Diplomatic Document

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Diplomatic Document


(in Russian, akt diplomati-cheskii), a written text presented or sent by the organs of foreign relations of one state to the organs of foreign relations of another state. The diplomatic documents most widely used are the note, memorandum, official letter, and aide-mémoire.

A note is a diplomatic document through which a government can state rights or claims or protest against an illegal act or acts by other governments and in addition can conclude an agreement (in the latter case the agreement is set forth in the note of one party and is repeated in the return note of the other). Like other formal diplomatic documents, notes do not necessarily have to deal with direct agreements or protests but may be of a purely informational character. But even in that case they have certain juridical importance: a fact stated in a note in specific wording expresses the official point of view of a given government.

A note is, as a rule, a one-man diplomatic document, though in latest practice joint notes are also encountered—that is, written statements addressed jointly by representatives of several states to a single state on a single issue. A joint note is usually solemn in nature and presupposes close relations among the states that signed it. In wide practice, including the practice of the USSR, are the so-called individual (or parallel) notes, where several governments address notes of the same contents to the government of a given state. In some cases a government may send identical notes to three or four parties to an agreement. It is in this form, for example, that the USSR made its representations in regard to the threat to peace that has been manifest in the activity of some of the imperialist states.

One-man or individual notes may be either personal or verbal. A personal note is written in the first person on the letterhead of the person signing it and is composed in a specific form (it contains salutations, a personal signature, and so on). It is sent in the original and without a number. A verbal note is written impersonally, that is, in the third person, on a letterhead; it contains salutations and compliments (“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveys its respects to the Embassy of Luxembourg and has the honor of informing . . .”), is not signed, but is authenticated by a seal and has a number.

A memorandum is most often an addendum to a note. It sets forth in detail the factual aspects of a question, offers an analysis of some provisions, or contains exceptions to statements of the other side. A memorandum-addendum is not written on a letterhead, does not have a number, and usually (though not in all countries) gives the place and date of dispatch. However, if it is sent individually (the so-called express memorandum) or by courier, it is written on a letterhead, gives the place and date of dispatch, but never has a signature or seal.

One type of diplomatic document—the aide-mémoire—is in the nature of a brief memorandum supplementing an oral statement. It is written in an impersonal form, without salutations, number, or address, but does indicate the place and date of dispatch. As a rule it is passed from hand to hand during a discussion. A special delivery express aide-mémoire is sent individually and serves as a reminder concerning a matter that had already been communicated or discussed in a previous memorandum. In form the express aide-mémoire hardly differs from a verbal note. Like the latter it is written in the third person on a letterhead, has a number and date, and contains salutations and a compliment, but in contents it is only a reminder concerning some fact.

The so-called official letter, basically a type of personal note, is also employed at times in diplomatic practice. Official letters and notes are usually written in the language of the sender or in one of the diplomatic languages.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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