My latest project originally sought to understand African diplomacy from a true realist IR perspective. Of course that’s ironic, because IR realists rarely acknowledge the pull or influence that diplomacy (or Africa) has on the IR field. My goal was to understand if there could be any benefit to African nations by pooling their diplomatic representation through a body such as the African Union, rather than conducting their own individual missions abroad. Why staff a small embassy with inexperienced diplomats when a nation could leverage the power of the entire continent and have the best and brightest African diplomats representing their collective needs? Again this runs a tad contrary to realist thinking who usually dismiss the supranational organizations of the world of holding any real power. However, I’m of the believe that in the future these bodies will be the real power holders in IR theory and practice.
Of course, this idea of a African foreign service would sound very similar to the European External Action Service that has come into being with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in the European Union. There are now two tiers of European diplomacy: national diplomats from individual countries & EU diplomats representing the organs of the supranational body. The African Union, while modeled on the EU in some circumstances (though it was mostly a recasting of the Organization of African Unity while combining the economic capabilites of the African Economic Community and taking its mandate and supplanting it with NEPAD), the AU has yet to develop a pan-African diplomatic service. Thus I was very curious if there would be a way to argue for and against such a diplomatic organ of the AU. As it turned out, predictably, there is very little research into this idea, and while I had thought to expand my comparison to ASEAN, most papers focused on the integrationist desires, not the benefits of a collaborative foreign service, that diplomats or the diplomatic corps in supranational capitals (Brussels, Addis Ababa, and Jakarta). Thus I turned to the wide ranging literature on regional integration for my project to see how the move towards integration on the continent compares to the EU and ASEAN and what impact that would have on the respective diplomatic powers.