(DiploProject: Geneva and Malta, 2002), pp. 283, with index. ISBN 99909-55-16-6
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The second book on diplomacy by the former Indian ambassador, Kishan Rana, is hot on the heels of his first, Inside Diplomacy, reviewed with great enthusiasm on this site last year. It is the first in a new series called ‘DiploHandbooks’ that is being published by Jovan Kurbalija’s DiploProject, an educational and training operation based chiefly at the University of Malta and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Aimed principally at trainee diplomats, the book is the fruit not only of the author’s long and varied diplomatic experience but also of his teaching in Malta and, most recently, on a Commonwealth assignment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Windhoek, Namibia.
The first part of the book deals with the purposes of bilateral diplomacy and has some emphasis on commerce, finance and aid. The second deals with institutions: the MFA, embassies and consulates, joint commissions and other groups, and bilateral summits. And the third covers methods: diplomatic reports, cross-cultural sensitivity, diplomatic signalling, negotiating, and performance enhancement. In the long conclusion, the author pulls together the threads of his theme. This is that the resident embassy is more important than ever, not least because so many ‘home-based actors’ are now involved in bilateral relationships that only the embassy is in a position even to approximate to a grasp of the complete picture. Not surprisingly, he concludes, we are witnessing a ‘renaissance’ of bilateral diplomacy.
I have heard it said that her readers would walk bare-foot over broken glass to get their hands on the latest Dorothy Dunnett novel. Trainee diplomats should be prepared to make a similar sacrifice to acquire the latest Rana – though I trust that Mr Kurbalija will ensure that this is unnecessary. Kishan Rana’s insistence on the importance of bilateral diplomacy is not only compelling because of the force and elegance of his reasoning but also because he is no dinosaur striving to conjure up a lost world. On the contrary, his book oozes the language of modernity and has no hesitation in claiming that diplomats have much to learn from ‘business management methodology’. As a teaching book, the style and presentation are also very good. It is lucid and economical, points are generally enumerated, examples are often amusing, and chapters are rounded off with a list of questions to stir student thinking. It has a good index. Above all, though, it will be a successful textbook because it conveys the author’s enormous enthusiasm for his subject.
I would disappoint Ambassador Rana if I did not mention a few quibbles. There is a fair degree of overlap with Inside Diplomacy, which is also more detailed on some subjects and should be used in conjunction with Bilateral Diplomacy. The guides to further reading are also, I think, too short. While agreeing that ‘performance enhancement’ both in foreign ministries and embassies is obviously important, I do not share the author’s enthusiasm for employing ‘corporate techniques’ in its pursuit. The Thatcherite philistinism that spawned this approach in Britain in the 1980s has left a trail of institutional destruction – not least in the universities – that will take generations to repair. Nor can I agree that ‘it is rare to have significant business’ conducted at state funerals (p. 165), as readers of my essay on … er … ‘working’ funerals will appreciate! But these, to repeat, are just quibbles. This is a splendid teaching book for trainee diplomats and I recommend it most warmly.