Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 48-59)




  48. Professor Reich, may I welcome you to the Committee. We understand you have only arrived back from the States this afternoon.

  (Professor Reich) Yes, so you will have to forgive me all my sins.

  49. You have some mitigation in terms of jetlag. You are here as the Director of Research at Chatham House. You are on leave from your post as professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public International Affairs and the Department of Political Science. What is particularly relevant for us as we prepare for the meeting with Sir John Kerr is to have the view of someone who is outside our system in the Burns way, who is able to help us see ourselves as others see us. So it would be helpful if you could very briefly begin by saying how you view our Foreign Office, its strengths, its weaknesses, and we will take it up from there.
  (Professor Reich) First of all, I would like to state for the record that the comments I make are representative of my views alone, not representative of the institution.

  50. We understand.
  (Professor Reich) You have already pointed out but I will say by way of context that my view I think is a fairly dispassionate one. I was born here, I grew up in this country, I have lived abroad for 20 years, I have now been back for the best part of a year, I will be departing fairly soon, so I think this places me in a fairly unique position. I would, first of all, ground any comments I make in the context of saying I think the overall report which is the basis for this assessment points to the comprehensive nature of the work that the Foreign Office does, there are some areas in which it does that work very well. So any critical comments I make or any comments I make in general should be seen in that light. I think there are a couple of organisational points, perhaps budgetary points, and a few more general ones to which I would like briefly to allude and I will of course elaborate in questions. The first is, as you see the focus of the Foreign Office more broadly, you get a sense of part of the machinery of government which stresses a very broad and traditional role for diplomacy, and I notice, for example, that there are exceptions to this such as the BTI, but in general the stress seems to be much more on the work in budgetary terms of the British Council, the export of democracy and Britain playing a rather broad, significant and, in a sense (and I use the word somewhat hesitatingly) a grand role in world affairs. This is stressed, for example, in the report's allusion to the special relationship with the United States, our traditional transatlantic links. I wonder aloud whether this is perhaps misplaced in the context of the new millennium, that in fact this does not necessarily represent what may be an accurate role for Britain at this time. Certainly what is under-played I think in the activities of the Foreign Office in general is its role in commercial diplomacy, that the BTI while playing a role is not necessarily best equipped to pursue that role in its present structure and should probably be bolstered. Likewise there is allusion made to the role of the FCO in terms of encouraging inward and outward foreign investment but it is a relatively non-strategic type of role. My own research and my own experience has been on foreign investment that while Britain has been a recipient of much foreign investment, the bulk within the EU—the largest recipient in the EU—it has not used that particularly strategically well in my assessment. It seems to me there are a series of issues around which you say, "The British Council takes a large proportion of the budget" and there are questions about how much utility is derived from that in tangible terms, yet there are other areas you can point to as being strategically clearly in the interests of Britain commercially that seem to be relatively under-represented in the budget. The allusion that we often have is of Britain as a pivotal global power, as is discussed and is quoted, with its membership of the five major multilateral institutions, et cetera, et cetera. I am not sure I would argue that that is the best posture that a government might take in terms of serving the interests of Britain and its population and even broader global communities at this time. The sense we have perhaps that we are a more truncated version of a super power is one that perhaps defies Britain's strategic role and its resource capabilities at this time. So while I appreciate the Foreign Office makes a significant contribution to Britain's welfare and I would not want to have my comments be seen in any other light, I think there is a reasonable question about emphasis, a reasonable question about what the most important aspects are as reflected in things like the budget, reflected in ways in which it organises its strategic goals, that this Committee might want to contemplate and challenge.

  51. Are you essentially saying we should focus more narrowly on interests in terms of our trade interests and sloughing off—you use the word allusion, sometimes illusion—the quasi-great power status?
  (Professor Reich) What I would say is I think those two things are not incompatible. What I question perhaps is the areas where we play a role as a global citizen and where our capacity to do so is truncated and therefore we are using valuable resources to no obvious end or no obvious effective end.

  52. Where would you make the economies then in manpower or in physical assets?
  (Professor Reich) I think it is hard to justify the proportion of the budget spent on the British Council. I understand the importance of the promotion of democracy more broadly, of capitalism more generally, I just do not know that this is the most effective way to do that.

  53. You will clearly know the US comparables in terms of personnel. Do you have any particular views to tell the Committee about the quality or training of the Foreign Service personnel?
  (Professor Reich) I have had some contact and any evidence I provide would only be anecdotal. The people I have worked with in the Foreign Office are very well trained, very well informed and very smart, and I have no questions or qualms about that. In the United States I spend much of my time training people who are the future Foreign Service officers, so I do have a sense of that. FCO personnel are very smart, but they are not technically necessarily trained as well relative to their American counterparts.

  54. Deployment of those personnel?
  (Professor Reich) I am not capable of evaluating that. That would be inappropriate.

Mr Rowlands

  55. In your initial remarks you queried the transatlantic relationship.
  (Professor Reich) Yes.

  56. In the actual Annual Report the Government makes a case on three points. One: "our vital national interests coincide as much now as ever in the past". Do you think that is no longer true?
  (Professor Reich) I think that is no longer true.

  57. Can you give me a specific example or illustration of where our interests do not coincide?
  (Professor Reich) The Summit of the Americas yesterday would be an example where it is quite clear that the United States sees its immediate interest in the liberalisation of hemispheric relations. That really leaves Britain out in the cold.

  58. Yes. Is Europe out in the cold.
  (Professor Reich) Britain, as I hesitatingly say, is part of Europe.

  59. Yes.
  (Professor Reich) If I may characterise it this way. I would say that transatlantic relations have at different points in its history had a coincidence of interest but they have been based on different things. Let us just take the post war period, say the second half of the twentieth century, first of all, obviously you had war, and you had a common adversary, then you had a period of institution building, Britain went to NATO where our interests coincided. Then you had a period where you had individuals who shared something in common. Then you had a period of say ideological concurrence where you had political leadership which shared something in common. I would argue that none of those characteristics are evident today.

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