Reports and papers

Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

20 Jan 2010 - 21:32

This paper analyses the consequences of change in individual and collective (crisis) assistance by foreign ministries. There can be little doubt that relatively low-priority service tasks of the foreign ministry pose a growing challenge to government officials, and that they are sometimes on a par with diplomacy's traditional functions. Globalization encourages people to travel overseas in increasingly large numbers and instability may cause them to get into trouble and call more often upon consular officers for assistance. Citizens become increasingly assertive, the media more engaged and news reporting more international. The number of highly mediatized cases grows and internationally coordinated attempts to bring consular assistance to a higher level are on the rise.

Okano-Heijmans argues that consular activity increasingly has the potential of being 'upgraded' to a diplomatic matter that becomes a concern in relations between two (or more) countries. Accordingly, consular affairs increasingly involve what is posited here as 'consular diplomacy': international negotiations on a consular (legal) framework and individual consular cases that attract substantial attention from the media, public and politicians.

Diplomats of all ranks need to be prepared to engage the public and the media. At the same time, it may be opportune for officials, politicians and the public to rethink the balance between state and individual responsibilities in the consular field. As consular challenges grow and government funding decreases, foreign ministries in the years ahead need a forward-looking consular diplomacy strategy to balance the tension between securing national interests and protecting the narrow interests of individual citizens.

Maaike Okano-Heijmans is a Research Fellow in the Clingendael Institute and a Visiting Fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy of the Australian National University.