By G.L.J. Jacobs on 2015-10-12 in Definitions,
A diplomatic representative or agent of one sovereign state usually resident in another. As international relations implies a system of communications betweens tates, the idea of an ambassador came to be its principal enabling vehicle. Although the practice is usually associated with the development of the European state-system, references to it can be found in ancient China and India where Kautilya's Arthashastra is a striking example of early articulated diplomatic practice and statecraft. However, in neither of these ancient state-systems is there evidence of an ambassadorial system involving permanent embassies, missions or legations. The prevailing practice, as elsewhere in the ancient world, was the use of heralds or envoys (really messengers), or the temporary plenipotentiaries (agents who were authorized to work out agreements.)
The modern practice of resident ambassadors began to appear in Europe in the XIVth and XVth centuries, probably first in Venice and Milan. The idea of diplomatic immunity was inseparable from residency and formed the basis of modern international law. The inviolability of the ambassador's person (and later that of his staff) was a necessary feature of this system and immunity is still regarded as the bedrock of diplomatic practice. Even its dramatic violation in Teheran (1979) when American Embassy staff were held hostage by government forces does not disprove the universal acceptance of the notion of immunity. Iran was, almost without expectation in the international community, strongly condemned for this clear breach of the basic rules of diplomatic communication. However, whether the principle of immunity can be extended to cover aspects other than personal safety and private diplomatic affairs (e.g. parking offences or drug trafficking) is less widely accepted and subject to much current debate.
The development of the resident ambassadorial system became fully self conscious at the Congress of Vienna (1815) which, as well as recognizing the existence of a corps diplomatique, strictly defined categories of representation and issued a protocol determining the functions and order of precedence of diplomatic missions. This protocol is still in use today: it underlines the importance of immunity and establishes that the doyen or spokesperson of the corps diplomatique is either the papal representative or, more usually, the longest accredited serving ambassador regardless of the status or power of the country he (or she) is represents. Vienna thus established the ambassadorial system as a vital institution in international relations, and one that has continued largely unchanged to the present day. In 1961 the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations underlined and endorsed the achievement of the Congress.
Some writers on diplomacy have questioned the continued need for an ambassadorial system. The argument is that modern technology, especially in the field of communications, as well as the decline of the traditional nation-state, has destroyed the very foundations of the institution. However, although many governments are concerned to prune the resources available to the diplomatic service and direct its functions more towards trade and commerce rather than traditional matters of high policy, it is extremely unlikely that so useful a system will disappear. The old bilateral diplomatic pattern may well be undergoing significant change, especially with the increasing collectivization of international life, but the need for diplomatic machinery and representation, whether this be bilateral or multilateral, will remain for as long as the international state-system lasts. One is bound up with the other.
See also: Diplomacy; Diplomatic Immunities and privileges.
Further reading: From the Congress of Vienna to Present-Day Interna...