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Diplomatic Security under a Comparative Lens—Or Not?

Diplomatic Security- A Comparative AnalysisEugenio Cusumano, Christopher Kinsey, eds. Diplomatic Security: A Comparative Analysis. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019. 280 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5036-0898-6.

“Diplomatic security” is the term now usually preferred to “diplomatic protection” for the steps taken by states to safeguard the fabric of their diplomatic and consular missions, the lives of their diplomatic and consular officers, and the integrity of their communications; it has the advantage of avoiding confusion with the controversial legal doctrine of diplomatic protection.[1] The book under review here, Diplomatic Security: A Comparative Analysis, edited by Eugenio Cusumano and Christopher Kinsey, contains the views of scholars from China, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Israel, Turkey, and the United States on three issues: first, the policy of their state on diplomatic security, including its home-based administration; second, the ways the policy was shaped by national attitudes and circumstances; and third, the effectiveness of that policy. A final essay looks at the whole subject from a “critical” perspective, while a conclusion is provided by Cusumano.

There is much valuable detail in this volume, and several of the essays—especially those written by persons who had previously worked in diplomatic security—are unquestionably authoritative. I was interested to learn, for example, that China still relies to an unusual extent on the receiving state for diplomatic security, although it is expected before long to adopt the “‘best practices’ of other great powers” (p. 51); that, in part to avoid the need for parliamentary approval, German soldiers sent at short notice to protect any seriously threatened foreign mission of the Federal Republic do not carry arms, wear civilian clothing, and have diplomatic status; that the Russian Embassy in Damascus relies on the Syrian Army for protection; that Israel claims to be unique in embracing responsibility for diplomatic security in one “overarching” counterterrorist organization designed to protect, via both intelligence gathering and operational engagement, Israelis at home as well as abroad; and that incompetence consequent upon nepotism in the Turkish foreign service has compromised the security of Ankara’s communications, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s cost. But valuable detail is one thing; the comparative analysis promised in the sub-title to the book is another.

Cusumano and Kinsey outline their method in their introduction. It is to employ case studies of the diplomatic security policies of nine states that are so “structured” by the same questions as to enable “an empirically rich comparative analysis” (p. 6). I take it that by this they mean the production of generalizations about the subject that are at the least suggestive hypotheses to be tested by further research in what they rightly say is an under-explored field. There are, unfortunately, a number of serious weaknesses in their approach.

First, a volume consisting of case studies, which only in occasional asides if at all comment on the practice of other states, clearly does not in itself amount to a “comparative analysis,” which is why it is rather baffling that Cusumano commences his conclusion by remarking that his task is to “complete the comprehensive comparative analysis of diplomatic security in this book” (p. 223, emphasis added). In fact, such comparative analysis of diplomatic security only begins with the conclusion, although this is a long one (twenty-four pages, including endnotes), and I shall make some observations about the content of this later.

The second problem with this approach is that the selection of the cases—the UN Security Council Permanent Five plus four other major powers—is idiosyncratic. No explanation for this selection is provided, other than that these states all have missions in dangerous places, have been “increasingly confronted by the threat of terrorism,” and have treated diplomatic security as an “urgent issue” (p. 6). (The last claim is in any case questionable on the evidence of the Turkish chapter.) Many other states meet the same conditions for selection, among them some smaller states that have suffered serious attacks on their diplomatic or consular missions in recent years, not least in the Middle East and North Africa: for example, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Morocco. It would surely have been instructive to include some smaller states at the expense of some of the larger ones, or alternatively some from other regions, such as South Asia, central and southern Africa, and South America.

The third and most serious problem is the country focus itself, even were it to have had a more representative sample. A serious comparative analysis of this subject would have been problem-focused. It would have begun with chapters on the changing threat and the administrative response and then proceeded with individual chapters on the changes to buildings and compounds, location, types of guard, and communications—with the effectiveness or otherwise of each considered in turn. This would have brought much sharper focus to the key questions raised by the subject, encouraged the net to be cast much wider for comparative evidence, and made an infinitely more valuable contribution to public policy. It would also have produced a more elegant book, for out would have gone the irrelevant descriptions of the great geographical spread of the selected states’ diplomatic representation and above all the over-long accounts of the deadly attacks suffered by their foreign missions, both of which are a prominent feature of most chapters in this volume.

Since, for good reasons, great secrecy veils much of how states go about providing security for their diplomacy, the editors freely acknowledge that their authors faced great difficulties in obtaining evidence for their studies and had to rely on “existing unclassified information” (p. 6). And this lament is echoed by more than one of the authors themselves. With the honorable exception of Thomas Stocking’s chapter, “Risk Management in US Diplomatic Security,” the consequence is that there is relatively little in this book on the methods actually employed in the provision of diplomatic security, and therefore on their effectiveness as opposed to related subjects, such as the bureaucracies and units that handle it and the national cultures of which they are an expression, useful though these treatments are.

Weakened both by the limitations of its methodology and the obstacles in the way of obtaining primary source evidence on the most important point, it is hardly surprising that this book drives to unexceptionable conclusions. In his winding up, which is nevertheless full as far as it goes, Cusumano says that the case studies demonstrate an “increasingly widespread awareness of the importance of effective diplomatic security arrangements” and a corresponding increase in its bureaucratic focus in foreign ministries, and that this is a function of the presence of so many embassies and consular posts in “developing states fraught with social unrest,” the “growth of international terrorism,” and the recent appearance of “expeditionary diplomacy,” although the last is by no means as new as he supposes (pp. 224-25, 225, 226).[2] And yet, he rightly notes, there remains a marked reluctance on the part of diplomatic officers to allow themselves to be protected too much, partly because of the poor impression this creates and partly because it impedes their freedom of movement. There are also “clear differences” between states in the “type of actors … tasked with providing diplomatic security,” although private security contractors—who are more readily controlled by foreign ministries and have a lower profile than military units—are becoming popular (p. 228). But this is not evidence that diplomatic security policy is “converging in an isomorphic process,” the view expressed in the China chapter (see above) notwithstanding (p. 229). Aside from the enduring influence of different national traditions and different propensities to accept risk, using soldiers or policemen as guards usually means that some of the costs of diplomatic security are borne by defense and interior ministries, which is a point well taken. Another is Cusumano’s conclusion—in a particularly strong, skeptical analysis of risk management methodology—that the increased attention given to diplomatic security and widespread disposition to close diplomatic posts in dangerous places only as a last resort are a vindication of the continuing value attached to “traditional, face-to-face diplomatic relations,” although he overlooks the important point that another reason for this is that such posts routinely give cover to large numbers of intelligence officers (p. 236).[3]

I am less impressed by the somewhat strained argument in the conclusion that the investigation of diplomatic security policies is a “source of insight into the architecture of the international system,” revealing in particular that in recent decades its vastly important norm of diplomatic inviolability “has been increasingly violated” (pp. 238, 240). For this is like saying that the rules of football have been increasingly violated by crowd invasions of the pitch. Diplomatic inviolability is a norm between states, and—with the odd exception—it is not states that have been attacking embassies.

What policy recommendations are offered by this book? In the final essay, “Securing Diplomacy in the War on Terrorism: A Critical Perspective,” which sits uncomfortably into the plan of this volume, Clara Eroukhmanoff appears to say little more than that diplomats would be much safer if they were to withdraw from all association with the military. So any diplomat interested only in “short-term solutions,” such as one drafted as political adviser to an armed forces commander, can safely ignore this chapter (p. 215). As for Cusumano, in addition to advising the obvious need to strike a balance between the demands of diplomacy and the demands of security, he has only one suggestion: that the corporate body of diplomats of all states in receiving state capitals should be exploited. So as to avoid the risk of a poorly protected mission being an attractive terrorist target, the members of the diplomatic corps should compare notes on the local security situation and promote a uniform response relative to the physical security of all diplomatic premises in the capital, which he rightly regards as “much more feasible” than a similar plan in regard to their diplomatic communications (p. 243). This is a useful idea that might fly in some situations and probably already does, at least among politically aligned groups within the diplomatic corps. (The term “diplomatic corps” is used in its correct, multinational sense in this last passage of the book but is widely used incorrectly elsewhere as a synonym for the essentially national “diplomatic service,” thereby blurring an important distinction.)

In sum, this book contains much of interest, features some passages of penetrating analysis, and flags up a subject well worthy of scholarly interest but is weakened unnecessarily by poor methodology and unavoidably by the difficulty of penetrating primary sources on such a sensitive subject.


[1]. See G. R. Berridge and Lorna Lloyd, The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Diplomacy, 3rd ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 112-13.

[2]. See my “Expeditionary Diplomacy,” DiploFoundation, January 13, 2013, https://grberridge.diplomacy.edu/expeditionary-diplomacy/.

[3]. See my Diplomacy and Secret Service: A Short Introduction (DiploFoundation: 2019), chap. 3, available on the ISSUU platform, https://issuu.com/diplo/docs/diplomacy_and_secret_service.

Citation: G. R. Berridge. Review of Cusumano, Eugenio; Kinsey, Christopher, eds., Diplomatic Security: A Comparative Analysis. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. November, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54330

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

First published on H-Diplo at URL in ‘Citation’ above in November 2019. Reproduced here by permission, for which I must express my thanks to Seth Offenbach of the City University of New York.

Diplomatic Security under a Comparative Lens—Or Not?2020-01-04T11:49:21+00:00

Barder, Brian, Brian Barder’s Diplomatic Diary

Barder, Brian, Brian Barder’s Diplomatic DiaryBarder, Brian, Brian Barder’s Diplomatic Diary, ed. Louise Barder (privately published: London, 2019), pp. 307. Paperback ISBN 978-1-944066-29-1; hardback ISBN 978-1-944066-25-3. Available from Amazon, as well as other booksellers.

Sir Brian Barder, the senior British diplomat and author of the always sage and sometimes gripping What Diplomats Do, died in 2017 but, courtesy of the professional editorial hand of his daughter Louise, has left us another treat. This is what he called a diary and which for the most part has the form of a diary (dated daily entries), although originally it was a series of letters sent to friends from foreign parts. Compared to diplomatic memoirs, diplomatic diaries are a rarity. And since this one is the product of an acute observer who loved the English language and used it in a vigorous and creative style, the appearance of this volume is doubly welcome.

The diary does not cover Barder’s early career, which started in the Colonial Office in 1957, but begins when he arrived in Moscow in February 1971. In that important embassy he was first secretary political, number two to the head of chancery and also press attaché; in September, when his immediate boss went on leave, he became acting head of chancery and right-hand man of the ambassador just as the crisis began in Anglo-Soviet relations provoked by the expulsion of 105 Soviet intelligence officers from London (at almost 100 pages, the Moscow diary is the longest in the book). The next chapters deal with Australia in the mid-1970s, where he was counsellor head of chancery and a little over two years after his arrival faced the political crisis prompted by the sudden sacking of prime minister Gough Whitlam by the governor-general, who looked ‘as always like Mr Micawber, portly in morning coat and top hat, his thick snowy hair flowing out of it and setting off his florid petulant baby face, plum-coloured with tan or anger or both.’ There follow chapters covering an eleven month sabbatical in 1977-8 with the Canadian National Defence College while awaiting the outcome of a radical report on the Diplomatic Service; and finally all of his head of mission appointments bar the last one. These were in Ethiopia, where in the mid-1980s Barder substantially overlapped with an appalling famine that attracted world-wide attention; Poland, in the last years of its Communist regime; and Nigeria, stagnating under yet another military junta at the end of the 1980s. Were it not for the relative stability prevailing at the last two postings, Barder might have been thought of as a diplomatic storm crow.

As a diary not remotely composed with a view to providing a record for historians, this volume has obvious weaknesses from the scholar’s point of view. Diplomatic historians will lament that it contains little on the policy questions that Barder was involved in with his local interlocutors or advice given to London; area specialists on South Africa during the later apartheid years will regret that he kept no diary at all during his London postings, for he was head of Southern Africa Department in the FCO from 1978 until 1982 when the future of Namibia was in the balance; and harried scholars generally might be annoyed that the volume has no index. But for historians of diplomatic method, lovers of travel writing, students who wish for a companion volume to bring more colour and humour to the author’s What Diplomats Do, and finally for the many followers of the author’s well known blog who would like to know more about the man behind it, this book is a must. (The blog has been archived by the British Library because of its ‘high quality’.)

Barder did a vast amount of travelling while at his various posts, some for holiday with his wife Jane and their children but most on duty. And his descriptions of the landscapes and townscapes he saw are vivid and discerning; for example, Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg) was ‘like a vast disintegrating museum: the great facades are crumbling as fast as the palace next door is restored, nothing is used for the purposes originally intended, the life-style of the society which camps out in all this baroque splendour is all at odds with its spirit, and the only new buildings are a desecration.’ The difficulties and occasional perils of travelling and finding accommodation, especially in the Soviet Union and Africa, also find much space in the diary and are often the targets of his dry wit. Typically self-deprecating, he refers at one point to the time when ‘diplomats were travellers rather than tourists’ but there are passages in this book which show that Barder did not always travel with the comfort and carefree attitude of the tourist. Even his Moscow flat was no paradise: ‘The cockroaches are drawn up in orderly ranks to receive us,’ he noted of his return to it on 10 May 1972.

What comes out with particular force from the diary is just what a huge, unvaried and often unappetising chore can be the representative work of a conscientious ambassador like Brian Barder. This is because – aside from information gathering and reporting and, in exceptional circumstances such as those in the Ethiopian famine, supporting a major aid mission – this is what the duty of travelling is all about. By April 1990, while in Nigeria, he was beginning to describe his official visits and courtesy calls as ‘identikit’ tours. ‘Much of the time,’ he records on 26 August 1989, ‘we were escorted by police cars with flashing lights and howling sirens, government protocol cars with protocol officials leaning out of the windows trying to bash passers-by with truncheons …’. Courtesy calls to traditional rulers also had a habit of ending on the same note, he wrote from Lagos in April 1990: ‘Your Excellency, it is a great honour and pleasure … my people are suffering from … because of our historic connexions we look to Britain … just a modest residential school complete with staff [would be very welcome]… before We wish Your Excellency Godspeed, hope We may seek your immediate intervention to settle a small problem over Our niece’s visa … .’ With the completion of one more tour inside Nigeria, he added to this entry, ‘we shall have visited and done our official calls in all 21 of the State capitals and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja’ – a sigh is almost audible. As generous as ever, however, he acknowledges an upside to his representational duties, not least in Nigeria: there were ‘also plenty of friendly and often impressive people to meet.’

While I have said that there is little in the diary for diplomatic historians, those with an interest in Anglo-Soviet relations will get from it the flavour of the atmosphere in the Moscow embassy in September and October 1971 when the sensational news was received about the 105 Soviet intelligence officers to be expelled from the UK. As acting head of chancery, Barder accompanied the ambassador, Sir John Killick – only just arrived in Moscow – to the Soviet Foreign Ministry during these weeks and also had to field a British press corps clamouring for information. He was relieved that he was not among those expelled from Moscow in retaliation, for it would have been ‘pretty disastrous financially, disruptive for the children, and generally unsettling’; besides, it would have been disagreeable to be treated ‘like a thing’ in a tit-for-tat exchange. There is far more detail on this affair here than in the transcript of Barder’s interview for the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (BDOHP), instructive though this is on other stages in his career.

The diary is also illuminating on the pleasures as well as the trials an ambassador might find in accommodating streams of visitors from home, and on the trials devoid of pleasures in dealing with business and press moguls gate-crashing such tragedies as the Ethiopian famine.

This brings me finally to note a reflection made by the author in his Ethiopian diary of 19 April 1983 after he had described, almost with envy, the affection and respect reported to have been earned by a relief worker he had just encountered. ‘Not for the first time in one’s dealings with relief workers,’ he wrote, ‘diplomacy is made to seem a superficial, shallow, almost shameful occupation. Definitely not one of the caring professions, anyway.’ This is a clear echo of the outlook that ripened when he joined the Colonial Office in the Home Civil Service in 1957. Unique among Whitehall departments, this prided itself on putting the interests of colonial peoples before narrow British national interests. As Barder, a life-long socialist and for the greater part of his career a member of the Labour Party, explains in his BDOHP interview, it was only with reluctance that he switched to the Diplomatic Service in 1965 after the Colonial Office had been made obsolete by decolonization. He did not believe that diplomacy was truly a shameful occupation and his own career, much of which is illuminated by this diary, is eloquent testimony of the opposite. But the fact that he could muse on the idea shows just what a fundamentally decent and thoughtful man he was, as well as an outstanding diplomat. I strongly recommend this book.

Barder, Brian, Brian Barder’s Diplomatic Diary2019-12-11T17:04:29+00:00

Room for Diplomacy: The history of Britain’s diplomatic buildings overseas, 1800-2000

Room For Diplomacy: Britain's Diplomatic Buildings Overseas 1800-2000Mark Bertram, Room for Diplomacy: The history of Britain’s diplomatic buildings overseas, 1800-2000, 2nd ed. (Spire Books: Salisbury, 2017), pp. 479 incl. index, ISBN 978-1-904965-54-1

Mark Bertram joined the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works after reading architecture at Cambridge and remained in the civil service as architect, project manager, administrator, estate manager and – in his own words – ‘quasi diplomat’ for the next thirty years. He was the ministry’s regional architect in Hong Kong in the 1970s, moved to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it secured control of its own buildings abroad (the ‘diplomatic estate’) in 1983, and was soon head of the estate department. On surrendering that role in 1997 he became a professional adviser to the FCO. He is therefore exceptionally well qualified to have written a book of this nature.

The structure of his work, which has 20 chapters, is a good blend of the thematic with the chronological: for example, ‘Chapter 4: Consulates 1850-1900’, and ‘Chapter 5: Legation Houses 1850-1900’; and ‘Chapter 13: New Commonwealth 1947-1983’, and ‘Chapter 14: Roles, Rules and Rations 1950-1970’. Its greater part consists of detailed descriptions of building types and individual buildings during different periods, together with accounts of the debates their planning prompted at home, some of them acrimonious. Interleaving most chapters, however, are illuminating discussions of the general questions prompted by the subject, and it is these that I found particularly interesting.

The first among these questions to mention because it helps to understand the others, even though it will probably be the one of least interest to students of diplomacy, is where in the government machine overall responsibility for the diplomatic estate should lie. In Britain, this rested from 1824 until 1983 with an already long-established government department responsible for all of central government’s public works (e.g. the British Museum), among which, therefore, the diplomatic estate was only one part; after the 1870s, the Foreign Office did not even have a budget allocation for the overseas estate for the forthcoming year. For most of this period the ministry with overall responsibility for diplomatic buildings abroad was known as the Office of Works, latterly as the Ministry of Works, then the Property Services Agency (PSA). It had its own architects, quantity surveyors, structural engineers, project managers, and so on. In 1983, this all changed when both the responsibility and the money were given to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; accordingly, the title of the penultimate chapter of Bertram’s book is ‘Diplomats in Control’, with charge of 4,067 properties in 132 countries. The question is: Was this a good thing? The PSA thought that the diplomats would give insufficient attention to long-term value for money, while the diplomats believed that only they were able to give the right priority to the estate as ‘a tool of British diplomacy’ (p. 403) – and henceforward would be in a position to do so, while being determined to make it cost-effective. Provided a foreign ministry is held to account by a well-qualified select committee of a parliamentary assembly, I am sure that the author is right to support the diplomats’ view.

The second general question is how to acquire and hold property. Initially, envoys and consuls had to find and rent their own, in the last case sometimes – notably in nineteenth century China – even boats moored offshore. Subsequently, governments such as that of Britain assumed the responsibility but were then faced with the choice of whether to lease or purchase existing properties of promise – or build their own. Britain took its first steps in the last direction in the early nineteenth century. Bertram examines, too, a variant on leasehold that began to be exploited by the British in the early twentieth century in cities with ‘relatively sophisticated property expertise (p. 227).’ This was the ‘developer deal’, in which a developer agreed to provide an acceptable site and erect on it a building to an approved plan; in return, the government signed up to rent it for a fixed term of years, usually a long one. The British consulate-general building in Jakarta was erected on this basis at the beginning of the 1930s and continued to be leased by the government until 1981. The advantages and disadvantages of the various options in different circumstances are thoroughly considered.

The third question to arise when the government began to build embassies and consulates was how to design them. When the first resident embassies were established in the early modern period ambassadors and their companions (official and unofficial) lived and worked together in one house. In the British case, Bertram tells us, the growing demand for office space consequent upon the expansion in diplomatic responsibilities following the First World War led to a feeling in London that embassy offices should be lodged separately from the ambassador’s house: the offices (henceforward ‘the embassy’) in the business centre and the ambassador’s living accommodation and ‘machine for entertaining’ (henceforward ‘the residence’) in the cheaper and more spacious suburbs, with the corollary that separate accommodation also had to be offered to the other diplomatic staff. But to the extent that this change came fully to pass after the Second Wold War it was not accepted without stiff resistance by the senior diplomats, who argued that the old design was more efficient as well as more convenient and that, besides, civil servants in London did not grasp the prestige that attached to having one large building in a city centre. A downside to the separation of embassy from ambassadorial residence felt more strongly in London was that it ‘opened the way for more individualistic and transient enthusiasms to flourish on the part of incumbents’ in regard not just to furnishings of the residence but also to modifications to existing buildings and plans for any replacement. ‘The scope for altercations [with London],’ writes the author with feeling, ‘was endless’ (p. 326). Not least because incumbent ambassadors were likely to have left their residence for a new one before any major building works were completed and their successors might possibly have quite different ideas, London’s tolerance for their views had to be strictly limited.

Another question of design that caused tension was the extent to which the operational requirements of a new building should be moulded by stylistic considerations, whether with a view to making it blend into the local milieu or – more usually – project a desired image of the sending state. A related question was whether or not commissions should be awarded to high-profile private architects, who would probably be more difficult to control than those in government employ but might be expected to produce eye-catching results. Style did not begin to become a significant consideration until the late 1950s, when architectural anathemas were heaped on the ‘straight blocks’ to which the Ministry of Works had given birth after the Second World War. At this juncture, private architects were commissioned to design diplomatic buildings for the first time since, exceptionally, the famous Sir Edwin Lutyens had been employed to design the new embassy and residence in Washington, completed in 1930. But the experience of the Ministry of Works with the three projects concerned was not, says Bertram, a good one. Neither the new residence at Lagos by Lionel Brett, occupied in 1961, nor Basil Spence’s Rome Embassy, opened ten years later, were judged to have been operationally ideal by their occupants, and the design for a new embassy and residence at Brasilia by Peter and Alison Smithson was abandoned after a three-year struggle, in part because it was too ambitious and could not be afforded. Henceforward, the government took more care to appoint in-house architects with good track records, better match the professional strengths of private architects to the challenges of each project when commissioning, and tighten up project management.

A further question of design that caused difficulties for traditional reflexes as its importance increased in the last quarter of the twentieth century was how to modify existing buildings or build new ones with physical defence in mind: the question of what is now usually called ‘diplomatic security’. Unfortunately, although understandably, British practice in regard to the defence of diplomatic buildings against attack by terrorists or politically agitated mobs is a subject on which Mark Bertram is noticeably reticent. Nevertheless, here and there his book contains interesting asides on it. He says, for example, that the post-Second World War decision to build residences separately from embassies was later reinforced for reasons of security (p. 358), although he does not say why. Presumably this was chiefly to reduce the likelihood of harm falling to ambassadors and their families by virtue of living in buildings that not only needed to be open to the public but were also correctly assumed to be ‘nests of spies’. (This was a major reason for the notorious attack on and occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.)  He also mentions the security advantages of compounds in the Middle East and Asia, which ‘derived from the military cantonments of India’, and reminds us that they were also prompted with a view to providing a ‘healthy, communal, uncrowded, fairly self-sufficient living and working environment’ (pp. 87, 335) – points I had omitted to mention in my article ‘Diplomatic security and the birth of the compound system’ . He mentions more than once that secure or ‘classified’ offices were always placed on the top floor of buildings (p. 314), which is well-known. Further, during the Cold War, such very limited work as had to be done on British missions in Warsaw Pact countries was done by security-cleared personnel from the UK and all materials were UK-sourced and delivered by diplomatic bag (p. 258). And he gives a brief mention of the FCO’s 1985 security review, which ‘made proposals for relocating some [buildings in unsafe environments] and strengthening the defences of others in respect of site perimeters, gates and barriers, and glazing’ (p. 418). But that – apart from the account of the building of the new embassy in Moscow, opened in 2000, where measures designed to prevent electronic eavesdropping were the main security concern – is it as far as this subject is concerned.

With the reservations that there is – albeit understandably – too little on security and perhaps too much on the careers of individuals, Mark Bertram has written a book on his subject of unrivalled authority and with great clarity. Occasionally, too, a droll sense of humour shines through his text (‘It is an illusion to imagine that bureaucracy lessened in time of war: it just used smaller sheets of thinner paper’, pp. 232-3). The author is at ease with the diplomatic lexicon and provides just the right amount of political context. The book is also carefully sourced, with many references to documents located in The National Archives in London; and it has innumerable illustrations, a bibliography, and good analytical index. It is also supplemented by full descriptions and illustrations in a ‘Catalogue of British embassy and consulate buildings, 1800 – 2010’ on the Web which is freely available here. Room for Diplomacy is unique in accounts of British diplomacy and I cannot recommend it too strongly. The author’s publisher, Spire Books was dissolved in 2016, but it can still be obtained, most cheaply direct from the author via this page.

Room for Diplomacy: The history of Britain’s diplomatic buildings overseas, 1800-20002019-12-05T13:09:20+00:00

Trump and Darroch

9 July 2019

All observers know that what the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, said about Donald Trump and his White House in secret, classified messages to the Foreign Office is true. Read more.

Trump and Darroch2020-06-03T15:29:35+01:00

Diplomatic Notebooks 1, 1958-1960: The view from Ankara

Zeki Kuneralp, Diplomatic Notebooks 1, 1958-1960: The view from Ankara, ed. and introduced by Sinan Kuneralp (The Isis Press: Istanbul, 2018), ISBN 978-975-428-616-8/978-975-428-617-5, pp. 342, incl. name and analytical index. Publisher’s page

Zeki Kuneralp (1914-1998) was one of Turkey’s most gifted, well-liked and influential diplomats of the second half of the twentieth century. This book, dispassionately edited, introduced and annotated by his son, the scholar-publisher Sinan Kuneralp, is the first of a promised series of six volumes. Beginning in January 1958 and ending in August 1960, when Zeki Kuneralp became ambassador to Switzerland, it covers all but the first seven or eight months of the period when he was assistant secretary-general for political affairs in the Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara (in May 1960 he was elevated to secretary-general).

This volume consists mainly of notes taken by Kuneralp in his private meetings at the ministry with individual members of the Ankara diplomatic corps who called on him or whom – less frequently – he had summoned. But it also includes notes of encounters at the ministry with other foreign visitors, most of them important, and notes taken at meetings he attended where the Turkish principals were senior government figures. In the interests of clarity and accuracy, Kuneralp – who was fluent in English, French, German and Spanish, as well as Turkish – from 1959 onwards took his notes in the language used in the meetings. In the book, most are in English and those taken in Turkish are followed by square-bracketed translations into English; the introduction, footnotes and indexes are also in English.

For Turkey’s foreign relations, these were years dominated by questions concerning its role in the Western alliance systems, especially CENTO after the headquarters of the ‘Baghdad Pact’ were moved from Baghdad to Ankara following the overthrow in 1958 of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq by Kassem; the implications for the Middle East of Nasserist Arab nationalism, including how to react to the formation of the United Arab Republic, also in 1958; and the tangled and explosive Cyprus question, the diplomacy concerning which was gathering pace in these years. Any scholar interested in these subjects will find a wealth of primary source material of great interest in this volume. As for what it reveals about diplomacy itself, I was struck in particular by the degree to which Kuneralp’s meetings with ambassadors, chargé d’affaires, ministers (legation heads), counsellors and others were dominated by the trading of information on questions of common concern. Some of his visitors turned up at his office with great regularity and all pumped him for information, chiefly on what Turkey knew about particular developments in the region, what its attitude to them was, and what if any action it proposed to take. Depending on the visitor, he responded to such questions with more or less freedom – but invariably expected a quid pro quo. He required answers to the same sort of questions about their own countries intelligence and reactions, including assurances of their support for Turkish policy. Typical, as well as absorbing in its own right, were his exchanges with the Israeli chargéd’affaires, Moshe Alon, who on one occasion (16 October 1958) was accompanied by Reuven Shiloah, the founder of the Israeli secret service, Mossad. Shiloah was roving ambassador and political adviser to the Israeli foreign minister, and originator and active promoter of the idea that Israel should leapfrog its Arab enemies and seek strategic alliances with the non-Arab states on the perimeter of the Middle East such as Iran, Ethiopia – and Turkey. Between January 1958 and 20 August 1960, Alon and Kuneralp had 41 meetings, all of which are fully recorded in this volume.

Diplomatic Notebooks 1 is a highly unusual book. It bears no resemblance whatever to the common diplomatic memoir; nor is it, despite the similarity of its formatting, a diary, for as the Editor says, ‘the human aspect is absent’. This calls to mind the contrast with Harold Nicolson’s justly famous diaries, written with wit and elegance, and containing many insights into the personalities of the great politicians and diplomats of his day as well as his own family life and personal ambitions. But the contents of Diplomatic Notebooks 1were not written with such ends in view. They were composed by Zeki Kuneralp simply as aids to an accurate memory of his official meetings, essentially as personal ‘minutes’, and – being carefully dated, full and yet succinct – they provide an invaluable resource for both the international historian and the historian of diplomacy. I recommend this book most strongly and look forward very much to the following volumes.

Diplomatic Notebooks 1, 1958-1960: The view from Ankara2019-10-14T20:28:33+01:00

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British Diplomats on Brexit

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It’s always been blindingly obvious but it needed saying again, and has just been succinctly stated once more by more than 40 former, senior British ambassadors and high commissioners in a letter to Theresa May, Read more.

British Diplomats on Brexit2020-06-03T15:31:42+01:00
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