Adapting dynamically to change in diplomacy: a comparative look at special envoys in the international arena

Francesco Morini*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article provides a comparative overview of the main features of special envoys/representatives dispatched by major foreign-policy players. It underlines the relevance of this instrument within a fast-changing diplomatic environment, characterized by increasingly numerous actors, evolving practices and complex processes that require a flexible approach. The analysis draws on nearly 650 cases of special envoys appointed by national administrations and international organizations over the span of 25 years, exposing commonalities and differences in the use of a long-standing diplomatic tool. The article argues that the incremental employment of ad-hoc envoys, mandated to deal with issues of a geographical or thematic nature, signals the ambition of individual actors to achieve specific policy objectives on a crowded global stage. In this perspective, and in keeping with their role of precursors in diplomatic practice, special envoys constitute a versatile resource with boundless potential in terms of adaptation to an ever-expanding diplomatic agenda.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-571
Number of pages27
JournalThe Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018


  • envoys
  • representatives
  • foreign-policy structures
  • United Nations P5
  • international and regional organizations

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