The Role of the FCO in UK Government

Written evidence from Professor Daryl Copeland


The FCO should serve as the UK government’s central agency for the analysis, coordination and management of all aspects of globalization.

The FCO’s knowledge of, and connection to people and places in the world represents its core value proposition as an instrument of international policy, as well the basis of its comparative advantage in relation to other government departments.

The availability of adequate resources represents the sine qua non for FCO effectiveness; brilliant management, strict economies and working smarter are necessary, but at the end of the day cannot substitute for budgetary sufficiency.

About the submitter

Daryl Copeland is an analyst, author and educator specializing in diplomacy, international policy, global issues and public management. He has written over 50 articles for the scholarly and popular press, and his first book, Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations, was released in July 2009 by Lynne Rienner Publishers. That volume features a chapter on the reform of foreign ministries (pp. 143-60).

Mr. Copeland grew up in downtown Toronto, and received his formal education at the University of Western Ontario (Gold Medal, Political Science; Chancellor’s Prize, Social Sciences) and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (Canada Council Special MA Scholarship). He has spent years backpacking on six continents, and enjoys travel, photography, arts and the outdoors. Mr. Copeland serves as a peer reviewer for Canadian Foreign Policy, the International Journal, and The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, and is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.

From 1981 to 2009 Mr. Copeland served as a Canadian diplomat with postings in Thailand, Ethiopia, New Zealand and Malaysia. During the 1980s and 1990s, he was elected five times to the Executive Committee of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers. From 1996-99 he was National Program Director of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs in Toronto and Editor of Behind the Headlines, Canada’s international affairs magazine. In 2000, he received the Canadian Foreign Service Officer Award for his "tireless dedication and unyielding commitment to advancing the interests of the diplomatic profession."

Among his positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in Ottawa, Mr. Copeland has worked as Senior Intelligence Analyst, South and Southeast Asia; Deputy Director for International Communications; Director for Southeast Asia; Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy; Director of Strategic Communications Services; and, Senior Advisor, Strategic Policy and Planning.

Mr. Copeland is Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, where he has designed and delivers a graduate seminar on Science, Technology, Diplomacy and International Policy. In 2009 was appointed as a Research Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy.

Background and Introduction

1. In today’s highly conflicted world, diplomacy and foreign ministries matter more than ever, but if they are underperforming and face a crisis of relevance and effectiveness. Diplomacy, and its institutions and practices, have not adapted well to the challenges of globalization. A host of substantial problems have been exacerbated by a negative image. Diplomats? To the extent that they are thought of at all, they are seen typically as dithering dandies lost hopelessly in a haze of obsolescence somewhere between protocol and alcohol.

2. For these reasons and more, in recent years diplomacy has been ignored, if not scorned by journalists, think tanks, international relations scholars and, most surprisingly, by governments. That neglect, however, has proven costly, as international policy has become increasingly militarized and as many states have come to rely on armed force as the international policy instrument of choice. The results – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere - have been calamitous, while the exploration of alternative ways forward, including the expansion of trade, investment and technology transfer, have not received the attention they deserve.

3. Diplomacy’s problems can be remedied, but the necessary transformation will require a fundamental rethinking of some key elements of international relations, in particular the notions of "security" - which is not a martial art - and "development" - which is not to be confused with aid. Most of all, the entire diplomatic ecosystem, which consists of the foreign ministry, the foreign service, as well as the diplomatic business model, requires reconstruction from the ground up.

4. Diplomacy, the foreign ministry, and the foreign service are more, respectively, than the animus, the machinery, and the face of a nation to the world. All are closely related, and in fact, interdependent - a change in any one of the constituent parts will have knock-on effects elsewhere. The ecology of diplomacy represents an interlocking, organic whole, the matrix of international policy, the place where new ideas live or - too often and frequently for the wrong reasons - die. Like so many other ecosystems, this one too is beset by a cascade of adversity.

5. Hammered by relentlessly diminishing resources, diplomacy and its supporting institutions are going through a rough patch most everywhere. The initiative in international policy development has passed to other actors, mainly defence departments, central agencies, NGOs and the private sector. Power and influence have moved upwards, to supranational institutions, outwards, to civil society actors, and downwards, to other levels of government. Leadership in foreign ministries has waned and creative international policy analysis and advice have in recent years given way to a reactive posture that responds mainly, and not especially well, to external demands. Grand strategy, a critical pre-requisite for successful navigation aboard the ship of state , is notable for its absence.

6. How, then, to bring diplomacy from the margins back into the mainstream, to get from fighting to talking, from diktat to dialogue and from coercion and compulsion to negotiation and compromise? In two words, not easily.

7. Foreign ministries, and the conventional diplomatic business model which they embody, have not adapted well to the challenges of the globalization era. They are rigid rather than fluid, hierarchic rather than networked, authoritarian rather than innovative, and staffed for the most part by a cadre of employees whose skill sets no longer fill the bill. Amongst the oldest agencies of government, the bureaucratic culture within foreign ministries tends to be change-resistant and risk-averse. Too thin on the ground at home, and even more severely stretched abroad, an under-financed diplomatic corps today finds itself in large part without the necessary tools or capacity required to respond to the rapidly changing environment in which it operates. The crisis is epidemic and systemic.

8. In this age of uncertainty, formal state-to-state relations are still necessary, but they are no longer sufficient to obtain the kinds of international policy outcomes required. If foreign ministries are to be effective, they can, and in fact must connect directly with foreign publics - through the new as well as the conventional media, by opening storefront and temporary operations, by negotiating joint ventures with civil society… whatever works. The days of near universal reliance upon standard operating procedures and diplomatic convention have passed.

9. Diplomacy may still begin and end with interstate relations, but the effective exercise of influence is related increasingly to forging partnerships, managing networks and shaping opinions. Few foreign policy objectives can now be achieved without carefully crafted initiatives designed to engage, to understand, to advocate and to influence. Whether a country needs to build international coalitions, cooperate to protect the ecosphere, or compete to attract foreign investment, skilled workers and students, the cultivation of a broad and diverse cross-section of civic support has become essential to success.

10. For these reasons and more, foreign ministries most everywhere are concluding that the doctrine and practice of public diplomacy seems best suited to meeting the challenges inherent in the era of globalization. How, then, should today’s diplomats be spending their time? Building project-based networks, both conventional and virtual, negotiating mutual interest alliances with the like-minded, working on media strategy, leveraging private sector activity… In sum, using attraction rather than coercion and exercising influence through dialogue and relationship-building.

11. In the early 21st century, emerging world system is looking increasingly heterpolar, which is to say that competing states or groups of states derive their relative power and influence from dissimilar sources - social, economic, political, military, cultural. Unlike the multiploar world of, for instance, 19th century Europe, the disparate vectors which empower these heterogeneous poles are difficult to compare or measure. Stability will therefore depend largely upon the diplomatic functions of knowledge-driven problem solving and complex balancing. Participation in those sorts of meaningful exchange holds forth the promise of effecting behaviour at both ends of the conversation, and therein lies the key to diplomacy’s enduring utility and appeal.

12. Diplomacy, then, is our best hope, but if it is to be in a position to deliver, then foreign ministries will need first to be fixed. While better placed than most, the FCO nonetheless exemplifies many of the patterns and problems sketched above.

Key Questions and Issues

13. What is the FCO’s role in UK Government? Given the policy framework established by the new National Security Strategy, the creation of the National Security Council and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, what should the FCO’s role now be, and how should the Department relate to other parts of Government?

14. The FCO should serve as the UK government’s central agency for the analysis, coordination and management of all aspects of globalization. The FCO’s knowledge of, and connection to people and place in the world represents its core value proposition as an instrument of international policy, as well the basis of its comparative advantage in relation to other government departments. The availability of adequate resources represents the sine qua non for FCO effectiveness; brilliant management, strict economies and working smarter are necessary, but at the end of the day cannot substitute for budgetary sufficiency.

15. How should the Foreign Secretary’s claim to be putting the FCO "back where it belongs at the centre of Government" be assessed?

16. In practice, repositioning the FCO closer to the centre of government operations w ill involve a dedication and commitment to intellectual leadership and policy entrepreneurship, and the develop ment of a new narrative for the organization as an international policy catalyst, broker, guide and storyteller. It w ill entail a much greater emphasis on forward planning and the analysis of broad, crosscutting policy clusters such as governance, sustainable development, the rule of law, and the promotion of rights and democracy , and coordinating and integrating these issues across government . Also crucial will be rebuilding the depth and strength of the FCO’s eroded and undervalued geographic expertise, which has suffered over time as a result of various cost-cutting exercises and re-organizations. Acquisition of this unique form of knowledge - of people and place, of history, language and culture - is a major benefit conferred upon the FCO by virtue of its missions abroad.

17. What should be the role of the FCO’s network of overseas posts?

18. The FCO’s over-arching understanding of, and connection to the world, arising from and manifest through its network of missions abroad and geographic divisions at headquarters, represents its ace in the hole. Nowhere else in government do we find the capacity to develop a strategic overview of the UK’s place and direction in the world, to examine first-hand the many facets of globalization, and to assess what they might mean for the UK and its citizens. Diplomatic posts are crucial in this respect - neither journalists, nor businesspeople, nor academics have the mandate or the ability to come to terms with a changing world through the unique prism of British values, policies and interests. This assumes, however, that those assigned abroad are actually doing diplomacy - swimming like fish in the sea of the people and not flopping around like a fish out of water, or sitting around inside the chancery talking to like-minded others about what might be going on outside. Diplomats should not be reduced to international policy bureaucrats. If that is to be avoided, much of their time must be spent away from their desks, making contacts, developing networks, and engaging in dialogue - not just with the usual suspects, but with strange bedfellows as well. Maintaining a broad range of interlocutors is essential for both representational and intelligence-gathering purposes.

19. What is the FCO’s role in explaining UK foreign policy to the British public?

20. The effective conduct of international policy outreach at home is the domestic equivalent of conducting public diplomacy (PD) abroad, and as such should be regarded as an essential element of the FCO’s responsibilities. The outreach function, however, is frequently overlooked - diplomats are notorious for having their faces to the world but their backs to their own citizens. Moreover, foreign ministries are typically without the domestic constituencies more easily developed by government departments with large national programs - especially those involving significant local expenditure. In the case of both PD and outreach, the effective use of new and social media which leverage the interactive qualities of the internet will be elemental. The FCO has to date made some significant strides in this respect (FCO bloggers, and the corporate use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so forth).

21. What should be the FCO’s role in relation to non-governmental organisations?

22. The FCO should be the government’s key point of contact for NGOs with interests and activities related to international policy. Effectiveness can be leveraged through partnerships and joint ventures where shared priorities and objectives make that approach sensible. Mutual interest is the mother of the best collaboration.

23. Given the new Government’s emphasis on using the FCO to promote UK trade and economic recovery, how can the Department best avoid potential conflicts between this task, support for human rights, and the pursuit of other Government objectives?

24. At the highest level of analysis, international policy represents the expression, on the part of those representing states, of the constantly shifting balance between values, or that which is seen as important (such as human rights, social justice or democratic development), and interests, or that which is sought (such as prosperity, through trade and investment; security, through development cooperation or peacekeeping; the rule of law, through the promotion of good governance and international law). The two are often closely related - the way in which interests are pursued often reflects values, for instance in a preference for negotiation over conflict. Similarly, the extent to which values are considered in decision-making often reflects interests, for example in the complex trade-offs between international environmental standards/stewardship and resource development/use, or commercial relations and human rights. Because of the dynamic balance between values and interests in a constantly changing world, foreign policy is vexingly difficult to codify and complete coherence is unusual. Indeed, one of the mature pleasures of adulthood - and they are few - involves learning to live with paradox, ambiguity and unresolved issues. That said, it is the responsibility of foreign ministries to manage the trade-offs (the broker function) and to communicate and implement the results.

25. The Committee would welcome submissions which address, in particular, the FCO’s relationships with the Department for International Development, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Office (including the National Security Council); the role of the security services in relation to the FCO; and the FCO’s role in the management and implementation of EU business for the UK Government.

26. In Guerrilla Diplomacy I argue that in the age of globalization, development has become the flip side of security, and accordingly diplomacy should replace defence at the centre of international policy. In the 21st century, the most profound challenges to human survival - climate change, public health, food insecurity, and resource scarcity, to name a few - are rooted in science and driven by technology (S&T). Moreover, underdevelopment and insecurity, far more than religious extremism or political violence, represent fundamental threats to world order. In that context, the capacity to generate, absorb and use S&T could play a crucial role in improving security and development prospects. By way of comparison, the continuing pursuit of the Global War on Terror - under whatever new name - tends to have the opposite effect. International policy has become excessively militarized, yet the military is both too sharp and too dull an instrument to deal with the problems of globalization. Simply put, you can’t call in an air strike on a warming planet, or garrison against pandemic disease, or send out an expeditionary force to occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy. Bombs and guns, generals and admirals, and a reliance upon armed force can’t provide for either security or development in the face of complex transnational issues.

27. From this line of argument it follows that long-term, sustainable, equitable and human-centred development - addressing the needs of the poor, and bridging the digital divide - advances the cause of security, and accordingly should become a pre-occupation of diplomacy in general, and of science diplomacy in particular. The FCO’s Science and Innovation Network represents an important start in responding to this observation, but much more needs to be done to equip British representatives with the S&T skills and experience required.

28. A word is also necessary about a frequently misunderstood term, intelligence, particularly in reference to the FCO’s relationship to the security services. Intelligence is simply information whose value is based on its accuracy, timeliness and relevance in relation to the objectives, priorities and interests of the information consumer - in this case, HMG. While intelligence may be generated through covert or secret means (espionage), it has been my experience that the most worthwhile and accurate assessments are based usually upon oral exchanges, first hand observation and the careful reading of open, unclassified sources. With the declining importance of formal, state to state relations in the overall international relations mix, diplomacy is increasingly about establishing networks of contacts for the express purpose of collecting information of tactical and strategic importance to governments, which is to say, intelligence. This will be increasingly so as the FCO moves towards implementing a model of public diplomacy which features lobbying, advocacy, and, especially, dialogue, which is the source of what is referred to in the trade as human intelligence. In these respects, and resulting from its extensive network of missions and representatives abroad and system of secure desktop communications, the FCO is well-positioned to increase substantially its contribution to the collective intelligence gathering effort. That, in turn, would bolster the UK’s position in other major allied capitals, where bringing more to the table will almost always produce tangible dividends.

29. To create a foreign ministry that is relevant and effective , new forms of representation abroad, and a headquarters establishment that is flatter, more agile and responsive, and not least, more influential and powerful, are the order of the day. A n FCO that is more attuned and relevant to the work of other departments of government, and to the preoccupations of Britons would be positioned to lead on major international issues across government instead of scrambling incessantly, chasing a receding horizon, and fighting often ill-fated, rearguard actions to defend turf best left to others . Line departments may well have a better capacity to manage specific international policy files, such as diminishing biodiversity or international finance and monetary issues, but the management of the broad threats and challenges arising from globalization is no one else’s job.

30. On the more practical side, and this cannot be overemphasized, the FCO is at risk of becoming a department of service dispensers, spending more time and money providing housing, administration, technological support, and office space - often for the representatives of other government departments - than pursuing core international policy objectives. However necessary, this is not sufficient if the FCO is to avoid becoming a giant administrative tail wagging a tiny, emaciated international policy dog barely capable of barking.

31. Translated into action, this will mean reconstructing a foreign ministry that can interpret, articulate, integrate, and advocate by assessing what changing world means for the UK . In this dispensation, the FCO becomes a n international policy catalyst (across government), a global guide (for Britons ) and an accomplished storyteller (to the world). To do this, it will be necessary to maximize assets in the field, to connect with wider networks, to renew professional skills, and to strengthen policy capacity.

32. Finally it may be asked: if HMG moves to create a foreign ministry dedicated to harmonizing the UK’s international policy and interests, to acting as a focal point and broker for global issues and world affairs, to client service (trade, consular, passports) and to managing the overseas platform (the network of missions abroad), will this be enough ? While reconsideration and reform are clearly required, neither can improve performance and produce results in the absence of adequate resources. A fundamental re-thinking of the FCO’s organizational design and business model must therefore be wed to the promise of re-investment, as the alternative is continued drift into low-end logistical support, and , eventually, increased ineffectiveness and irrelevance.

23 November 2010