Memorandum from Sir Peter Marshall KCMG
WHAT TO DO AS WELL AS HOW TO DO IT: THE RISE
OF THE ADVISORY FUNCTION IN BRITISH DIPLOMACY
The concluding recommendation of the House of Commons
Foreign Affairs Committee, in their Report on the
FCO Annual Report 2008-09, published
on March 21, 2010, was that the new Government should "carry
out a comprehensive foreign policy-led review of the structures,
functions and priorities of the FCO, MOD and DFID".1
At the conclusion of five years of intense and fruitful
involvement in both the substance and the process of British foreign
policy, the members of the Committee were exceptionally well placed
to make such a recommendation.
It remains to be seen how HMG react to the recommendation.
The foreground is in any case dominated by the necessity of sharp
cuts in government expenditure, from which the national diplomatic
apparatus cannot expect wholly to escape. What is clear is that
the considerations and the issues underlying the recommendation
will not go away. They will need to be addressed in some manner.
They extend to areas and questions which might seem remote to
those unfamiliar with recent trends in the management of international
relations. They will certainly engage the attention of the new
House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. Analytically speaking,
the crux of the matter is that, although there have been profound
changes in the executive role of the Diplomatic Service,
the changes have been of even greater importance in its advisory
role. The latter could be said scarcely to have existed even a
century ago. The history of the Diplomatic Service in the last
hundred years has in consequence turned to a great extent on the
evolution of its advisory function.
The present memorandum begins by summarising the
principal changes in diplomatic conditions since the outbreak
of the Great War in 1914, and especially since the adoption of
the United Nations Charter at the conclusion of the Second World
War in 1945. It then surveys the developments in British diplomatic
priorities and practice which have occurred over the years in
response to them, and to changes in the national situation and
disposition which prompted those developments. The memorandum
turns next to the problems judged to be currently confronting
the Diplomatic Service, especially in the form in which they were
outlined in the Report of the out-going House of Commons Foreign
Affairs Committee. Finally it comments briefly on the initial
stance of the Coalition Government on coming into power in May,
2010, to whom it will fall to address the Foreign Affairs Committee
I VECTORS IN
Six inter-related factors or vectorsforces
having both magnitude and direction - can be regarded as the chief
agents of the transformation of "classical" diplomacy,
which largely prevailed between the peace of Westphalia at the
end of the Thirty Years War in 1618 until the outbreak of the
Great War, into the diplomatic conditions of the 21st century:
(i) an enormous increase world wide in the volume,
complexity and intensity of diplomatic business, a reflection
of the all-embracing qualitative change in cross-border activity
from the market-based interdependence indicated by the use of
the phrase "the world economy" to the omni-disciplinary
realities of the "global village";
(ii) a presumption of a general community of
interest between states rather than a fatalistic acceptance of
the inevitability of potential, if not actual, clash of interest
(iii) the prominence of "values", as
well as interests, as conventionally and astringently understood
in the use of such terms as Realpolitik and raison d'etat.
This is the concomitant of the shift of emphasis in priorities
in diplomatic business from national security against external
threat on the one hand, to preoccupation with the security and
welfare of the individual world wide on the other. Values apply
not only between countries but also at every level within them;
(iv) a great rise in the number of diplomatic
"actors", non-governmental as well as governmental,
and the accompanying wide dispersal from national central
authority of relevant decision-making. This dispersal has been
both upward and downward, intranational and international, and
de facto as well as de jure. It is notably expressed
in the concept of governance, as distinct from government,
and in the imperfectly understood concept of supranationality,
as distinct from state sovereignty and prerogative;
(v) intense public, and interactive, involvement
in diplomatic business, to an extent made possibleand ultimately
inevitableby the revolutions in information processing
and dissemination, and by the associated vast increase in the
speed of worldwide communications; and
(vi) the vanishing distinction between internal
and external affairs, and of the hitherto clear accepted difference
between the two, above all in sovereignty and jurisdictional terms.
This distinction was the bedrock of the nation-state system which
"classical" diplomacy was designed to serve.
Each of the vectors clearly merits intensive study
on its own. Each is both a causal factor and a derivative of its
fellows. The whole is not so much the sum, as the product, of
its wide-ranging parts. The total impact on the conduct of diplomatic
business could not but be profound.2
II THE RISE
The proposition "foreign policy is about what
to do; diplomacy is about how to do it" has long been familiar.
It is growing increasingly misleading. It is of course a valuable
reminder that, while it is one thing to devise foreign policy,
it is likely to be quite another to implement it. However the
proposition can easily be taken to mean that diplomacy is in effect
an executive business only. A hundred years ago this could perhaps
have been regarded as an essentially accurate depiction of the
British way of doing things. Diplomats of Sir Ernest Satow's generation
served abroad only. While they could, and did, make recommendations
at what should be done, their emphasis was naturally on how they
should do it.
This explains the structure and character of Satow's
magisterial Guide to Diplomatic Practice.3 The
underlying assumption was that any necessary advice to the Secretary
of State would be tendered from other sources. But the need for
such advice was not regarded as self-evident. Foreign Office clerks,
a separate breed from the diplomats, did not consider themselves
obliged to offer advice on the papers which they shuffled on behalf
of the Secretary of State
Nonetheless there was at least an implicit advisory
element in the reports and recommendations from diplomats serving
overseas. In a world of slow-moving feudal agricultural societies,
this could perhaps have been regarded as broadly sufficient. The
Industrial Revolution, the advent of democracy, ever more rapid
communications, the emergence of a world economy, and surging
intra-European rivalries and tensions, all combined to make any
laid-back approach untenable.
(a) The "Inverted Sieve"
In the first decade of the 20th century a new system
was introduced in the Foreign Office, whereby papers were filtered
upwards through the hierarchy, rather than passed downward from
the top. The process was aptly described as "the inverted
sieve". It was inherent that the upward filtering would be
accompanied by comment and recommendation on the papers so filtered.
At a stroke, the Foreign Office clerks became advisers in the
policy-making process. "The days of the Foreign Office as
a Department of scribes was past".4
The principal moving spirit in this metamorphosis
was Eyre Crowe, famous for his authorship in 1906 of the Memorandum
on the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany.5
Originally labelled 'secret', it was published the following year.
It has stood ever since as a classical expose of the fundamentals
of British foreign policy, against which the particularities of
individual aspects of policy needed to be measured and judged.
The practical worth of the reforms then being initiated could
not have been more graphically or more effectively illustrated.
(b) "Diplomacy in Fetters" (1944)
The multiple convulsions of the Great War infused
the reform process with an urgency, which it might otherwise have
lacked, across the British machinery of government as a whole.
As described in The Foreign Office,6 the first
official history, written by a former Chief Clerk and the Librarian,
the post-war Foreign Office emerges as an advice-oriented structure
along lines familiar to those of a later generation.
But events were moving faster still. There had been
a great expansion of the responsibilities of government in the
field of economic management and social conditions; a vast increase
in the volume and speed of communications; a strident growth in
the public content of foreign affairs and the extent to which
public opinion had to be wooed and shaped. Above all, and beneath
all, the surge of interdependence, called increasingly in question
both the realism of the classical concept of national sovereignty
and the continued relevance of national boundaries.
Perhaps the most profound British analysis of the
diplomatic implications of all these developments is that contained
in Diplomacy in Fetters, by Sir Victor Wellesley, Deputy
Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office from 1925 to 1936,
published in 1944.7 Wellesley's thesis in essence was
that democratic diplomacy and foreign policy"for all
practical purposes they are one and inseparable"in
general no longer functioned effectively because their background
had changed while the machinery of diplomacy had remained static.
Foreign policy could no longer be dealt with in a vacuum, and
on a hand-to-mouth basis.
Wellesley contended that, so long as diplomatic practitioners
thought in traditional terms, rather than taking into account
the full range of relevant factorseconomic, industrial,
technical, social, financialas well as the power of ideology
and propaganda in shaping policy, diplomacy was in fetters. His
book dealt in detail with the way in which all these considerations
needed to be reflected, not only in the experience, training and
organisation of diplomats, but also in the machinery of government
as a whole and in the conduct of parliamentary business.
SERVICE, 1943: A
The detail of Wellesley's prescriptions cannot but
seem somewhat over-elaborate. This, combined with his rather discursive
style, may explain why his pioneering work was not better known,
even among the professionals of his day, let alone subsequently.
But much of his thesis, at least as far as diplomatic organisation
was concerned, was contained in Proposals for the Reform of
the Foreign Service, a White Paper submitted to Parliament
by the wartime Coalition Government in January, 1943.8
The mainspring of the proposals was the conviction that the process
of amalgamation of hitherto separate services engaged in diplomatic
work which was started at the end of the Great War needed to be
completed. Specifically this involved the combining of the Foreign
Office and the Diplomatic Service with the Consular Service and
the Commercial Diplomatic Service to form a single Foreign Service.
"Among the criticisms which have been brought
against the Diplomatic Service", the White Paper states at
the outset, "the view has been expressed that it is recruited
from too small a circle, that it tends to represent the interests
of certain sections of the nation rather than those of the country
as a whole, that its members lead too sheltered a life, that they
have insufficient understanding of economic and social questions,
that the extent of their experience is too small to enable them
properly to understand many of the problems with which they ought
to deal, and that the range of their contacts is too limited to
allow them to acquire more than a relatively narrow acquaintance
with the foreign peoples amongst whom they live".9
That the message in this wide-ranging critique was
received and understood in substance within the Foreign Office
is reflected in the proposals outlined later in the White Paper.
In brief, these aim at the creation of a comprehensively-trained
body of generalists, capable of serving all over the world, drawn
from a wider social background than previously, administered on
a basis adequate to modern requirements, and able to provide appropriate
opportunities to individual members of the Service. The proposed
reforms involved both a considerable increase in numbers and a
significant rise in expenditure.
The White Paper naturally does not accept the
critique wholly without demur. It claims that it arises in part
from a misunderstanding of the role of the Diplomatic Service.
"The diplomat must be able to keep HMG informed of developments
which may affect their foreign policy, submitting his observations
and advice, which may or may not be accepted. While a diplomat
may therefore be able to influence foreign policy by his reports,
he does not finally determine it. That is the task of the Cabinet".10
The inwardness of this proposition at the time was that the Foreign
Office was widely, and to a great extent unjustly, held to be
the principal source of the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany,
which was popular enough at the outset, but was denounced violently
as its failure became apparent. Neither for the first time, nor
for the last time, the Foreign Office was taking the blame for
a distasteful government policy which it was doing its best loyally
The Foreign Office (1955): locus classicus
While the 1943 White Paper observes the constitutional
niceties in setting out the distribution of labour in the shaping
of foreign policy between the Cabinet and diplomats abroad, it
does not deal with the input of the officials working in the Foreign
Office, without which coverage of the diplomat's advisory role
could scarcely be said to be complete.
As explained earlier, the act of submitting papers
for the attention of the Secretary of State, even on a minimalist
interpretation of the duties of the staff of the Foreign Office,
contains an element of the advisory. Substantive comment on the
papers submitted obviously enhances that element. It is no less
clear that whether the recommendations of diplomats serving abroad
are accepted or not may turn largely on the comment offered by
officials in the Foreign Office. The latter naturally draw on
a wider range of relevant considerations and factors than those
to which a diplomat in a post abroad could normally be expected
to have access. Foreign Office comment would also be based on
a closer awareness of the situation, both domestic and international,
in which the Secretary of State finds himself. It is obviously
counterproductive to urge upon him lines of action which, however
advantageous in terms of foreign policy objectives, are politically
impossible for him to pursue.
Indeed the advisory boot is on the other foot, in
the sense that policy recommendations may come more readily and
acceptably from those responsible for offering comment in the
Foreign Office than from those abroad, because of the greater
familiarity of the former with the picture as a whole. Especially
is this the case if the policy recommended is autonomous or "active",
rather than reactive to developments elsewhere.
All this emerged with crystal clarity in The
Foreign Office (1955) by Lord Strang and "other
members of the Foreign Service", a volume in the New Whitehall
Series, prepared under the auspices of the Royal Institute of
Public Administration, as the successor to the earlier Whitehall
Series which included The Foreign Office (1933). Written
both from the inside and from the top, this invaluable work is
not only a mine of information and insight; it is also an object
lesson in the how to explain clearly, cogently and with a vein
of restrained humour, altogether typical of Strang himself, matters
which are both arcane and complex. To add to its great service,
it reproduces in full the text of the 1943 White Paper. It is
prudently dedicated "to Sir Anthony Eden who launched the
reforms of 1943 and to the late Ernest Bevin who put them to effect".11
Strang, assuredly one of the most scholarly occupants
of the Permanent Under-Secretary's chair, emphasises at the outset
that "it is much easier to describe what the Foreign Office
is than to state what it does". He was at pains to explain
why the Foreign Service had grown so greatly in recent years.
It is highly instructive to compare the respective organograms
in 1933 and 1955. In the case of the former, there were 14 Departments,
and the Secretary of State was assisted by one Ministerial colleague.
In 1955 there were 40 Departments, and the Secretary of State
had four Ministerial colleagues. An Appendix on the Departmental
Allocation of Work in the 1955 volume briefly describes the functions
of each of the forty Departments. In 28 cases the description
begins with the words "advise the Secretary of State on
As Strang put it in a later work, "essentially [members of
the Foreign Service] help their Foreign Secretary to reach his
decisions and then help him to carry them out".12
IV THE PLOWDEN
REPORT, 1964: DIPLOMATIC
The "Proposals for the Reform of the Foreign
Service" contained in the 1943 White Paper were both radical
and imaginative. They were also of necessity outlined only briefly
in the White Paper itself. They carried with them the specific
warning that the cost of their implementation would be substantial.
It was natural therefore that putting them into effect would encounter
a number of problems. The latter fell into two broad categories.
In the first was improvement of the conditions of service of the
members of the Foreign Service, including recruitment, training,
career management and development and the provision for early
retirement, where this was deemed to be in the public interest.
Dispositions in this regard had not proved to be wholly commensurate
with the objective of creating a service drawn from a wider background
and fully open to those without private financial resources.
In the second category was the nature of the task
which members of the Foreign Service were expected to fulfil.
It proved in the event to be greatly different from that envisaged
in 1943, both as regards the prevailing international circumstances
and by virtue of our chronic post-war relative economic weakness.
Beyond these two categories there loomed the vexed questions of
interdepartmental division of labour in Whitehall and the machinery
of government for the management of international affairs. There
was a growing question mark over the realism of the 1943 assumption
that the Foreign Service should be trained and equipped so as
to be able to implement government policies generally, even where
these might be largely in the bailiwick of other Departments.
A particular point of criticism, not least in the
Commonwealth, was the existence of an increasingly anomalous separate
Commonwealth Relations Office, the uneasy post-war amalgam of
the former Dominions Office and India Office.
The Foreign Office case for a review was eventually
accepted, but with significant widening of the mandate. In July,
1962, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, appointed a high level
Committee on Representational Services Overseas, under the chairmanship
of Lord Plowden, an eminent business man and public servant. The
Committee's terms of reference were "to review the purpose,
structure and operation of the services responsible for representing
the interests of the UK government overseas, both in Commonwealth
and foreign countries, and to make recommendations, having regard
to changes in political social and economic circumstances in this
country and overseas". The Treasury insisted on the appointment
of one of their officials as a joint Secretary of the Committee.
The Committee's Report was presented to Parliament
in February, 1964.13 It is a superb analytical and
prescriptive achievement. Its simultaneous mastery of the big
picture and of operational and administrative detail gives it
an authority that attaches to no other document on the subject.
It at once endorsed the case for review: "the world in which
the overseas Services now have to operate is no longer the world
of 1943 or even a world which could be foreseen in 1943
therefore begin our report with an attempt to assess the consequences
for our overseas services of the changes in the national and international
scene which have occurred in the last 20 years or so and those
further changes which can reasonably be expected".
The Committee drew three main conclusions from this
survey. First, while there had been a clear decline in Britain's
relative military and economic strength, "it was in our interest
and in the general interest that Britain's voice should continue
to be heard". For this to be achieved "we shall require
to make the best possible use of 'diplomacy' and 'persuasion'.
What we can no longer ensure by power alone, we must secure by
other means". Secondly, in this task "our 'diplomatic'
Services have an indispensable part to play. The strength and
quality of their performance must be fully maintained". The
present scale of their activities, however, "ought not, in
the aggregate, to be greatly exceeded". Thirdly, "while
economic and political motives intertwine throughout our foreign
policy and have always done so, economic and commercial work has
now assumed a position of fundamental importance. It must be regarded
as a first charge on the resources of the overseas services".14
The Committee described the main tasks on which the
overseas Services were engaged as:
(a) advising HMG on every aspect of foreign policy;
(c) cultivation of friendly relations;
(d) trade promotion;
(e) informationexplaining and getting
acceptance of British policies;
(f) protection of British persons and interests,
(g) aid and technical assistance.
This list broke new ground as regards the public
explanation of the work of the overseas services. It was a convincing
demonstration of the way in which conditions had changed since
1943. It underlined Strang's observation that it is easier to
describe what we are than to state what we do. Most significant
of all, perhaps, it put "advising HMG" at the top of
the list of functions. That is a far cry indeed from nineteenth
In pursuit of this profound analysis of the tasks,
the Committee made a large number of detailed recommendations
for improvement both in the conditions of service of members of
the overseas services and in their management. In the general
administrative field, the Committee's principal proposal was that
a unified Service should be created out of the hitherto separate
Foreign Service, Commonwealth Service and Trade Commission Service,
to be known as "HM Diplomatic Service". The Committee
stopped short of recommending the immediate amalgamation of the
Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office, but suggested
instead that the two Departments should be administered jointly
by a Diplomatic Service Administration Office.
Apogee or Counsel of Perfection?
The Plowden Report represents the apogee of review
of the "purpose, structure and operation" of British
diplomacy. Forty years on, does it retain its practical validity,
or should it be thought of as a counsel of perfection? The diplomatic
answer to the question is "both". On the one hand, the
Committee were undoubtedly right in basing their Report on the
assumption that we wish as a people to continue to be actively
involved internationally. A substantial diplomatic apparatus is
essential to such involvement. The Report does a job second to
none in elaborating that requirement. On the other hand, the fundamental
change in international conditions described in the first section
of this memorandum would seem to demand a greater flexibility
in assessing both what we should be seeking to do and the means
by which we should aim to get things done - including by non-official
or non-governmental means.15
In the nature of politics, this is not a matter likely
to be settled solely on its objective merits. Events are apt to
take control. The Plowden Report appeared in the closing days
of a long period of Conservative Government. Its aftermath coincided
with a growing awareness of the unpleasant realities of continuing
British economic weakness, as well as de Gaulle's imperious veto
of our first, already belated, bid to join the European Economic
Community. The issue thus was not so much the failure of the Diplomatic
Service to adapt to meet its tasks, about which Wellesley had
agonised twenty years previously, and which had prompted the 1943
Reforms. Rather there was an uneasy feeling that the apparatus
was altogether too big and ambitious for a country whose political
and economic influence had declined. The reaction to the Plowden
Report was not long in coming.
In a speech at West Point on December 5, 1962, Dean
Acheson, a former US Secretary of State, delivered what is probably
the best-known verdict on British foreign policy since the end
of the Second World War: "Great Britain has lost an empire
and not yet found a role".16 This waspish observation
was ill-received at the time, not least because it was uncomfortably
near the truth. There seemed to be no let up in our post-war adversities.
The in-coming Labour Government in 1964 was beset with problems
from the outset. A further devaluation of sterling seemed inevitable,
and eventually occurred in November, 1967. The UK launched its
second bid to join the EEC in the autumn of that year. It was
similarly rebuffed by de Gaulle. In January, 1968, the Government
announced its military withdrawal from East of Suez.
The Duncan Committee
Such was the background to the appointment in August,
1968, by the Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, "with the
agreement of the Prime Minister (Harold Wilson), and other Ministers
concerned", of a further committee of enquiry under the chairmanship
of Sir Val Duncan, a leading industrialist. It was entitled "The
Review Committee on Overseas Representation", the difference
in terminology, as compared to the Plowden Committee, betokening
an emphasis on the situation at home as well as abroad.
The terms of reference were at once more elaborate
and more urgent than those of the Plowden Committee. The avowed
purpose was to save money. It is also relevant that a few months
earlier the Report of the Fulton Committee on the Home Civil Service
had been published.17 This contained some very sharp
criticisms, particularly in relation to alleged failure to adapt
sufficiently to the requirements of the twentieth century and
to excessive allegiance to the "philosophy of the amateur
(or 'generalist' or 'all rounder')". While not directed at
the Diplomatic Service, which was outside the Committee's terms
of reference, these strictures were nonetheless held to apply
in some measure to it.
Wide though they were, the Duncan Committee interpreted
their terms of reference even more widely, to include all activities
financed out of public funds which were concerned with the conduct
of British external relations, including the British Council and
the External Services of the BBC. The Duncan Committee classified
the main types of work "involved in overseas representation"
(a) the handling of intergovernmental relations;
(b) advice on foreign policy;
(c) advising and helping British subjects, overseas
or in an overseas context;
(e) influencing overseas opinion;
(f) processing potential travellers to Britain,
The Report of the Committee was published in July,
1969.18 Its focus was the relative decline in Britain's
position. While much of it covers detailed ground already well
trodden by the Plowden Committee, what the Report had to say on
the big picture was nothing if not novel. We were now "a
major power of the second rank".
It accordingly suggested that our representational
effort should be focussed on what it called "the Area of
Concentration""a dozen or so countries of Western
Europe plus the United States"and that other countries
should be regarded as belonging to the "Outer Area",
where our interests were largely commercial. The Soviet Union,
China, Japan, India and all the major developing countries, to
speak nothing of the world's neuralgic trouble spots, were thus
relegated to relative darkness. Even at the time, the Committee's
proposal seemed bizarre. The tide of world wide interdependence
was already rising strongly. It soon swept the notion away.
The CPRS Review
On receipt of the Duncan Report, the Labour Government
indicated that it expected to be guided by the main body of its
recommendations. In the event the aftermath of the Report was
dominated by sustained, intense and ultimately successful British
diplomatic efforts to join the European Economic Community. The
momentum of these efforts was increased with the return of a Conservative
Government in 1970. Enlargement of the EEC formally took effect
on January 1, 1973. The European dimension, combined with the
Labour's return to power in 1974, and renewed economic difficulties
(the UK borrowed heavily from the IMF in 1976), prompted a further
inquiry into overseas representation.
In January, 1976, James Callaghan, then Foreign and
Commonwealth Secretary asked Sir Kenneth Berrill, the Head of
the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS), to undertake a review
with the following terms of reference:
"to review the nature and extent of our overseas
interests and requirements and in the light of that review to
make recommendations on the most suitable, effective and economic
means of representing and promoting those interests both at home
and overseas. The review will embrace all aspects of the work
of overseas representation, including political, economic, commercial,
consular and immigration work, defence matters, overseas aid and
cultural and information activities, whether these tasks are performed
by members of HM Diplomatic Service, by members of the Home Civil
Service, by members of the Armed Forces or by other agencies supported
financially by HMG".
The mandate of the "Think Tank" was thus
wider even than that of the Duncan Committee. The CPRS pursued
it with exemplary thoroughness, as is illustrated by their massive
Report, published in August, 1977.19 Although the pressure
to save money was primarily short term, their perspective was
long term. They were acutely conscious of the way in which British
economic performance had fallen behind that of broadly comparable
European countries. They considered how far the experience of
those countries could be taken as a guide. They took note of the
scope for improvement in our fortunes once North Sea oil started
to come on stream.
The CPRS identified four main objectives for the
UK overseas: to ensure its external security; to promote economic
and social wellbeing; to honour certain commitments and obligations
(eg to the dependent territories or to individual citizens of
its own or other countries); and to work for a peaceful and just
world. Against this background, they identified and analysed in
turn 14 "separate functions which together make up overseas
- economic, social and environmental work;
- export services;
- foreign policy work (UK involvement in international
political concerns and activities)
- defence work;
- consular services;
- control of entry into the UK;
- administration of overseas aid;
- educational and cultural work;
- external broadcasting;
- information work;
- political work (ie bilateral political relations
- entertainment, and
- accommodation and other administration overseas.
All these functions were, in the view of the CPRS,
valid objects of public expenditure. Yet in most of them the CPRS
thought that less work should be done, or that it should be done
more selectively. The reasons for this judgment were various:
the effectiveness of the function was overestimated; insufficient
account was taken of the changed position of the UK in the world;
or the functions could be left to others, eg the private sector.
In many cases work was "being done to an unjustifiably high
standard". In others it could be done by staff at home rather
than resident overseas.
The CPRS reserved their most radical recommendations
for matters of organisation and staffing. There should be a general
downgrading of jobs in the Diplomatic Service, "which in
our view tends to err on the side of perfectionism". They
noted that a total of 30 posts had been closed since the publication
of the Duncan Report. They thought that a further 20 diplomatic
posts and at least 35 subordinate posts should follow. They put
forward as options (i) there should much more interchange between
the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service; (ii) a specialist
export promotion service and a specialist aid administration should
be created within the former; (iii) there should be a merger of
the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service and the creation
within the combined service of a Foreign Service Group to handle
the bulk of the fourteen functions identified.
The CPRS went on to canvass the abolition of the
British Council, with a redistribution of its business between
the Ministry of Overseas Development and the Department of Education
and Science. As regards the BBC, the main objective of external
broadcasting was "to provide an unbiased service of world
news and information. Conveying information about Britain and
its culture should have a lower priority as an objective".
Hence the time had come for a radical look at present broadcasting
patterns. The provision of a universal service, covering areas
well supplied with their own unbiased sources of news and information,
VI THE VALUE,
Rereading these three Reports inspires a number of
reactions: admiration and gratitude for the hard work and the
expertise, not only of those conducting the inquiries, but also
of the numerous and wide-ranging authorities whom the Plowden
and Duncan Committees and the CPRS consulted during the course
of their respective labours; consciousness of the extent of the
common ground between the three Reports; a healthy respect for
the conciseness of the texts and for the consequent difficulty
of summarising them, rather than quoting them in extenso;
and a certain sympathy for the Duncan Committee and the CPRS
for the pressures on them caused by their "loaded" term
of reference, namely to save money, rather than to look primarily
at the merits of the case.
The differences between the three reports are perhaps
less those of analysis than of stance. At the end of the day the
scale of national diplomatic effort is a matter not of what you
can afford to do so much as of what you cannot afford not to do.
The overwhelming impression is that events, shaped by the vectors
described at the outset of this memorandum, have robbed the distinction
between the advisory and the executive functions in diplomacy
of any real practical, as opposed to analytical, significance.
The two are inextricably interwoven, as are substance and process,
in the business of a diplomatic service in an interdependent world.20
The dangers of concentrating on "how to do
it" rather than "what to do"
The growth in complexity and volume of that business
is likewise depriving of any practical value the proposition that
foreign affairs is about what to do and diplomacy is how to do
it. Adherence to the proposition could constitute a growing threat
to diplomatic competence. It can encourage the fatal assumption
that the nature of the duties of the Diplomatic Service obviates
the need to acquire mastery of the substance of the business to
be discharged, as distinct from a grasp of the executive techniques
involved in the conduct of business.21
VII THE 1978
Had they not launched great salvoes at the British
Council and the BBC, the Think Tank might have achieved greater
success in securing the adoption not only of their specific recommendations,
but also of the general tenor of their Report. But the sum total
of their prescriptions went beyond what the market would bear.
In August, 1978, in the closing months of his administration,
James Callaghan, by now Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary,
Dr David (now Lord) Owen, presented to Parliament a White Paper
The United Kingdom's Overseas Representation.22
While it was primarily a riposte to the more radical
Think Tank recommendations, the White Paper also addressed a number
of reports from various House of Commons Committees. Many of the
less controversial CPRS proposals were accepted or noted as already
representing current practice. The general survey at the outset
showed how much common ground existed on assessment of the United
Kingdom's international position and interests, and on the role
of the Diplomatic Service. The White Paper concluded (in paragraph
68) with the oft-quoted statement that "responsibility for
the overall conduct of overseas relations in the broadest sense
of the term will continue to be vested in a single Cabinet Minister,
namely the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs".
Analytical Aspects of the 1978 White Paper
At the time the White Paper was regarded as game,
set and match to the FCO, a fair observation in the political
or interdepartmental circumstances then prevailing. But the victory
was also perceived as pyrrhic. There was considerable feeling
among younger members of the Diplomatic Service that there had
been insufficient dispassionate examination of the thornier issues
raised by the Think Tank.
On an analytical plane, the White Paper contained
weaknesses which proved to be the source of considerable subsequent
difficulties. These may be seen specifically to originate in two
phrases: first, the reiteration in paragraph 8 of the White Paper
of the familiar and misleading proposition that "foreign
policy is about what has to be done; diplomacy is about how to
do it"; and secondly, the virtually unknown concluding words
of the formulation, already referred to, on responsibility for
the conduct of foreign relations resting with the Foreign and
Commonwealth Secretary, namely "so that the right level
of political co-operation and input is maintained"(my
As regards the first phrase, it is a matter of surprise,
after all the detailed discussion of the functions of the Diplomatic
Service in the three Reports described above, to find in the Government's
response a reiteration of a proposition so obviously out of line
with current realities. Even when full allowance is made for observing
the constitutional proprieties of the division of responsibilities
between Ministers and officials, it makes little sense to suggest
that foreign policy is one thing and diplomacy another. The two
are inextricably mixed, as are the advisory and executive functions,
a point which Strang emphasised in his description of the work
of the Diplomatic Service quoted above.
Diplomacy is about what to do, as well as how
to do it
Diplomacy is about what to do, and about the reasons
for doing it, as well as about how to do it. If it were the latter
only, if it were an executive and not an advisory business, what
would be the rationale for insisting that "responsibility
for the conduct of overseas relations in the broadest sense"
must rest with a single Minister? Would that responsibility not
have to be defined as something separate from diplomacy? Only
if what to do, as well as how to do it, is an integral part of
the equation, does the White Paper's contention hold good.
"Maintaining the right Level of political
Co-operation and Input"
The contention is in any case directly contradicted
by the second phrase, as found in paragraph 68 of the White Paper.
It is noteworthy that the phrase ends with the word "input",
rather than "output". This implies participation in
the conduct of foreign policy at an earlier stage than implementation.
It is an advisory rather than an executive concept. This anomaly
apart, it is the phrase as a whole which needs deconstruction.
The concept of maintaining "the right level
of political co-operation and input" is a ripe source of
confusion: (i) can the "right" level of any component
of our international involvement be determined by a single minister?
Is it not at the end of the day a collective matter, in which
the Prime Minister must have a decisive say? (ii) using the adjective
"political" in this context encourages the outdated
assumption that the external business of other departments is
somehow "non-political", over which "political"
considerations, of which the FCO is custodian, should have priority.
The complexities of worldwide interdependence require a more sophisticated
approach to interdepartmental co-ordination: (iii) what does the
term "co-operation" mean in this context? Does it apply
internally, ie within the national administration, to interdepartmental
relations and co-ordination, or externally, ie to our relations
with other countries bilaterally or multilaterally, not least
as regards our contractual obligations to them? Or to both?
The "Foreignness" and "Affairishness"
of Foreign Affairs
If the FCO is to have the sort of role envisaged
in the 1978 White Paper, it cannot be by virtue of the application
of a simple international "political" corrective to
the "non-political" desiderata of other departments.
It must be grounded in greater analytical rigour.
Foreign affairs by definition have two characteristics:
on the one hand they are affairs, matters of substance and often
highly complex, and will as such often lie within the sphere of
responsibility of government entities other than the FCO; on the
other, they are foreign, and thus have a dimension which differentiates
them from internal affairs, and links them with other international
concerns. In consequence they require different handling. Those
who are responsible for content or "affairishness" may
not be familiar with the foreign milieu in which the issues need
to be pursued. Responsibility for their "foreignness"
can best lie where there is greater familiar with the milieu,
ie with the Diplomatic Service.
The two characteristics, between which, in the nature
of things, there can be no clear-cut dividing line, need to be
studied in relation to one another and kept synoptically in view
from the earliest stage in the policy-making process and continuously
thereafter. In today's conditions, where almost anything can affect
almost everything, it is clear that the task of harmonisation
is one of considerable complexity. It is not so much a matter
of interdepartmental co-ordination as of interdepartmental dialogue,
or even of interdepartmental dialectic.
What the 1978 White Paper demands of the Diplomatic
The role envisaged for the FCO in the 1978 White
Paper is a further illustration of Strang's observation that it
is easier to describe what we are than to state what we do. It
is clear that fulfilling the role adequately demands of the Diplomatic
Service collectively the capacity both to accumulate a vast assembly
of information, analysis and experience and reflection, and to
be able to deploy that accumulation usefully and quickly when
circumstances require. The deployment, moreover, has to be a
la carte rather than table d' hote: There is no set
of rules to be applied regardless of circumstances.
Relations with the Cabinet Office, the Department
for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the
Home Office each have a particular complexity, be it for reasons
of general co-ordination, development co-operation, national security
and human rightsthose both of UK nationals and of foreign
nationalsrespectively. No interdepartmental relations are
more important than those with the Treasury, with their central
and vital responsibility in matters of financial and economic
policy. They are moreover the paymasters of the Diplomatic Service.
The demanding role envisaged for the Diplomatic Service
also requires that the FCO itself is beyond reproach as regards
both the comprehensiveness and the objectivity of its own perceptions.
In general the record is regarded, with good reason, as satisfactory
on this score. But there are three curious faults at differing
points the scale of priority of national interest.
(a) The Commonwealth Lacuna
The first of these is chronic neglect of the Commonwealth
as a factor in our international involvement as a whole. During
its relatively short existence, the Commonwealth Relations Office
was widely regarded as the cause of excessive preoccupation, amid
all our other problems, with Commonwealth issues at the expense
of the priorities of building our post-imperial future It was
inevitable, therefore, that the absorption in 1968 of the Commonwealth
Office (itself a 1966 amalgam of the CRO with the Colonial Office)
within the Foreign Office would result in a lessening of official
attention directed to Commonwealth matters.
Concern to dispel misgivings on this score underlay
the publication on October 17, 1968, of The Merger of the Foreign
Office and the Commonwealth Office, 1968.24 Describing
itself as a "Background Paper",
this relatively brief, but highly informative and thoughtful,
note combines a rationale for the merger, on the basis of the
history of the previously separate Departments, with details of
how to ensure that "there should be no detraction from Britain's
partnership with her fellow members of the Commonwealth and her
capacity to contribute to that partnership".
It is difficult to reconcile the good intentions
expressed in the Background Paper with the course of events in
the ensuing 40 years. The Commonwealth has tended to slip below
the FCO radar screen. Expertise in Commonwealth affairs has all
but vanished. Interest in them has dwindled. The priority of securing
membership of the EEC, pervasive UK economic difficulties, and
sharp intra-Commonwealth disagreements over the situation in Southern
Africa all played their part. So did Ministerial disenchantment.
But such factors do not provide an adequate justification for
overall institutional neglect. In one halcyon year, the only context
in which the word "Commonwealth" appeared in the FCO
Annual Departmental Report was in the term "Foreign and Commonwealth
The Commonwealth is no sovereign remedy for all our
ills. Yet it is a modest boon to its members generally and, in
the UK case, a distinctive national asset, complementing, rather
than competing with, other features of our international involvement.
It is an under-performing asset. The present government have expressed
their intention to "put the 'C' back into FCO".
(b) "The Third World Coalition"
One of the most prominent characteristics of the
post war world has been the enormous expansion of the international
community, consequent upon the achievement of independence by
a number of previously dependent countries Membership of the United
Nations effectively quadrupled between 1945 and the end of the
century. It was entirely natural that these new members should
find common cause and joint organisation in their loyalty to the
imperatives of decolonisation and development.
The first of a number of overlapping manifestations
of this "Third World Coalition", as it has been aptly
described,25 was the Non-aligned Movement, in which
Jawaharlal Nehru played a leading part. As its name implied, its
principal concern was to avoid involvement in the Cold War. UNCTAD
(United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) was primarily
concerned with rectifying the perceived inequities in the conditions
of participation in world trade.26 This was followed
by the quest in the UN General Assembly for a New International
Economic Order, in the wake of the oil and convertibility crises
of the early 1970s, with a combined economic and political agenda.27
For reasons which still seem hard to fathom, the
FCO appeared ill at ease with these manifestations of third world
solidarity. Perhaps the difficulties stemmed from the misleading
distinction, all too easily drawn in classical diplomacy, between
"political" and "economic", and from an inadequate
grasp of the intensely political character of the approach of
the developing countries to negotiations with the developed world
on matters which the latter regarded as "economic" or
"social". This was reinforced by a feeling that responsibility
for the substance of such "economic" or "social"
issues, however political the context in which they were raised,
lay with other departments, mainly the Treasury, the Board of
Trade or the particular organ of government, whether independent
or not, in charge of overseas development.
The crunch came in 1980 when the Foreign Affairs
Committee of the House of Commons asked for the government's views
on the recently published Brandt Commission Report.28
The Commission and its Report were an imaginative effort to find
common ground in a dialogue between the developed and the developing
countries which seemed to become increasingly unfruitful. It was
a challenge to conventional thinking in the developed countries,
and to the capacity harmoniously and beneficially to accommodate
burgeoning interdependence. It was also a challenge which the
FCO proved incapable of meeting satisfactorily. The FCO memorandum
of July, 1980, published in reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee's
request, was devastatingly criticised in all sections of the British
press. The Sunday Times, not generally known for a bleeding
heart, described the memorandum as "one if the shoddiest
documents ever produced by a British Government".29
The episode could scarcely qualify as a validation
of the FCO's claim to ensure that "the right level of political
co-ordination and input is maintained". It had lasting effects
on the interdepartmental handling of development matters. As the
House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee recently noted, "among
the 30 Member States of the OECD only one otherGermanyhas
a fully-fledged ministry of international development, with all
the others maintaining agencies or departments that in one way
or another fall under the authority of the foreign ministry".30
The ever-widening concept of "development" in twenty-first
century interdependence, and a similar growth in the notion of
"security", to the point where the two in practice tend
to overlap, strengthen the case for a re-examination of the current
interdepartmental distribution of responsibilities.
(c) An EU Fixation?
At the top end of the UK scale of international priorities,
the FCO has long manifested what could be regarded as an institutional
bias in favour of involvement in the European Union. There can
be no doubt as to the importance of securing entry into the EEC,
notwithstanding the high price which was exacted from us by the
French in particular for standing aloof at the outset. Les
absents ont toujours tort. But even when we were inside rather
than outside, we were seemingly still inhibited from fighting
our corner as fully as the defence and promotion of our national
interest required. The emphasis instead was on "being at
the heart of Europe" and on "full membership of the
club". There also seemed to be some failure to grasp and
exploit both the great improvement in our relative economic situation,
and the revival of national self-confidence, which began with
Mrs Thatcher's tenure of the Prime Ministership from 1979.
It was the persistent general advice of the officials
responsible for EU policy that Ministers should go along with
what was proposed, rather than "adopting the posture of an
ostrich, and hoping we will not have to make difficult choices",
with the result that "we end up with having to make the said
choices but in less favourable conditions".31
Hence the firm public advocacy by retired members of the Diplomatic
Service, and others, successively of the Euro, the Constitutional
Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.32
Although it obviously went against the national grain,
an argument could be advanced for submitting the Constitutional
Treaty for approval of the electorate by means of a referendum.
There was however no such justification for pressing the Lisbon
Treaty on the voters without a referendum, on the pretence that
it was materially different from its rejected predecessor.
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Nowhere does the writ of the Law of Unintended Consequences
run more freely than in the field of foreign affairs. The Lisbon
Treaty, by virtue both of its flawed content and of the unworthy
means to which EU member governments resorted in order to secure
its adoption, has proved exquisitely counterproductive. Disillusion
has been widespread, not only with the outcome of the Treaty itself,
but also with the process of EU treaty-making as a whole, and
hence with the "community method" of doing business
which is at its heart. As a result, the chosen pathway to political
union, far from being kept open by the Treaty, has been effectively
blocked. The tide of centralisation is receding. Never have the
Union's institutions been more remote from the voters. A yawning
democratic gap has opened up. Closing it is essential to the meaningful
development of the European Union.
At the executive level, the Lisbon Treaty has similarly
failed to yield the advantages claimed for it. The post of President
of the European Council has been variously represented as that
of an internal fixer and that of a high profile international
figure able to stop the traffic in major world capitals, a "President
of Europe", in fact, rather than a President of the European
Council. To date the principal outcome has been wholly predictable
rivalry with the responsibilities of the President of the Commission.
The new combined post of High Representative for foreign affairs
has likewise got off to a slow start, and is harassed by a similar
variety of expectations.
The Commission, following on the understanding reached
by the European Council with the Irish Government to enable the
latter to secure a positive result in a second referendum on the
Lisbon Treaty, is now to be composed indefinitely of one Commissioner
per member state. It has thus become a mini-assembly instead of
the compact executive which the authors of the original Treaty
of Rome intended.33 The raison d'etre of the
Commission, as a body vested with much greater powers than those
of a standard secretariat of an intergovernmental organisation,
has been called seriously in question. The element of turf war,
actual and potential, between the Union's institutions has been
increased by the enhanced powers conferred by the Treaty on the
The European Union is not a zero-sum game, either
among the institutions themselves or as between the institutions
and the governments and peoples of the member states. When the
EU underperforms, we are all the losers. The remedy does not lie
in further institution-mongering, but in reducing the delivery
deficit by concentrating on the substantive tasks - on which there
is a wide measure of agreementand in reconnecting with
the disillusioned electorates.
VIII THE FCO
OF 2003: THE
To pause for a moment in recapitulation, study of
the evolution of diplomacy in the last hundred years has manifested
a transition from the quasi-technical proposition that foreign
policy is about what to do and diplomacy is about how to do it,
to the realisation that diplomacy is irrevocably about what to
do as well as about how to do it. The advisory and the executive
functions coalesce. That coalescence reaches inevitably into the
very wide-ranging question of the rationale of our international
involvement as a whole, governmental and non-governmental, official
and non-official. This in turn puts in a new and more complicated
context the question of what is demanded of the British Diplomatic
Service collectively and organisationally, and what is required
in consequence as regards the acquisition of the necessary skills
and experience of its members individually.
What faces the Diplomatic Service today is largely
the product of the forces - or vectors - described in the first
section of this memorandum: the enormous increase in the volume,
complexity and intensity of diplomatic business; the perception
of a common interest among nations rather than an assumption of
inevitable rivalry, with the possibilities for co-operation opened
up thereby; the advent centre-stage of values along side interests
as the stuff of diplomatic business; a great rise in the number
of diplomatic "actors", both state and non-state; sustained
and interactive public involvement; and the vanishing distinction
between external and internal affairs.
The End of the Cold War and Nine Eleven
Certain major international events have played their
part. Chief among them has been the end of the Cold War, after
the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Highly beneficial though
this development has been, it has brought problems as well as
opportunities world wide in its wake, and especially in the Balkans
and on the periphery of the former Soviet empire. The Cold War,
it was said, gave place to a Hot Peace.
The events of September 11, 2001, signalled the advent
of a new phase of international interdependence, in which international
terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction emerged
as potentially the greatest threat to national security. Those
events also underlined the urgency of a wide range of economic,
social, environmental and human issues which were already on the
international agenda, and had been brought authoritatively together
in the Declarations issued by the world's leaders meeting as the
United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the UN's 50th
birthday in 1995, and for the Millennium in 2000.34
A Deus ex Machina
The change of mindset required in the Diplomatic
Service in order to manage this extraordinary transition is as
great as that which inspired the seminal Foreign Office reforms
of the first decade of the 20th century. It is encapsulated in
the ground-breaking White Paper UK International PrioritiesA
Strategy for the FCO,35 presented to Parliament
in December, 2003, by the then Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw.
"For the first time", Mr Straw explained,
"the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is publishing a comprehensive
Strategy describing the UK's international priorities over the
next 10 years and the FCO's role in achieving them". In
successive chapters the White Paper examines the role of the FCO;
looks at the world in the next 10 years, analysing trends which
will affect the UK; considers the UK's future role in the international
system and our key relationships; draws on this analysis to see
new UK strategic international policy priorities for the next
decade; describes in more detail how the FCO will pursue these
in the short term; and the countries and regions on which they
will focus; and does the same for the FCO's service delivery priorities.
The White Paper sets out eight strategic international
priorities over the next five to 10 years:
- a world safer from global terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction;
- protection of the UK from illegal immigration,
drug trafficking and other international crime;
- an international system based on the rule of
law, which is better able to resolve disputes and prevent conflicts;
- an effective EU in a secure neighbourhood;
- promotion of UK economic interests in an open
and expanding global economy;
- sustainable development, underpinned by democracy,
good government and human rights;
- security of UK and global energy supplies, and
- security and good governance of the UK's Overseas
These formulations are an object lesson in clarity,
succinctness and comprehensiveness. They immediately inspire confidence.
They reflect both the changes which the twenty-first century has
already witnessed, and a readiness to take account of further
changes which may occur in the future. As the Permanent Under-Secretary
at the time, Sir Michael Jay, put it at a gathering in the FCO
to launch the White Paper, "we now have for the first time
a coherent framework for adapting and modernising the Foreign
Office to meet the challenges of the 21st century".36
It could be said to be the apotheosis of the advisory function.
Mr Straw said he would welcome Parliamentary and
public debate on the White Paper. The FCO would review it every
two years, inviting external contributions. In the event there
was no Parliamentary debate to speak of, and little academic or
media comment. This was disappointing, but not perhaps surprising.
The White Paper incorporated new ways of thinking not readily
assimilable by those of a more conventional mindset.37
A second version was published in March, 2006,38
under the title Active Diplomacy for a Changing
WorldThe UK's International Priorities.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons announced
that it intended to ensure that this revised version was considered
as part of its work as a whole.39
The 2006 White Paper contained a Foreword by the
Prime Minister (Mr Tony Blair) thereby emphasising its interdepartmental
character. Its approach and methodology, naturally, were broadly
the same as those of its 2003 predecessor. The number of priorities
rose from eight to nine, by virtue of the promotion of managing
migration and combating illegal immigration to independent status.
Mr Straw's successor, Mrs Margaret Beckett, raised the number
to 10 by the similar elevation of climate change.
A new Strategic Framework, January, 2008
Her successor, Mr David Miliband, thought that 10
priorities was too many. He reported to the House of Commons on
23 January 2008, the creation of a new Strategic Framework, to
replace the 10 priorities, concentrating on four policy goals:
to counter terrorism, weapons proliferation and their causes;
to present and resolve conflict; to promote a low carbon, high
growth, global economy; and to deliver effective international
institutions, above all the UN and the EU.
The Foreign Affairs Committee commented on the brevity
of the Strategic Framework.40 There were grounds for
concern in a number of respects. First, although 10 priorities
may be too many to receive sustained personal at10tion from the
Foreign Secretary himself or herself, it is certainly not too
many for a compe10t FCO ministerial team, provided that they are
allowed to remain in their respective jobs for the requisite amount
of time. Secondly, the four policy goals, when compared with the
priorities originally listed by Mr Straw, can be seen to leave
out a number of issues of vital national concern, to which priority
FCO at10tion is essential. Thirdly, the Framework seems to imply
a relatively greater emphasis on the executive function of the
Diplomatic Service, as compared with its advisory function, in
marked contrast to the 2003 and 2006 White Papers, with the possible
loss in consequence of FCO departmental clout.41
Apotheosis of the Advisory Function: is there
In the perspective of the evolution of the advisory
function of the Diplomatic Service, the 2003 White Paper, as already
suggested, can surely be regarded as the apotheosis. Is this an
undiluted benefit? Or do subsequent developments imply that there
is a downside? The broad answer is that the greater precision
with which one seeks to articulate the issues facing the country
in its international dealings, and the more one attempts to define
the priorities to be adopted, the greater the temptation to establish
objectives and specific measures to achieve them. Up to a point
this is no more than tax-payers are entitled to expect. But the
process is quickly subject to the Law of Diminishing Returns.
In a field as unpredictable as world affairs, foreign policy priorities
are indicators or markers rather than targets. An essential element
of the advisory function is stewardship of international realities
and uncertainties of world as they impinge on the national concerns
of whatever sort. This stewardship, like Talleyrand, cannot but
counsel against the overzealous. Forethought is the handmaid of
flexibility, not its gaoler.
IX THE CROSS-STITCH
Administration is said to be about keeping things
going, while management is about making things go. The distinction
between the two, less of10 drawn today than in the past, has some
resonance among those who are conscious of the limits of the scope
of management in a field as subject to the unexpected and the
uncontrollable as the conduct of foreign policy. They see diplomacy
as essentially an art rather than a science.
While it may have had a good deal of validity in
the more static days of classical diplomacy, this approach is
clearly inadequate in the dynamic international conditions described
in the first section of this memorandum. The latter, combined
with modern facilities in the field of data-processing, have made
a more "positive" attitude both necessary and - within
limits - feasible.
But what, more precisely, do we mean by "management"
in the context of the work of the Diplomatic Service? The short
answer is "a great deal", including all the ground covered
in the Plowden, Duncan and CPRS Reports. The whole is magisterially
summed up in the 2003 White Paper on UK International Priorities:
"To meet our strategic priorities, build our
key relationships and provide high quality services, the FCO will
need a flexible and targeted diplomatic network that gives the
UK global influence. The Strategy explains how we in10d to achieve
this at a time of growing demands and finite resources.
The Strategy also describes how we are adapting the
organisation and working practices of the FCO to focus resources
more clearly on high priority issues, to become more flexible
and responsive, to make better use of diverse skills and experience,
and to be better able to meet our customers' needs".42
The Picture as a Whole: the House of Commons Foreign
There is no expectation that the FCO could or should
be left to itself to pursue this comprehensive and absorbing programme
on its own. In national managerial terms, the least that can be
expected is scrutiny on the basis of strictly financial criteria
by those responsible for authorising or monitoring public expenditure.
Such scrutiny naturally leads to examination of the substance
of the activities being financed, as well as to the allocation
of resources to them, ie inputs.
In these days of near-ubiquitous "delivery deficit",
there is a further natural progression from concern with inputs
to the examination of the results achieved from the application
of the resources allocated, ie outputs. It is a short step
thereafter to holistic survey of the "structures, functions
and priorities" of the Diplomatic Service.
It is the responsibility of the House of Commons
Foreign Affairs Committee "to examine the expenditure, administration
and policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its associated
agencies". The Committee discharges its responsibilities
with admirable application, precision and breadth of perspective.
Its work is a first class illustration of the merits of the Select
Managerialism rather than Management?
Management consultancy is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Its introduction into the sphere of public administration is prompted
by, and has encouraged, the belief that managerial techniques
developed in the private sector can be of more or less general
applicability in the public sector as well. While there is clearly
a measure of justification for this belief in the case of Departments
and agencies concerned with the delivery of services at home,
it is more open to doubt in the case of the FCO, where so much
of what is at issue is non-specific and lies beyond UK national
Matters are made worse if there is a trend towards
the introduction of public service-wide of practices, the relevance
or usefulness of which differ from department to department. Yet
this has been the recent experience. Mr Miliband's new Strategic
Framework comprises three elements, from which emerge eight Departmental
Strategic Objectives (DSOs) agreed with the Treasury. The FCO
is now run by a Board, whose terms of reference are worded in
managerial rather than substantive terms. It has spawned no less
than six Sub-Committees, whose terms of reference are similarly
cast. The whole would seem to smack of managerialism rather than
of effective management. Managerialism is by definition excessiveor
The Foreign Affairs Committee were forthright in
their views on the matter. "We have consistently questioned
whether it is appropriate to have a set of performance targets
assessed in terms of detailed and sometimes quantified indicators."
Their conclusion was that "at least as regards policy objectives,
the current elaborate reporting system absorbs large amounts of
FCO staff time that might be better spent on other matters, without
necessarily generating significant new information".43
X PRESENT DISCONTENTS
Thirty years later, the realities on the ground look
rather different from the picture painted in the 1978 White Paper.
In the book to accompany Getting Our Way, his recent television
series on five hundred years of British Diplomacy, Sir Christopher
Meyer, a former Ambassador to the United States, observes that
the FCO, "according to numerous witnesses, has fallen again
on hard times, surrendering swathes of responsibility for foreign
policy to other players in the Whitehall community and continuing
to live a crisis of confidence and identity". This was marked
by the "activism abroad of the Prime Minister's office, and
the autonomy and funding given to the DFID".44
In an article in the Financial Times on 14
January 2010. Lord Malloch Brown, who was a Minister of State
at the FCO from 2007 to 2009, asserted that " the real crisis
for the Foreign Office is whether it will be allowed to lead in
its embassies and Whitehall, or will it be reduced to landlord
and events organiser for other parts of government
In Whitehall impatient Prime Ministers often elbow the Foreign
Office aside to run foreign policy "whether from sofa or
As part of the series by Michael Cockerell on the
"Three Great Departments of State" (the other two being
the Treasury and the Home Office), BBC television carried a programme
on the FCO on February 18, 2010. In it Lord Hurd, a former member
of the Diplomatic Service, as well as a former Foreign Secretary,
echoing a speech which he made in the House of Lords on 26 February
2009,46 spoke of a feeling that the FCO was "hollowed
out" on the advisory side, and was no longer characterised
to the same extent by the solid expertise for which it had been
known. In the same programme Professor Peter Hennessy reported
the distress of his contacts in the SIS that they could no longer
count on turning to the FCO Research Analysts to try out their
The Verdict of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs
These concerns were reflected in the wide-ranging
report of the Foreign Affairs Committee Foreign and Commonwealth
Annual Report 2008-2009, to which reference was made in the
introduction to this Memorandum.47
The Committee's general diagnosis was that the FCO's
traditional pre-eminence in foreign policy-making was seen as
under challenge from three developments: new forms of global communication
which make other departments and agencies less dependent on the
FCO network; an increasing tendency, related to this development,
for other parts of the Government to establish their own direct
links with other states; and greater emphasis in the FCO on the
provision of services to the public and the introduction, largely
at the behest of the Treasury, of management practices which divert
time and resources from traditional political reporting, analysis
The Committee concluded that:
(i) with regard to funding arrangements and performance
management, the Treasury has too often treated the FCO as "just
another Department", when it is clear from international
experience that foreign ministries are not like other departments;
(ii) it is incongruous that the position of the
only government department with a global reach is threatened with
erosion at a time when globalisation is acknowledged as the key
phenomenon of our times; and
(iii) there continues to be a vital need for
the FCO to have sufficient resources to enable it to carry out
its traditional functions, of the interpretation of developments
overseas and the formulation of policy.
The Committee's recommendation that the new Government
should "carry out a comprehensive foreign policy-led review
of the structures, functions and priorities of the FCO, MOD and
DFID" follows naturally from these conclusions.48
XI THE STANCE
It is too early to expect the adoption of any definitive
position on all these issues by the Coalition Government, which
came into power in May, 2010. But there are already a number of
significant pointers to record. In speeches before the election,
Mr William Hague, in his capacity as Conservative Shadow Foreign
Secretary, made it clear that the FCO's leading position in the
field of international affairs would be restored. Promise has
become reality. We have seen the back of sofa or bunker diplomacy.
At the same time there is no suggestion that Mr Cameron
will be less involved in international affairs than his predecessors.
The realities of interdependence mean that it could not be otherwise.
There is an inevitable element of the presidential about modern
government, extending to external, as well as to internal, affairs.
The Prime Minister is ex officio the First Lord of the
Treasury, which is a useful reminder of his or her locus standi
with that great Department of State. It might be helpful if
some similar formulation could be found to reflect the Prime Minister's
position in the case of the FCO.
The Status of the FCO
The status of the FCO is not so much a matter of
departmental prestige as of the personal relations between the
Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and, perhaps one should
add in present circumstances, the Deputy Prime Minister. Much
also depends on the calibre of the Foreign Secretary's ministerial
team. The Minister for Europe must be given adequate time in the
job if he or she is to carry the necessary weight in EU deliberations,
be it in Brussels or at home. Regrettably there was a revolving-door
character about the post in the case of the previous administration.
One cannot imagine that the more pronounced features
of managerialism we have witnessed in the previous administration
will last long with the Coalition Government.
The Substance of British Foreign Policy
As regards the substance of British foreign policy,
we can be guided in particular by the terms of the Coalition Agreement,
amplified by a series, not yet complete, of speeches by Mr Hague
"setting out how we will protect British security, prosperity
and people, working with other countries to strengthen the rules-based
system in support of our values".49
The objectives, as set out by the FCO are:
(i) Safeguard Britain's national security by
countering terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and working
to reduce conflict.
(ii) Build Britain's prosperity by increasing
exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources,
and promoting sustainable global growth.
(iii) Support British citizens around the world
through modern and efficient consular services.
As regards (i) and (ii), the promotion of the safety
and the prosperity of the realm has long been a classic formulation
of the essence of foreign policy. But it can mean very different
things in differing world conditions. There is a chapeau to
Mr Hague's formulation which places it firmly in the context of
the twenty-first century: "our aim is to promote Britain's
enlightened interest in a networked world. We will pursue an active
and activist foreign policy, working with other countries and
strengthening the rules-based international system in support
of the following three objectives".
The wording of objective (iii) is of interest in
the sense that it could be taken, for example to mean solicitude
and assistance for those of our compatriots whose ebullience while
on holiday abroad gets them into a pickle of some sort. A more
weighty interpretation would reflect recognition of the contribution
of British citizens living or travelling abroad to the achievement
of objectives (i) and (ii). In an interdependent age, where there
are so many non-governmental "actors" in the field of
international affairs, and where internal and external concerns
so extensively overlap, this contribution is substantial indeed.
Overall there is much in the stance of the Coalition
Government which recalls the 2003 White Paper UK International
Priorities. Diplomats are happiest when foreign policy is
bipartisan or non-partisan. That implies acceptance across the
domestic political spectrum of international realities. The ineluctable
facts of the world in which we live impose limits on our freedom
of manoeuvre. The difference between foreign secretaries, of whatever
stripe, may well be more matters of style or presentation than
of content, methodology or structures.
The enduring Requirement for a Cadre of Competent
In the long run the interdepartmental distribution
of labour will depend on the quality of the Diplomatic Service.
Turf wars may be an ineradicable part of bureaucracies, each component
of which has in any case a duty to fight its corner. But at the
end of the day, doing the job properly matters more than who does
it. The emphasis is on the word "service". As long as
the members of the Diplomatic Service are masters of their business,
they will not be left out in the cold. They are indispensable
to the sound conduct of foreign policy.
Sir Leslie Fielding, a prominent former member of
the Diplomatic Service, recalls the reception he was accorded
on his first day in the Foreign Office. After conducting him through
the necessary formalities for new entrants, the world-weary clerk
responsible offered him the following reflection: "no matter
how rigorous and searching and exigent we make the selection process
for Branch A (the "administrative class") we still find
that the percentage of idiots in the intake remains constant".50
One is tempted to apply, mutatis mutandis, this hard-bitten
proposition to the role diplomats. No matter what arrangements
the government may properly contrive, in response to changes in
circumstances, to ensure the efficient conduct of foreign policy,
there will always be a requirement for a cadre of diplomatic professionals
to help deliver what the nation desires.
(1) The recommendation that the "new Government
should carry out a comprehensive policy-led review of the structures,
functions and priorities of the FCO, MOD and DFID" comes
from a body which, by virtue both of its constitutional responsibilities
and of its outstanding work during the last Parliament, is better
placed than any other external entity to reach such a conclusion.
(2) Study of the evolution of the Diplomatic
Service over the past one hundred years lends firm support to
the recommendation. In particular, the report, published in 1964,
of the Plowden Committee on Representational Services Overseas
bears close re-examination.
(3) In weighing the Foreign Affairs Committee
recommendation, HMG will clearly have many factors to take into
account, not least the acute financial and fiscal problems which
the country now faces, and the imminent belt-tightening measures
necessary to counter them.
(4) The conjuncture in which such a review took
place would be all-important. Coalition government has its advantages
in this respect. The terms of any review should not be controversial.
There would be little point in a review if it were established
primarily to save money. We do not need a repetition of the Duncan
and CPRS inquiries.
(5) It is to be expected that the new Foreign
Affairs Committee will direct their attention to these pressing
issues. The recommendation of their predecessors may thus in effect
be subsumed in a continuing dialogue between the Committee and
HMG. But this would be unlikely of itself to ensure the securing
of wide public understanding and support for the work of the Diplomatic
Service which is an indispensable long term national requirement,
and which could not but be an essential aim of any thorough-going
1 October 2010
1 HC 145, March, 2010
2 These issues have
of course been extensively explored, both individually and in
their numerous interrelationships, notably in a series of Symposia
organised by the Diplomatic Academy of London, University of Westminster.
See in particular Strategic Public DiplomacyShaping
the Future of International Relations"- proceedings of the
Symposium of 2008. (edited by Nabil Ayad and Daryl Copeland,
University of Westminster, 2009) We have coined the term
"Geodiplomatics" to denote the management of world wide
A particularly lively account of the role of the modern diplomat
is given in Daryl Copeland Guerilla Diplomacy (Lynne Rienner,
2009). On his reckoning, the diplomat is "part archivist,
part analyst, part lobbyist and part street-smart policy entrepreneur".
3 Sir Ernest Satow
(1843-1929) was a scholar and historian as well as one of the
outstanding diplomats of his day. Thanks in large measure to his
formidable linguistic powers, he became the foremost British expert
on China, Japan and the Far East as a whole. His Guide to Diplomatic
Practice first appeared in 1917. The fifth edition,
edited by Sir Ivor Roberts, was published in 2009 (OUP). While
the vast changes which have occurred since then are reflected
in the various editions, the work inevitably, and justifiably,
retains its original emphasis on the executive side of the business
of diplomacy, as distinct from its advisory role.
4 See Zara Steiner:
The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (CUP,1969),
p 82. An entertaining, as well as highly informative, account
of these crucial formative years in Foreign Office history. The
definitive account of the development of the Foreign Office during
the nineteenth century is contained in Chapter VIII of Volume
III of The Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy, 1783-1919
(CUP, 1923). The amalgamation of the Diplomatic Service with
the Foreign Office is delightfully examined in Christine Larner's
article of that title in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol
7, pp 107-126.
5 The Crowe memorandum
was published in G P Gooch and Harold Temperley (eds) British
Documents on the Origins of the War Vol 3, Appendix A, pp
6 Tilley and Gaselee:
The Foreign Office (Putnam, 1933). Sir John Tilley was
chief Clerk from 1913 to 1918, and Stephen Gaselee was Librarian
and Keeper of the Papers at the time of publication. It was Gaselee
who invented the concept of the "inverted sieve". He
regarded it as a "bad simile" but used it "because
I could find no better" (p 265).
7 Sir Victor Wellesley:
Diplomacy in Fetters (Hutchinson, 1944). Wellesley records
that the book was practically complete when the Second World War
broke out. This both delayed publication and necessitated a number
of changes. At the same time it underlined the necessity of the
reforms he was recommending.
8 Proposals for
the Reform of the Foreign Service (Cmd
6420, January, 1943). The White Paper was the subject of lively
discussion in both Houses of Parliament.
9 Cmd 6420, para 2
10 ibid, para
11 Lord Strang and
other Members of the Foreign Service: The Foreign Office (Allen
and Unwin, 1955).
12 Strang: The
Diplomatic Career (Deutsch, 1962) p 14. In addition to his
autobiography Home and Abroad (Deutsch, 1956), Strang wrote
Britain in World Affairs" (Faber and Faber and Deutsch,
1961) a magisterial "Survey of the Fluctuations in British
Power and Influence, Henry VIII to Elizabeth II".
13 Report of the
Committee on Representational Services Overseas appointed by the
Prime Minister under the Chairmanship of Lord Plowden, Cmnd
2276, February, 1964.
14 Report of the
Committee on Representational Services Overseas appointed by the
Prime Minister under the Chairmanship of Lord Plowden, para
15 The Plowden Report
affords detailed evidence, as early as the 1960s, both of the
transformation of diplomatic circumstances under the growing pressure
of the Vectors summarised in the first section of this memorandum,
and of the responses required by an active diplomatic service.
Lord Beloff, at that time Gladstone Professor of Government and
Administration at Oxford, described the Report as "an inside
job". This does not deprive it of all validity. It is the
wearer of the shoe who is best able to judge where it pinches.
As the chief instigator of the Review, I stand ready to plead
guilty as charged. After much preliminary discussion, the idea
was first formally broached in a submission dated January 28,
1960, by the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign Secretary.
16 Ray Seitz, the
first career diplomat to be appointed US Ambassador to the Court
of St James (1991-94) put the matter in elegant perspective: "in
a statement equal in renown to Acheson's, Harold Macmillan observed
that Britain would henceforth play Athens to America's Rome. Macmillan
outdid Acheson in both condescension and insight".
17 The Civil Service
Report of the Committee 1966-68, Chairman: Lord Fulton, Cmnd
3638, June 1968. A Times leader on June 27 summarised the
message of the Report as "thumbs down for the amateur".
18 Report of the
Review Committee on Overseas Representation, 1968-1969, Chairman:
Sir Val Duncan, Cmnd 4107, July, 1969. In an article in International
Affairs in April, 1970, "The Duncan Report and its Critics"
(Vol 46, pp 247 et seq), Andrew Shonfield, Director of
Studies at Chatham House and a prominent member of the Committee,
admitted that the use of the term "Outer Area" was unfortunate.
But he claimed that those who took exception to it on the grounds
that they relegated India and other developing countries to reduced
attention, tended to overlook the point that the Soviet Union
and China were also in the category.
All in all, Shonfield thought that the Report had "disturbed
a set of emotions". He commented ruefully that "if there
is one thing worse than being a bringer of bad tidings, it is
to be the drawer of unwelcome inferences from familiar propositions".
19 Review of Overseas
Representation: Report by the Central Policy Review Staff. HMSO,
1977. The Report was not presented formally to Parliament,
and has no Command number.
20 A number of analogies
have been suggested for the policy-making process. For example
it is likened to the four-stroke cycle of the internal combustion
process: for "induction/compression/power/exhaust" substitute:
21 Underlying this
assumption is what may be a characteristic of British thought
structures in general: namely a tendency to believe that if, as
it must be, the primary object of public administration is to
get things done, then the acquisition of executive skills is something
which can to a great extent be pursued independently of the subject
matter. At all events the distinction between "what to do"
and "how to do it" is clearly reluctant to leave the
22 Cmnd 7308. The
text, while admirably concise, deals somewhat blandly with the
awesome difficulties, both economic and political, which we were
then facing abroad and at home.
23 ibid, para
24 HMSO, 1980. Despite
its origins, the paper was not presented formally to Parliament,
and has no Command number.
25 See Robert A Mortimer:
The Third World Coalition in International Politics (2nd
edition, Westview, 1984)
26 The United Nation
Conference on Trade and Development. Originally convened in
1964 as a one-off Conference, it became an organ of the General
Assembly and begat substantial subordinate machinery.
27 The Declaration
of a New International Economic Order was the outcome of the Sixth
Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1974, at the combined
initiative of the non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 developing
countries. For a detailed discussion of these and related issues,
see Marshall: The North-South Dialogue: Britain at Odds, in
Jensen and Fisher(eds) The United Kingdom - The United Nations
a Programme for Survival The Report of the Independent Commission
on International Development Issues under the Chairmanship of
Willy Brandt (Pan Books, 1980).
29 Sunday Times,
July 20, 1980
30 HC 145, para 330
31 Personal letter
from a former UK Representative to the EU.
32 The most striking
case in point was a letter published on January 28, 2008, in the
Financial Times, from all seven retired former UK Representatives
in Brussels, commending the Lisbon Treaty as it started its way
through Parliament. This totality renders it a document unique
in British diplomatic annals. In the light of subsequent events,
its line of argument cannot but seem even more misguided now than
it did at the time of publication.
33 See Articles 155
-163 of the Treaty of Rome, 1957
34 These texts take
the form of UN General Assembly Resolutions, numbered respectively
A/Res//50/6 and A/Res/55/1. The similar Declaration issued on
the occasion of the UN 60th anniversary is numbered
35 Cm 6052, December,
36 Remarks by the
Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Michael Jay, at the launching of
the White Paper, on December 2, 2003, at the FCO.
37 When the Foreign
Affairs Committee invited comments on the FCO Annual Departmental
Report covering the year 2003-04, I inquired whether this
invitation extended to Mr Straw's White Paper, and was told that
it did. I therefore submitted a memorandum which the Committee
were good enough both to publish and to notice favourably in a
separate section of their Report (HC 745, paras 35-42, and Ev
70-76). Mine was the only substantive general comment on the White
Paper which the Committee received from non-governmental sources.
38 Cm 6762, March,
39 Press Notice no
28 of 2 May 2007, recorded the Committee's intention of ensuring
that the White Paper was considered as part of the Committee's
work as a whole.
40 HC 145, Ev 127
41 ibid, para
331, and Ev 127
the concluding paragraphs of the Highlights summary accompanying
the main text
43 HC 145, para 294
44 ibid, para
45 ibid, para
46 Before turning
to politics, Lord Hurd was a member of the Diplomatic Service,
and is thus well positioned to make this judgment.
47 HC 145
48 ibid, para
49 The first of the
speeches was delivered at the FCO on July 1; the second in Tokyo
on July 15; and the third at Lincoln's Inn on September 15. The
fourth is due to be delivered in the autumn.
50 Sir Leslie Fielding,
Kindly Call me God (Boermans Books, 2009) p 9