Welcome 2017-09-24T23:56:17+00:00

Formerly a university teacher, I am now a freelance writer specialising in the theory and practice of diplomacy from the earliest times until the present. As well as hoping to encourage the study of diplomacy, this site provides periodic updating of my textbook (see immediately below). This page contains some news and views. The contents of the rest of the site can be navigated via the column on the left-hand side.

Diplomacy: Theory and Practice

5th edition
(Palgrave-Macmillan: Basingstoke and New York, 2015)
In Editor’s Choice.

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berridge diplomacy 5th

From the back cover: ‘Probably the most prolific contemporary writer on diplomacy is Professor Geoff R. Berridge … Each of his many books is impeccably written and full of insights into the fascinating formation of modern diplomacy” (Robert William Dry, New York University, USA, and Chairman of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics); “I discovered Geoff Berridge’s book on diplomacy after serving as a diplomat for over 30 years. It is well-researched, sophisticated, inspiring and, where the subject invites it, suitably ironic” (Dr Max Schweizer, Head of Foreign Affairs and Applied Diplomacy, ZHAW School of Management and Law, Switzerland); “Berridge’s Diplomacy is an enlightening journey that takes the student, the practitioner and the general reader from the forefront to the backstage of current diplomatic practice. The thoroughly updated text – also enriched with a stimulating new treatment of embassies – is an invaluable guide to the stratagems and outcomes, continuities and innovations, of a centuries’ long process” (Arianna Arisi Rota, Professor of History of Diplomacy, University of Pavia, Italy).

Donald Duck could have got Kim to Singapore

Out of sheer despair, I have been silent for a long time on Trump’s new style of ‘diplomacy’, as well as on the dangerous clowning of Boris Johnson at Britain’s Foreign Office. And when BBC Radio Five Live asked me to do a pre-recorded telephone interview on the Singapore summit, I declined; partly on the grounds that it would take them too long to delete all the expletives, and partly because it would be better served by a theatre critic or B-movie aficionado. However, a disappointing piece in The Guardian by Simon Jenkins, a columnist whose writing I usually admire, has stirred me to speak. Playing to the Trump narrative, he suggests that only the great deal-maker himself could have pulled off anything like the Singapore summit – but because of his spectacular vulgarity rather than his alleged mastery of negotiating skills honed over years of achieving coups in the real estate business and boasted of in a book with his name on it but which he didn’t write. This vulgarity, says Jenkins, was the ace in Trump’s manicured paw which enabled him to exploit the vanity of Kim Jong-un as well as gratify his own. Should Trump achieve the ambitious aims of his Korea policy, he ‘could,’ says Jenkins, ‘justly claim that his methods have made the world a safer place. It will be back to the drawing board for traditional diplomacy,’ he concludes.

The main problem with this argument – as with Trump’s own claim to diplomatic exceptionalism – is that it overlooks the blindingly obvious fact that never before has the situation been so ripe for diplomatic progress on Korea. Donald Duck, let alone Donald Trump, could have got Kim to Singapore. This is a result chiefly of the rapid and unanticipated progress made by the DPRK’s nuclear weapons programme and its control by a ruthless and adventurous government. Combined with the increasingly dire condition of its brutally sanctioned economy and an erosion of Chinese sympathy towards it, such a situation would have given any administration in Washington both the incentive and the means to give unprecedented priority to Korea diplomacy – and Pyongyang the confidence as well as the incentive to respond seriously. There has been a welcome breakthrough of sorts over Korea but it has been in spite of Donald Trump rather than because of him – and he could easily wreck it yet. If the touchy feely, self-congratulatory theatrics of Singapore are to be built on, it will be traditional diplomacy that will have patiently to put in the so-far-absent foundations (see Freedland) and lay the bricks – while somehow preventing the worst president in US history from once more getting well ahead of the real professionals and trying to place a gaudy roof on thin air.

June 13th, 2018|

Intelligence officers in the present crisis between Russia and the West

There is not a great deal I can add to what has already been written about this sorry business but, since I am working on a new course of lectures on ‘Diplomacy and Secret Intelligence’, it has pricked my interest. I shall, therefore, at least say this:

(1) I agree that it is highly likely that the Russian government was, in one way or another, culpable for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

(2) It is naïve to expect the fully available proof of this to be revealed since this would probably compromise sources; as also is it naïve to demand that governments remain inert until they have the standard of proof required by a court of law.

(3) I believe it to have been a mistake to retaliate by expelling Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover; first, because they probably had nothing to do with the nerve agent attack, either directly or indirectly; and second, because loss of secret intelligence increases ignorance, ignorance breeds fear, and fear increases the likelihood of impulsive actions.

(3) The Russian intelligence officers were described as ‘undeclared’, as if this were somehow typical of a particularly wicked government. But this is gratuitous language since all intelligence officers based in embassies and consulates pretend to be diplomats or consuls. It is only intelligence officers in diplomatic and consular missions to friendly states who are ‘declared’, and then only discreetly to their counterpart ‘liaison’ intelligence services. In spook-speak, the expelled Russian intelligence officers were simply ‘legals’, using their true names under diplomatic cover just like the British intelligence officers based in Britain’s Moscow embassy. (‘Illegals’ are the rarer breed of intelligence officers who are given false identities and operate as businessmen, journalists, and so on.)

(4) The British government claimed a triumph for its diplomacy in lining up so many other countries to follow it in expelling Russian intelligence officers. But this was almost certainly the product chiefly of the long-established excellent relations between Western intelligence services, with the Foreign Office playing no more than a supporting role. It also further exposed more than one ominous fault line in NATO: Turkey.

April 5th, 2018|

Enter the Stupid Party, Exit Diplomacy

John Stuart Mill called the nineteenth century Tory Party in England the ‘stupidest’ party but he would probably not have hesitated for long in abandoning this relativistic statement as too charitable to its modern, Brextremist variant. With apologies to Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and a few others, he would probably have called it simply the ‘stupid party’: stupid for thinking Brexit a good idea, stupid for thinking that the elected assembly of a representative democracy is bound by the advisory verdict of a narrow referendum result, and stupid for the manner in which it has subsequently sought to give this result effect.  As for Donald Trump, the great liberal thinker would just have thrown up his hands in despair, while Grenville-Murray – in a sequel to his hilarious satire on politics in provincial France published in 1871 – might easily have taken him as a model for the bovine mayor of Touscrétins.

One of the most serious consequences of the stupidity of these people is the demise of their diplomacy. Arrogance, bluster and wishful thinking are the hall-marks of Stupid Party posturing and they go into overdrive when entering a negotiation on an issue of vast importance and great public interest such as Brexit. The result is poor preparation, over-estimation of the strength of its hand, public refusal to keep its options open, public assurances of rapid success, alienation of the despised ‘experts’ who might have helped it, loss of respect in the eyes of the other party to the negotiation – and collapse of the talks or a humiliating settlement for which the blame is placed on ‘traitors’ at home. This is all so obvious and has been so widely reported that I shall not bore visitors to this site – or depress myself  further – by labouring the evidence. I am writing this now only to draw attention to three recent articles which put a bright spotlight on the problem. The first is a piece in the Guardian  (23 November 2017), reporting the ‘near contempt felt by European leaders at the British government’s management of the Brexit negotiations’ revealed in a document leaked from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. The second is a lengthy, jaw-dropping update in the New York Times (24 November 2017) on the extent to which the Trump administration’s diplomacy-lite secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has eviscerated the US Foreign Service. And the third is a passionate follow-up to this published on 27 November by two former US ambassadors, Nicolas Burns and Ryan C. Crocker, ‘Dismantling the Foreign Service’.

November 27th, 2017|

The demise of the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) gives ‘laddish’ a new meaning

This event has moved me – OK, rather mischievously – to offer for adoption a new term in the style of our Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Diplomacy:

laddish. Hitherto, ‘laddish’ meant only the kind of bad behaviour indulged in by young lads (boys) with weak social restraints. Recently, however, it has acquired a second meaning. It might also now be used to describe any private educational institution designed solely to make money from the award of degrees in diplomacy. It derives from ‘LAD’, the acronym of the late ‘London Academy of Diplomacy’. In stark contrast to the rightly respected Vienna Diplomatic Academy, such an institution is typically headed by an individual with at best only slender familiarity with the profession or the academic subject (and who might well be an agent of influence of a foreign power), and its courses are taught in the main by casually hired employees. Its degrees are validated by a respectable university that should know better, and it obtains superficial glamour from a prestigious address. When its guiding hands are exposed, it tends to disappear in a puff of smoke.

November 12th, 2017|