As reported in The Indian Express, India has raised with Pakistan the alleged abduction of two minor Hindu girls in that country and their alleged conversion to Islam. The government raised the matter through a note verbale sent to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. A note verbale is a diplomatic communication from one government to another, delivered through each other’s diplomatic representatives. Like many other diplomatic terms, note verbale is French, and literally means a verbal note, because it was meant to be delivered orally to the recipient. In modern times, it is a written note.
A note verbale is written on the sending entity’s letterhead, and stamped with that entity’s seal, but not signed. It is written in the third person. A note from the Indian government has a set diplomatic beginning: “The Ministry of External Affairs of India/Embassy/High Commission of India presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of …” The ending too follows a fixed template: “The Ministry of External Affairs of India/Embassy/High Commission of India takes the opportunity to assure the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of… of its highest considerations.”
Notes verbale are the commonest method of formal diplomatic communication. They are used to convey information or requests of all kinds. However, there are more formal types of diplomatic communication.
A demarche is a more formal type of communication of one government’s official position, views, or wishes on a given subject to an appropriate official in another government. According to the US Department of State, “demarches generally seek to persuade, inform, or gather information from a foreign government. Governments may also use a demarche to protest or object to actions by a foreign government”.
A note verbale is also much less formal than a demi official (DO), for instance, which is a first person communication that begins with a “Dear…” and is signed by the writer, usually a high representative of the sending entity. DOs are used only when the addressee and the representative know each other extremely well and occupy high office.
There are less formal kinds of communication between governments, such as non-papers and aide-memoires, which are summaries of discussions between two countries. A non-paper is written on a blank sheet of paper with no signatures and is addressed to no one, giving those party to the discussions deniability; an aide-memoire has to have an addressee, and indicates the sender’s identity, usually with an initial.