The characteristic features of Traditional or ‘Old’ diplomacy can be evaluated by analyzing its structure, process and agenda. In its structure, traditional diplomacy constituted an interaction between two modern states rather than between other forms of political entities like, for example, the Catholic Church. As the relations between states flourished, the interactions between them were held on a regular basis. This communication process was conducted by diplomats who were sent abroad to act on behalf of their states. As a result, the use of diplomats was institutionalized. In other words, institutions having a main purview of diplomacy emerged. This led to the end of the practice of diplomacy being conducted by ad hoc representatives.
In its process, Traditional or ‘Old’ diplomacy was conducted mostly on a bilateral basis and the whole process was commonly shrouded in secrecy. The issues of mutual concern between two states were undertaken by professional diplomats based at home and abroad in their permanent embassies. Unless one state coerced the other to accept a position, mutual agreement was a way of settling any disputes. In order to maintain a strategic edge in the negotiations over the other state, each state kept the interactions as secret as possible. This maintenance of secrecy was made possible due to limiting the diplomacy to a bilateral level.
The agenda of the Traditional diplomacy is considered to be narrow as compared with later periods. The traditional diplomatic agenda reflected the expansionist ideas and personal ambition e.g., the acquisition of territory, of the heads of states or monarchs. The general issues of war and peace also constituted an important part of the diplomatic agenda.
There are certain features in the structure, process and agenda of Traditional or ‘Old’ diplomacy that have become outmoded. The most notable change in its structure was that the states had to share the international stage with other non-state actors such international organizations engaged in diplomacy like the U.N. etc. The states no longer were the only actors involved.
The changes in the process of Traditional or ‘Old’ diplomacy took place in the manner in which it was conducted. Due to a popular demand, discussions between states were held in a more open and transparent manner. The public sentiment was reflected in the diplomacy now conducted.
The changing process of Traditional diplomacy also involved the changing nature of international activity. States continued to negotiate bilaterally with each other on a state to state basis but groups of states typically negotiated multilaterally under the patronage of organizations like the United Nations.
Like the structure and process, the agenda of Traditional diplomacy also underwent changes. Most noteworthy of these changes was that the international activity involving negotiations between states reflected the states’ changing scope of activities, which now involved their concern for the social and economic well-being of their citizens. The communications between states no longer constituted mainly the security of their citizens, the traditional diplomatic agenda.