Diplomacy at the Cutting Edge

GUEST REVIEW by Sir Nicholas Bayne

(Manas Publications: New Delhi, 2015). 371 pp. incl. index. ISBN 978-81-7409-511-6 (paperback).[ buy this book ]

‘A diplomatist’s glory is the most ephemeral of all forms of that transient reward’, wrote Lord Salisbury. Kishan Rana has proved him wrong conclusively over the last twenty years, with eleven books, over 100 articles and courses in diplomatic practice that began in India and have spread to more than twenty countries. Thousands of students and others interested in diplomacy are in his debt, myself among them, as he has lectured for me at the LSE and contributed chapters for three editions of a book. His aim in these long-awaited memoirs is ‘to link [his] experiences with concepts and ideas that may interest professional diplomats and others’. The book therefore forms the prequel to the activity of the last two decades. It reveals the source of the energy and the wisdom that have driven his creativity. He starts with his final post as Ambassador to Germany, since this stimulated many ideas developed in his later work, but I prefer to analyse his career in sequence.

He began inauspiciously. For thirteen years he was a China specialist, including two postings in Beijing. The Indian mission was the best informed of any, but there was no India-China dialogue of any kind. Back in Delhi he advocated reconciliation, but this was blocked higher up. The lasting benefits of this time came from a side posting to Geneva. His newly-married wife Mimi accompanied him (his children were born there) and became a vital support thereafter. A Quaker seminar on improving foreign ministry performance planted the seeds that have since yielded so rich a harvest.

His luck turned when he was named ambassador to Algeria, the first of six head of mission posts. In each of them he showed a genius for seizing the opportunities offered. Algeria was barely known to India then, but it was growing rich from oil revenues. Kishan Rana saw how Indian state-owned firms could interact with their Algerian counterparts, in ways western firms could not, and brought many projects to fruition. He took full advantage of the chance to bring Indian doctors to the country, to everyone’s advantage. A short spell in Prague was less rewarding. Czech and Indian state firms were locked in a cosy embrace, where neither side wanted to innovate. Cultural links provided better openings.

The pattern was broken when, mysteriously, he was called back to serve in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s office, only to be dismissed equally mysteriously a year later. His long chapter gives a vivid picture of Indira Gandhi at the height of her powers. But he had little chance to make his own mark and was cut off from his parent ministry. After a brief spell in charge of personnel (where he blamed himself for not doing enough) he returned to his field of real mastery, as head of post in Nairobi, San Francisco, Mauritius and finally Germany.

Kishan Rana perceived that getting close to President Moi was key to success in Kenya and secured regular meetings with him. He intercepted the head of India’s small industries corporation passing through Nairobi and got the Kenyans interested, including Moi himself. Moi was reluctant to let him depart for his next post in San Francisco. But he was reconciled after Rana explained it was for his children’s education and commended this publicly. Once arrived in the US, Rana at once overhauled the consular services offered. He mobilised the Indian-Americans working in IT to promote ‘Software India’, the first campaign of its kind, leading to valuable US investment. Going reluctantly to Mauritius, he found it an absorbing posting. He got close to Prime Minister Jugnauth, avoided political pitfalls and laid the foundations for India to become Mauritius’ largest trading partner.

On a visit to Mauritius, Prime Minister Naramsimha Rao appointed him to Bonn just as India’s economic reforms took effect. Rana was more than ready for them, having complained that Indian state firms behaved like ministries, notoriously ‘among the least efficient organizations known to man’. He was thus well-equipped to mobilise the synergy between newly reforming India and newly reunited Germany. He helped to arouse German industry’s interest in India, intervening at key moments in bilateral summits between Rao and Chancellor Kohl and following up with business leaders. Germany also became India’s strongest backer in the EU, while Indian cultural links made great advances there. Bonn was an outstanding conclusion to his diplomatic career.

Kishan Rana developed to the highest degree the skills required by a bilateral head of mission (though perhaps at the expense of those needed in his home ministry). He both created his own opportunities and seized any unplanned ones that appeared. He had the gift of developing close professional contacts, who often became close personal friends. He was constantly innovative, despite persistent lack of response from New Delhi, which would adopt his ideas years later. For example, he began formulating his own post objectives in the mid-1970s. This was a decade ahead of the British diplomatic service (where my career coincided exactly with his own), while India finally caught up in 2015. He knew the importance of attention to detail, for example in reorganizing the consular operation in San Francisco (I had to do the same ten years later with the passport service in Ottawa). He also knew that not every project worked and was prepared to accept responsibility for failure. Above all, inspired by an initial briefing from Indira Gandhi, he made economic diplomacy his first priority and built up political links on the back of it. All these qualities, as vividly revealed in these memoirs, have given his subsequent work on diplomacy their conviction and their authority.

Guest review, Nicholas Bayne, London School of Economics and Political Science

April 7th, 2016|Tags: , |

21st Century Diplomacy: A practitioner’s guide

(Continuum: London and New York, 2011),
372pp (incl. index). ISBN: 9781441168382.
Available in pb at £19.99. [buy this book]

Kishan Rana is a man of lengthy and varied experience in the Indian Foreign Service, ending his career as ambassador to Germany. Since then he has spent many years as a globe-trotting trainer of junior diplomats on behalf of DiploFoundation. Few people, therefore, are as well placed to write a practitioners’ guide to the diplomatic craft; and, insofar as concerns the content of his book, which can be found described here, he has not disappointed. The structure works pretty well and it is, like all of Ambassador Rana’s writing, lively and wise. It is also full of interesting facts, for example that Latvia won a prize in 2003 for the best foreign ministry website; it is packed with topical examples; and it bursts with ideas. The author also shows that he is right on top of the latest developments in information and communications technology affecting diplomacy. All of the chapters have their merits but I particularly liked the one on ‘diaspora diplomacy’, in which – despite his enthusiasm for the genus – the author points also to its dangers. He would, however, be disappointed if I did not choose some aspects of the book on which to hint at reservations. These are mainly to do with presentation and organization.

First, Ambassador Rana more than once succumbs to a weakness for providing lengthy summaries of other writers’ views of a subject – for example, the conclusions of Brecher et al’s 1988 study of crisis management on p. 162 and Henrikson’s view of public diplomacy on pp. 85-6 – without integrating them into his own arguments. Together with digressions which sometimes appear to be placed randomly in large boxes, such as the one on ‘MFA Typology’ on p. 118 (a subject surely better treated summarily in the opening paragraph of a chapter dealing generally with MFAs), these tend to generate repetition, give a disjointed feel to the work, and sometimes leave the reader wondering which parts the author agrees with and which parts he does not.

Second, while the structure of the book is basically sound (and I know from my own experience that getting this right with a general book on diplomacy is not easy), I am not sure about the balance of emphasis between the different Parts. In particular, since it is packaged as a guide for practitioners, it is a pity that less than a third of the work is presented as dealing with ‘Craft Skills’. And it is doubly a pity, therefore, that three chapters which to my mind should have been placed under this head are to be found looking rather lost elsewhere: those on public diplomacy, ICTs and protocol.

Notwithstanding these weaknesses (which might have been eliminated by brutal editing), 21st Century Diplomacy remains a textbook which junior diplomats will always want to have with them. It was Wicquefort in saddle-bags in the 17th and 18th centuries, Martens in the Gladstone bags and attaché cases of the 19th, and Satow in briefcases in the 20th; it is Rana in carry-on bags and back-packs in the 21st.

January 16th, 2012|Tags: |

Economic Diplomacy: India’s experience

(CUTS International: Jaipur, 2011), 285pp. (incl. index).
ISBN 978 81 8257 139 6.

Kishan Rana is a widely published former Indian ambassador and Bipul Chatterjee, his co-editor, is the deputy executive director of the Indian NGO, CUTS International http://www.cuts-international.org/ , the publisher of this book. Both editors are also trained economists. Their volume consists of 25 chapters, all except three written by serving or former members of the Indian Foreign Service. The chapters are divided into five parts, the titles of three of which clearly indicate the broad meaning given by the editors to the term economic diplomacy: ‘Export promotion’; ‘Investment and economic aid’; and ‘Managing networks and the regulatory environment’ (the other two are ‘Context and objectives’ and ‘Today’s challenges’). They are prefixed by a lengthy introduction on ‘The role of embassies’.

It is no surprise to learn that the impetus to the development of India’s economic diplomacy was provided by the huge surge in the price of crude oil in 1973. Where they did not already exist, embassies were soon opened in the oil-producing states of the Middle East and North Africa and diplomats gave priority to expediting both material and labour exports, and interesting these states in investing in projects in India. In the last regard the chapter by Talmiz Ahmad on the role of the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi in promoting UAE investment in India is particularly instructive.

As far as I am aware this is a unique book: there is no other which has drawn on such a broad range of diplomatic experience to develop this particular theme. It is also a valuable book because the theme is so important. Governments tend to live or die by the amount of exports their economies can generate and the foreign investment they can attract; and the division of labour in these matters between the diplomats and the businessmen (and their trade associations) and how the diplomats should handle their own brief are questions which have been around for a long time. But what work has been done on them has been largely confined to officially sponsored reports in the West. To have such a study as this on the economic diplomacy of one of the most important non-Western states is a major advance for diplomatic studies. The first edition was marred by an index that was riddled with vagaries and spectacular errors but a new edition is already in progress and will have the added advantage of a short contextual introduction to each essay. This will be the one to get hold of.

September 17th, 2011|Tags: , |

The Twenty-First Century Ambassador: Plenipotentiary to Chief Executive and Asian Diplomacy: The Foreign Ministries of China, India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand

Kishan S. Rana, The Twenty-First Century Ambassador: Plenipotentiary to Chief Executive (Malta and Geneva: DiploFoundation, 2004), pp. xiii + 258. ISBN 99909-55-18-2 (Paperback).

Kishan S. Rana, Asian Diplomacy: The Foreign Ministries of China, India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand (Malta and Geneva: DiploFoundation, 2007) pp. xiii + 246. ISBN 978-99932-53-17-4 (Paperback).

[buy these books]
Guest Review by John W. Young

These latest books by Kishan Rana from the DiploFoundation have all the author’s usual trademarks. As a former member of the Indian Foreign service, with a number of ambassadorships under his belt, he is able to speak with a deep first-hand knowledge of the subjects he addresses. But he also has an academic’s grasp of the relevant primary sources and secondary literature, both historical and theoretical, as well as the ability to carry out his own research in the field when necessary. For Asian Diplomacy this has meant conducting over 160 interviews with diplomats and others involved in the region’s diplomacy. His style is clear and his structure generally logical, with a liberal use of sub-headings and substantial footnotes that make the subjects easy to grasp for the unfamiliar reader. Indeed, both books will be attractive to novices in the field, though there is plenty that will interest the expert too. His insights are particularly valuable where they concern diplomacy in the less-developed world. Thus, in order to illustrate the growing emphasis on business management in professional diplomacy, he kicks off The Twenty-First Century Ambassador with a reference to Thailand’s 2003 decision to make its ambassadors ‘Chief Executive Officers’ in the countries to which they were assigned, taking pride of place among other agencies in projecting Thailand’s political, economic and cultural interests abroad. For its part, Asian Diplomacy is to be welcomed above all as a comparative study of foreign ministries in a region beyond Europe.

Of the two books, The Twenty-First Century Ambassador is likely to have the broadest appeal, given that it ranges more widely in its examples. Rana begins by drawing out some of the key changes in the world of diplomacy over recent decades: the challenges to the so-called ‘gatekeeper role’ of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the growing importance of non-state actors; the multiplication of items on the international agenda; the increasing number of summits; the information revolution; ideas of ‘delivering value to citizens’ (p. 15); the application of new technologies to diplomatic work; the growing size of embassies, with many staff drawn from beyond the Foreign Ministry; and the wider social and educational background of diplomats. After that there are chapters dedicated to: ‘ritual and form’ (protocol, ceremonial, immunities and the like); ‘partners and techniques’ (very much a chapter of two halves: official and non-state interlocutors are dealt with in the first half, while principal functions – negotiation, promotion and outreach – feedback to the sending state, the ambassador’s management role and the embassy’s service role – in consular and commercial work, and public diplomacy – are covered in the second); multilateral diplomacy; the domestic context (including dealings with the Foreign Ministry and political leaders); leadership within the embassy; and ‘human resources’ (ranging from training and language skills to ‘rogue ambassadors’, rewards and sanctions).

In the Conclusion, Rana looks into the future, but in a practical rather than a speculative way, touching on possible developments in the European Union as the concept of a joint foreign policy gathers pace, and the growing emphasis on entrepreneurship as an ambassadorial attribute. But he is confident that the institution of the ambassador is here to stay ‘as the prime, permanent channel of contact and relationship promotion with foreign countries.’ The book is not flawless. Chapter 1 reads more like an extension of the Introduction, providing essential background material (such as how the ‘ambassador’ should be defined) pointing up areas of debate that are not followed through until later on. But it should be recommended reading for those just entering the diplomatic profession, if only to show them that one of the few certainties is that of continuing change.

Building on some of the points made in the earlier book, Asian Diplomacy begins with an outline of the key challenges facing the foreign ministry in an age of globalisation, including the widening of international contacts, the plurality of subjects dealt with by foreign ministries, the impact of new technologies, the significance of public diplomacy and issues of accountability to parliaments and the public. The book then goes on to look at five Asian foreign ministries in turn – China, India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand – looking, in each case, at four common aspects: the historical context of each country’s diplomacy; the institutional structure of the diplomatic service and foreign ministry (including such issues as training and missions abroad); the contemporary priorities of their diplomacy; and the methods pursued in such areas as negotiation, inter-agency co-ordination and crisis management. There is an assessment of each country’s overall practice at the end of each of these chapters, but the real strength of Rana’s approach lies in his ability to draw comparisons between the five cases in his penultimate chapter, drawing out both common reactions to problems (regional diplomacy is a rapidly growing area; diplomacy has become much more professional over time; and, unsurprisingly, all five foreign ministries have found that ‘the best adaptation is continuous reform’, p. 182) and major differences between them (with Singapore emerging the strongest on innovation and risk management). There are plenty of comparisons too, drawn throughout the book, with Western examples.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is number 7, where Rana explores the notion of an Asian approach to diplomacy, boosted by the continent’s economic growth and in reaction to the West’s hegemony-seeking and emphasis on its own concepts of human rights and democracy. Rana concludes that ‘Asians tolerate diversity; intercultural communication comes rather easily to them. The world sorely needs such qualities… ’ (p. 179) There is room to quibble with his choice of foreign ministries. China, India and Japan are clearly important enough in global terms to justify their inclusion, and as a threesome they also exhibit radically different cultures and political systems. But it would have been interesting to see at least one Islamic country drawn into the frame. As it is, however, the two South-east Asian examples, Thailand and the city-state of Singapore, provide plenty of scope for contrasting practices that fit Rana’s purpose. He is well aware that others can go on to explore the numerous other foreign ministries of Asia. But he can be thanked for, as he puts it, ‘opening the door to further study’ (p. 15) and those future researchers would be well advised to take his book as a model for their own case studies.

October 10th, 2007|Tags: |

Bilateral Diplomacy

(DiploProject: Geneva and Malta, 2002), pp. 283, with index. ISBN 99909-55-16-6

[ buy this book ]

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.

May 13th, 2002|Tags: |