20 DECEMBER 1946, Page 11


By HAROLD NICOLSON IUNDERSTAND that a group of Labour back-benchers intend to submit to Mr. Bevin on his return a scheme which they have drafted for the immediate reform of the Foreign Service. The details a:e not available, and it is possible that the scheme will take the form of criticisms and suggestions rather than that of any detailed memorandum or plan. It may be assumed, however, that Mr. R. H. Crossman (who possesses inside knowledge of the organisation of the Foreign Service, and who has applied himself with such selfless devotion to the reform, not only of our foreign policy, but also of Mr. Bevin himself) has taken a leading part in the elaboration of these proposals. Fortunately we possess a detailed statement of Mr. Crossman's views upon this subject. In the first issue of the Contact books, Mr. Crossman wrote a long and stimulating article entitled " The Foreign Office," in which he was able to advance many criticisms based upon his personal experience when serving in one of the affiliated departments during the war. It is thus opportune to recall Mr. Crossman's arguments and to examine how far the sug- gestions which he then made are practicable and how far they are not. Mr. Crossman began his article with an historical survey of the development of diplomatic intercourse with which few people would disagree. Before the First World War, he pointed our, our Foreign Service worked well enough, since diplomacy in those days was conducted on the same level in all important countries. The issues to be negotiated were, moreover, almost exclusively political, since social considerations did not then arise and economic considerations were supposed, in a free-trade era, to look after themselves. The First World War destroyed the formula, or the convention, under which the old diplomatists fulfilled their functions. Two new factors came to intrude upon the older, simpler methods of negotiation. The first was economics ; the second was ideologies.

* * * * This change in the climate or atmosphere of diplomacy—which was in its essence a change in the incidence of sovereignty—entailed an adjustment of our Foreign Service to altered conditions. The reforms which Lord Cecil introduced in 1918, on the basis of the Macdonell Report, abolished the old property qualification and opened the service to a new class of entrant. The infinitely more important Eden reform of 1943 fused the Diplomatic Service, the Commercial Service, the Consular Service and the Foreign Office into a single Foreign Service, thereby securing the interchange of function between the political and economic branches and widening the whole foundation upon which recruitment and training had been based. This, as Mr. Crossman recognises, is a vital reform. It is a reform which many of us who entered the Diplomatic Service before the First World War had been advocating for years. Only a man of Mr. Eden's authority could have been able to surmount the Treasury objections which had blocked all previous attempts to enlarge the scope of the Service. Its advantages are obvious. In the old days—when the political, the commercial and the consular branches were separated into water-tight compartments—there was immense wastage of human material. A diplomatist, so long as he made no mistakes, could count upon achieving at least a Legation before he retired ; he concentrated, therefore, upon the avoidance of mistakes, which is not a very stimu- lating form of concentration. A consul, however energetic or able he might be, could rarely pass into the exclusive circle of the diplomatic service ; he became discouraged. The Eden reforms rendered pro- motion to the highest posts open to every talent ; ability thereafter could be rewarded and lethargy penalised.

* * * * Up to this point Mr. Crossman would, I know, carry with him the assent of the majority of the older and younger members of the existing service. But Mr. Crossman is a young man, and with the impatience of youth he is unwilling to wait until the Eden reforms have gradually transformed our whole Foreign Service. He contends, and rightly, that the new entrants will take some years to mature ; and he fears that they may in the process become contaminated by

the ideas and conventions of the older officials. He suggests, there- fore, that the higher posts should at once be given to men drawn from outside the Service, and that certain " key positions " in the Foreign Office itself should be allotted to men drawn from other Government departments. It may seem strange that a member of the Labour Party should thus openly advocate a system which is such a flagrant violation of the fundamental tenets of Trade Unionism. But even if we swallow this heresy, we must recognise that such a spoils system would be unfair and impracticable. It would be unfair, since the existing members of the Service have entered it under an implied contract with the State ; they have passed one of the most competitive of all examinations, and have devoted their lives to the service of their profession ; to deprive them of the prospects of promotion would amount to a breach of faith. Nor is it likely that the best type of entrant would compete for a Service in which the higher appointments were accorded to political nominees ; the United States used to adopt that system, but aban- doned it when it was discovered to be both dangerous and im- practicable. I doubt also whether Mr. Crossman's spoils system would, apart from its unfairness, conduce to the efficiency of the Service. In times of war, or of extreme emergency, it is possible to find men of great ability who will consent to serve abroad ; in normal times, as the Americans found to their cost, only those men who have little hope of making a political career at home will be ready to accept a minor foreign mission. And even then they are apt to think less of serving the Foreign Secretary than of acquiring publicity at home. That is a dangerous habit of mind. * * * Mr. Crossman makes other suggestions. He has rightly observed that the Foreign Office as at present constituted is so overwhelmed with current business, so " grotesquely under-staffed," that it has no time to plan or think ahead. He believes that this defect can be remedied by breaking through the existing regional divisions and by creating five functional divisions dealing respectively with Administration, Intelligence, Current Policy, Long-term Policy and Public Relations. I do not agree with this solution, since it would lead to extreme departmentalism and increase confusion. But I do agree with his main criticism, namely, that the Service is so over- whelmed with tactics that there is no time left for strategy. The remedy for this defect is not, however, to be found in any institu- tional rearrangement of the Foreign Service itself ; matters of high policy do not affect the Foreign Office alone, but also the Treasury, the Board of Trade and the Fighting Services. What is required for planning is an inter-departmental body based on the analogy of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Only at that high level could a rightful co-ordination be secured.

Behind all these criticisms and suggestions there exists a funda- mental fallacy. It is that there is no such thing as the continuity of British foreign policy and no such principle as " the defence of British rights and interests." Yet if our foreign policy were to be reversed at every general election, it would lose all reliability, all credit, and all effectiveness. And if British rights and interests are not to be defended, then we shall sacrifice such authority in inter- national affairs as still remains to us. This fallacy, moreover, begets two incorrect assumptions. The first is that we can in some manner appease Communism by going Social-Democratic. The second is that the art of diplomacy requires no professional training, but can be practised immediately by any man possessing bright ideas. Yet, in fact, the professional diplomatist acquires, in long years of train- ing, certain qualities which are not always possessed by politicians. What are these qualities? They are modesty, loyalty, reliability, truthfulness, knowledge, patience and a healthy scepticism. These are the aualities which have rendered our Foreign Service so respected abroad. It would be a pity to discard them. And I, for one, am convinced that our Foreign Service, as reconstituted by Mr. Eden, will prove the finest and the most progressive in the world.