Difference Between Diplomat and Ambassador

Diplomat vs Ambassador

Identifying the difference between a Diplomat and an Ambassador is not that complex if you understand the definition of each. Of course, there is a clear distinction between the two despite the fact that they are used synonymously and might be mistaken as conveying the same meaning. Most of us have a general idea as to what the term Diplomat conveys. Informally, we think of it in reference to a person who represents his/her country overseas. However, when we think of the term Ambassador, we often come to the same conclusion although we also associate the term with the head of an embassy in a country. Perhaps a basic distinction is necessary. Thus, think of the term Diplomat as constituting a generic term referring to a person who maintains and carries out the diplomatic relations of a nation. Ambassador falls within the category of Diplomat.

Who is a Diplomat?

Traditionally, the term Diplomat is defined as a person appointed by a national government to conduct official negotiations and maintain diplomatic relations including political, economic, social and cultural relations with another country. In short, a Diplomat refers to an appointed government official of a nation chosen to represent the nation in another country. The primary function of a Diplomat is to conduct and maintain relations with governments of other countries. As mentioned before, a Diplomat is a generic term and includes not only the office of the Ambassador but the posts of various other Foreign Service officials such as public diplomacy officers, consular officers, economic officers, political officers and management officers. Other diplomatic ranks include secretaries, counselors, ministers, envoys, or chargé d’affaires. The duties, roles, and function of such officers, vary and are numerous. However, their main function is to represent the interests and policies of their nation while at the same time maintaining friendly relations with the host nation. Aside from this, other duties of a Diplomat include monitoring the events and happenings of the host country, gathering information, analysing such information, and thereafter, sending their findings and reports to the Ambassador and their government. Some officers are entrusted with the responsibility of handling matters pertaining to visa and/or consular affairs. The concept of a Diplomat is not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, it dates back centuries wherein, states of yesteryear sent special persons or ‘envoys’ to other nations in order to establish and maintain friendly relations. Diplomats are often trained in their diplomatic profession and work under the direction of the Ambassador. The role, function, duties and immunities of Diplomats have been laid out in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961).

Difference Between Diplomat and Ambassador

Diplomat represent his nation’s interests in another country

Who is an Ambassador?

As mentioned above, an Ambassador falls within the category of Diplomat or Diplomatic officials. In fact, an Ambassador is the Chief Diplomat or diplomatic officer in a foreign nation. The term Ambassador has been defined as the highest ranking official or Diplomat who represents his/her nation in another country. Some sources define such a person as a ‘permanent representative’ in a foreign country. An Ambassador, thus, constitutes one type of Diplomatic officer from the many Diplomats appointed. The Ambassador typically exercises control over the entire embassy in a foreign country or host nation. An Ambassador’s primary role is to provide direction and supervision to all the activities carried out by all other Diplomatic officers in the host country and coordinate such activities. Further, an Ambassador is called upon to maintain friendly relations with the host country by engaging in negotiation of certain issues, promoting understanding, peace and cooperation and settling disputes, if any.

 Diplomat vs Ambassador

Ambassador is the Chief Diplomat in a foreign nation

What is the difference between Diplomat and Ambassador?

The distinction between Diplomat and Ambassador is thus easy to identify.

• Diplomat is a generic term in that it refers to an official appointed by a government to represent its interests in a foreign country.

• An Ambassador, on the other hand, constitutes one type of Diplomat and thus falls within the definition of a Diplomat.

• A Diplomat can include not only an Ambassador but also other Foreign Service officials such as secretaries, consular officers, political officers, public diplomacy officers, economic officers, ministers and others.

• An Ambassador is typically the Chief Diplomat, or rather the highest ranking Diplomat sent to a foreign country.

• While Diplomats, in general, perform a range of duties such as monitoring the events of the host country, analysis of such events, handling visa/consular matters and providing secretarial functions, an Ambassador typically controls the functions of the embassy. Thus, he/she provides direction and supervision to the rest of the Diplomats working in the embassy and ensures that cordial diplomatic relations are maintained with the host nation.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Policy talks by Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan  (CC BY-ND 2.0)
  2. Terence P. McCulley, United States Ambassador to the Ivory Coast (2015) via Wikicommons (Public Domain)