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

Chapter 9: Consulates

p. 142, mid-page: ‘It was not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that the state slowly began to assert its control over the consuls and require them to place the national interest first …’. It’s worth adding here that it was in 1649 that English consuls became public servants appointed by the government rather than the merchants. Thereafter, their priorities were political intelligence and reports on shipping movements (warships as well as trading vessels). They were greatly resented by the merchants, often incompetent because the positions were used for patronage purposes, and not always in the right places. See the Introduction to Platt’s Cinderella Service; Fraser, pp. 5, 70-1; and Barbour, the last two in additions to ‘Further reading’ below.

pp. 152-3, honorary consuls: A report on corruption in the appointment of rogue honorary consuls, among them drugs traffickers, money launderers and dealers in illegal arms has just been published (November 2022) by a team of investigative journalists (see Cenziper and others in Further reading below).
I have it on reliable authority that ambassadors have a key role to play in the appointment of honorary consuls. It is they who either find or are persuaded to accept candidates for the position, and then send to their foreign ministries their nominations, together with supporting documentation. Ideally, candidates – who are normally expected to be under 80 years of age – will make a visit to the state whose flag they are bidding to fly and attend meetings in the foreign ministry. Assuming they pass this test and are given a letter of commission, the proposed honorary consuls then need the ambassador to secure the approval of their appointment by the government of the receiving state. This is confirmed by the issue by the latter of an official document authorizing them to exercise consular functions (an ‘exequatur’), whereupon the ambassador’s final task is to launch the persons concerned with a promotional event. The whole process can easily take twelve months. Honorary consuls are normally appointed for no more than five years in the first instance, renewable on the recommendation of the ambassador in post, who by then might be someone quite different. Meanwhile, they are supposed to submit annual reports to the embassy, which in turn should forward them to the foreign ministry at home.

p. 155:
Topics for Seminar Discussion or Essays

5. ‘It was a mistake to codify customary consular law in a multilateral convention (the VCCR 1963). Instead, the International Law Commission should have drafted one set of rules for career consular officers and another for honorary consuls, and offered them as models for bilateral consular conventions.’ Discuss this view.

6. To what extent is it true that sending states have no control over the honorary consuls they appoint?

Further reading

Agence France-Press, ‘China orders foreign consulates in Hong Kong to hand over staff personal details’, The Guardian, 20 September 2023

Barbour, V., ‘The Consular Service in the Reign of Charles II’, American Historical Review, vol.33. April 1928

BNS/TBT Staff, ‘Sutt: Role of Estonia’s honorary consuls during war increasingly important’, The Baltic Times, 22 July 2022

Cenziper, Debbie, Will Fitzgibbon, et al, ‘The global threat of rogue diplomacy’ (ProPublica and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: New York, 14 November 2022)

Cenziper, Debbie, Will Fitzgibbon, et al, ‘Agents of Influence: How Russia Deploys an Army of Shadow Diplomats’ (ProPublica and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: New York, 4 December 2022). This is an exposé of Putin-appointed honorary consuls engaged in political warfare.

Cenziper, Debbie, Will Fitzgibbon, et al, ‘Shadow Diplomats Have Posed a Threat for Decades. The World’s Governments Looked the Other Way’ (ProPublica and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: New York, 22 December 2022)

Fraser, Peter, The Intelligence of the Secretaries of State & their Monopoly of Licensed News 1660–1688 (Cambridge at the University Press: 1956)