Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite

By Carne Ross

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(1966 - )
Carne Ross (born 1966) is the founder and executive director of Independent Diplomat, a diplomatic advisory group. Carne Ross taught in Zimbabwe before attending the University of Exeter where he studied economics and politics. He joined the British foreign service in 1989. Ross's testimony in the Butler Review directly contradicted the British position on the justification behind the invasion of Iraq. (From :


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS There are a great many people I would like to thank for helping me prepare this book. Some helped in practical ways with research, reviews and advice. Others helped by talking with me, influencing my thinking or by simply listening. I am indebted to all of them. Any mistakes are, of course, my own responsibility. I would like to thank in particular Michael Dwyer at Hurst for his encouragement and thoughtful criticism, which were invaluable, Roger Haydon at Cornell University Press, Maria Petalidou at Hurst, the editors of the Crises in World Politics series, Brendan Simms and Tarak Barkawi, and Rosemary Brook and Maja Zupan at Kaizo. I am very grateful to Mike Cohen and Jonathan Bach at the New School University in New York, who first gave me space and time to think by inviting me to become a fellow at their Graduate Program on International Affairs. Others who have helped along the way, by reading drafts, undertaking rese... (From :

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1. INTRODUCTION Back at the UN Security Council in New York. A cockpit of world affairs, this is also my workplace. The Council chamber and its maze of adjoining rooms and corridors are familiar to me. I know all its nooks and corners — where to make discreet phone calls reporting discussions back to London (or to my girlfriend), where to twist the arms of colleagues in private (this place was made for corridor diplomacy), the spot to grab a moment’s peace without being bothered by other delegations or journalists (a former French ambassador once wrote a book on the best places to sleep at the UN: there were many). It feels like home ground. The formal Council Chamber is located deep in the UN complex. To reach it you must make your own way through long corridors. There are no signposts; but I know the route well. As I enter, I greet the Secretariat staff with whom I have worked for so long, “How are you? Fine.” I... (From :

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2. THE EMBASSY Bonn 1992–95 My first full posting as a diplomat was to Germany and its then capital, Bonn. The British embassy in Bonn was an ugly concrete block on the main road connecting the city and its suburb, Bad Godesberg. Everything about it was gray — the carpets, the walls, the faces of the people working there. My office overlooked the often-rainswept car park. If I craned my neck, I could see the road beside the embassy where cars sped between Bonn and Bad Godesberg. My title was Second Secretary (Political), a junior diplomat, an embassy workhorse. The embassy had a large staff of diplomats, whose work was divided into many sections. My job was to report on German foreign policy. To do this, I would get into my car or ride the tram to the Auswärtiges Amt, the German foreign ministry, or, occasionally, the Federal Chancellery (where the Chancellor and his staff had offices). Once there, I would walk the long cor... (From :

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3. THE NEGOTIATION UN Security Council, New York, 2001 What is a fact? This was not a post-modern philosophical debate; it was a negotiation of what was to become international law. But this essential question bedeviled our discussion. We could not agree on the facts. We were meeting day after day, for several hours at a time. Our discussions took place in a narrow, cramped room called the NAM caucus room. NAM is the acronym for the Non-Aligned Movement, the grouping of those states that during the Cold War saw themselves as associated with neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact. Although the Cold War is over, the NAM lives on, as does its room, which is next to the room next to the UN Security Council (perhaps a situational reflection of the NAM’s distant relationship to real power). The room is too small for the NAM, which has 116 members; indeed it is too small for the fifteen delegates of the members of the Security Co... (From :

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4. WAR STORIES WMD and Noble Half-Truths Years after the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, the world remains polarized over the war. Supporters thought it necessary, while many opponents believe a false case was deliberately manufactured for it. This allegation has been reinforced by the discovery of a putative intellectual justification for such deceit, the idea of the “noble lie” propagated by the late University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss, one of the strongest intellectual influences on the neo-conservatives. According to Strauss, élites in liberal societies must sometimes create “myths” to hold those societies together, for fear that they would otherwise collapse through selfishness and individualism. One such myth is the enemy, the threat, the identification and combating of which forces society to cohere and unite. Once that enemy was the Soviet Union and communism;... (From :

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5. THEM AND US Essentialism and the Cult of “We” “Nations! What are nations? Tartars, and Huns, and Chinamen! Like insects, they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable. It is for want of a man that there are so many men. It is individuals that populate the world.” Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle Diplomacy is often compared to games like chess. Indeed, chess pieces frequently adorn the covers of books or websites about diplomacy. Diplomacy is depicted as an intricate sport where victory is the object, and the movements, motives and capabilities of the teams are finite and knowable, even if they can be complex. In order to play chess, you need two sides, clearly delineated: one white, one black. So it is to play diplomacy. In order for diplomacy to function as a discourse, to make any sense, and to perpetua... (From :

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6. THE TELEGRAM OR HOW TO BE IGNORED UN Security Council and Tindouf, Algeria One of the principal artifacts of diplomatic business is the encrypted telegram between the embassy and the capital. In the British Foreign Office, telegram writing is a highly fetishized business. The drafting process is stylized and hierarchical, in a way an unconscious metaphor for the whole business of diplomacy. If a junior diplomat writes the first draft, it must be checked by a senior diplomat before being “signed off”. Particularly important dispatches must be checked by ambassadors themselves, since it is their name that goes at the end of the message (itself an unconscious reinforcement of the hierarchicalism of the system). When you join the diplomatic service, you are instructed in the “house style” which strives for clarity, conciseness, detachment and, above all, objectivity. Drafting skill is highly rated. Some... (From :

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7. THE AMBASSADOR The moral limits of the diplomat and “going too far” “You cannot think without abstractions; accordingly, it is of the utmost importance to be vigilant in critically revising your modes of abstraction. It is here that philosophy finds its niche as essential to the healthy progress of society. It is the critique of abstractions. A civilization which cannot burst through its current abstractions is doomed to sterility after a very limited period of progress.” Alfred Whitehead, Science and the Modern World “You must realize this: that a prince and especially a new prince cannot observe all those things which give men a reputation for virtue, because in order to maintain his state he is often forced to act in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, of religion. And so he should have a flexible disposition, va... (From :

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8. STAR TREK, WITTGENSTEIN AND THE PROBLEM WITH FOREIGN POLICY “Ever since men began in time, time and Time again they met in parliaments, Where, in due turn, letting the next man speak, With mouthfuls of soft air they tried to stop Themselves from ravening their talking throats; Hoping enunciated airs would fall With verisimilitude in different minds, And bring some concord to those minds; soft air Between the hatred dying animals Monotonously bear toward themselves; Only soft air to underwrite the in- Built violence of being, to meld it to Something more civil, rarer than true forgiveness. No work was lovelier in history; And nothing failed so often: knowing this The army came to hear Achilles say: ‘Pax Agamemnon.’ And Agamemnon’s: ‘Pax’” It’s a... (From :

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9. THE NEGOTIATION UN Security Council, New York 1999 In December 1998, the US and UK bombed Iraq in Operation Desert Fox, in retaliation for Iraq’s failure to cooperate with the weapons inspectors during a test period earlier that year. It was not until 17 December the following year that the Security Council was able to decide a renewed — but not united — approach to Iraq, on both central issues of sanctions and weapons inspections. That year encompassed some of the hardest work of my life. The product — resolution 1284 — adopted by 11 positive votes, with none against and four abstentions, was one of the longest and most complex UN resolutions ever. In January the following year, while still at the UK mission, I wrote an article to commit the negotiation to the record. I did so with publication in mind so I utilized the sort of language that I thought was required: the conventional discourse of states an... (From :

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10. INDEPENDENT DIPLOMAT, OR THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE “…The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.” Democritus, quoted in Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies Hargeisa, Somaliland We are driving along the long road from Berbera on the Red Sea coast, back to Hargeisa, the dusty capital of Somaliland. I am with Edna Adan, the 69-year old foreign minister of Somaliland, a government driver, Magan from the Ministry and a bodyguard. This has not always been a safe road; a year ago, a German aid worker was ambushed here and his Somali companion shot dead. We’ve spent the day in Berbera to witness and celebrate a significant moment in Somaliland’s development as a state. Fifty long steel containers, loaded with wiring and machinery for a large state electricity company, have been delivered by ship at Berbe... (From :

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11. CONCLUSION THE END OF “DIPLOMACY”? “Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.” Paul Valéry All politics, said Tip O’Neill, long-time Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is local. He was wrong. There is not one aspect of our contemporary lives, save our private emotions, which is not in some way affected by what is going on elsewhere in the world. Perhaps even our emotions are not immune, given the omnipresent and insidious effects of our economic, cultural and physical environment. Globalization has done for the notion of locality what the internet has done for the paper letter. All politics is international. The spread of global markets and global production has made us familiar with how jobs in south Wales or Pennsylvania are affected by wage levels in the Pearl River Delta... (From :

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Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Reproduced from CITIZENS: A CHRONICLE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (Published by Viking/Alfred A. Knopf Inc., © Simon Schama 1989) by kind permission of PFD ( on behalf of Professor Simon Schama. A much-misused term, but in this context it meant chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, and missiles of over 150km range. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission: this is my footnote in history since I invented UNMOVIC’s name, late one night during the negotiations on Security Council resolution 1284 , which established the agency. We must all be grateful to President George W. Bush who, albeit inadvertently, revealed the truth of the direct and demotic nature of real diplomacy at a G8 summit in July 2006. Overhead on a microphone, he tells Prime Minister Tony Blair (after thanking... (From :


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