Written evidence from Sir John Graham
I have seen the submission to your Committee by Mr
Oliver Miles. I write to support the case he makes. I served for
36 years from 1950 in the Foreign, later the Diplomatic, Service
and my career included ambassador to Iraq 1974-77, ambassador
to Iran 1979-80 and Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic
Council 1982-86. I am therefore no doubt biased.
The fundamental role of the FCO is to contribute
to the development and implementation of policy, so that, where
it may affect other countries, the likely reactions of and impact
on those countries are taken into account. This also gives the
implementation of policy the best chance of success. Equally importantly,
the role must include the formulation, in conjunction with other
relevant departments and subject to ministerial guidance and approval,
of an overall strategy embracing Britain's national objectives
and place in the world.
For these purposes it depends on the analysis and
reports of staff serving in posts abroad whose primary task is
to get to know and if possible understand the culture and motivation
of the country, both the people and the government, or institution
in which they work. Knowledge of the local language is obviously
a considerable help in this. Some of our biggest disasters stem
from the failure to take account of likely reactionsSuez
in 1956 for example when the reaction of the US and in the Arab
world to the Franco-Israeli-British operation, concocted without
the participation of the normal apparatus of the Foreign Office
or the embassies in the area, was so badly misread.
Commercial work, trade promotion and consular work
are important but secondary to the primary tasks. In my experience
senior business executives want advice on the nature of the country
with which they are seeking to trade, including whether the government
will survive and pay its bills. Such advice can only be based
on an understanding of the country concerned.
Linked to this is the importance of ambassadors and
other staff being able to speak and write with candour, even if
their views are out of line with established policy. The reported
recent ban under the previous Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary
on so-called valedictory despatches, or whatever new form of formal
communication might replace them, is a deplorable attempt to restrict
such freedom of speech.
4 January 2011