Embassies 2017-04-11T18:18:37+00:00

Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 8: Embassies

pp. 117-18, localitis: a drastic way of making it unlikely that this ‘disease’ will be caught is to recruit diplomats from those with a highly developed sense of superiority relative to the people of the host state and then to curtail their contacts with them, methods readily assisted by the provision of staff housing as well as embassy buildings within walled compounds. A grim picture of this sort of arrangement at the Soviet mission in Rangoon in the late 1950s is vividly described by Aleksandr Kaznacheev (see Further reading below).

p. 120, the ‘country team’: The control of an ambassador over the embassy also tends to be weakened by the greater ease with which specialist attachés can now communicate directly with their home ministries by means of the new technology (discussed in the previous chapter; see esp. p. 112). The US ambassador to Mexico (1998-2002) expressed this point with great feeling in his ADST interview (Davidow: 127; see Further reading)

p. 120, LE staff: In drawing attention to the difficulties LE staff might face in a country with a hostile government, I should have said that, because of the even greater difficulties that home-based staff will themselves be likely to face in such a state – particularly in making new contacts and arranging travel plans in order to keep tabs on what is going on – local employees will on balance remain more important than ever in these circumstances. This point was emphasised by the 2012 OIG Report on US Embassy Caracas (p. 7)

p. 121: Having a resident embassy also enables a state to underline publicly its disapproval of a receiving state’s action by the relatively harmless expedient of temporarily withdrawing its ambassador ‘for consultations’, leaving a number two as chargé d’affaires. A recent example is provided by the announcement of the recall of the Australian Ambassador from Indonesia, Paul Grigson, at the end of April 2015 (he left on 3 May) in protest at the execution on Anzac Day by firing squad of two Australian citizens convicted many years earlier of drug offenses but whom Canberra maintained had since been completely rehabilitated. Predictably but probably unwisely making light of this, the Indonesian Attorney-General was quoted as saying that recently the Netherlands and Brazil had done the same sort of thing and that the affair would only be ‘momentary’. On Grigson’s return, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that in 2013 the Indonesian government had withdrawn its own ambassador from Australia (for six months) in anger at revelations of Australian espionage in its country, and that – although not unusually prone to use the device – Canberra had employed it against other countries five times since 1982.

p. 124, Intervention in the political affairs of the receiving state: While we are on the US Embassy in Caracas (see note on p. 120 above), its recent role in this regard should be regretfully noted, i.e. in supporting, even if only indirectly and by nods and winks, those seeking the removal of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela by coup d’état in April 2002 (their success was only short-lived). It seems that the chief US support for Chavez’s opponents on this occasion was provided directly from Washington, but it is striking that, as noted in the 2012 OIG Report on the embassy, its ‘first priority’ remains to meddle in Venezuelan affairs … sorry, ‘to preserve and strengthen democracy’ in the country; see also Falk and Friel in Further reading below. It is hardly surprising that in early 2015 the government of Chavez’s political heir, Nicolás Maduro, should have demanded a swingeing reduction in the size of this massive embassy, the staff numbers of which were redacted from the OIG report (see p. 19).

p. 124, subsidiary functions: a classified CIA report of 1983 noted that, in striving to acquire sensitive materials for its nuclear weapons programme, ‘Pakistan, for example, frequently deals through dummy firms set up by their procurement officers who operate under diplomatic cover out of Pakistani embassies in Western Europe’ (Directorate of Intelligence, ‘The “Gray Market” …’, p. 3; see Further reading below).
For some reason, in revising the 4th ed I deleted another unsavoury function of the embassies of some states: the surveillance and intimidation of exiled opposition groups (Testimony … See Further reading below).

I should add two further reasons for the survival of the normal embassy. First, there is the time-honoured value of the opportunity it provides to governments for rewarding with ambassadorships either political allies who seek such posts (a common American reflex, see Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald articles below) or rivals thought to be less of a risk if safely installed abroad under the watchful eye of other members of the mission – a form of honourable exile. A vintage example of this is provided by the appointment of Alexander Dubček as Czechoslovak ambassador to Turkey following the squashing by Soviet tanks in August 1968 of the reform movement – ‘the Prague Spring’ – of which he was the figurehead. Among an abundance of other examples is the rash of appointments of this sort made by the Sudanese government in the mid-1990s (Berridge, W. J.). Second, and probably more important, there is the embassy’s usefulness to corrupt politicians and officials (and their cronies); for example, in money laundering, smuggling via the diplomatic bag, and the selling of visas. This sort of abuse is particularly prevalent in the missions of states where corruption in government service is normal and the more so when missions are poorly administered and their staff are political appointees and/or demoralized (google “corrupt embassies”).

Further reading: additions and links