AN ADDRESS BY THE RT. HON. SIR FRANCIS O.
LINDLEY, P.C., G.C.M.G., C.B., C.B.E.
8th June, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS introduced the speaker, who was received with applause and said: I should like first to express my deep gratitude to the Empire Club of Canada for having done me the honour to invite me to address you. It is an honour which I, as a member of the British diplomatic service, especially value, because we have so few opportunities of meeting our fellow countrymen in the Dominions. We spend our whole life in foreign countries. It is one of the disadvantages of our profession and it is this which makes an opportunity such as the present particularly welcome and valuable. When I received your invitation before I left the British Embassy at Lisbon, I had to consider the subject on which I should address you. I chose that of Diplomacy, firstly because I have devoted the last thirty-five years of my life to it, and it must therefore be presumed that I know something about it, and secondly, because it is a subject of general interest especially at the present time.
Everyone in this room is in some sense of the word a diplomatist. You have to practice diplomacy in your businesses, and" not least, in your private lives. Moreover, you have to practice a certain amount of that secret diplomacy which has come in for so much abuse during the last few years. It may be useful for a moment to turn our attention to that expression. If by secret diplomacy is meant engaging peoples behind their backs in some future adventure, then I think we can agree that it is an undesirable and reprehensible practice. But if by secret diplomacy we mean the carrying on of negotiations in confidence until the result has been achieved, then, I think you will agree with me that secret diplomacy is an absolute necessity, not only of ordinary diplomatic work but also of any important business arrangement. Even in one's own house one would not care for strangers to hear the secret diplomacy which goes on continuously between husband and wife. But it is not of this domestic and business diplomacy of which I wish to speak today. My subject really deals with professional diplomacy. Up to the end of the 18th century, and, even, one might say, to the close of the Napoleonic wars, there was no regular diplomatic service in any country" nor were there any permanent missions in foreign capitals. When State affairs demanded it, a representative was sent abroad to reside for a period of no fixed length at the Court of the sovereign with whom he intended to deal. From this practice arose the name which is still given to permanent diplomatists. I refer to the expression "envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary". The word "extraordinary" had a real meaning then, and it has been kept owing to its long tradition. Those early missions did not always have a pleasant time. If they happened to be in Turkey and negotiations did not go smoothly, they soon found that they were little better than hostages. On the outbreak of war it was the habit of the Sultan to incarcerate the envoy extraordinary and to keep him and his staff in jail until the end of the campaign. Fortunately this habit has fallen into disuse, or it might be more difficult than it is to find recruits for His Majesty's Diplomatic Service. As the relations between States became closer, and communications easier, it became necessary to have permanent missions resident in those capitals where there was business of great importance. Especially after the Napoleonic wars we find most European powers employing regular agents with staffs; but it was not till the middle of the nineteenth century that the diplomatic service took more or less the form which it has had ever since. In this connection it may be worth noticing the developments which have taken place recently in the United States. For a long time that country was practically isolated, both politically and commercially, from the rest of the world. It felt no need for a regular diplomatic service until long after most European powers had been forced by circumstances to adopt one; but, since the end of the war, Washington has found that it can no longer carry on foreign affairs in the sporadic and somewhat amateur fashion which prevailed during the nineteenth century, and the American diplomatic service is now second to none in the permanent personnel which has been recruited in the last twenty years.
Up to quite recent times, the work of a diplomatic representative was mainly political. The ambassador or minister did not worry, and had no need to worry, about commercial matters. He was fully engaged in attempting to steer his country along a peaceful course and in striving to acquire the confidence and friendship of the government and the leading personalities in the country to which he was attached. During this period his social duties were of the first importance. Much of his success depended on the personal relations which he must establish and maintain with the comparatively few people who directed the destinies of most countries at that time. His staff was small and was chosen from circles which were likely to find favour with the kind of society into which they were to be thrown. Such was the nature of diplomacy at Vienna, for instance, when I first served there in 1899. In the twentieth century things began to change; increased commercial competition and the importance of new markets began to force themselves on the attention of most governments, especially of the British government. We enter indeed, into what may be called the commercial phase of diplomacy, when the office of the commercial attache begins to assume more importance than that of the military and naval attaches. As a consequence, the staff of the Embassy has, to some extent, changed its character, and more expert knowledge in financial and commercial matters has become not merely desirable but necessary. This commercial phase of diplomacy has been much sharpened since the war, and, as you are aware, it was never more important than it is today. The fact that the Prince of Wales has entered the lists as our greatest commercial ambassador is sufficient proof of the existing state of affairs.
With the Treaty of Versailles and the beginning of the League of Nations, a new phase of diplomacy opens. Many people believed that the institution of the League would sound the death knell of the regular diplomat. This, fortunately for myself, has proved a too hasty judgment; the League, so far from making the work of the regular diplomatic service unnecessary, has merely tended to increase it both in volume and complexity. Now-a-days a diplomatic representative has not merely to keep his eye on his own government and that of the country in which he resides, but has also to watch carefully the doings of the League and the trend of opinion in Geneva. In short, his task has become slightly more complicated and difficult than before.
I have up to now dealt with diplomacy in its general aspect, and now I should like to say something about the duties of British diplomatists in particular. Ever since the Empire grew into a great power, the British diplomat has had to keep the general interest of that Empire in mind quite as much as the interests of the British Isles alone. The development of the Dominions as nations and the growth of national consciousness among their peoples have in the twentieth century made this part of his duties the most important and delicate of all, for, in most capitals the British ambassador or minister still represents Dominion interests, to which, I can assure you from my personal experience, he attaches quite as much importance as he does to those of the British Isles. In such capitals, when an important question arises between a Dominion and a foreign country, the Dominion sometimes sends out a special mission to deal with it, and it is the function of the British Embassy or Legation in the capital concerned to cooperate to the best of their power with the mission from the Dominion. Thus, in 1907 the Canadian Government sent the Honourable Mr. Lemieux and Sir Joseph-then Mr.--Pope, to Tokyo to deal with the delicate question of immigration, and it was my privilege, as Secretary to the Embassy, to help these two eminent gentlemen in reaching an agreement with the Japanese government; this agreement has stood the test of time. Since the war" however, some Dominions have appointed their own representatives in countries where they have great interests, either of a material or sentimental kind. Such is the case now for Canada, in Washington and Paris, and in Tokyo where I am going; and I should like to say here what a pleasure it will be for me to find there a Canadian representative with whom I shall be able to discuss questions of Imperial interest; and I take it as a particularly happy augury of our future relations that the Hon. Mr. Marler, the Canadian Minister at Tokyo, has most kindly placed the Canadian legation at my disposal until the British Embassy is ready to receive me. It will be for me a source of gratification and pride, besides one of considerable personal convenience, to drive from the station to the Canadian Legation, where I shall reside until I have presented my credentials to the Emperor of Japan.
Before I conclude my address, you might like to hear what I consider to be the proper characteristics of a successful diplomatic representative. I have been fortunate in serving under men of the greatest distinction, and I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to learn something of their methods from personal observations. Thus, I have seen Lord Cromer in Egypt, Sir Arthur Harding in Persia, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice in both of these countries, Sir Claude Macdonald in Japan and Sir Mansfeeldt Findlay, so long our Minister in Norway, at work as my chiefs. Some witty fellow once said that a diplomat was a man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country. This observation gives, in my opinion, a wrong idea of a diplomat; and I can say with truth I have never known any of my chiefs to lie either for the good of their country or for anything else. This does not mean that they were ready at all times to reply to impertinent questions, but it does mean that they never departed from a strict regard for truth either in conversation or in written communications. I am convinced that stable and friendly relations with foreign countries can only be satisfactorily established by a straightforward attitude. Such an attitude has the advantage of confounding and embarrassing those versed in the arts of finesse and deception; such people often cannot believe that you are speaking the truth. Another point which the diplomat would do well to bear in mind is that, whilst a certain reserve is a necessary part of his equipment, he only makes himself ridiculous by assuming secretive airs when they are not required. A representative must, as part of his duties, attempt to acquire as much information as possible from those with whom he comes in contact, and he will never succeed in this unless he gives something in return. By discussing questions frankly and openly he will secure far more success than by being secretive and mysterious.
It is a curious fact that a diplomatic representative, whatever his nationality, usually has more difficulty with his own government than with any other. It is quite natural that a man on the spot sees things from a different angle from those at home, and it is by no means always right that the views of the former should prevail. But there are times when the representative sees clearly that a course of action proposed by his government can only lead to unsatisfactory results, and it is on such occasions that his personal influence at home is put to the test and becomes of first importance to his country. I will conclude by telling you the advice which the most successful of our ambassadors at Constantinople in the nineteenth century-I refer to the late Sir William White, a witty old Irishman-always gave to the new secretaries when they were appointed to his staff. "My dear sir", he said, "never carry out your instructions". This advice, though not to be taken literally, contained a great truth. When a diplomatic representative receives instructions from his government his first duty is to scrutinize them with the utmost care and to see whether any point of real local importance, such as could scarcely be properly appreciated except by himself, has been left out of consideration. If it has, it is his duty to refer his instructions back- this is what Sir William White meant by his witty observation.
Gentlemen, I thank you most heartily for the kind way in which you have listened to my somewhat trite observations, and I can assure you it has been the greatest pleasure to me to have had this opportunity of meeting you. (Loud applause.)