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Diplomacy of International Conflict


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Introduction to International Relations & Diplomacy and Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies

as well as at least two of the following courses:

  • Power in World Politics

  • Foundational Texts in World Politics

  • Regional Trends: The Rise of China

  • Regional Trends: Contemporary Russian Politics and Security

  • Studies in War: From the Crimea to the Second World War

  • Studies in Conflict: From Algeria to Iraq

  • An American Century? The United States in the World since 1898

  • Historical Methods: International History in the Twentieth Century

  • Leadership in Politics and Diplomacy: Practitioners' Perspectives


What role does diplomacy play in inter-state conflicts? Besides the all-out use of military force, states typically employ two broad strategies vis-à-vis their enemies: coercive and non-coercive diplomacy. The former entails state A using threats, sanctions, and limited force with the aim of producing involuntary compliance on the part of state B. The latter entails state A using promises, appeasement, and negotiations with the aim of either producing voluntary compliance on the part of state B or transforming the underlying conflict altogether.

Under what conditions do coercive and non-coercive diplomacy succeed? Why do states choose one strategy over the other? Can they be combined or are they mutually exclusive? Are today’s most deeply ingrained conflicts amenable to diplomatic solutions at all? This research-led course will enable students to answer these vital questions and to formulate practical policy advice by examining the diplomacy of inter-state conflict in-depth. Specifically, the goals are to understand (a) the geostrategic, political, and psychological dynamics that enable or constrain diplomatic solutions and (b) the conditions for the successful application of non-coercive diplomatic strategies. To get there, we will study a set of concrete cases, mainly historical cases of inter-state conflict during the Cold War, but also present-day rivalries (e.g. NATO-Russia, USA-Iran, Israel-Palestine).

Throughout the course, we will pay particular attention to the ways in which diplomacy can contribute to the management, de-escalation, and transformation of inter-state conflict. In doing so, we will focus on what is arguably the trickiest diplomatic process of them all: ‘ice-breaking’. After years, sometimes decades, of intense rivalry, how can enemies initiate a process of diplomatic engagement? Often, formidable obstacles exist to rapprochement between adversaries, including the strategic risk of getting exploited by your adversary, domestic resistance (divided party politics, bureaucratic opposition, civil society resistance), and psychological pathologies (misperception, enduring enemy images). Nonetheless, spectacular successes of engagement – including the rapprochements between France and Germany after WWII, Egypt and Israel in the 1970s and the Soviet Union and the USA at the end of the Cold War – provide a glimmer of hope. Could relations between North Korea-South Korea, Japan-China, the USA-Cuba and Israel-Iran etc. develop in similar ways?

Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Examine and critically evaluate the role that diplomacy plays in world politics;

  • Analyze key diplomatic options of conflict management, de-escalation and transformation;

  • Compare and contrast cases of diplomatic engagement past and present;

  • Formulate policy proposals for the diplomatic solution of enduring rivalries.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars, using a mix of short lectures, group discussions, student presentations, a film screening, and a simulation.

Assessment Method

  • Participation (15%)

  • Presentation (15%)

  • Leading a discussion (15%)

  • Book review (15%)

  • Policy brief (40%)

Reading list

This is a reading-intensive course, which gives students the opportunity to engage directly with seminal texts on the diplomacy of international conflict. A specific reading list will be made available before the first session of the course. For more information, see ‘Remarks’ below.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr Kai Hebel:


Before the start of the seminar, students are required to read Charles Kupchan’s seminal book, How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace (Princeton University Press, 2010). The book will serve as a guide throughout the course and will also be the subject of a critical book review, which is due on Sunday of week 2, 6pm.