CONSULS OF THE FUTURE
By SIR GODFREY FISHER.
DIPLOMAT'S functions are fairly well known—keeping the
A peace of Europe was once said to be the principal one—but a consul's are usually shrouded in mystery. Now that the identity of the Consular Service is being merged into that of one general Foreign Service the necessity that we should know exactly what we are doing requires an attempt to dispel the mystery. It is partly due to the inappropriate choice of the title. Gibbon refers somewhere to the strange transition by which the name of the chief magistracy of Rome was applied to " the humble duties of a commercial agent," and it has also been used by European municipalities and Fascist militiamen. The name conveys no definite suggestion of a consul's duties, except perhaps through popular confusion with " counsel " or " council," and few people have any clear idea regarding them, possibly because they are of so wide a range and vary considerably in different parts of the world. The Consular Instructions of nearly a century ago put them succinctly: While the principal object of the consul's appointment is " for the protection and promotion of the commercial interests of Her Majesty's subjects " the consul " must perform any service and be prepared to furnish any information that may be required." The position has remained substantially unchanged today.
There has been little change, too, in the principal grievances of our consuls over that period. They consisted in their insufficient remuneration and unsatisfactory status as compared both with their fellow-countrymen in the diplomatic service and also with many of their foreign consular colleagues. Fortunately- under the new scheme these grievances will largely become obsolete. The Foreign Service will now include both services, and financial arrangements should prove much more equitable and generally satisfactory. Pos- sibly, too, at long last, reciprocal consular treaties will be entered into with other countries, and our consuls will no longer be at such a disadvantage as regards privileges and status.
The Consular Service in its modern form may be said to have come into being just forty years ago, when entrance by competitive examination and lower age-limits were introduced. Prior to that appointments were made by nomination, so that until 1914 the Service took its tone largely from the old haphazard methods of appointment. Something still remained of the days when John Bright said that our foreign policy had developed into " a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy " and younger sons were often glad to find a refuge in one of the choicer posts- " shooting-and-fishing consulates " as they were called. Considering the casual method of recruitment, penurious treatment and lax supervision, the system—within its modest limits—worked reasonably well ; but the outbreak of war in 1914 provided an unexpected test and threw an almost intolerable strain on a service trained in the main in time of peace and humdrum routine and provided with the barest minimum for the execution of its normal duties. Most of the older officers were unequal to the strain, and some actually succumbed to it. But from 1919 onwards, when another important change in the organisation and a great improvement in conditions took place, the modern Consular Service really came into its own and, I think, proved its worth under the searching test of the last war. The change-over to the new system now affords a great oppor- tunity for not merely consolidating but further developing the gains so made.
The creation of one Foreign Service, to include diplomats, consuls and Foreign Office officials, should greatly facilitate the work of administration and organisation, and consulates should especially benefit from better administrative facilities at headquarters. For the first time personnel will be the care of a special section of the
Foreign Office, where formerly one small department dealt with all questions concerning consuls and consular affairs and a number of miscellaneous matters as well. Whereas, too, this work was largely performed by men who had no practical experience of consular matters, an increasing number of experienced consular officers will now take part in the administration. Reorganisation of the machinery of the Foreign Office is probably one of the chief needs today. Its greatest apparent defects are long delay in getting results and the absence of personal responsibility, with the dis- appointing result that, in spite of the extraordinary advance in
facilities for communication, business is done no more—probably less—expeditiously than before 1914. The routine of officialdom,
with its tendency to choose the easier course and reluctance to face awkward facts or plan for the future, is especially detrimental to consular work, which frequently calls for rapid decisions, often very responsible ones, that cannot be relegated to the category of " hypothetical questions."
A very encouraging feature in what offers a bright picture is the most important of all, namely, the type of man on whom the '- success and prestige of the Foreign Service will depend in years to come. No one could fail to be impressed with the general standard
of keenness and efficiency of its younger members, many of whom have had an invaluable opportunity of experience during the late war. The problem will be to devise the best plan for utilising and
developing their special qualities and ensuring an ample flow of suitable recruits. The latter should present little difficulty, given reasonably attractive conditions of service and wise methods of selection over as wide a field as possible, but while the removal of the artificial barrier between consuls and diplomats should make for closer co-operation and greater flexibility, the amalgamation of the services may involve special problems and possible pitfalls. There is the risk that where staffing is concerned diplomatic posts may be strengthened at the expense of consulates, and the best officers may try to concentrate on diplomacy as offering better opportunities for distinction, whereas it must be borne in mind that capitals are not necessarily the most important or vital centres of a country. The volume of work at consular posts such,as New York or Shanghai has in normal times probably been greater than at any legation and many of our embassies.
An even greater danger lies in the possible mis-application of the modern tendency towards specialisation. One would imagine that the successful ambassador would be one enjoying a wide range of knowledge and experience, supplemented by the knowledge and counsel of technical advisers when required. Certainly a consul with his multifarious duties cannot afford to concentrate on any particular branch of his work. But at the same time the success of either a diplomat or consul must largely depend on his thorough knowledge and appreciation of the people and country in which he is stationed. Frequent changes of personnel have not made for efficiency or smooth running, while the highly specialised consular services in the Levant and Far East have been abolished. Ignorance of language and local customs and sensibilities obviously makes for misunderstandings, and it seems hard to believe that the appointment of a consul for a period of only two or three years to a post in China or Turkey or Scandinavia or South America can serve any useful purpose other than to train him for further service in the same area. Since psychology counts for so much In international relations, can we face with equanimity the prospect of having to conduct our affairs with some of the greatest world powers
—Russia or China for example—through the medium of inter- preters? It should be possible with far-sighted systematic plan- ning to build up services which would be specially qualified to serve such large and important areas as South America, North America; Russia and the other Slav countries, the Levant, the Far East, etc. From consuls trained in this manner important diplomatic posts could be filled,, and it would surely be invaluable that a counsellor or ambassador at, say, Moscow or Buenos Ayres or Rome or Tokyo should have had a thorough previous experience at consulates in different parts of the country in question.
A consul's work is by no means purely formal or official. It is also of great practical value and human interest. In addition to performing abroad many of the normal duties of our Government departments and of a notary public, he is largely engaged in pro- moting friendly relations with the officials and people of the country in which he is stationed and in participating in the varied activities, patriotic and philanthropic, of the local Brtish community. At many posts, too, he may be called on for a large measure of extra- official work, similar to that of a vicar of a large parish, in contri- buting to the welfare and peace of mind of his fellow-countrymen. His semi-official work is at least as valuable as his strictly official duties, since the efficiency of the post (and its value as a commercial agency) depends largely on the co-operation and goodwill of local organisations and individuals and its prestige on its public relations. In these days, when the necessity for constantly expanding our foreign markets has never been so urgent, our Foreign Service should offer an ideal opening for those young men with suitable qualifications who are looking for a life not only of varied interest but of real usefulness and public service, who are impatient perhaps of the somewhat cramped and conventional round in their home- land and who can derive satisfaction from the knowledge that on their interest and patriotic endeavour the future welfare and prestige of this country will largely depend.