Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 15: Disguised ‘Embassies’

p. 230, Spain as a protecting power: In the later stages of the First World War, the Spanish minister (head of legation) in Berne, Don Francisco de Reynoso, was responsible for the protection of the interests of so many states (21 in  all) that he had to obtain the use of three separate buildings: ‘one for the business of Spain, one for the Allies, and one for the Central Powers’ (Reynoso. p. 220). What the precise division of labour was between his own duties of protection in neutral Switzerland (where the major combatants had their own embassies anyway) and those of the Spanish missions in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, Reynoso does not make clear, although it is not difficult to guess. There is an authoritative online account of the Spanish policy of neutrality that made possible Madrid’s role as an important protecting power in the First World War in Ponce (see Further reading below).

pp. 232, 234-5: Interests sections in US-Cuba relations.

It is striking that in its lengthy ‘backgrounder’ on US-Cuba relations published shortly after the dramatic rapprochement between the two governments was revealed at the end of 2014, the US Council on Foreign Relations made no mention at all of the role played by interests sections in those relations. It is unlikely that this was an oversight. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, like the US Interests Section in Havana, was always located in the former embassy building. On 20 July 2015, these interests sections formally became ’embassies’ once more.

In a lengthy and frank account of his time as chief of mission at USINT in 2002-5, James C. Cason makes it abundantly clear that his first priority was to ‘support’ – not just glean information from – Cuban dissidents, among other things by distributing books and shortwave radios to them and giving them Internet access on his compound. He was a self-admitted ‘subversive’ and, also contrary to usual diplomatic practice, appears in no way to have been controlled by his nominal chief, the Swiss Ambassador (see Cason interview in Further reading below).

pp. 237-8: representative offices: Since drafting this section, when little detailed research had been published on which I could draw, I have done some digging myself and recently (February 2019) published a Research Note on the subject (Project 2) on my ‘Current Research’ page. (This still only scratches the surface, which is why I have flagged it on the ‘Need a thesis topic?‘ page.) For the purposes of this page, therefore, I shall say only that I now think that I was unduly influenced by the well-documented example of the liaison offices established in the US-PRC relationship in 1973. This led me to wrongly give the impression that diplomatic privileges and immunities have been enjoyed to the same extent by the staff and premises of other representative offices, and that they are all de facto embassies or, to put it another way, embassies by another name. To the contrary, as I believe that I demonstrate in my Research Note, some have less than complete diplomatic privileges and immunities and are consequently better described as ‘quasi-embassies’; and some – such as the ‘Representations’ of the Kurdish Region of Iraq –  have none at all, and are therefore only lobby groups. In fact, it is probable that most representative offices are concentrated towards the lobby group end of this continuum. This is because representative offices do not represent recognised states, which are the only entities to which special privileges and immunities are extended by the VCDR 1961. There is in any case clearly enormous resistance to any general move to extend to representative offices privileges and immunities approximating ‘diplomatic immunity’ since this would (a) seriously antagonise federal governments, in particular, by suggesting recognition and (b) effectively multiply the size of the diplomatic corps in capital cities and  lead to a public outcry against the predictable increase in unpunishable ‘diplomatic crime’ – including that committed by intelligence officers. For background, see Tavares, below.

An example of a borderline case of a representative office that I did not mention in my Research Note is the British mission in Russia sent in early 1918 and led by Robert Bruce Lockhart. This was established first in an apartment in Petrograd and then – following the retreat of the Bolshevik government in the face of the German advance – at a hotel in Moscow. Britain had not recognised the Bolshevik government formed in the previous October (it did not extend de jure recognition until the beginning of 1924), and in February 1918 withdrew its diplomatic staff from the embassy in Petrograd, handing protection of its interests to the Dutch Legation. As a result, Lockhart was called by the Foreign Office simply ‘British Agent, Moscow’, while the Bolsheviks labelled him ‘British Diplomatic Representative’. His mission was only a borderline case of a representative office because the Foreign Office also described him as ‘Head of the British Commercial Mission to Russia’ (see Hughes, Inside the Enigma, p. 128). However, no-one believed this – it did little if any commercial work – so it was more a representative office than a front mission. To add to the confusion in British diplomacy in Russia in 1917-18 (which reflected divided control in London as well as turmoil in Russia), consular and intelligence officers remained under the protection of the Dutch minister, Wilhelm Oudendijk, so Britain had an ‘interests section’ there as well. Lockhart’s despair over this situation and his extraordinary experiences in 1918 – including his relations with Trotsky, Chicherin, and the famous spy Sydney Reilly, his love affair with ‘Moura’, and his imprisonment for a month by the Cheka following the near-successful assassination attempt on Lenin and the Allied military intervention in the north – are recorded in his absorbing memoirs (see ‘Further reading’ below).

pp. 235-7: Consulates.

Two interesting examples of consulates being employed to preserve contacts following a breach in diplomatic relations in the early 1960s are referred to in the oral history interview with US diplomat Donald McConville (see ‘Further reading’) below. They were employed by the United States following breaches with Panama and Cambodia. However, it is clear from press reports on the Panama incident at the time (I have not yet checked FRUS), that fairly high-level contacts under the auspices of the Organization of American States, both in Washington and Panama itself, were more important for political discussions. Diplomatic relations were broken in mid-January 1964 following serious anti-American riots over a flag incident in the disputed Canal Zone and resumed by an exchange of notes on 4 April 1964.

Further reading: additions and links

  • Cason, James C., interview (2009), FAOHC, 87-109
  • De Reynoso, Don Francisco, The Reminiscences of a Spanish Diplomat (Hutchinson: London, 1933), ch. 15
  • ‘U.S.-Cuba Relations’, CFR Backgrounders, 15 April 2015
  • Hughes, Michael, Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939 (Hambledon Press: London, 1997) – a very valuable book.
  • LeoGrande, William M. and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba: The hidden history of negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC, 2014)
  • Lockhart, R. H. Bruce, Memoirs of a British Agent (Putnam: London and New York, 1932)
  • McConville, Donald, interview (2001), FAOHC
  • Oudendyk, William J., Ways and By-Ways in Diplomacy (Peter Davies: London, 1939)
  • Ponce, Javier, ‘Spain‘, in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2015-03-20
  • Tavares, Rodrigo, Paradiplomacy: Cities and states as global players (OUP 2016), p. 907ff.