SHOULD WE HAUL DOWN THE FLAG IN ADDIS ABABA?
WHY DON’T WE dismantle the Canadian diplomatic corps, close down most of our missions abroad, and put the $75 million it costs to run the Department of External Affairs every year to better use? Do we really need 815 diplomats, administrators and technicians and 1,466 clerks and stenographers running around Ottawa and 86 foreign missions on generous pay, with even more generous allowances? Certainly we need ambassadors in Moscow and Washington, in Paris and London, but will our interests suffer if we are missing from that reception in Addis Ababa next week, or if our man in Helsinki fails to telegraph home the news we have already read in the New York Timesl We all know what a diplomat is — he is the man in striped trousers, whom we send abroad to drink cocktails and lie for his country; why don’t we bring him home, remove the cocktail glass from his clenched fingers, slip him into a business suit and set him to work at honest toil?
These are not frivolous questions. They have been posed, in different words, by Prime Minister Trudeau, who said in a television interview early
When bombs threatened Cairo, Canada stood guard with $25 worth of sand buckets. Now External itself is under political fire
this year, “I think the whole concept of diplomacy today ... is a little bit outmoded. I believe much of it goes back to the early days of the telegraph, when you needed a dispatch to know what was happening in country A, whereas now you can read it in a good newspaper.” They have been answered by Professor James Eayrs, professor of International Relations at the University of Toronto, a critic whose views carry considerable weight with the Prime Minister, and who says of the Department of External Affairs: “Most of its postings are expendable. Much of its work is redundant. Many of its officials are unnecessary.”
Eayrs’ views have been echoed even inside the department he treats so bluntly. Last spring, a group of junior foreign-service officers sought a meeting with their superiors to raise a complaint that was put by one of them in roughly these words: “We think we are the highest-paid unemployed persons in Canada — how long is this going to go on?” The crisis was met, feelings were soothed, assurances were given, but the question was never answered, because the brass had no more idea than the young rebels.
The Department of External Affairs is in trouble. The glamour department of government since the end of World War II, it finds itself today under attack from the outside, racked by change and uncertainty on the inside and girded about by what one young diplomat described as “a general malaise, a feeling that we don’t know what the hell we’re doing or where the hell we’re going.” When the Prime Minister announced government belttightening measures this August, he singled out foreign affairs as an area in which spending has
doubled in the past 10 years and would, left to itself, double again in the next five. That will not be allowed to happen; of the five new missions to French-speaking countries scheduled for this year, only one will have been opened by the end of the year; there will be layoffs in the foreign service; some missions will be closed and others cut back. On top of all this, the policies the department has been defending for a number of years have been abruptly reversed, and department officials find themselves locked in a struggle with the Prime Minister’s office over control of future policies.
The Prime Minister’s office is going to win that struggle; it has already taken over foreign-policy initiative. The decision to move toward recognition of Red China, the decision to cut back our commitment to NATO, the decision to re-evaluate Canada’s entire foreign stance all represent abrupt departures from past form, departures engineered in the Prime Minister’s office and actively resented by at least some of the department brass. One senior official told me bitterly, “Our own government is firing at us from the flank . . . Trudeau is running his own foreign policy; he isn’t listening to us. Well, that’s all right, but it’s very expensive to have a big department like this and not to use it . . . On these decisions [he was referring to NATO and Red China] we have been saying one thing for years and now we’re doing another . . . We have been made to look like fools.”
Not all diplomats agree. Another man, with the rank of assistant under-secretary, commented, “We recognize that Canada’s first priorities today are, and should be, domestic, and we’re ready to adjust to a change in our role. In fact, a lot of us are ►
happy to see the bureaucrats shaken up.” (One sample of the mind-boggling rigidity of the bureaucracy: during the sixday Arab-Israeli war in 1967, John Starnes, our ambassador to Cairo (now head of the RCMP security and intelligence directorate), became concerned that the embassy might be set on fire by a bomb, and wanted to buy some additional fire extinguishers for protection. They would have cost more than $200, and an ambassador cannot spend more than $25 without a clearance from Ottawa, so Starnes cabled home for permission. External Affairs replied, asking the reason for the purchase; Starnes replied,
explaining about the war; the department replied, wanting to know more about costs and quantities, and was there any cheaper way to do the thing? Meanwhile, of course, the war was raging, so Starnes, disgusted, took the $25 he could spend on his own authority and sent out for a supply of tin buckets; he had some of them filled with sand and some with water, and distributed them around the embassy. And that’s how Canada stood on guard in Cairo.)
Another who welcomes the prospect of change is Ed Ritchie, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, a large man of deceptive geniality and inner toughness
who is one of the diplomatic corps’ brightest lights. Ritchie told me, “There is no question that the role of the embassy has changed and will go on changing, but that doesn’t mean we are useless — if we adapt, our capacity to be useful is probably increased.”
Ritchie underscored a point made by at least half a dozen diplomats I talked to, that the foreign service is under attack all across the Western world. In the U.K., the Duncan Commission recently suggested radical reorganization of the Foreign Office; in the U.S., President Nixon’s White House staff is taking over more and more of the functions of poli-
cy formation from the State Department. In a world interlinked by airplanes, television, radio and newspapers, there is, naturally, a diminished role for the ambassador, whose pen-scrawled dispatches were once his nation’s only link with foreign lands.
The decline of the diplomat has been especially notable in Canada because of the historical accident that after World War II we were propelled into a central role on the world stage. Through the 1950s we wielded the influence of a major power, and we wielded it with verve and skill; with the onset of the 1960s, with the emergence of new nations and
the recovery of old ones, we have been relegated to a role closer to our natural one, as a third-rate power. The change is hard to take; the world that needed us to straighten out the mess of Suez in 1956 doesn’t really care what we think about Vietnam today (if anybody knows what we think about Vietnam today).
There is a natural tendency to think that, dammit, somebody must be to blame for this fall from grace, and it is probably the Department of External Affairs, those slugabeds who" drink and lie and write memos for a living, and don’t really care if millions of babies are starving in Biafra. (One diplomat, shortly ►
“Tell me I don’t care about Biafra and I will punch you in the nose”
after I began to interview him, announced, “If you tell me I don’t care about what is going on in Biafra, I am going to punch you in the goddam nose.” I took that as a hopeful sign. One of his colleagues, however, said, “You get the feeling in this department that whenever you raise a moral issue — whether a thing is right or wrong, as opposed to whether it is practical or impractical — that you are somehow hitting below the belt.”)
The Department of External Affairs is getting its lumps today, some of them richly deserved, for its timidity, its reluctance to adapt to a changing world, its bureaucratic bloody-mindedness. But does that make the diplomat redundant? To answer that, it is necessary to know what he does.
For one thing, he attends a great many cocktail parties. “We often make useful social contacts there,” explains Vernon Turner, who has served in Indochina, Indonesia, Poland and the U.S. “Sometimes we actually get work done. Businessmen give cocktail parties because they find them useful . . . well, so do diplomats.”
He does, occasionally, don striped trousers to present his credentials or attend somebody’s national day, but striped trousers are not essential to his craft. “All the monkey suit means to me,” says one seasoned diplomat, “is a
$400 investment in something I don’t want and seldom use.” Ross Francis, who has been in the External Affairs Department since 1954, has only worn striped trousers once — “and that was to my own wedding.”
He does file a great many more-orless-relevant dispatches from his post abroad back to Ottawa. Every month the communications section of the department processes about 10,000 telegrams (the actual count for August, one of the quietest months of the year, was 5,787 telegrams received, 3,281 sent), some of them short, but most long, some intended for other government departments, but most addressed to the bulging files of diplomatic desk officers. A great many of these dispatches are waste motion; some are merely rewrites of stories that have already appeared in the newspapers. (During the strike that closed down the New York Times, I was told, there was a noticeable drop in diplomatic telegraph traffic.) But a great many contain information not available elsewhere, or which is illuminated by the seasoned judgment of trained observers. During the race riots that followed the slaying of Martin Luther King, our Washington embassy prepared a thorough analysis of what was going on, and what this kind of civil strife could mean to Canada, a report obviously taken to heart by the Prime Minister and reflected in his pub-
lic concern that civil unrest could wash across the border. It is in its informationgathering role, however, that diplomacy has been outpaced by modern communications. When the Canadian embassy in Vienna was bombed in August, Ottawa kept track of what was going on by following the wire services, and reporters who phoned the External Affairs office for details were read the latest dispatches from Canadian Press. It is the information role Trudeau singled out when he referred to diplomacy as “outmoded.”
But information-gathering is only one part of what an embassy does. In Washington, Ambassador Ritchie estimates, his staff spends between five and 10 percent of its time reporting; the rest is devoted to the other tasks of diplomacy: consular work, trade promotion, propaganda, negotiation and policy advice.
When a Canadian traveling abroad loses his passport, or runs out of money, or is thrown in jail, he turns for help to the Canadian embassy. During the Arab-Israeli war, while Ambassador Starnes was hacking his way through the jungles of bureaucracy in search of fire extinguishers, he was at the same time supervising the safe removal of Canadians — tourists, teachers, businessmen — trapped in the area of conflict. When Rudolph Holata, a Czech-Canadian, was arrested during a return visit to Czechoslovakia this year, our embassy in Prague helped him with legal counsel and followed the trial closely to indicate to the Czech government our concern that he be justly treated. Sometimes the diplomat does his best work by not intervening. Once, a consular official recalls, a Canadian charged with a minor offense was under house arrest in a remote province of a Far Eastern country. The consul reasoned that, left to himself, the man could bribe the prosecutor to drop the charge, but if the embassy became involved, the matter would get to the level at which bribery was impossible. So he took no official action and, sure enough, the man bought his way to freedom for the price of a new refrigerator.
Although they seldom get much credit for it, Canadian diplomats are active in promoting export trade, and sometimes their special skills prove crucial. Not long ago, a Canadian manufacturer was after a $25-million telephone contract in Turkey. The company was bidding in the dark, since it did not know whether the equipment it was offering was considered satisfactory, or the price fair. Our first secretary in Ankara went to call on continued on page 41
a government official and, during their talk, the official made a telephone call in Turkish — which he presumed, wrongly, the first secretary did not understand — from which the diplomat gathered that the Canadian equipment was highly rated, and that a competitive bid would win the contract. He reported to the Canadian company, which pressed its bid and concluded the deal.
The propaganda aspects of an embassy are even more difficult to measure than its trade role; they include everything from furnishing movies of Canadian life to interested school groups, to explaining Canadian policy to lofty officials. When Canada wanted to open negotiations with Red China, our Washington embassy was hard-pressed to explain our change of stance, which was bound to involve severing ties with Taiwan, something we had said repeatedly we would not do. Not all our explanations were well received. The day after the policy change was announced, Ambassador Ritchie, who was fighting a bout of pneumonia in a Washington hospital, discovered that his nurse was a Taiwanese. “Why do your people not like my people any more?” she wanted to know. Ritchie did his diplomatic best to explain. He cited the exigencies of world politics, his own high regard for the people of Taiwan, his hope that there would be no hard feelings — but to no avail. The nurse brusquely ordered him to roll over and administered an injection of penicillin to a tender portion of his anatomy with all the vigor of an outraged patriot. “Let no man contend,” says Ambassador Ritchie, “that I have not suffered for Canada.”
Diplomats also play a role in the process of government-to-government horsetrading. Although politicians may decide, in a general way, that we want a fishing treaty with Japan or an auto trade pact
with the U.S., hammering out the details can be an incredibly complex process, and the drawing of the final agreement may involve 15 or 20 drafts and engage the skills of a score of lawyers, trade officials and diplomats for months. Diplomats are experts at feeling out the nuance of phraseology, whether it is in bargaining or in the infighting that, is so much a part of international politics. They are trained to discern the difference between a government’s “serious concern” (upset, but not about to act) and “grave concern” (watch out!). U.S. statesman and author John Hay once noted, “There are three species of creatures who, when they seem coming are going, when they seem going, they come: diplomats, women and crabs.” The capacity to delay, to spin out, to sidle sideways to an objective seems to an outsider one of the least attractive qualities of the diplomat — but it beats throwing bombs.
Today, negotiation is being taken over more and more by the politicians, and this is one of the factors that works to diminish the diplomat. When cabinet ministers can flit from continent to continent, when prime ministers and presidents can exchange views directly at will, the ambassador obviously takes a back seat. He does not, however, get out of the car. Before our Minister of Trade and Commerce flies to Washington to press for more Canadian oil imports, our diplomats have spent days and weeks preparing the way; if they do their job well, his chances of success are enormously enhanced; if they do not, his mission may be doomed even before he leaves Ottawa.
Policy formation, like negotiation, is becoming a matter of more direct concern to government leaders. Prime Minister Trudeau has set up a small corps of foreign experts of his own, led by two former diplomats: Ivan Head, his legislative assistant, and Marshall Crowe, deputy secretary to the cabinet. (“One of our most astonishing diplomatic failures,” an External Affairs official told me, “was our failure to establish a link with Ivan Head.”) When Canada wanted to arrange for relief flights to Biafra, the matter was taken entirely out of the hands of the diplomats, and Head flew directly to Lagos to negotiate with the Nigerians. The official, on-the-record view of External Affairs is that co-operation between the department and the Prime Minister’s aides is close and cordial, as always; but off the record, an official complained to me about “all those people sitting around the PMO [Prime Minister’s office] and sneering at us.”
In one sense, it is natural that Prime Minister Trudeau should take over more control of foreign policy; he is not, like Lester Pearson, a former diplomat whose faith in External Affairs is absolute.
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But there are other factors at play. One is Trudeau’s determination not to be trapped by any bureaucracy, to have what his principal secretary, Marc Lalonde, calls “his own inputs for policy.” Another is his distrust of the department since its solid reassurances that there was nothing Canada could or should do about Biafra proved unacceptable to so many Canadians. “Biafra was our Bay of Pigs,” one diplomat told me. Certainly it marked the decline of External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp. Finally, the Prime Minister reflects a growing public impatience with diplomacy in general, a feeling summarized by Prof. James Eayrs that “the profession of diplomacy is an immoral profession, full of hypocrisy.”
It is doubtful whether diplomacy is any more immoral or hypocritical than any other profession — say, politics, for a start — but certainly at the moment it is unpopular and thus open to attack, whether that attack is fair or not. One of the ironies our diplomats must face is that while most Canadians support expanding foreign-aid programs, they regard the increase of foreign-service officers to administer that spending as wasteful and extravagant.
The Canadian diplomat is obviously diminishing. The decline in his role as reporter, negotiator and policy adviser is bound to be reflected in retrenchment of the External Affairs Department. But that does not mean the department is finished or that diplomacy is outmoded. We will always need experts abroad to perform the tough day-to-day tasks of diplomacy, to promote trade and supervise aid. We will always need listening posts around the world; for a Canadian government to decide, for instance, whether to renew our peace-keeping mandate in Cyprus on the basis of newspaper reports would be quite clearly insane. We will always need the machinery to explain Canada’s views in foreign capitals. We will always need the experience and advice of one of the best foreignservice corps in the world as a basis for policy decisions.
This year, Canada will spend $49,133,800 to operate External Affairs (the rest of the department’s $75-million budget pays assessments in such organizations as the UN). What have we got for our money? Well, we have kept in direct touch with 106 foreign lands; we have reached out in friendship from Colombo, Ceylon, to Kingston, Jamaica; we have attempted to extend and expand our roles in Asia, Africa and South America, and it has cost us less to do this for a year than the Department of Defense will pay to develop a single hydrofoil sub-killer. All in all, the money we spend on diplomacy may be one of the best bargains our government ever gives us. □