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).

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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.

The Twenty-First Century Ambassador: Plenipotentiary to Chief Executive and Asian Diplomacy: The Foreign Ministries of China, India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-2006

(Martinus Nijhoff: Leiden and Boston, 2007), pp. 353, incl. Index. ISBN 978 90 04 15497 1

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In writing her history of the origins and evolution of the office of high commissioner, Dr Lloyd, who is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Keele University, has drawn on a vast range of sources. She has sifted through archives of public and private papers not just in Britain but in Ireland, Canada, and South Africa; and she has conducted many interviews and much correspondence with former high commissioners. As a result she has written the kind of book that used to appear before a swarm of failed mathematicians settled on British universities and spawned things like the risible ‘Research Assessment Exercise’, which has always put quantity before quality. But it is not just the kind of book that requires exhaustive research; it is also the sort that needs careful attention to detail, sharp and well-informed consideration of the wider context of its subject, mellow reflection, and thoughtfulness in its construction for the benefit of its readers. It is thus the kind that takes a long time to produce – but is worth three times the average book that will no doubt receive accolades in the next ‘RAE’. The fact that the subject of Dr Lloyd’s book is important (just look at the size of the Commonwealth) but has never been treated before makes it doubly valuable.

A high commissioner is the head of the resident diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth state to another but has never been simply an ambassador by another name. The office has its origins in the belief that intra-Commonwealth relations are more of a ‘family’ matter than normal ‘foreign’ relations but the implications of this for the status and functions of high commissioners have never been straightforward. In the late nineteenth century, when the Canadians prompted birth of the office, high commissioners were very lowly officials. After the First World War they grew in importance but after the Second World War seemed under threat. Nevertheless, they survived and by the 1960s had come to be regarded as ‘ambassadors plus’. This elevated position did not last long but they are still with us today. Employing to great advantage not only her vast knowledge of the subject but her expertise in international law and general Commonwealth history, Dr Lloyd charts and explains this evolution in a most lucid and convincing fashion. In the process she also produces valuable sidelights on such matters as the deanship of the diplomatic corps, the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, Irish foreign policy, the provision of consular support in Commonwealth states, and – in an appendix – the use of the title of ‘high commissioner’ in other international or quasi-international contexts. I learned a great deal from this book, which is one of the best on the history of diplomacy to appear in recent years. There is no doubt that it will come to be regarded as the standard work on the subject. No Foreign Ministry should be without it.

Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-20062019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy: The structure of diplomatic practice, 1450-1800

(Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000), pp. 262 incl. index of names [only]. ISBN 0521-56189-2.

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This collection of essays, edited and well introduced by Daniela Frigo of the University of Trieste, reflects the comparatively recent rediscovery of interest in the diplomacy of their own peninsula by Italian historians. (The only non-Italian contributor is Christopher Storrs.) All of the essays are of a high standard and most contain much new research. Adrian Belton is, therefore, also to be congratulated for making them accessible to English readers by means of his excellent translation. It is invidious to pick out particular chapters, so I should make clear that the two I mention below are simply those in which I happen to have a special interest at the moment.

I found Andrea Zannini’s lucid and comprehensive essay on the crisis of Venetian diplomacy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a particularly rewarding read. This was not least because, as the author says, the last work specifically devoted to this subject “dates back more than half a century”, while the famous end-of-tour reports of Venetian diplomatists have tended to attract disproportionate scholarly attention. Venetian diplomacy holding such an important place in the history of diplomacy, this is a very valuable essay. I also found stimulating Maria Grazia Maiorini’s chapter on eighteenth century Neapolitan diplomacy, in the shaping of which the secretary of state, Bernardo Tanucci, played such an influential role. I was struck here by the contrast between Tanucci’s very parsimonious attitude to diplomatic representation and that of his earlier counterpart in France, Cardinal Richelieu (see especially p. 192). So, not all of the architects of early modern diplomacy were disciples of the Cardinal.

There are also essays by Fubini on Florence and Venice in the fifteenth century, Contini on Medicean diplomacy in the sixteenth, Frigo on the diplomacy of the small states of Mantua and Modena, Storrs on Savoyard diplomacy in the eighteenth century, and Riccardi on Vatican diplomacy over the whole period. All hold great interest.

My only regret about this excellent collection – apart from the fact that the name of the best known English writer on diplomacy is repeatedly misspelled (Nicolson, not ‘Nicholson’) – is that it only has a ‘name index’. I would not go so far as to suggest that the grave of the person who first dreamed up the idea of a name-only index should be hunted down and desecrated, though the thought is a tempting one. He has, however, a lot for which to answer. Frigo’s book, in which different authors deal with the same topics, is precisely the kind that cries out for a proper index, that is, one which deals with subjects as well as proper names. The absence of such an index in this work will limit its usefulness to students. I also thought it pretty cheap that, while acknowledging on the Contents page that the book has only an ‘Index of names’, the publisher should then have used the misleading sub-head ‘Index’ at the end of the book. If Cambridge University Press does this sort of thing, all hope is lost.

Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy: The structure of diplomatic practice, 1450-18002019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

The Year of Europe: America, Europe and the Energy Crisis, 1972-1974

Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III, Vol. IV (Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, 2006, on behalf of the Whitehall History Publishing Consortium)

This is the latest volume in the DBPO series, which has proved so invaluable to diplomatic historians over the years. It comes as a package consisting of two CDs, a slim hardback volume, and an A4-size booklet, and is described in detail on the FCO website.

Putting the documents on searchable CD-Roms is a new departure for the FCO Historians and I congratulate them on it. That they are searchable is an obvious advantage of great value but the new format also enables them to make available far more documents than usual, bring them out more quickly, and actually save copies of some doomed to subsequent destruction because they do not meet the criteria for acquisition by The National Archives – 12 documents on this occasion. The accompanying hardback volume contains: a very useful 43-page thematic Introduction to the contents of the documents by Keith Hamilton, the Senior Editor of the series; a very comprehensive list of the persons who feature in the documents, together with their official positions (invaluable); and a list of all 568 documents together with a one sentence summary of each – what used to be called a ‘calendar’. As for the A4-size booklet, this is a ‘trailer’ for the volume. Put together and also well introduced by Keith Hamilton, this contains a selection of tasty documents on ‘Britain’s role in Kissinger’s nuclear diplomacy, 1972-1973’ – ‘Operation Hullabaloo’, as the FO code-named it. Here there are two items of particular interest to the student of diplomacy.

The first is a reminder that in those days ‘public diplomacy’ still meant diplomacy being conducted with the knowledge of the public – meaning just that they know it is going on, not what is actually being said, so not to be confused with ‘open diplomacy’. (To Henry Kissinger, at the time still National Security Adviser to President Nixon, public diplomacy was almost as distasteful as open diplomacy, though sometimes for good reasons.) Today, of course, and despite all the semantic wriggling that surrounds it, ‘public diplomacy’ is just a euphemism for propaganda conducted by diplomatists and MFAs. The second point in these papers that I found instructive was the revelation that a very senior member of the British Foreign Office was in effect used by Kissinger as his desk officer for the Soviet Union on the highly sensitive issue of whether or not Moscow and Washington should sign an agreement not to use nuclear weapons against each other. The knowledge that this happened is further evidence that Kissinger’s well known contempt for the US State Department did not mean that even he could do without the services of somebody’s ministry of foreign affairs – hence more grist to the mill of those among us who still believe that such ministries remain important.

I shall end this review with just a few words of warning for digital dunces like me. First, though you will be told that you need Adobe Reader 6.0 to run the CDs, they also run on the later versions. Secondly, when you get to the Contents page do not click on the ‘START’ button, which will merely … ahem … take you back to the start, i.e. the title page; instead, click on one of the lines on the Contents page itself. Once you have avoided these traps, into which of course I plunged headlong, all is plain sailing.

The Year of Europe: America, Europe and the Energy Crisis, 1972-19742019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Spies in Uniform: British Military and Naval Intelligence on the Eve of the First World War

(Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2006), pp. 272 incl. index. ISBN 0-19-926150-4

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Matthew Seligman, who is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Northampton, sets as his target the claim – recently revived by Niall Ferguson – that the British decision for war in August 1914 was made despite the absence of any compelling evidence that Germany was prompted by a ‘Napoleonic’ design. Focusing on the work of British military and naval attachés in Berlin in the decade and a half before the First World War, Seligmann then fires at this target some hefty broadsides and scores some damaging hits. His long and detailed book will have to be taken very seriously by historians of the origins of this war. It will also be of great interest to historians of diplomacy since the role of service attachés in embassies has been surprisingly neglected. (The only full-length scholarly work on the subject – and that rather ponderous and something of a scissors and paste job – was written by Alfred Vagts back in the 1960s.)

Seligman has long chapters on the social role of the service attachés at the British Embassy in Berlin (a role not to be sneered at, not least because it gave them easy access to Wilhelm II), how they obtained their intelligence and what it contained. His archival research is exhaustive and his analysis lucid and exceptionally systematic. He concludes at the end of these chapters that, though there were naturally some differences of view between the attachés, collectively they were nevertheless ‘harbingers of the German menace’ – arguing, moreover, that it would loom largest in the years from 1913 to 1915. But what can be said of the influence of their reports on government policy? This is the subject of the final and most important chapter, which is as methodical as ever. Here Seligman demonstrates first that the reports of the service attachés were widely distributed at home, surfacing in officer training manuals as well on the desks of senior members of the government. He then documents the evidence to show that they were generally received with great respect, though less so on the relatively rare occasions when they did not support existing preconceptions. And finally he provides a lengthy analysis of two examples of British reactions clearly shaped by the reports of the service attachés: airship development, and naval policy in the context of ‘the alleged “German acceleration” of 1908-9’. His overall conclusion, therefore, is that the service attachés not only warned repeatedly of the German menace but had a receptive audience in government.

There is no doubt that this is an impressive argument, though at the end I felt that the author was not altogether convincing on his third and critical measure of attaché influence – direct evidence of cause and effect. Of course, Seligmann confronted huge problems in this regard because of the massive weeding of War Office and Admiralty files of this period. (He laments this so often and uses the word ‘sadly’ with such frequency that I shall ever afterwards think of him as ‘the mournful Dr Seligmann’!) The research on which his book is based is also so thorough that it is difficult to know what else he could have done. Nevertheless, I thought that the author had slipped a little from his own high standards by providing two examples of attaché influence that the evidence does permit, and then suggesting that these are ‘illustrative of the role of attachés in the decision-making process’ (p. 253). And again: ‘In relation to our third test of attaché influence – impact on government – it can, therefore, be concluded that the service attachés made their mark’ (p. 260). The last sentence is carefully worded but it is clear nevertheless that on this point Seligmann is straining to make a case. The give-away is the word ‘illustrative’ in the previously quoted line. Illustrations, of course, are not proof; they are instances of a general principle proved by some other means. I have some other niggles, among them that the structure leads to some repetition and that the index is not much more than one of proper names (no entry on ‘weeding’, for example, which would have been very useful).

Despite my few reservations, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a very important book. It is also a good read. The detail is rich and interesting and, mournful though Dr Seligmann may be, this does not mean that he lacks a sense of humour. I loved the story about the naval attaché who went to Danzig to meet the British consul, Colonel Brookfield, and was greeted at the station by his ‘sort of an ADC’ – his 12-year old daughter. ‘Baby Brookfield’, as she introduced herself, at once secured the attaché’s luggage and within five minutes they were driving off in a cab. Furthermore, it subsequently transpired that – in the view of the naval attaché – she was the source of the only news of real interest provided by her father. It would be interesting to know if the Colonel supported votes for women.

Spies in Uniform: British Military and Naval Intelligence on the Eve of the First World War2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 2005), pp. 301 incl. index. ISBN 0-297-851144

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The publication of these memoirs in autumn 2005 caused a public furore in Britain so I shall not waste time giving any background on Sir Christopher Meyer. (Just punch his name into Google, which will enable you in the blink of an eye even to find out from the BBC website which records he chose when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.) His memoirs have attracted attention in part because they reveal confidential information on very recent events and persons still in office and in part because they argue that British prime minister, Tony Blair – the ‘indispensable ally’ (p. 250) – missed the opportunity to moderate the actions of the US administration at the time of the Iraq War. As to the first point, I cannot help agreeing with Sir Christopher’s many critics: he broke a trust (though not as far as an outsider can judge on any vital questions) and may have weakened the important relationship between civil servants and ministers. As to the second, that is a serious question, though one for diplomatic historians to judge. How should the historian of diplomacy react to these memoirs?

The student of diplomacy will find much of value in DC Confidential – though no great surprises. In its intimate descriptions of the numerous encounters between Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and their respective camp followers, the book provides further evidence of the diplomatic advantages and disadvantages of summitry (chs. 19, 20, 23). It also provides a classic example of the way in which even a traditionally influential MFA, the British Foreign Office, can be effectively sidelined by a head of government on a key (the key) foreign relationship; as ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher in practice answered directly more to 10 Downing Street than to the FO. Above all, the volume gives a lively and rich account of how a modern ambassador – a ‘professional networker’ (p. 223) – has to operate in Washington (esp. chs. 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 21, 22). His ‘task’, writes Sir Christopher, who clearly enjoyed it immensely, ‘is simple to describe: find things out and influence decisions’ (p. 207). However, he must pursue the last aim without ‘being drawn into Washington’s inter-departmental rivalry’, which would ‘damage the embassy’s reputation for trustworthiness and impartiality’ (p. 210). Why would this be dangerous? He does not draw a picture for us because the implication is obvious: it would close off vital sources of information. In short, Sir Christopher draws our eye to the tension between the two main tasks of the Washington ambassador.

In general these memoirs are light reading and padded out with a great deal of ordinary (and much trivial) detail. There is also a strong whiff of score-settling in them. Nevertheless, Sir Christopher Meyer was obviously a successful ambassador in Washington (the British government wanted him to stay on for longer but he had to return home for personal reasons) and his account of his time there should not be read simply for its gossip and as a primary source for historians on the origins of the Iraq War. It also shows with great clarity how a Washington ambassador needs to operate in order to achieve success.

DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Essence of Diplomacy

(Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke and New York, 2005), pp. ix, 207 incl. index. ISBN 13:978-1-4039-9225-3; 10:1-4039-9225-8

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Christer Jönsson is Professor of Political Science at Lund University in Sweden, where Martin Hall is a Researcher. Their book is described as an exercise in ‘theorizing’ diplomacy, that is, an attempt to provide a general account of its causes and consequences. (The authors are thus severe in denying the title of ‘theory’ to the ‘prescriptive tracts’ which scholar-diplomats have written about their art over hundreds of years, though I notice that they are more indulgent to the use of the term ‘political theory’ as in, for example, ‘liberal political theory’.) Not surprisingly, therefore, the book is also described as a deliberate attempt to ‘build bridges’ between those who work in International Relations theory and those – like me – who focus just on diplomacy. Its thrust is that diplomacy is an ‘institution’ which has certain ‘essential dimensions’, among which communication between ‘polities’, the representation of principals abroad, and the reproduction of international society are chosen for special emphasis. These are analysed in separate chapters and subsequently tied together with a view chiefly to showing how diplomacy supports any international society, while at the same time being both adaptable to changing circumstances and instrumental in shaping them. This is a work of great erudition and historical depth, carefully worked out, and – in the main – tightly argued. It also has many lucid and stimulating passages. In the end, however, I was left with a sense of disappointment, as well as with a suspicion that the advantages of bridge-building – while real – can be exaggerated.

I have no quarrel at all with the general thrust of this book, not least in so far as it emphasises the importance of treating diplomacy as an institution from its first appearance. (The authors mistakenly number me among those who take the view that diplomacy only assumed the form of an institution in the early modern era. In fact, my view was – and remains – that the Amarna system in the Ancient Near East was crude and relatively ineffective but obviously an institution nevertheless.) However, I am bound to say that the conclusions of this work (summed up in barely four pages after central chapters that cover much familiar ground) are hardly startling, and they suggest that when diplomacy is treated on this level of generality its causes and consequences are not especially problematical, i.e. the ‘scientific’ theoretical challenge is not a great one. This would have been clearer, I think, if the authors had employed terms less vague than ‘essential dimensions’, alternatively described as ‘constitutive elements’, ‘component parts’, ‘basic parameters’, or ‘timeless features’ of diplomacy. All of these terms imply the machinery of diplomacy whereas what in fact Jönsson and Hall are in the main rightly talking about are its enduring functions.

Having said this, I found two conclusions exceptionable, the first being the claim that diplomats as a class ‘represent’ the international society as well as their immediate principals, thus strengthening ‘universalism’ relative to ‘particularism’. This seems to me a bit far-fetched. A number of writers are cited who assert this, or think it would be a good thing, but I would like to see the evidence for it. However, I thought the comments on the strengthening view ‘in a few democratic states’ that diplomatic services should now ‘represent’ their states in the sense of reflecting their ethnic mix were apposite. In Britain there is now also a great anxiety to achieve this in relation to gender. What Jönsson and Hall might have added here is consideration of the possibility that the trend towards increasing representation of this sort may be pushing the balance between particularism and universalism in the opposite direction.

The second conclusion on which I have a reservation is the claim that ‘It is primarily through recognition that diplomacy contributes to the reproduction [relative stability] of international society’. I think that this is exaggerated. First of all, it is not true that in the absence of recognition only ad hoc communication is possible (p. 166). For example, for the greater part of the 1970s the United States and Communist China communicated via liaison offices in each other’s capital, though the latter was not recognized by the former as the government of the state of China. Secondly, what about the absolutely vital role played by diplomacy in relation to the balance of power? Unless this point is lurking somewhere in the language about the role of diplomacy in mediating between universalism and particularism, or is regarded as too self-evident to require explicit comment, we may well have been offered Hamlet without the prince.

Finally, I am doubtful that the study of diplomacy is illuminated to the extent claimed by Jönsson and Hall not only by International Relations theory but also by ‘concepts, ideas and insights from other fields than IR’. I agree that the literatures on institutions and ritual are important, and they have drawn on them most instructively. However, I was left cold by the extra-mural sources of reflection on ‘representation’ which they detail at some length, which seem to add nothing at all to the explication of this concept in existing … ahem … diplomatic theory or to our understanding of the tensions to which in practice it perennially gives rise.

The serious diplomatic theory is analogous to political theory, where ‘What ought to be done?’ is always a central question. These days I suppose I should call this the ‘public policy’ approach to diplomacy. This is not a book dealing with this kind of theory, though it touches on it indirectly at many points.

Essence of Diplomacy2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

England and the Avignon Popes: The practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe

(Legenda: London, 2005), pp. xiv, 304, incl. index. ISBN 1-904713-04-1.

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In England and the Avignon Popes, Karsten Plöger, who is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in London, has provided an invaluable book not only for students of medieval diplomatic method but for students of diplomacy in general. It is a work of immense and meticulous scholarship: exhaustively researched, well organized, carefully worded, penetrating, and beautifully written.

The author concentrates on the period from 1342 until 1362, when the francophile popes Clement VI and Innocent VI sought to mediate a settlement to the renewed conflict (subsequently dubbed ‘the hundred years war’) between the English and French thrones and Anglo-papal relations were soured by disputes over rights to the wealth attached to ecclesiastical positions in England. These years thus witnessed a marked increase in the tempo of diplomacy between Avignon and London and suit the author’s purpose because they left behind a comparatively rich residue of primary sources, especially in the expense accounts of envoys and messengers.

Plöger begins by providing a detailed account of the strengths and limitations of his sources, both in the British National Archives and those of the Vatican. He then sets the scene with a long chapter of great authority (though perhaps with a little too much detail) dealing mainly with the ‘diplomatic agenda’ of the period. The meat of the book consists of the subsequent chapters on diplomatic personnel; organization of missions; means of communication; and protocol, procedure, and ceremonial. There are also long and juicy appendices, for example on the academic backgrounds of envoys and on diplomatic gifts. The bibliography, too, is lengthy and wide-ranging.

I mention the following points because I found them of particular interest and because they illustrate the riches to be found in this book. Kings’ confessors, Plöger tells his readers, were among the envoys employed in diplomatic communications with the curia. By entrusting messages to the pope to their confessors, the kings were confessing to him ‘by proxy’. This guarded the message en route since a priest could not divulge information imparted in the confessional without the express consent of the penitent. Presumably this form of communication also flattered the pope. This was altogether a brilliant device. Plöger also has an interesting if rather brief discussion (pp. 87-8) of the question of whether or not resident proctors at the papal court were actually the first resident ambassadors; if they were, the origins of this vital institution are to be found over a century earlier than is usually claimed, notably by Garret Mattingly. The author’s slightly hedged position is that while it is a mistake to deny that the proctors had diplomatic as well as purely legal functions, they had ‘no discernible connection’ with the residents who were established at the lay courts of Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century, who were shaped by ‘an entirely different political context’. Thus, he concludes, the curial proctors were not the first resident ambassadors. I shall have to think about this a bit more. Perhaps it is best to class them simply as a different kind of resident diplomat but as a resident diplomat nevertheless. It certainly makes a good exam question. Plöger also provides a most impressive account of the slippery question of diplomatic immunity, pointing out that practice squared with theory; and I was struck by the degree – on which he rightly lays emphasis – to which diplomatic communication continued almost unimpaired despite outbreaks of plague and war.

Drawing the threads of his argument together, Plöger concludes that medieval diplomacy had all the features required of a sophisticated diplomatic system that I had suggested in my chapter in the Cohen and Westbrook volume on Amarna Diplomacy – excepting continuous contact via resident diplomats. However, this did not matter, he maintains, because continuous contact was not always needed and, when it was, it was provided by ‘a rapid succession of missions’. As a follower of the great Richelieu, I am not altogether swayed by this last argument, since who is to say that the presence of capable and respected residents in Avignon might not, among other things, have nipped at least some emerging problems in the bud (when ‘need’ was relatively invisible) and prepared the ground for more effective interventions by special envoys when their presence was nevertheless unavoidable? Besides, in the absence of resident missions it is not merely the number of special missions that should be considered in assessing the quality of the continuous contact they provided but the extent to which they involved the rotation of the same people and the duration of their stays. In fact, Plöger had already shown that the same people tended to be used quite often and that their visits usually extended to months – they were not tourists. This obviously made a difference, so it might have been better had the author summed up his own argument a little more fully by referring to a rapid succession of relatively long-stay visits by persons often already familiar with the curial court. Thus, in any event, does my objection on this point fall away, and I have no hesitation in saying that Karsten Plöger has in general marshalled his voluminous evidence in support of a most convincing argument. This is one of the most important contributions to the history of diplomacy of recent years.

England and the Avignon Popes: The practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

The History and Politics of UN Security Council Reform

(Routledge: London and New York, 2005), pp. xii, 134, incl. index. ISBN 0-415-30845-3.

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Dimitris Bourantonis, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Athens University of Economics and Business and a well-published writer on the UN over many years, has provided a very valuable service for students of the world body by writing this short book. It surveys the history of efforts to reform the Security Council (mainly its membership but procedure as well) from the very beginning of the Cold War right through until the year 2000. Thus it provides the essential background to a full understanding of the current debate on the same issues, recently revived. The book has no selected bibliography as such, though the first endnotes to the Introduction in effect provide a good one.

The theme of Bourantonis’s work is that, except for the expansion of the non-permanent membership in 1965, reform has been perennially blocked by a clever rearguard by the Permanent Five and the inability of the wider members to agree among themselves on what should be done. Nevertheless, he maintains, if the Council is not modified to take account of changing international realities, it will before long be doomed, and the UN in general along with it. There can be little argument with any of this. As to particular points, I think the author is especially illuminating on the political significance of the 1965 enlargement, the manner of and motives for the swift coup that gave Russia the permanent seat of the former USSR in 1992, and the reasons for the collapse of the Razali proposal at the end of the 1990s. This is a politically sophisticated book, showing how the interests of the different states and different groups of states have influenced their attitudes towards reform. In style it is lucid, and brisk without being careless. Rare among books on the UN, it is also mercifully sparing in its reliance on acronyms. On the downside, I would like to have seen rather more on the origins and internal dynamics of the ‘Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform’, which pops up unheralded on p. 54. I think also that the Conclusion might have been better judged had it concentrated on the main general points to emerge rather than providing only a fairly lengthy summary of the narrative. Nevertheless, these are only minor quibbles. I welcome this book very warmly and shall be immediately adding it to the recommended reading for my students.

The History and Politics of UN Security Council Reform2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Lucky George: Memoirs of an Anti-Politician

(Allen Lane The Penguin Press: London, 1999), pp. xiv, 402, incl. index. Hb: ISBN 0-713-99316-2. Pb: ISBN: 0140282211

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This is a belated and less than comprehensive note on this book, which I stumbled upon in a second-hand bookshop while on holiday. It is one of the most lively, shrewd, and brilliantly written diplomatic and political memoirs that I have ever come across. The author is also engagingly frank about his early (and not so early) sexual adventures. Walden spent just over 20 years in the British Diplomatic Service (1962-83) before leaving to become an MP because he could not face becoming an ambassador. Here he gives a full account of this journey – from Hong Kong and Peking during the Cultural Revolution, through Paris, to the private office of two foreign secretaries (Owen and Carrington). He is particularly interesting for students of diplomacy on the expulsion of the 105 Soviet spies from London in 1971 (he was desk officer for the Soviet Union in the FCO at the time and this was his idea); Mrs Thatcher’s hostility to the FCO (more public than private); and the role of the modern ambassador. The pages dealing with the last of these topics (pp. 228-32) also have some great quotes for exam questions: ‘It is diplomats, not spies, who work under the deepest cover (Walden, Lucky George).’ Discuss; or ‘Diplomacy is about rank or it is about nothing (Walden, Lucky George).’ Discuss; or (for the sake of stylistic variety) ‘Examine Walden’s claim in Lucky George that “Ambassadors are … like expensively trained interpreters in a room where everyone speaks English”.

Walden’s main point about the modern ambassador – clearly influenced by his years in the frenetic position of principal private secretary to the foreign secretary – is the unoriginal one that the office has lost influence as ministers have established direct contact. His perspective on the ambassador is also coloured by his temperamental unsuitability to the role. The account provided here, therefore, is certainly not a rounded one, and at times verges on the polemical. Nevertheless, like the rest of the book, it is written with extraordinary verve and power.

Lucky George: Memoirs of an Anti-Politician2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Managing the Cold War: A view from the front line

(RUSI: London, 2005), pp. 267. ISBN 0-85516-191-4

[ buy this book ]

Michael Alexander, a Russian-speaking senior British diplomat who died in 2002, was a major behind-the-scenes figure in what he calls the ‘management’ of the cold war to a peaceful conclusion. (For his career, see this obituary .) Since, furthermore, he is right to say that this, together with the reunification of both Germany and Europe without major violence, ‘was arguably the most important, most welcome and least costly … of the positive politico-military achievements of the twentieth century’, this book is most valuable. It not only contains many shrewd and stimulating reflections written after the events but confidential documents written at the time, including some letters to Margaret Thatcher when he was her private secretary for foreign affairs.

For students of diplomacy, as opposed to historians of the cold war, it is what Alexander has to say about multilateral diplomacy – especially in the CSCE negotiations culminating in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), the MBFR talks (1973-89), and within NATO itself – that is particularly instructive. He highlights the formality which tends to characterise pre-negotiations in multilateral diplomacy (which I have tended to overlook) (pp. 29-34), and provides a long paper written in 1975 on the strengths and weakness of the Russian negotiating style. He is illuminating – and wise – on the need for an informal ‘directorate’ of the most powerful members, albeit tactfully conducted, in such bodies as NATO (pp. 198-200). He draws attention to the less obvious functions of multilateral negotiations which last for years, like the Mutual Balance Force Reduction talks, but produce no formal agreements (pp. 134, 172). And, following from this, he stresses convincingly that multilateral institutions generally have an educational and restraining effect not generated by the shifting coalitions of the ‘posse diplomacy’ favoured by the Sheriff of Washington – though this will not, I suspect, be news to theorists of ‘international regimes’. In passing, Michael Alexander is also interesting, among other things, on Margaret Thatcher’s deeply obtuse attitude to the profession of diplomacy (pp. 215-16). There is much more besides in this book, including a most useful Introduction by the FCO historian, Keith Hamilton. I recommend it strongly.

Managing the Cold War: A view from the front line2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Discourse on the Art of Negotiation

translated by Aleksandra Gruzinska and Murray D. Sirkis, Currents in Comparative Romance Languages and Literatures vol. 140 (Peter Lang: New York, 2004), pp. xlviii, 93. ISBN 0-8204-7436-3

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The translators of this modest, entirely abstract but nevertheless rather uplifting work on diplomacy, first published in French in 1737, are not new to the task of making the writings of Pecquet, a senior official in the French foreign ministry in the early eighteenth century, accessible to English readers, having earlier translated his philosophical tract, Diverse Thoughts on Man. Nevertheless, they have taken up a brave challenge here because neither are historians of diplomacy. Gruzinska is a student of French language and literature, and Sirkis is an electrical engineer (emeritus), both at Arizona State University in Tempe. (Sirkis stands in an admirable American tradition. Christian Detmold, the great translator of Machiavelli’s complete works – referred to in the notes of this book on p. 93 though unhappily misspelled ‘Detwold’ – was also an engineer.) Unfortunately, the lack of subject expertise occasionally shows.

For one thing the lengthy Introduction has only a short section on the content of the book itself and its significance, and is quite dwarfed by discussion of such relatively trivial matters as the identity of the ‘mysterious benefactor’ who helped to rehabilitate Pecquet following his fall from royal grace. In other words, what ought to be footnotes emerge as whole sections. As for the translation itself, unfamiliarity with the legal and diplomatic lexicons leads to a tendency to take refuge in a too literal translation and thus to odd lapses. For example, droit des gens [jus gentium] is rendered ‘law of the people’ when early modern English usage was invariably ‘the law of nations’ (or what we now call ‘international law’). There is also a major problem with the literal translation of Pecquet’s words ministre and ministère. In Pecquet’s time, indeed until the end of the eighteenth century, as Gruzinska and Sirkis are aware, the words ‘diplomat’ and ‘diplomacy’ were not applied to the business of negotiations between states and the common term for what we now call a diplomat (of any rank) was a ‘public minister’, in French ministre public or ministre for short. Unfortunately, the term also embraced home officials as well, and Pecquet even occasionally used the French word for ministry ( ministère) not only for what we would now call more often a ‘government department’ but also – logically enough – for any diplomatic mission (loosely, ’embassy’). To translate these terms literally, therefore, as Gruzinska and Sirkis have done, is likely to cause considerable confusion to the modern reader. At this point I must, however, confess that I also translated ministre as ‘minister’ in the passages from Pecquet that I selected for inclusion in my Diplomatic Classics, though ministère meaning ’embassy’ cropped up in none of these, and I indexed ‘public minister’ to the authoritative definition of Vattel, a contemporary of Pecquet’s. In sum, I think that ministère should certainly have been translated ’embassy’ when it meant embassy (though this only occurs at one or two points) and that it might have been advisable to have taken the bold decision to translate ministre either as ‘diplomat’ or ‘representative’ (Pecquet himself sometimes uses représentant as a synonym for ministre). This decision could have been flagged up in the Introduction, using as a peg on which to hang the discussion – as well as a justification for the decision – Pecquet’s own admission that ‘Minister’ is ‘a vague title’ (p. 73 in the book under review).

Having recorded these niggles, I must also stress that Gruzinska and Sirkis have provided a very serviceable and at some points quite elegant translation of a hitherto much neglected work – the only full length translation currently available. In the Introduction they also reveal some very interesting details of Pecquet’s career unearthed in the foreign ministry archives in Paris, present translations of some valuable ‘supporting documents’, and provide a very good bibliography. All things considered, I welcome the appearance of this book.

Discourse on the Art of Negotiation2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Multilateral Conferences: Purposeful International Negotiation

(Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke and New York, 2004), 281pp. (with index), ISBN 1-4039-3321-9 (hbk)

[ buy this book ]

Ron Walker was a member of the Australian diplomatic service for 37 years, for the last 22 of which (1975-96) he specialized in multilateral diplomacy. His book on this subject is not an academic book. Instead he has done for multilateral diplomacy what Kishan Rana has done for bilateral diplomacy, namely, provided on the basis of long and wide experience, much at a senior level, a splendid handbook of practical advice for the novice. As he says in the very first line: ‘This book is an elementary introduction to how multilateral conferences work and what you, as a participant in such a conference, can do to produce the outcome that you want.’ It is comprehensive in its coverage, ranging from discussion of the different purposes of multilateral conferences to advice on what to expect in the personas of different national delegations, how to manage delegations, and the importance of getting the air-conditioning right. It is written in a clear and lively style, with many instructive examples and a number of arresting metaphors. It is above all clearly very shrewd. Moreover, while it may not have been written with academics much in mind, there is a great deal of value for them in this book as well.

Of course, like many first books, Multilateral Conferences has some presentational and structural weaknesses. The result is that at one or two points the argument is not entirely clear and there is repetition. In fact, there are two books here struggling to get out, and I hope that in any future paperback edition the first five ‘contextual’ chapters (including ones on ‘Governments and Committees’ and ‘International Organizations’) will be compressed into an elegant introduction. The author might even with advantage be persuaded to save more space by abandoning his Glossary and the long terminological parentheses in the text by referring his readers instead to the Dictionary of Diplomacy by Berridge & James! Nevertheless, as it stands, this remains a book that provides sound practical advice and will be of absorbing interest to those wishing to embark on a career in multilateral diplomacy. It has no rivals in the field and I warmly recommend it. I was not surprised to learn that it has already been adopted by UNITAR, the training wing of the United Nations.

Multilateral Conferences: Purposeful International Negotiation2019-10-14T20:28:43+01:00

Under the Wire: How the telegraph changed diplomacy

(Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass. & London, 2003), 265pp. (with index), ISBN 0-674-01035-3

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Nickles, who is a State Department historian, has written what I believe is the first full-length study of this important and intriguing subject. Excluding an introduction and short conclusion, it has seven chapters presented in three parts (‘Control’, ‘Speed’, and ‘The Medium’), each having a chapter devoted to a case study: the Anglo-American crisis of 1812, the further Anglo-American crisis of 1861 (‘the Trent affair’), and the Zimmerman telegram of January 1917 – which of course also involved the United States.

I must admit that I found the plan of the book rather confusing, and there is a certain amount of repetition. Some long sections, for example on nineteenth century diplomatic life and work patterns in Chapter 5, also tend to take a sledge hammer to crack a nut, and have too many quotations for my taste. In addition, there are some odd failings of language, two of them occurring in the opening paragraph of Chapter 3, at which point the attention of the Harvard UP copy editor must have been on something else. (‘In the autumn of 1861, public opinion [morale?] in the northern part of the United States had reached a low ebb. … Foreign exhaltation [exhultation?] at Southern excesses added insult to injury.’) Another weakness is the absence of a Selected Bibliography, with the result that one has to sift the copious footnotes to identify the most important secondary sources. Nevertheless, excepting the first, these are not serious criticisms and should not dissuade those interested in the evolution of diplomatic method over the last two centuries from poring over this book, which is full of interesting facts and suggestive hypotheses.

The result of the introduction of the electric telegraph in the middle of the nineteenth century was that thereafter diplomatic messages were much more quickly received. This is what everyone knows and the point is duly emphasised by Nickles. What is less well known beyond the ranks of the specialists, however, is that ‘cablegrams’ by no means arrived with the speed of light, were hopelessly insecure, and often quite incredibly expensive – especially if they had to be transmitted by submarine cables, as for example between Britain and America and Britain and France. Because of their expense and the need for laborious encoding, messages sent in this manner were also sparser in their language and shorter on information than the older, hand-delivered despatch. For a variety of reasons, which Nickles explains fully, they were also much more often garbled. Nevertheless, suggestive of modernity and exciting events, prestige attached to them. What were the results? Among those to do with diplomacy (as opposed to signals intelligence) two stand out. The first is the declining autonomy of diplomatic envoys in the late nineteenth century. This is the conventional wisdom but Nickles is careful to point out that this varied from state to state, and within the diplomatic services of the same state from envoy to envoy: the limitations of cablegrams, he demonstrates, ‘furnished independently minded diplomats with means to subvert their instructions and maintain their freedom of action’ (p. 31). The second consequence of the attributes of the cablegram, and according to Nickles ‘perhaps most important’, was that while (he hints) it had a benign influence on routine diplomacy, it contributed to ‘the accelerated speed of international crises’. This was serious because ‘[t]he faster pace of diplomatic disputes invited more emotional and less creative decisions on the part of statesmen, while public opinion, which sometimes moderates over the course of a long crisis, often exercised a belligerent influence on shorter crises’ (p. 191). This is inherently plausible and, in light of Nickles’ examples, historically persuasive, though no doubt diplomatic historians will argue furiously over it. I look forward to reading Thomas Otte’s review of this book, which is to be published in the European History Quarterly.

One final point: Nickles describes how the initial astonishment of politicians and journalists at the technical achievement of electric telegraphy led to much naive and ill-considered mid-century speculation that it promised the demise of the diplomatic service altogether. Of course, this did not happen, and prognoses of this sort diminished in the later decades of the nineteenth century (pp. 46-7). It is a pity that this was not recalled in the later years of the twentieth century, when a similar degree of intoxication was produced by jet aircraft and computer communication and produced exactly the same kind of rash predictions.

Under the Wire: How the telegraph changed diplomacy2019-10-14T20:28:44+01:00

The New Diplomacy

(Polity Press: Cambridge, 2003), 150pp. (with index), ISBN (pb) 0-7456-2790-0 ; (hb) 0-7456-2789-7

Shaun Riordan was a British diplomat for 16 years before resigning in 2000 to take up private consultancy work and journalism in Spain, where he had ended his diplomatic career as political officer in the embassy. He has written a conceptually flawed, often vague, sometimes contradictory, and essentially polemical attack on ‘traditional diplomacy’. It is also peppered with New Labour jargon (‘stakeholders’, ‘global governance’, ‘civil society’), has its fair measure of superficially examined mantras, misquotes Clausewitz, and sports a shop-soiled title – is he not aware that Abba Ebban published a much more substantial book under exactly the same title in 1983? However, though his attack also comes close to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, on some practical matters Riordan’s book has much authority behind it and a number of trenchant passages. It should therefore be taken seriously.

The major weakness of the book is that it repeatedly confuses the diplomatic machine (though he occasionally uses this term) with the realist foreign policy tradition. This emerges most clearly in chapter 3 where he attacks what he calls alternatively ‘the traditional diplomatic ideology’ or ‘the realist school of diplomacy’. It is true that ‘diplomatists’ (professional diplomats), as well as statesmen, have often leaned to realism but an attack on realism is manifestly not an attack on the suitability of a particular diplomatic machine to a particular historical juncture – or anticipated future. Riordan also takes inadequate account of the well known fact that professional diplomats are inclined to develop reflexes that at the least ameliorate their ‘realism’: a disposition to seek compromise, and – if resident abroad or at least in temporary face-to-face contact with their opposite numbers – an inclination to empathy. A perfect illustration of the mistake that this confusion leads him to make is his allegation that, among the consistent failures of ‘traditional diplomacy’ in the period after the Second World War, was Britain’s relations with ‘everybody [sic!] in the Middle East’. Was it not a politician, Anthony Eden, who was responsible for the worst fiasco of all, at Suez in 1956? And was not his policy opposed – to the extent that they knew about it – by the permanent officials in the Foreign Office? Completely innocent of the Grotian tradition in international thought, and incorrectly deducing international disorder from international anarchy (p. 31), Riordan is in any case doomed by this error to an inability even to contemplate the possibility that diplomacy might contribute to regulated relations between states. He appears not to have heard of international law.

Coming down to earth, Riordan tells us that governments (necessary for democratic accountability) require diplomatic machines but that traditional embassies and other resident missions, being physically expressed in ‘bricks and mortar’, have three serious disadvantages. They are costly to acquire and maintain; reinforce the hierarchical structures and departmentalization that discourage the free debate of original ideas; and are generally inflexible instruments of diplomacy. What should be put in their place? One is led to expect at least a short account of the diplomatic advantages of open plan bungalows and mobile homes – or perhaps trains. (There are precedents: a diplomatist of the despised old school, the British ambassador in Turkey, used a train for quite a while after Atatürk moved his capital from Istanbul to Ankara in the 1920s.) But alas, no. We get instead just the usual glossy prospectus for providing diplomacy without diplomats: the internet, jet-borne ministers and officials, consultancy and lobby companies – and American Express. Riordan admits in a number of asides to his main argument that there are advantages to resident representation (‘personal relationships … can still add value’, p. 64), and he implies that there are situations in which it is unavoidable. (He would probably concede that reliance by Britain on Zimbabwean PR and lobby companies would not be an effective alternative to a British embassy in Harare.) In arguing that much decision-making has now moved up to the ‘supra’ – and down to ‘sub-national’ levels, he is also right to conclude that this has weakened the case for the traditional ‘national’ embassy. However, what he seems to overlook is the significance of the fact that similar missions have sprung up on both of these other planes. In other words, an argument against national-level embassies is not an argument against embassies as such! While provocative, and at points appropriately qualified, the treatment of resident representation is in general shallow and one-sided.

Riordan’s book is not, however, quite without other virtues, and I think the main one – apart from its provocativeness – is that, albeit belatedly, he does not discuss diplomacy in general but how it should be conducted in the light of different circumstances. This is obviously the right approach, and his employment of the now conventional distinctions between post-modern, modern, and pre-modern states is instructive in this context. (Perhaps, however, it would have been a good idea to begin the book with the chapter in which he develops this line – ‘The New World of International Relations’ – rather than to leave it until he was over two-thirds of the way through.) There is also a good chapter on public diplomacy, the importance of which he rightly emphasises, though it is notable that once more he is forced to admit the usefulness of traditional embassies – here to encourage and coordinate public diplomacy (pp. 126-7). Western values must be broadcast in order to civilize the barbarians! The Byzantines would have applauded this. Riordan also has an interesting defence of political appointees, and it is refreshing to hear someone banging on about ‘civil society’ who emphasises nevertheless that NGOs are not virtuous by definition. Coordination of foreign policy remains necessary, he admits, but not necessarily by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs – a rose by any other name? The book also has a good index.

The New Diplomacy2019-10-14T20:28:44+01:00

Chinese Ambassadors: The rise of diplomatic professionalism since 1945

(University of Washington Press: Seattle and London, 2001), 259pp., with selected bibliography and index. ISBN 0-295-98028-1 (paper); 0-295-98087-7 (cloth).

[ buy this book ]

Xiaohong worked on Western European affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing from 1977 until 1989. At some point after this she entered the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and in 1997 was awarded a Ph.D. This book is her doctoral thesis, and – on the whole – a very good one it is. Chinese Ambassadors is based on many interviews with former diplomats and a variety of Chinese primary sources (including memoirs), and is clear, well organized, and – in its main thrust – tightly argued. As a result, it offers a rare insight into the origins and development of the diplomatic service of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Xiaohong’s method is to present the biographies of a small number of ambassadors she takes to be representative of the four generations of Chinese ambassadors between 1949 and 1994 that she identifies. In between the biographical chapters she steps back and describes the sources of recruitment and typical attitudes of each generation. Those with military backgrounds and other veterans of the Long March only slowly ceased to dominate the ranks of China’s diplomats and for this and other well known reasons it is hardly surprising that, for some years after the revolution, there were many ‘baffled ambassadors’ perched on ‘cold benches’ abroad. The devastating impact of the cultural revolution, which began in 1966 and is the watershed between the second and third generations, is fully detailed. The rest of the book is an account of how the diplomatic service – overseen until his death in 1986 by Zhou Enlai – slowly clawed its way back, turning increasingly to university graduates for recruits and adopting a more ‘professional’ style. The fourth generation (1984-1990s) even began to develop a ‘collegial rapport’ with ‘fellow diplomats from other countries’.

It is not surprising to learn from Xiaohong’s book that in the last twenty years or so the PRC’s diplomatic missions have been doing essentially the same kind of work as those of other states. Public diplomacy began to take on more significance, especially in trying to repair Beijing’s image after the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, when China’s ambassadors once more found themselves shivering on ‘cold benches’. (That this was too much for some to swallow is evidenced by the fact that this event was followed by an unprecedented number of defections from China’s missions abroad.) Commercial work also became extremely important, not least for embassies in the Arab world, where the PRC had developed major economic interests. (The desperate lengths to which Guan Zihuai, the ambassador to Kuwait, went to return to Kuwait City in 1991 after the expulsion of Saddam’s forces is fully described and extremely instructive in this regard.) The Chinese diplomatic service even began to appoint a few women ambassadors, and in the mid-1990s abandoned its long-established prohibition on locally engaged staff.

In view of the obvious patchiness of the source material available to her at the Chinese end, I think that – speaking as a non-Sinologist – Xiaohong has done remarkably well with this book. It is a pity, though, that where source material abroad was readily available she sometimes passed up the opportunity to consult it. Some parts of her work must as a result be treated with great caution, not least her account of Sino-British relations in late August 1967, which cites just one (Chinese) source. This is not only peppered with errors but provides a seriously flawed analysis. The burning of the British Office (not ’embassy’) of which Donald Hopson (not ‘Hobson’) was chargé d’affaires, and the sacking of the residence, did not provoke ‘the British public’ to take ‘revenge by staging a siege of the Chinese embassy [actually ‘Office’] in London’. (Because the British insisted on retaining consular missions in Taiwan, Beijing refused an exchange of missions headed by ‘ambassadors’, i.e. ’embassies’, though London continued to call its own mission in Beijing the ‘British Embassy’ until it was forced to leave the old building at the end of the 1950s.) It is certainly true that the FO fell in with Hopson’s plea that it should keep hold of the Chinese diplomats as hostages to be used in his negotiations for an amelioration in the appalling conditions of his own staff. Consequently, the staff of the Chinese mission in Portland Place were informed that they would not be allowed to leave the country without an exit visa, could not go further than five miles from Marble Arch without permission, and could not use diplomatic wireless. Shortly after this, the police guard on the mission was doubled in order to enforce these orders and as a precaution against protesters, though the only other persons initially present in any numbers were pressmen. Some ‘siege’. I concede, however, that, in the hysterical atmosphere provoked by the cultural revolution at its height, it could easily have felt like a ‘siege’ inside the Chinese mission.

Thereafter, a few hotheads and eccentrics began to gather and jeer at the Chinese diplomats, who periodically replied in kind by brandishing at them Mao’s ‘little red book’. However, on 29 August, to the evident astonishment of the police, who had only their batons and dustbin lids with which to defend themselves (Ah! Resourceful nation!) about 20 Chinese ‘diplomats’ sallied out of the mission (Aux armes, citoyens!) and attacked their lines with baseball bats, cudgels, bottles, and at least one axe. What was subsequently dubbed the ‘Battle of Portland Place’ lasted for about five minutes. It left not much worse than some nasty cuts and bruises on both sides, and was immediately followed by an order banning any further protesters (whether packers from Muswell Hill, drivers from Poplar, or sociologists from Hampstead – presumably siding with the ‘besieged’), from assembling in the vicinity of Portland Place. However, Xiaohong then makes another mistake by saying that the Chinese diplomats in London and the British diplomats in Beijing became hostages of each other’s government ‘[a]fter the incident’. In fact, of course, it was precisely because the British were already being held hostage in Beijing that London had placed tighter restrictions on the mobility of the Chinese diplomats – and all of this happened before the Battle of Portland Place.

All of these points would have been clear to Xiaohong if she had simply read The Times, which was then still a decent newspaper. The British position was also spelled out in the memoirs (published in 1971) of the British prime minister at the time, Harold Wilson. An even more illuminating British source on this incident is Percy Cradock’s Experiences of China (1994). Cradock was at the time truly besieged – in Beijing. Nevertheless, Chinese Ambassadors remains a valuable and very interesting piece of research. As Xiaohong says in her introduction, a serious deficiency in diplomatic studies is the absence of work on diplomats from non-Western cultures, and she has made an important step towards its correction.

Chinese Ambassadors: The rise of diplomatic professionalism since 19452019-10-14T20:28:44+01:00

The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution

(Sinclair-Stevenson: London, 1996), 367pp. (with index), ISBN (pb) 0-2266-1656-8; (hb) 0-2266-1653-3.

[ buy this book ]

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and third president of the United States (1801-9), was one of the warmest and most influential American supporters of the French revolution. He had also been a diplomat. In fact, he had joined the American mission in France in 1784, and replaced Benjamin Franklin as minister in the following year. He witnessed the outbreak of the revolution in 1789 and was then appointed secretary of state by George Washington. This scintillating book by Conor Cruise O’Brien, himself a former diplomat, analyses the blossoming and slow – very slow – fading of Jefferson’s love affair with the French revolution, and its implications for his domestic political manoeuvrings as well as his foreign policy.

For students of diplomacy this book is, of course, chiefly of interest for the light that it throws on diplomacy in a time of revolution. In this connection the chapters dealing with Jefferson’s Paris mission are interesting by way of prelude but most valuable of all is Chapter 5. Here O’Brien charts with his usual astuteness, forensic skills, and vigorous style, the swathe cut through the United States by Charles-Edmond Genet following his arrival at Charleston in April 1793 as the new minister plenipotentiary of the French Republic. The task of ‘Citizen Genet’ was nothing less than to export the French revolution to America, and his activities make modern-day exponents of ‘public diplomacy’ look as if they have taken vows of silence. Genet lasted less than a year, even Jefferson concluding in the end that he was an embarrassment. See also the pages dealing with James Monroe’s arrival in Paris in the turbulent days following the fall and execution of Robespierre in 1794 and his decision to present his credentials as the new American minister plenipotentiary to the National Convention rather than to the (non-existent) executive power, pp. 202-10.

The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution2019-10-14T20:28:44+01:00
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