The Role of the FCO in UK Government - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence from Lord Howe of Aberavon CH

1.  I begin with an apology for the tardiness of this submission, as well as for the relative narrowness of its subject matter. Narrowness because I seek to distinguish between the many subjects in respect of which the FCO, its outposts and its staff, are acting:

(a)  On the one hand as administrators, agents or servants:

And, on the other hand:

(b)  Those in which they are engaged much more broadly on questions of policy—as advisors, assessors, advocates, policy-makers or actors.

2.  It is the second of these alternative objectives which is, and always has been, the primary purpose of the FCO and Diplomatic Service—namely the identification and assessment of foreign policy objectives and problems and the consequent formulation, presentation and implementation of policy. It is this which must primarily determine the scale, qualifications and location of the Diplomatic Service. Ideally, and so far as resources allow, this should provide for presence and representation in most, if not all, national, and, of course, all international agencies.

3. Notwithstanding the widespread use and familiarity of the English language, the success of our Diplomatic Service has, for many years and almost universally, owed much to the fact that our representatives have been fluent in the language of the country in which they serve and thus well able to understand and present matters of concern.

4. All our overseas posts should be capable, to the extent that this appears to be necessary, of dealing with all the other purposes identified in sub-paragraph (a) above, as well as in the management of diplomatic policy. Some additional posts are perceived to be necessary for these secondary purposes.

5.  The FCO and DFID (or ODA): current arrangements differ, of course, from those which prevailed until 1992, when ODA was itself a part of the FCO, but with its own Minister in charge. One other difference since then has been the determination to meet an objective (long recommended by the United Nations) of 0.7% of GDP for international development. In those days of severe financial constraint, we confined our commitment to 0.36% of GDP—and I believe that we could be similarly constrained at the present time.

6. Against that background, it must never be forgotten that the primary purpose of the FCO and its resources must be the formulation and implementation of the Government's foreign policy. Beyond a doubt that policy had to have been, and continue to be, approved by Cabinet and, of course, the Prime Minister. But, simply enough, it is essential for that decision-making process to have had the benefit of being founded upon advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary (and thus from the Service) about the objectives, nature and success or otherwise of that policy. Nothing, of course should be done to limit the availability to Government of the totality of such advice procured by and from the Diplomatic Service and Foreign Secretary alike. As explained towards the end of Annexe (a) below, it is crucially important that the forthcoming candour of such advice should be communicated and not withheld.

7. In conclusion, and on account of my failure to summarise them in more accessible form, I attach three documents which serve to amplify my submissions:

(a)  "Diplomacy: Diet of Diversity", a speech delivered at Buckingham University, January 1997, and subsequently elsewhere.

(b)  "British Foreign Policy: The Folly of Iraq", a chapter from a book of foreign policy essays published in 2008.[38]

(c)  "Friendship through dignity", a short essay about the Monarchy, published in First Magazine, June 2002.[39]

DIPLOMACY: DIET OF DIVERSITY

Notes for a Speech by The Rt Hon The Lord Howe of Aberavon on Tuesday 28 January 1997 at Buckingham University

Some of you may remember a favourite story of mine from my days in the Foreign Office, told by a senior diplomat, when his seven year old daughter asked him about his job. "Daddy, what does a diplomat do? He explained the meetings, the talks, the bridge-building, the international problems and so on. She was silent for a moment and then she said, "Now I see! A diplomat is a mat between two countries, for people to wipe their feet on!"

I have to confess to having been similarly sceptical myself, during my time—in the early 1970s—as Solicitor General, about the role of law in international affairs. One of my first tasks in that job was to answer an inquiry from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about some aspects of the Anglo-Icelandic fisheries dispute. This was a very ill-starred saga, that ail-too remorsely led on to one "Cod War" after another, each more disastrous than its predecessor. The whole story was almost too much for a mere common lawyer like myself—someone who had been brought up on domestic law, where in theory remedies followed smoothly from the exercise of compulsory jurisdiction.

I still remember the shocked look on the faces of the Foreign Office officials, when I told them that they were extremely foolish to be seeking advice about a branch of the law that was largely mythical—and likely to be as useless as it was undignified, as toothless as it was imprecise. How could it be otherwise, I asked, when recourse to force was already destined to be the ultimate arbiter, and when the International Court of Justice, if they got that far, would deliver a judgement so ambiguous that not one of the key questions would be resolved?

I was, I fear, all too right about that. Even so, I should have known better than to brush aside a whole body of law just because, at that time and on that point, it was in a state of flux and uncertainty. Because, as Grotius first emphasised, a key feature of international law is that it is evolutionary. Observance of law depends not upon sanctions, but upon acceptance of the law in the absence of any central executive authority that can actually enforce it.

Louis Henkin captured the very essence of this concept, when he described international law as an "infrastructure of agreed assumptions, practices, commitments, expectations and reliances". And that rather flabby description became familiar and acceptable to me in my later roles, as a client of international lawyers first as Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, then as Chancellor and Chairman of the IMF Interim Committee, and finally as Foreign Secretary. It was I who then became accustomed to accept and rely upon the routine, unquestioned working of the rules of GATT, of the articles of the IMF and the World Bank, the tacit understandings of policy, that shape the so-called rules of the Paris Club and the OECD consensus and so on.

Like Moliere's bourgeois gentilhomme, who was startled to learn that he had been speaking prose all his life, I became surprised to learn that I was taking international law—and thus a large part of diplomacy—actually for granted.

In much the same way, misunderstandings in other fields can be due to a failure to recognise law as it exists. Even with domestic law, the individual is often hardly, or only hazily, aware that he is actually enmeshed in compliance with the law. Like good health or a happy marriage, it is mostly unnoticed and taken for granted—until the routine is interrupted.

The parallel with matrimony is actually quite apt for the mixture of law and diplomacy that governs international relations. I remember going to London airport to meet Janos Kadar, then Secretary General of the Hungarian Communist Party, on his first visit, certainly in that office, to London, in 1985. On the journey into London from the airport, we were engaged in one of those lively (but inconclusive) conversations appropriate to such an occasion; and I said that the relationship between East and West (still miles apart at that time) was very like marriage without divorce. For we had no choice but to get on with each other, as best we may. Kadar responded by amplifying the metaphor. It is much worse than that, he said, because it was an arranged marriage; we didn't even choose each other in the first place.

I might have added then, but I didn't think of it until later, that it was not unlike a polygamous, arranged marriage. For we are, each of us, surrounded by reluctant brides with whom we have to get on, even though some of them don't necessarily subscribe even to the same religious faith or moral code as we do. Since then I have thought it is worse even than that, because the polygamy is itself kaleidoscopic. It is like a kind of endless, multinational Paul Jones.

On the same day that I was hosting Kadar for lunch, I was by extraordinary coincidence—due to give dinner to Otto von Habsburg, now as then a German Member of the European Parliament and the rightful claimant to the Austro/Hungarian throne, had it still been there. When I mentioned this in my lunchtime toast to Kadar, he proclaimed his absolute delight that both he and Otto Hapsburg were actually so old they were both born as citizens of the Austro/Hungarian empire. So the day was for him almost like an old boys' reunion.

And so to Vienna, and to a breakfast for NATO Foreign Ministers which three or four years later I hosted in the splendid British Embassy residence in that City. As we were leaving the breakfast table, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the Danish Foreign Minister, looked around our splendid Embassy and said, "Tell me, Geoffrey, is this building a monument to Britain's future or to Britain's past?" "It is a monument," I replied "to Austria's past". For it had been designed, of course, to support our Ambassador's accreditation to what had been, in its day, a truly huge empire.

Vienna is quite a good place at which to return to consideration of my given topic of diplomacy. For to the common man (I dare say even to the common woman)—by which I mean the world at large-diplomacy must often sound a remote and obscure science, a hollow and pompous activity. And as a one-time elected representative of the common man—who became obliged ex officio to try to practice diplomacy—I think it is a pity that it has got such a bad name.

Some may think that diplomacy is something for consenting adults to pursue behind closed doors, after a cocktail or two. And if the diplomatic revels all were ended, if the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palazzos and the solemn temples all vanished, leaving not a rack behind, should anyone give a hoot about it? Well, should they? My answer is that they should. Indeed, despite the rather dismissive title under which I am talking, I don't propose just one hoot for diplomacy. I shall propose three cheers for it, from the common man. Because his life is affected more and more by the work of diplomats in today's world.

Of course, over centuries, the techniques and styles of diplomacy have changed. Consider the Congress of Vienna, in 1814, which settled the affairs of Europe for decades. Indeed it re-drew the very map of Europe. Yet that was not so much a diplomatic event, as a brilliant long-running social gathering. Everyone who was anyone dropped in. Two emperors, two empresses, four kings, one queen, two heirs to the throne, two grand duchesses and three princes. And during the nine months of the Congress, there was time for hunts, shooting parties, musical rides and theatrical performances. The English characteristically even laid on a fancy-dress ball, inviting everyone to appear in Elizabethan costume. But that turned out to be rather a flop, as only the English actually dressed up for it. No wonder a wag said at the time, commenting on the leisurely pace, "le congres ne marche pas mais II danse!"

Another, more recent, example was the first trip of the then Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, to the UN General Assembly in 1946. After a week crossing the Atlantic, he encamped in New York for six weeks. He got back to London just in time for Christmas. He took off again in March for seven weeks negotiations in Moscow: the train took four days to carry him across Europe. All that is a pretty far cry from today's supersonic diplomacy. In my last 12 months as Foreign Secretary, I attended 23 meetings of European ministers, none of which lasted longer than 48 hours.

One thing had not changed because at least two of them—in that era, between all 35 nations of the then Conference on Security and Confidence in Europe—did take place in Vienna. But there was a world of difference between the nine months long Congress of 1814 and my own two day mission in 1989. From shooting parties to shuttles, the style of diplomacy has changed beyond recognition.

The change is deeper even than that because today's ceaseless activity takes place under an intense media spotlight. And Foreign Ministers are held directly to account, not just to Parliaments but to electors. Boudoir diplomacy is out. For Ministers today, hushed voices behind closed doors are not sufficient—although, despite the mistaken impression of those like Sir Richard Scott who believe to the contrary, such confidentiality may still sometimes be necessary.

President Wilson's dream at Versailles of "open covenants openly arrived at" may still be a dream, but policies must be explained and defended. For democracy, as Balfour rightly observed, is government by explanation.

So European diplomacy in particular is conducted no longer in a hall of mirrors, but in a house of glass. Ministers are catapulted from their airplanes into their conference seats; they switch on their microphones, plough through their overcrowded agendas and within moments they are straight out before the world's press, recounting the day's events.

The common man or those who represent him with the intrusive cameras—expects no less. And it is right that people should be informed, so far as possible, of decisions which will affect their lives: but again I ask, just how fully informed can they rightly expect to be?

Not that the common man of past centuries was unaffected by diplomacy, particularly by the failures of diplomacy. But the army which burnt down his shack and stole his pigs was generally perceived as a regrettable act of God. Bungling diplomats or their political masters had nothing to do with it: even the soldiers who fought in the First World War had very little idea why it had been started.

So we come to another difference between today's diplomacy and that of an earlier age. Diplomacy still means two or more parties—or countries—arriving at a point, where—they can agree a course of action and be confident of winning the assent of their own governments. But consent must now go beyond that, to the consent of their own peoples. Diplomacy reaches across the national divides, but it also reaches back into the hearts of nations.

Reading the other day Peter Hopkirk's Setting the East Ablaze, I was reminded that a century ago the sub-continental "great game" was played by a handful of international statesmen. Nowadays, by contrast and for example, the Maastricht or the Dayton agreements touch directly the lives of millions of people.

Diplomacy in recent years has had to adapt to a large change in the number and character of actors and units in international relations. The countries have multiplied. When Bevin sailed to New York, there were 22 members of the United Nations; today the old empires have fragmented into component parts, each a sovereign state, each eager for diplomatic rights.

And there has been a corresponding decline of the state as a principal actor, whether as a client or as a subject of international law. It has been matched by the growth in importance of individual citizens as the intended beneficiaries of the system. That is an inevitable consequence of linkages between, and inter-penetration of, societies and economies—all as a result of the way in which trade, travel, technology, tourism, and television have been competing with each other in the demolition of distance and time.

Problems destroyed old words: and conflicts have leapt barriers, so that we are, across borders and in Chester Crocker's

"Living amidst a massive erosion sovereignty and a sharp decline in autonomy of governments".

of national institutional

So it is that the individual Canadian Eskimo finds his entire seal-culling livelihood destroyed as a result of a resolution of the European Parliament, of which he has never heard. Or the people of Lockerbie, a small town in Scotland, find their community turned into a tragic funeral pyre for hundreds of innocent Americans, as the result of a nationalist conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean.

And the impact of diplomacy is swifter than ever before, with an almost universal international vocabulary to drive it forward: Perestroika, Mandela, Intafada, Tiananmen, CNN (God help us!).

So far, I have been talking more about change than about diversity. But from the point of view of the British Foreign Secretary, the agenda certainly does not lack diversity. On my own arrival at the FCO, I was confronted by a host of what the Chinese describe as "the problems left over by history" that obstacle course constructed by my Victorian predecessors: from the Falkland Islands, to Hong Kong, to Gibraltar, to South Africa—and (long pre-Victorian) Ireland.

Then there are the wider problems, again because of the UK's much broader history. There is our membership of the United Nations Security Council, with the obligation (as well as the right,) which derives from our possession of the UNSC veto. It is an obligation to strive for agreement at the heart of the world and there to work, for example, for a whole range of bargains between East and West on arms control. There is our role as a member of the European Union and the extent to which our history has cast us deeply into the problems of the Middle East—the Arab/Israel dispute, the Iran/Iraq conflict, and, of course, terrorism and all the implications of that.

Let me try to illustrate from that assortment of experience, certain key qualifications for the practise of diplomacy.

First, there is the need for a strong nerve, the willingness to go, before concluding negotiations, right up to the wire. In June 1984 at Fontainebleau, we were five years on from the start of negotiations over the "bloody British budget question", as Roy Jenkins described it. We had set out with a determination to secure a two-thirds abatement of our net contribution to the European Community Budget. And at Fontainebleau Chancellor Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand had finally edged their way above 50%. Eventually we came to the point when 65% was on offer. Our advisers, Michael Butler and David Williamson, Margaret Thatcher and I withdrew into one of the tiny rooms off the main hall in the Palace, to discuss the offer with Francois Mitterrand, who was presiding over the Council. We said we wanted not 65 but 66%. (We were being generous in foregoing the additional two thirds of a percentage point!) Mitterrand replied that we could not get more than the 65% he had offered. If we wanted more than that, we should have to go back to the Council Chamber. Margaret Thatcher had no hesitation in agreeing that we should do just that—indeed not agreeing, but asserting, with great vigour, that we had to go back to the Conference Chamber. And so we got our extra 1%. It was worth getting. Because, to the tax payers of this country it was worth, over 10 years, no less than £150 million. But it is an illustration of the test of nerve that is sometimes involved.

The 1984 negotiations over the future of Hong Kong offer a similar example. We there thought initially that we were under pressure, as a result of Deng Xiaoping' s firm determination from the very outset, in September 1982—that the negotiations would be over within two years. We broke the back of the bargaining by July 1984. So two months then remained for the intensely detailed discussions that still had to be completed. Deng's two year limit was looming ahead of us. Within two or three days of the expiry of that period, I pressed once again (in direct correspondence with Foreign Minister, Wu Xueqian) for the inclusion of two crucial phrases: in relation to the Legislative Council, the key words, "constituted by elections", and, in relation to the executive, the equally important rubric, "accountable to the legislature". It was only by not blinking during those last vital hours that we got those two essential provisions into the Joint Declaration. So, ironically enough, the Chinese deadline turned out to work to our advantage. But we were taking a high risk in going as far as we did down that road. And in recent years we might, perhaps, have tried to press that advantage a little too far and too fast.

Another example, again from the Hong Kong negotiations, illustrates a quite different need—the need sometimes simply to play for time. This arose in my last crucial meeting with Deng Xiaoping, at which we secured the final agreement. For several days I had been going through the regular Peking routine of negotiating in turn with a series of increasingly senior Chinese ministers—the Hong Kong Minister, Ji Peng Fei, the Foreign Minister, Wu Xueqian, the Prime Minister, Zhao Ziyang. Remarkably, by the time we reached Deng Xiaoping, at the pinnacle of the process—I am speaking now of July 1984—we had already got into place every principal building block that we had needed to complete the agreement. Yet there I was, facing the prospect of a two hour meeting with the great man (for that was what our diaries provided for) but with nothing to do except to consolidate what had already been achieved.

I was reminded of my days in distant, humble court rooms, years ago, when I had been obliged to lead evidence from my own client or cross-examine my opponent's in such a fashion as not to dislodge any of the concessions so carefully secured over the preceding days. So for a lot of that two hour period I found myself discussing literally anything but the real agenda encouraging Deng on to whatever he wanted to talk about: "one country, two systems"; did it apply to a divided Korea? or to a divided Germany? The United States: did that strange country have two governments or three? or was it four? And so on—with anything that kept Deng away from the carefully bundled heap of spillikins, that we had put together.

That required some nerve. My anxiety was that the great man might utter a syllable, which would dislodge some key component. So it was with a huge sigh of relief—from the entire British negotiating team—that I steered him finally into harbour. Deng's closing benediction led straight into an invitation to Her Majesty the Queen to visit China and to Margaret Thatcher to come to Peking herself, to sign the final agreement. We were home and dry.

Another quality that is often needed is the ability to judge the mood of the moment: I recollect one occasion when my own judgement fell sadly short of what was called for. When I was in Prague in 1985, as the guest of Foreign Minister Chnoupek, he took us on a bizarre tour of the residential flat at his Foreign Ministry. His purpose was to take us into the bathroom, from the window of which the former Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk, so Chnoupek said—had fallen to his death. (As you will know the accepted version on our side of the world is that he was pushed to his death by the Secret Police). Chnoupek went into a long explanation: this, he said, was the bath, in which Masaryk had taken the drugs which induced him to make his suicide jump. I responded, with characteristic British under-statement: "As you know, we have a rather different account of that incident". Not long afterwards, as I heard later, the Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, was treated to the same tour. And, to my shame and to his great credit, he responded much more tersely: "Don't give me that crap, Chnoupek".

I have another example of an instant response, which judged the need of the moment very well— this time from Margaret Thatcher. It was at the Copenhagen summit of the European Community, in December 1987 under the chairmanship of Danish Prime Minister Schluter. We had negotiated long and hard into the night, in an attempt to resolve the tense agricultural agenda. Well past midnight, Schluter decided we could go on no longer. The discussion had to be adjourned to the German presidency in the New Year.

Just at that moment, as we were all packing our papers away, President Mitterrand suddenly spoke up. To our astonishment, he commenced a mournful soliloquy about the desperate situation in which Europe found itself. We were near the end of the road, we should have to start again, go back to the drawing board, rethink whether we could manage with any more than the six original members—and so on and on and on. We all sat in sombre silence through about twenty minutes of this.

When he finished, and to my surprise, Margaret Thatcher, sitting right beside me, suddenly piped up: "I don't think it's been like that at all, President Mitterrand. I think we've had a very good meeting with Mr. Schluter. We have very nearly finished our agenda. And I am sure that when we meet again in the New Year, under Chancellor Kohl's chairmanship, then exactly as we did under your brilliant Presidency at Fontainebleau in 1984, we shall complete everything we have to do. So, cheer up President Mitterrand, cheer up!".

He looked for a moment as though he had been slapped in the face with a wet fish. Then he sparkled to life. "I think", he said, "that Madame Thatcher is even more alluring when she is saying 'yes' than when she is saying 'no'".

That was an exceptional case. On other occasions the instant comment is often much less helpful. One example occurred at the end of the Nassau meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1985. We had successfully limited the list of additional measures that the Commonwealth had agreed to take against South Africa at that time. Margaret Thatcher and I were sitting alongside each other at the subsequent press conference. The Prime Minister was asked to comment on the scale of the concessions Britain had been obliged to make to achieve this deal. She raised her hand, with her thumb and fore-finger just two or three millimetres apart, "only a tiny little bit", she said. This jubilant affront to all the other heads of government with whom we had negotiated such a modest deal remained for years a grave black mark upon our Commonwealth reputation.

Sometimes one can be lucky even after such an error. There was a comparable incident after an important Chequers meeting with Garrett Fitzgerald, the Irish Prime Minister, in November 1984. The two Prime Ministers gave separate press conferences after the meeting. Margaret Thatcher was asked what she thought of three key propositions recently put forward by the so-called Irish forum. She listed the propositions concisely and dismissed each in turn: "out, out, out". A few minutes later the Irish Prime Minister was asked for his reaction to this seemingly brutal dismissal of the Irish case. Britain was indeed lucky in the man that had to face that challenge. For, as Fitzgerald says in his own book, Mrs. Thatcher's "out, out, out" was for him a great humiliation. But it nevertheless served, more than anything else, to lower the expectations of the Irish from negotiations. In those circumstances, he explained, he was ready to dismiss the provocation without comment. It was, he said, "a short-term price worth paying for the long-term advantage". This is an interesting illustration of the way in which one skilfully judged instant reaction can off-set the potentially serious adverse impact of another.

By contrast—and I don't like having to say this—it is clear, I think, that our present Prime Minister was perhaps a little less than wise in proclaiming, at the end of the Maastricht negotiations, that it was "Game, set and match": for the United Kingdom. The safest rule, I am sure, is always to regard the conclusion of negotiations, however successful, as what I call a "no crow area"—for either side. It is always a victory for mankind, a victory for Europe, a victory for the human race. And just occasionally, sotto voce, an achievement for your own country as well!

All this illustrates, I believe, that even in the arid field of diplomacy, people matter, individuals do play, even today, an immensely crucial part. The triangular relationship between Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher was one of the key components of the half century in which we have lived. There were only two people in my experience—perhaps three—to whom Margaret Thatcher instinctively deferred. The two were Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The third (and how could it be anybody else?) was His Majesty King Hussein: no man is more courteous than he; he thus commands an instinctive deference.

The relationship which Margaret Thatcher established with the two world leaders was crucial. The fact that, after that first meeting on 16th December 1984, Margaret Thatcher was able to identify Mikhail Gorbachev as a man "with whom I can do business" (note the "I", by the way) and was then able to commend that insight to Ronald Reagan marked a turning point in the diplomatic history of our age. That was one episode where personalities mattered crucially.

Another story makes the same point, more obviously. It is the difference between Andrei Gromyko and Eduard Shevardnadze. I remember several discussions with Gromyko about human rights. When I raised this first with him, at a meeting in Stockholm, he said that I was "lowering the tone" of the conversation. When I raised it for the second time, in Moscow, he responded not at all. On the third occasion, after we had given him lunch at our Ambassador's flat in New York, I had decided to raise it again, but in a rather low-key fashion, as we moved from the table to coffee. "By the way", I said, "can I come back to the names of Sakharov, Sharansky and the rest?" He looked at me—and this is difficult to believe—with a twinkle in his eye, and said, "Sakharov, Sakharov? that is the Russian word for sugar—no thank you, I do not take sugar in my coffee." And that was the end of that topic.

I gained a sharply contrasting insight into the style of Eduard Shevardnadze, when I met the then Mozambiqan Foreign Minister, now President, Chissano, travelling from the airport to the City of Maputo. He told me how, not many weeks before, he had been in Moscow and destined to spend an evening at the Bolshoi with Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze said "Look, we are having rather a good talk, do you really want to go to the ballet?" and Chissano replied, "If you don't, no". So they went on talking throughout the entire evening. Shevardnadze spent most of the time asking Chissano a whole range of questions directed to the agenda "is Russia getting her foreign policy right in Africa?" The idea that Andrei Gromyko would ever have behaved in that way is beyond belief. This story shows the huge difference made to our world by one man, alongside Mikhail Gorbachev, in that country.

May I, without immodesty, offer some other illustrations of the value of personal relationships, based upon the developing contacts, in course of the Hong Kong negotiations between the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wu Xueqian, and myself? I recall almost the first moment of our first evening together at the ritual opening banquet in the Diaoyutai guesthouse in Peking. I pointed to an attractive chandelier on one of the tables and asked how old it was. Wu said "Oh, not more than 300 years old." I responded by saying, "That's marvellous. Do you realise that if either of us had been American, we should have said 'Gee, it's well over 250 years old'". In course of that short exchange we established, I like to think, a shared mutual respect between our two nations, since each of us had displayed a certain common sense of history. We were both fully equipped by our experience to tackle our task seriously.

Later I was able to conjure up a series of images, which I like to think made some impression on the Chinese negotiators. In my opening talk with Wu, for example, I likened Hong Kong to a Ming Vase— an object of priceless value, which we were engaged in handing over just like the baton in a relay race. At a later stage, Deng was arguing that investment into Hong Kong would continue, since the American and Japanese Governments had assured him of that. "So there's no need to bother about all the other less important countries—Indians and people like that", he said. I took the opportunity to correct him. "Capital would only come in," I said, "if Hong Kong retains its magnetism. And that magnetism to attract capital depends on continuing freedom for capital to move away. Nothing said by American or Japanese Governments can achieve that. That depends entirely on what actually happens in Hong Kong".

I am still not sure that that point has got home. But my sequence of illustrations did help, I like to think, to oil the wheels of the negotiations. And another key part was played by the Chinese interpreter, Madam Jane Zhang Youyon. The role of the interpreter is often underestimated. Never, for one moment, was Madame Zhang disloyal to the position of her own national government. Always she was a Chinese spokesperson. But equally always she was looking for the word that might help to take both sides through the difficult passages. In the result, one of the things in which I take most pleasure from in this part of my life is the fact that when, years later, Madame Zhang came to apply for a job with the International Labour Organisation, she asked me to provide her with a reference. It must, I think, be relatively unusual for a diplomat from the Peoples' Republic of China to be going around the world with a reference from the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom. I am glad to say that she got the job. But that is enough egocentricity.

Diplomatic skill cannot overcome reality. The central fact of Hong Kong's future is that Britain's lease on 92% of the territory—even if you accept, which the Chinese do not, the legitimacy of the "unequal treaty" which created the lease—runs out in 469 days. No kind of diplomatic skill in the world will overcome a root of title as limited in time and space as that.

I remember another insight into this importance of reality in diplomatic relations, from the discussion I had with Mikhail Gorbachev in my first solo meeting with him at Hampton Court on 17 December, 1984 (the day after he met Margaret Thatcher for the first time). In course of that discussion I quoted from a speech by George Shultz, which he had made in October 1984 presenting the softer side of American diplomacy: "Strength alone will never achieve a durable peace". The striking thing was Mikhail Gorbachev' s instant response, quoting from a later speech by George Shultz (made only weeks before our meeting) the sentence: "Diplomacy without force is not enough". So he immediately presented the other side of that important coin. That is a very interesting insight into the skills of Mikhail Gorbachev. He was in no official sense a diplomat, still less a Foreign Minister. Nevertheless, he was immediately able to play a crucial diplomatic card in that way.

The whole exchange reminded me of an equally striking phrase, used by Sir Michael Howard, in his 1982 lecture about the Foreign Office: "Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments." The same Realpolitik was evident in Gorbachev's exchange with Margaret Thatcher on the preceding day. We were both struck, when he said, "I must remind you of what your own great Foreign Minister Palmerston said: 'Britain has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies but only permanent interests'. So too," he went on, "for Russia. So let us identify the interests which we both share and on which we can seek to work together for the future." No wonder we thought we could do business with a man of such well equipped insight.

So, in diplomacy strength must, in the last resort, matter more than style. It was, I think, the same Michael Howard who observed that Palmerston, "arrogant, self-confident, idealistic, and xenophobe ... conducted policy with insolent panache". He could get away with it, because in those days Britain was the strongest power in world. Even the milder Lord Salisbury, 40 or 50 years later, when giving his definition of British foreign policy as "floating down stream fending off obstacles with a boat-hook", was able to cherish the same confident thought. For, as Lord Carrington later pointed out, in those days the stream was still flowing in the right direction and Lord Salisbury had a very strong boat-hook; for, most important of all, Britain still was "top dog".

You can see the same thought, more crudely expressed, if you go to the main hall at the Old Bailey (which I hope you don't have to do!) and see inscribed there the anonymous inscription: "Right lives by law and law subsists by power". It offers a chilling but important insight—which I prefer to qualify, as Colin Powell did when he gave his Valedictory Address as Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He quoted, a little surprisingly perhaps, from Thucydides: "Of all manifestations of power restraint impresses men most". That reminds me to make the point that some of the other people I have been talking about—the politicians are in a sense the amateurs. Colin Powell, by contrast, is a professional, albeit a professional soldier. I think it is important to recognise the extent to which, in the field of diplomacy as in so many others, professionalism does play a key part.

The United States is actually a rather interesting exception in some respects. For, as you may know, their tradition is more-often-than-not, to appoint non-professionals to their senior ambassadorships. If one looks at the names of two recent holders of the Ambassadorship to the Court of St. James, one sees an example of both breeds: Ray Seitz was (exceptionally) a professional—a career diplomat—and certainly a first-class Ambassador. And so was the representative of the other breed: Charles Price, his immediate predecessor—an outstanding example of the American businessman turned diplomat. So it is possible for both types to fill these jobs very well. I dare to say, however, that, for me at least, the pinstripe professionalism of the United Kingdom is on the whole a little more reassuring than the tendency to appoint ambassadors from a wider range of non-professionals. I hasten to add, by the way, that I haven't seen a literally pinstriped individual in our diplomatic service for many years. Pinstripes are out.

But professionalism has long been important. Let me illustrate that with an incident that could have come from the script of Yes Minister. When Lord Salisbury was planning a new telegraph line to India and was expressing a strong view about what should happen there, one of the diplomats advising him on this topic rather testily exclaimed: "Sir, you have turned your mind to this problem for perhaps an hour. I have been studying it for 15 years. Which of us is more likely to be right?" A pretty crushing comeback, you might think, from an impertinent subordinate sitting at the Foreign Secretary's table.

But it was a necessary response. For there is good reason for professionals to be outspoken, to be as candid as that. For the politician is truly in need of more detached, professional advice. I tried to make this point to Sir Richard Scott, when I described for him the scale of a ministerial work load-though I don't think I succeeded. I gave him the results of a calculation. During my six years as Foreign Secretary, I explained, I processed at home each night probably three boxes fully laden with papers. I kept this up, five or sometimes six nights a week, for at least 40 weeks a year. So, during six years I had actually processed—during the hours when most people were asleep—no less than 24 tonnes of paper. So it was not surprising, I explained to Sir Richard, that I did occasionally need additional help in recalling what I had said or done in balancing the arguments in any given case.

Lord Grey conveyed the same impression. His work load, he said, was: "Like the Greek furies; it pursues one inescapably and one may not rest or read". George Shultz put it even more dramatically: being Secretary of State, he said, was like "trying to get a drink out of a fire hose".

So the Secretary of State does need professional guidance; and he or she is entitled to expect professional candour. It follows that the practise of diplomacy requires from the professionals courage as well as candour. I recollect vividly the closing paragraph of Sir Percy Cradock's valedictory dispatch from Beijing in which he records (as most retiring Ambassadors do at that point), "my one regret about the service which I enjoyed so much." Sir Percy deplored what he called the decline of professionalism—by which he meant the increased reluctance of professional diplomats to be as outspoken to their political "masters" as they ought to be. I too think that is important although just how far one should carry such candour in public even after retirement, is a slightly different question.

Two closing thoughts if I may: the first is on the relationship between government and people, particularly in the field of diplomacy. Of course, you need popular support and understanding for your policies. Of course, you have to explain or discuss them publicly. But there must often be a limit to the degree of publicity that is manageable or necessary in those circumstances. I quoted, in course of a recent House of Lords' debate, from Kierkegaard. And I think—only half in jest—that the point is still important. He said this:

"Complete publicity makes it absolutely impossible to govern. No one has understood that better than the daily press, for no power has watched more carefully over the secret of its whole organisation than the daily press, which continually cries out that the government should be quite public. Quite right, the intention of the press was to do away with government—and then itself govern, which is why it safeguards the secrecy which is necessary in order to be able to—govern!"

That perhaps puts the case a little strongly. But I think it can be well supported by an exchange (which is now long-since historic) which demonstrates very clearly the wisdom of non-publication. At the end of the Hong Kong negotiations in Beijing in July 1984, there was one deeply worrying question still unresolved. What was the intention of the Government of the Peoples' Republic of China in relation to the stationing of troops in Hong Kong when the time came? We were anxious to try and probe this point. I decided to do so, if I could, at our closing "banquet" in the British Embassy.

Finally the chance came, in a corner of the drawing room with Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian and his dedicated interpreter, Madame Zhang. So I raised the point. The answer that I received was: "It's not a question that you would be wise to press at this stage; for you are much more likely than not to get the wrong answer." I reflected for a moment or two—and concluded that it was indeed wise to accept that advice. At that very early stage of the transition, when the concept of China regaining physical possession of Hong Kong was still remote from reality, unwelcome truths would have had a far more startling affect than they did have later, when the facts had become gradually inevitable. I would not hesitate to defend the legitimacy of that example of "secret diplomacy". It was clearly sensible to test the ground and yet necessary not to disclose the conclusions at that stage.

The other interesting reflection concerns the importance, in all countries, of the relationships between head of government and foreign minister, especially in a summit-driven age, when heads of government now rocket round the world as much as only foreign ministers used to do—sometimes indeed more. It is no secret that this relationship is probably the most difficult of all. Relations between the White House and State Department over Irangate, for example; or on a more contemporary question, about the quality of Mr. Gerry Adams' virtues as an international figure and as to whether or not he should be granted a visa to visit the United States.

Relations between Number Ten and the Foreign Office are quite often equally tense. Sir Nicholas Henderson in his book, Private Office, offers a perceptive insight:

"I always noted the customary ill-humour of Foreign Secretaries when accompanying the PM on visits abroad, which is nevertheless nothing to their mood if there is any suggestion of their being left behind."

Macmillan in his book, The Past Masters, has an even more revealing insight into relations between Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Macmillan describes how Chamberlain "drove Eden to resignation by acts of disloyalty which are scarcely believable". For example, as Chamberlain records in his own diary:

"I wrote a letter to Mussolini in friendly terms and this was followed by a very cordial reply from him. I did not show my letter to the Foreign Secretary, for I had the feeling that he would object to it".

When Eden had resigned and Chamberlain ended up, says Macmillan, "with his Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords—nothing wrong with that—the charming, urbane, and essentially pliable Lord Halifax, Chamberlain was able to take effective control of foreign policy".

So too, Lloyd George (1922) was able in the same way apparently to coerce his Foreign Secretary. Of all people, the great Lord Curzon complained that he was expected to be in that capacity no more than "a valet or a drudge". Many of his Cabinet colleagues shared Lord Lansdowne's view that there "should be rather more 1"0 and rather less PM in the salad". But as on subsequent occasions that proved to be a vain hope.

So my Conflict of Loyalty was not the first of its kind.

Let me close with a final illustration of two features of modern diplomacy—the importance of timing and the huge breadth of the agenda with which future diplomats can fascinate themselves. Consider a topic that would have been perceived as barely even relevant a hundred years ago—population growth. Imagine a lily which doubles in size every week and which by the end of a year will cover the whole pond in which it grows. To get to that point it must take the first 36 weeks to cover only l/8,000th of the pond. At week 50, by definition, it covers one-quarter of the pond, by week 51, one-half of the pond. In the last short week, at one jump, it occupies the whole pond.


38   Ed. Robert Harvey, The World Crisis: the Way Forward after Iraq (London: 2008), pp 65-74, supplied to the Committee in hard copy. Back

39   "Friendship through dignity: Interview with Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon CH QC", First Magazine, June 2002, supplied to the Committee in hard copy. Back


 
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Prepared 12 May 2011