflict. That is due in part to the fact that China’s diplomatic raison d’etre is to game the decision-making processes that underpin global governance by bringing emerging powers into its orbit of influence. Focussed finance diplomacy in Africa and Asia has afforded China serious clout in international organisations by effectively buying support. The West have not adapted as quickly to channel the influence of the countries involved. So the ways in which emerging powers engage with existing structures of global governance, and the ways that established powers react to these changes, will define world politics in the 21st century. 

The widespread resurgence of nationalist and populist politics has raised serious questions about the future viability of global governance. In a number of countries, governments have failed to understand or address the true impact of globalisation on many parts of the population. Even if countries have ultimately benefited from greater economic openness, the lack of sufficient attention being paid to those left behind has weakened the political consensus supporting that openness.  

Such movements typically appeal to those people who are particularly worried about threats to their social status due to the actual or feared loss of a job, or to those troubled by immigration and changing cultural mores; in other words, people who feel especially vulnerable to exactly the kinds of changes unleashed by globalisation. 

Consequently, unless the West can rediscover unity of purpose in the defence of freedom and democracy, no amount of apparent diplomatic success – either in number of missions of positions of influence – will be capable of countering China’s global influence. A world in which the universality of Western values is pushed back by the particularism of autocratic capitalism has arrived. The retreat of the post war order is now set to continue at pace.