Domestic Interface

In the past, external affairs drew limited attention from home publics, except during crisis; a national consensus generally supported the country’s foreign policy. The diplomatic machine was insulated from political crosscurrents. It used to be said that politics ended at the country’s borders. That has now changed radically.

Also altered is the old distinction between national policy, as determined by the political leaders, and its execution by an apolitical diplomatic system. The mutual roles are now more permeable, and the boundary is less clear-cut. Professional diplomats are no longer insulated from home politics.

Many countries retain the model of politically neutral civil services (e.g. in the United Kingdom and its former colonies), but this is under strain; at the top levels, offi cials have to be politically acceptable. In Germany, after World War II, civil servants were encouraged to hold their own political affi liation (they even serve in party secretariats on deputation). The French Grandes Ecoles graduates have long had a revolving door relationship, covering the civil services, politics, and the corporate world. The United States runs a highly politicized system of appointment to top administration jobs, including ambassadorships. In many developing countries politics now intrudes openly into the public services; in some Latin American and African countries the majority of envoys sent abroad are political appointees. One challenge: diplomacy is not yet recognized as a specialized profession.

The injection of new issues in the international arena (such as democracy, human rights, universal standards of governance, public accountability) leads to borderline situations where envoy activism in foreign countries can lead to political acclaim at home (for instance, when US and other Western envoys in Kenya pushed for the democratic process in the past 15 years), or political embarrassment (e.g. British Ambassador Craig Murray in Uzbekistan in October 2004, when his criticism of that government’s rights record was initially supported from London, but his subsequent consorting with opposition groups, and leaking of his views to the media, led to his recall9). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put forward the interventionist notion of “transformational” diplomacy in 2005, but the successor US administration of Barack Obama seems to have retreated from the manipulation of foreign states implicit in that notion.

Foreign ministry professionals have to factor the domestic political impact into their actions; in the British Foreign Office, every proposal that goes to the minister must assess the likely public impact. Professionals fi nd themselves mobilized in support of the political agendas at home. In Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom, envoys attending annual conferences are asked to speak to public audiences in different towns on the country’s foreign policy — we may call this public outreach, but it is also a form of political support for the government. Envoys have to consider reaching out to home political constituencies in building support for their work; in India, it is customary for envoys assigned to key foreign capitals to call on leaders of opposition parties, for two-way dialogue on their tasks.


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