Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 6th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 1: The Foreign Ministry

pp. 7-8, geographic v. functional departments: This question came up in evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs when it was considering weaknesses in the FCDO’s handling of state hostage diplomacy (see Further reading below). Rachel Briggs, a leading expert on the subject, said that one of these weaknesses was ‘the fact that cases are dealt with by geographic desks rather than a centralized department focused on state hostage taking that could compare approaches across countries. We are squandering vital know-how and expertise,’ she concluded (para. 31). There were echoes of this proposal in the Committee’s recommendations but the FCDO response was predictably defensive.

p. 14, Box 1.5: For confirmation of the widely predicted disaster of the Foreign Office’s takeover of its sister development aid ministry, detailed in this box, see the piece by Durrant and Urban below, together with the comment on it by The Guardian‘s Diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour. It’s important to add that DfID (pronounced ‘Diffid’) was a comparatively easy target because its budget (protected by law) was more than ten times that of the core budget of the FCO, and a sympathetic voice with great experience of aid programmes on the ground in the Middle East and Asia, that of Rory Stewart, knew that much of it was squandered on ‘the mess, corruption and half-failures that defined even our best programmes in the poorest countries’ (Politics on the Edge, p. 193). Although he thought that DfID was too technocratic and not always abreast of the fate of many of its projects, he did not favour amalgamation with the FCO but instead much greater reliance on locally-recruited staff and joint junior ministers (line 4 up in this box), of which he was appointed one. Chapters 11–14 of his widely admired memoir are well worth reading on this subject (see Further reading below). More sympathetic to the takeover, which formally took place on 2 September 2020,  is Simon McDonald, the FCO permanent-under secretary at the time. While conceding that machinery of government changes are always ‘massively disruptive’, in his Beyond Britannia (published after I wrote this Box) he cites Britain’s smooth-running support for both Ukraine and earthquake-struck Turkey as evidence in support of merging the departments. He also claims that the appointment of ‘a second permanent secretary focused on development’ helped (see Further reading below).

Further reading

Burns, W.J., The Back Channel: American diplomacy in a disordered world (Hurst, 2021); first publ. by Random House in 2019 as The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, Ch. 10

Caulcutt, Clea, ‘Macron’s rift with diplomats deepens after missteps on Israel-Hamas war’, Politico, 22 November 2023

Durrant, Tim and Jordan Urban, ‘How should the Foreign Office change now?’ Institute for Government, London, 28 July 2022

Hocking, Brian and David Spence (eds), Foreign Ministries in the European Union (Palgrave Macmillan: 2002)

House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Stolen Years: Combatting State Hostage Diplomacy, HC 166, 4 April 2023

Lequesne, Christian (ed), The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, vol. 15, 2020, ‘Ministries of Foreign Affairs: Institutional Responses to
Complexity Diplomacy’. Special issue edited by Christian Lequesne. [With thanks to Dominic Steiger for alerting me to this.]

Lequesne, Christian (ed), Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the World (Brill, 2022). Pity about the title (where else would they be?) but this is a collection of 18 essays with some strong contributors

McDonald, Simon, Beyond Britannia: Reshaping UK foreign policy (Haus: 2023), Ch. 10

Steiner, Zara (ed), The Times Survey of Foreign Ministries of the World (Times Books: 1982)

Stewart, Rory, Politics on the Edge: A memoir from within (Cape, 2023)

Wintour, Patrick, ‘Foreign Office under Liz Truss has failed to regain global footing, report finds. [Highly respected, independent] Institute for Government says morale low, expertise on Russia lacking, and merger with DfID has not worked’ [Well, there’s a surprise.], The Guardian, 28 July 2022