Written evidence from Lord Howe of Aberavon
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
And, on the other hand:
(b) Those in which they are engaged much more
broadly on questions of policyas 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 Servicenamely 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 GDPand 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
(b) "British Foreign Policy: The Folly of
Iraq", a chapter from a book of foreign policy essays published
(c) "Friendship through dignity", a
short essay about the Monarchy, published in First Magazine,
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
I have to confess to having been similarly sceptical
myself, during my timein the early 1970sas 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 myselfsomeone 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 mythicaland 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
lawand thus a large part of diplomacyactually for
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 granteduntil 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 coincidencedue 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
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 manwho became obliged ex
officio to try to practice diplomacyI 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
themin that era, between all 35 nations of the then Conference
on Security and Confidence in Europedid 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
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 sufficientalthough,
despite the mistaken impression of those like Sir Richard Scott
who believe to the contrary, such confidentiality may still sometimes
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 camerasexpects 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 partiesor countriesarriving at a point,
wherethey 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
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 economiesall 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
Problems destroyed old words: and conflicts have
leapt barriers, so that we are, across borders and in Chester
"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
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
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
Africaand (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 Eastthe
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 thatindeed
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 1982that 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 needthe 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 ministersthe
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 processI am speaking
now of July 1984we 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 onwith
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 relieffrom the
entire British negotiating teamthat 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 saidhad 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 membersand
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 contrastand I don't like having to say
thisit 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 experienceperhaps
threeto 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
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 meand this is difficult to believewith
a twinkle in his eye, and said, "Sakharov, Sakharov? that
is the Russian word for sugarno 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
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 countriesIndians 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
territoryeven if you accept, which the Chinese do not,
the legitimacy of the "unequal treaty" which created
the leaseruns 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 insightwhich 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 aboutthe
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 professionala
career diplomatand certainly a first-class Ambassador.
And so was the representative of the other breed: Charles Price,
his immediate predecessoran 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
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 processedduring
the hours when most people were asleepno 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 professionalismby
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 thinkonly half in jestthat 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 governmentand
then itself govern, which is why it safeguards the secrecy which
is necessary in order to be able togovern!"
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 twoand
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 dosometimes 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 Lordsnothing wrong with thatthe 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 diplomacythe 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 agopopulation 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
"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