Do We Need Diplomacy?
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Mar 1982, p. 339-354

Moran, Lord, Speaker
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Item Type:
Despite similar and serious economic problems, Britain seen as on the road to economic recovery. Remarks about the speaker's profession as a diplomat. A description of what a diplomat does; some of the problems involved; some of the technical skills required; the need for different skills in different countries. Examples of how, why, and when diplomatists are necessary. Some remarks about Canadian diplomatists. The relevance of the discussion to Canadian/British relations. The "delicate" problems of the constitution; such problems resolved. The need to concentrate now on other aspects: trade; cultural collaboration; student exchanges. The more fragile and delicate relationship now between Canada and Britain. The importance of the Canada/British relationship.
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25 Mar 1982
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MARCH 25, 1982
Do We Need Diplomacy?
CHAIRMAN The President, BGen. S. F. Andrunyk, O. M. M., C. D.


Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: Founded in 1903 "as an organization to be addressed, at regular weekly meetings, by prominent men speaking with authority upon the issues of the day and having also a distinctive basis of British unity in its work and policy" and continuing to promote the interests of Canada and the British Commonwealth, The Empire Club of Canada is particularly honoured and privileged to welcome as its guest today, His Excellency Lord Moran, the British High Commissioner to Canada

If I were to distill into one word the life work of Lord Moran that word would be "service"--service to Queen and country.

Born in London, England, the son of the first Baron Moran, the eminent physician who for twenty-five years was Sir Winston Churchill's personal physician and close friend, Lord Moran was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge.

He joined the Royal Navy during World War II at the age of nineteen and as an ordinary seaman in HMS Belfast served on Russian convoy duty. He was present in the war's most dramatic naval battle which sank the huge German battle cruiser Scharnhorst on Boxing Day 1943. The following year, as a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, he served in motor torpedo boats in the English channel and later in HMS Oribi.

On demobilization Lord Moran joined the Foreign Office and was appointed Third Secretary in the Western Department in 1946. Between 1948 and 1968 Lord Moran served in various appointments in Ankara, Tel-Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Washington, Pretoria and the Foreign Office in London.

On the merger of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office in 1968, Lord Moran became Head of West Africa and General Department where he served during most of the Nigerian Civil War. In 1978 he was appointed additionally to be Her Majesty's Ambassador (non-resident) to Chad, becoming the first of Her Majesty's Ambassadors to be London-based. He was Her Majesty's Ambassador at Budapest from 1973 to 1976 and he was the Ambassador at Lisbon immediately prior to becoming the High Commissioner to Canada in June 1981

In addition to having the reputation of being Britain's most gifted diplomatist, Lord Moran is an awardwinning author, an ardent fisherman and a farmer. He is married to Shirley Rowntree Harris, daughter of the late G.J. Harris, Chairman of Rowntree's. She comes from Yorkshire and I am pleased to say that Lady Moran is with us today. Their Excellencies have three talented children--a daughter and two sons, one a banker in Boston and the other a barrister.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to introduce His Excellency, Lord Moran, Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, the British High Commissioner at Ottawa, and to invite him to address us on the subject, "Do We Need Diplomacy?"


Mr. Chairman: I am honoured by your invitation to talk to you today.

March seems to me to be a good time to come to Toronto. When I was last here, in the depths of winter, I saw rows of empty houses and was told that half Toronto was in Florida or the Caribbean. I noticed that even the social page of one of the leading Toronto newspapers was being written from Bermuda. So I'm glad to see that now that spring is here--or almost here--you are mostly back in town.

And may I say that for us it is always a special pleasure to be here in Toronto. Yours is an immensely stimulating and dynamic city and we have already met many very interesting and agreeable people here and made a lot of new friends, some of whom, I see, have been gallant enough to come here today.

I have heard a great deal about the Empire Club, most recently from that notable citizen of Toronto, Jean Wadds, who spoke to you last year, whom I saw last month in London and who has made so many friends there. We British are very lucky to have her representing Canada in our country. She told me that the Empire Club strongly supports the monarchy and the British connection, so that I needn't expect too rough a ride. I hope she was right. I see that you recently invited Bob Rae and Barbara Amiel to talk to you, so you evidently welcome different points of view, though as a diplomatist I'm afraid I can't address you in quite as uninhibited a fashion as can a politician or a journalist.

When I was asked to talk to you I thought that you would perhaps prefer that I did not give you a detailed analysis of the state of the British economy. Those of you who are in business or finance often have your own representatives reporting to you from London, or you read the assessments of business analysts, stockbrokers and finance houses or financial journalists. Most of them are better qualified than I am to identify economic trends (though I must say that economic prophets in both Canada and Britain are not picking winners every time just at present). All I would like to say on this is that although, like you, we in Britain have serious economic problems at present, above all high unemployment, the economic picture is not wholly dark. The rate of inflation is falling. Pay increases are being held to under ten per cent--four to six per cent in industry--and it seems likely that our 1981 balance of payments surplus will be roughly the equivalent of $18,000 million Canadian. If so, this will be two-and-a-half times greater than the surplus we had in 1980 and far higher than the surplus achieved by any other major industrial country. Even Japan's 1981 surplus may only have been a third or a half the size of Britain's.

This huge surplus has been partially offset by continuing high outflows of portfolio investment from Britain. We are, as you will know, the second biggest investors in Canada after the United States.

And there has, too, been an impressive increase in productivity in Britain--in 1981 a rise of nearly eight per cent in output per person per hour in the manufacturing sector. It is important to remember that this is not due only to reductions in the labour force. Other factors have been at work in producing the improvement--better relations between management and labour, improved work practices on the shop floor and a very much improved strike record have all played their part. I say all this simply to indicate that things in Britain really are looking up.

I will say something in a few minutes about the relationship between Canada and Britain, but I thought that I would today try to talk to you primarily about my own profession, and whether the job we do is a necessary one or not. I believe it is a widely misunderstood profession, and though what I say about it can only be a personal view, it is that of someone who has been doing the job, in many different parts of the world, for a good many years.

We find in Britain that young men and women wanting to join the diplomatic service tend to ask whether in the modern world the job is still important. "Isn't an Ambassador or High Commissioner now on the end of a string?" they ask, "a mere front man sent detailed instructions by telegram or telephone who has little scope for individual initiative?"

All I can say is that, despite all the telegrams, or perhaps because of them, it's not like that in practice. Ministers can't do everything. There are often five or six international crises or problems on the boil at once. A diplomatic representative overseas can't, it is true, behave as though he were his own boss. He never could. But if he is an effective and persuasive operator he can often exercise a great deal of influence in the formulation of his own government's policy, because he is on the spot, he is dealing full-time with the country he is working in and its relations with his own, while at home ministers and officials have many other fish to fry.

And when I send back my considered advice in a telegram, it is distributed at once not just within the foreign office but to Number Ten Downing Street and all the ministers and officials concerned. And the same happens with telegrams from Canadian representatives abroad reaching Ottawa. So our advice can be disregarded, but hardly ignored.

Then again I am sometimes asked whether it is not the case that Prime Ministers and foreign ministers talk directly to each other. Doesn't this eliminate the need for diplomatists? Well personally I don't think so. Of course it is often very useful for them to meet and get to know each other better, as they can do on bilateral visits or at international meetings. But at best they only see each other briefly and irregularly and then they don't always manage to solve all the problems in half an hour. The problems tend to go on and politicians themselves don't always see eye to eye all the time, even within the Western Alliance, as you will have noticed if you've been reading your newspapers. And then there is a need for continuity. Chancellor Schmidt and President Giscard had a notably close working relationship, but now Giscard has gone and the castle has to be rebuilt.

Governments in dealing with each other--and this in my view applies even to the best disposed governments, say those in NATO, the Commonwealth or the European Community--have a real need for interpretation, for a go-between, for someone who understands a good deal of both points of view, on occasion a filter or a buffer. There is, I think, all the difference in the world between, say, a request, or a complaint, or some other message which comes in cold from another government--at whatever level--and the same message which comes through a competent diplomatic agent, with a proper explanation of the background, of why it's important and what it's all about, and with a sensible and realistic recommendation about how his government ought to respond. It is not really surprising that the well presented message is more likely to produce a satisfactory response than that which arrives cold.

One of the problems about diplomacy as a profession is that there is a general feeling (though some people are too polite to express it) that anyone can do it. People don't generally believe that they could make much of a fist at being a concert pianist, or a nuclear physicist or a professional hockey player, but nearly everyone thinks that if they put half their mind to it they could do rather better than most of the professionals at being an Ambassador or a High Commissioner, like the people who on seeing Jack Nicklaus miss a putt claim that they could do better with their umbrella. They may be right, but I'm not sure.

Of course there are some technical skills. You have often to work at high speed, under pressure, against absolute deadlines, maybe in the box of the House of Commons, drafting notes for a wind-up speech minutes before the end of a debate, or doing notes for cabinet or clearing the lines before an important meeting. And in our case we have always to remember the five hour difference between Ottawa and London.

You can't do much good in China or Japan or Ethiopia or Hungary unless you can speak the language reasonably fluently. You need to be able to remember, and subsequently record fully and accurately, the important points in long conversations. You need to be able to put across your government's case to sometimes unsympathetic listeners and to men of very different backgrounds whose outlook is not at all the same as that of the members of your own government. You need to be able to establish common ground--and it isn't always easy--and to find a common interest where it is possible, remembering the Duke of Wellington's wise remark that "self-interest never lies." You need to be able to understand what is going on in the country where you are stationed.

In some countries, like Canada, most things are out in public and the trick lies in interpretation and judgement, in deciding what is important and what is not, and where things are really heading. It isn't always easy, even in an open, friendly country like this or like the United States, where I've tried it too. In some countries the process is quite different. In a communist country, for example, everything important is conducted in secret and one has to acquire a special skill in decoding speeches, articles and party slogans--what is left out may be as important as what is put in--and to assess the interplay of ideology and nationalism. In Africa or Latin America the job is quite different again. In all except communist countries personal relationships can be important. A diplomatist who is liked and trusted can do a good deal. One who is not cannot.

Of course our profession is changing. It has become a good deal more dangerous. In recent years two British Ambassadors have been murdered; others, including of course one here in Canada, have been kidnapped, and the hazards do not grow less. And it is also much rougher. A profession which used to take one to Vienna and St. Petersburg where one was part of a small and privileged circle, now takes one to places a goodly number of which are far from healthy in any sense of the word and where privileged circles are unknown.

And here I should like to say something about our wives (if in these days of militant feminism I'm allowed to call them that). They have a very exacting job for which they receive no pay, bringing up children while shifting about the world, running houses under all sorts of conditions, cut off from their homes and families and increasingly from the skilled jobs they have been trained to do, and often sharing all the disadvantages and few of the advantages of their husband's postings. But in this profession they do often play a bigger part than in most others as acquirers of information, as critics, advisers, accountants, hostesses or representatives in their own right. A good wife can be an enormous help to a diplomatist, a bad one a major handicap. Some of us operate almost exclusively--as my wife and I do--as a joint team, as inseparable as Laurel and Hardy or the Dolly Sisters, and that is certainly the most agreeable way of leading this gypsy life.

Diplomatists have, of course, to report on the countries where they live. Like any newspaper correspondent, it is up to them not only to make their reports accurate and reliable, but readable as well, otherwise they will be lost in the blizzard of paper that swamps all national capitals.

It's sometimes said that there is no need for diplomatic reports, as the media cover everything important and interesting and do it better. I'm afraid that you can't judge this for yourselves, as our reports--including mine on Canada--only become public in thirty years' time after they are written. But essentially what a diplomatist needs to do is to look under the surface, to seek to illuminate, and above all to try to penetrate the murk of the future as a man like Sir Horace Rumbold did when he reported from Berlin on the first stirrings of the Nazi movement and what it might lead to.

This is perhaps the hardest thing of all to do. As you know, most Western missions operating in Iran under the Shah failed to foresee the extent and nature of the Moslem fundamentalist revolution led by the Ayatollah. But it is very important to discern these upheavals before they occur, as they have done in Iran, Egypt and many other countries. A diplomatist and his staff need in some countries to be seismologists.

Diplomatic reports can in fact be fun to read. When I began in the Foreign Office I remember coming across a telegram from a North African post beginning: "All is quiet in the Casbah, but trouble is brewing in the Bidonville"; and one from the Vatican which ran "Drawing me behind a pillar, His Eminence confided in me that . . ."; and Sir Percy Loraine, after staying up all night in Ankara drinking raki and eating chickpeas with Kemal Ataturk, staggered into his office and began a despatch, "Sir, I have the honour to inform you that last night I was once again intoxicated in the service of my sovereign."

And a despatch can be, and ought to be, a work of art, even if it only rarely is. It is an old tradition. I was looking the other day in the, calendar of state papers (Venetian) at the fascinating reports sent at the time by Venetian diplomatists on the English Civil War. It was intriguing to see when they first noticed the emergence of a man they called Cramual. And in Lisbon I was struck when reading the reports of the Marquis de Bombelles, who was French Ambassador there two years before the French Revolution, by how much of what he noted was still true.

Of course the media do it much quicker. Sadly, because they cost so much, there are now far fewer of the old staff correspondents than there used to be. The best of them were splendid and Canada still has some excellent ones in London. Good journalists are still very important people and can do a lot to increase understanding. Contrariwise if they are prejudiced and rude, they can do a lot of damage. My experience is that if my wife appears in a charming dress but a disastrous hat it is, on the whole, best to praise the dress and say as little as possible about the hat. But I fear that in these competitive days journalists have to work on the opposite principle. Television reporting can be first rate but it is hampered by the need for extreme brevity and by the fact that network managers often judge that viewers' interests are parochial.

A diplomatist needs to know his own country, and how it works, thoroughly. He has in reporting to try to explain the things that he knows are baffling to his own people at home. For example, someone like myself who comes from a unitary state has to try to understand and then explain to people in London how it is that Canadians can happily vote one way in federal elections and another way in provincial elections.

A very important part of a diplomatist's job is his dealings with the host government. Here I think the greatest need is to establish confidence and trust. Reliability is the greatest asset there is. When he does talk to busy ministers and officials, a diplomatic representative needs to be courteous (but sometimes firm) and succinct, and to concentrate on the important things. And in my view a diplomatist won't get very far in most countries unless it is obvious that he likes the place and the people. In this respect I am happy to say--and I'm not just being polite--that we have no problem at all, since we love living in this country and are enormously enjoying travelling round it and meeting more and more Canadians.

Nowadays a diplomatist needs to spend a lot of time on promoting trade and investment, which are allimportant bread and butter issues. The Canadian government thinks so too, as you will have seen from the recent reorganization of the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. These matters directly affect prosperity and jobs in one's own country. But in my experience commercial matters are inextricably bound up with political matters. When British businessmen come to see me and my colleagues in other posts, it is usually political judgements that they want from us. And in many countries good political relations mean good commercial relations and vice versa. In practice one is constantly involved in different specialized problems of ever-increasing complexity--civil aviation, energy, security, defence disarmament, scientific questions, the arts, even constitutional matters.

The entertaining that diplomatists need to do is largely to help them establish, in a short stay of three years or so, the wide range of contacts that they need to have. It is not very different from that done by businessmen and bankers. In some countries it is uphill work but here in Canada it is a pleasure, as it helps us to get to know more Canadians.

I should add that one quality diplomats are supposed to have is presence of mind--the ability to react quickly to unexpected situations. Many years ago a British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte at Constantinople, on arriving to present his credentials to the Sultan, found that the final door into the presence chamber was only two feet high so as to compel him to enter on hands and knees, thus demonstrating his subservience. Lord Duncannon made no difficulty about this. He went in on hands and knees--but backwards.

My profession is one in which Canadians have excelled. Many Canadian diplomatists have made for themselves an international reputation--men like Mike Pearson, Saul Rae, George Ignatieff, Charles Ritchie, Jake Warren and Arnold Smith. This has done quite a lot to give Canada the high standing in the world which she enjoys. For us it has always been a particular pleasure--and very valuable professionally--to work with our Canadian colleagues at posts abroad, as I was able to do in Budapest and Lisbon. I am only sad not to have a Canadian colleague to compare notes with in Ottawa

Diplomatists are supposed to be concerned most of their time with foreign policy. A great deal is said and written about this. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing. But in fact foreign policy is usually simply the external aspect of one's general policies--political, economic, defence or whatever. There is sometimes, I think, a danger of over-activity in foreign affairs. When I see a great deal of meddling going on, I remember the great Lord Salisbury's splendid definition of the ideal foreign policy which was "drifting downstream with the current, occasionally putting out a boathook to avoid a collision." The ideal is of course not always attained. All too often the progress downstream resembles white water canoeing.

How is all this relevant to Canadian/British relations? Our relationship has of course been overshadowed for the past eighteen months by the difficult and somewhat delicate problem of the constitution. At times it has put a strain on it, perhaps a bit like that put on a close-knit family by the dispositions of a will, though as against that, Canadian and British ministers and officials have worked closely and harmoniously together on problems. But I think we are nearly at the end of that chapter. The Canada Bill is being given its third reading in the House of Lords today. I imagine that we shall hear very shortly when the Queen will be coming to Canada to proclaim the new constitution.

When he opened the second reading debate on the Canada Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Carrington paid a tribute to Mr. Trudeau and the premiers of the provinces who had "succeeded where others have failed in arriving at a large measure of consensus." The result, he said, was "the draft of a constitution made in Canada for Canadians" which was "as it should be." Going on to speak of the scope and depth of the relationship between Britain and Canada, he said:

Everyone will be conscious, as I am, of the common cultural and political heritage of our two countries and of our sistership under the Crown and within the Commonwealth. All will admire, as I do, Canada's dedication to the cause of a more just world and her determination to preserve free societies, a determination manifested twice within living memory by her contribution to two world wars.

I am confident that the new era marked by the formal dissolution of a lingering constitutional link will also be a new era marked by a further extension and strengthening of the less formal co-operation between Canada and Britain--co-operation in industrial and commercial enterprises, in professional and cultural exchange and in the numerous other activities which go to make up the fabric of modern life.

I think myself that we need now to concentrate on the other aspects of our relationship--on trade, where our share of your market, and your share of ours, has declined, a decline that should, I believe, be reversed, and on investment, which is important in both directions and which can play an important part in reducing unemployment from which we are both suffering. And let me say in that context that we welcome the current review Of FIRA procedures and hope it will result in significant benefits to businessmen applying to invest in Canada.

We want too to concentrate on cultural collaboration, in promoting not only exchanges of exhibitions and ballet companies but an increase in academic exchanges. I sometimes dream that a new Cecil Rhodes might come forward to found scholarships to enable more outstanding Canadians to study in Britain and more outstanding British students to study here in Canada.

Apart from students, I would like to see more young Canadians of all sorts going to Britain and more young British people coming here. When my younger son was at school he came to Canada and worked on a farm here in Ontario. And when I took him last year to Alberta and British Columbia he found it a revelation. I think that the more of this sort of thing we can promote the better.

You in Canada will continue to do the great bulk of your trade with the United States and to have extremely close links with the United States in every field. This is only natural. We for our part are a European nation and inevitably an equally large part of our trade will be with continental Europe and our relations with European countries are and ought to be very close. But the fact that you have so many links with the United States and we with Europe ought not to prevent Canada and Britain from having close links with each other.

The main lesson of the past eighteen months is, I think, that our relationship, though a close and, in our view, very important one, with many strands--a relationship based on historic and modern ties and an important community of interest--is nonetheless rather more fragile and delicate than we used to think. It cannot be taken for granted. We have seen over the years an erosion, not merely of sentimental links, but of trade and academic collaboration and even of the habit of working closely together. I think we need to cultivate our relationship in both our interests, and not to let it grow rusty. I conceive it as my job to try to get the particular areas I have spoken of in healthier shape and to help put our overall relationship on a sounder footing. I believe that this is something we both need to pay attention to, because I think a close--I would say special--relationship between our two countries is of some importance to you and it undoubtedly is to us.

It suffers a bit at present not simply from a few bruised feelings--on both sides--after the marathon on the constitution, but from a certain ignorance and neglect. We need to know each other better than we do, to rid ourselves of old prejudices and hang-ups and, I believe, to work more closely together in a dangerous and uncertain world.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Lord Moran by Major General B.J. Legge, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada and the President of the Empire Club Foundation.

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Do We Need Diplomacy?

Despite similar and serious economic problems, Britain seen as on the road to economic recovery. Remarks about the speaker's profession as a diplomat. A description of what a diplomat does; some of the problems involved; some of the technical skills required; the need for different skills in different countries. Examples of how, why, and when diplomatists are necessary. Some remarks about Canadian diplomatists. The relevance of the discussion to Canadian/British relations. The "delicate" problems of the constitution; such problems resolved. The need to concentrate now on other aspects: trade; cultural collaboration; student exchanges. The more fragile and delicate relationship now between Canada and Britain. The importance of the Canada/British relationship.