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British Diplomacy: Foreign Secretaries Reflect, edited by Graham Ziegner

17 September 2009

I occasionally write book reviews for other journals, and often link to them on my Publications page. Now that a few of them are past the standard twelve-month embargo period for re-posting, I can add them to the entries in this book review blog and rearrange my publications list accordingly. Please feel free to follow the link given after the review to visit Political Studies Review for more articles and book reviews in all fields of political studies.

British Diplomacy: Foreign Secretaries Reflect, edited by Graham Ziegner

In 2003, a lecture series at the London School of Economics featured five politicians who had held the position of Foreign Secretary between 1977 and 1997. The lectures are compiled in Graham Ziegner’s edited volume British Diplomacy: Foreign Secretaries Reflect, along with an introduction by Professor William Wallace and a concluding chapter on New Labour’s foreign policy by Professor Christopher Hill and Oliver Todd. Apart from serving as a compilation of this noteworthy lecture series, British Diplomacy: Foreign Secretaries Reflect provides a thought-provoking collection of opinions on the diplomatic challenges faced by Foreign Secretaries in the past three decades.

In his lecture, David Owen (now Lord Owen) examines the increasingly dominant role of the Prime Minister in foreign affairs, particularly during the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and criticizes the effects of this dominance on the function of Cabinet government. Lord Carrington’s lecture explores the myriad, ongoing diplomatic problems that a Foreign Secretary must face in office, regardless of his or her party-political or personal interests. Geoffrey Howe (Lord Howe of Aberavon) takes a more personal look at the role of Foreign Secretary, analysing it in the context of his working relationship with Margaret Thatcher—a ‘marriage’, he says, ‘that deserves much more attention than the story of the divorce’ (p. 81). Douglas Hurd (Lord Hurd of Westwell) was Foreign Secretary during a time of great political upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and his lecture focuses on the future of humanitarian aid and intervention in the wake of the second Gulf War. Sir Malcom Rifkind closes the lecture series with a close, careful look at the oft-mentioned ‘special relationship’ between the United Kingdom and the United States, with reflections on what that relationship has meant in the past and may become in the future.

The additional chapters help to set the speeches in context — the introduction by outlining the changing role of a British Foreign Secretary in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the concluding chapter by examining the position of Foreign Secretary as held by the late Robin Cook and Jack Straw during Tony Blair’s premiership. Those who were unable to attend the LSE lectures (and even those who were fortunate enough to do so) will find this slim volume to be a simple, suitable collection of the speeches, unfettered by lengthy outside commentary on the relative merits of the speakers’ opinions.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 2 (May 2008): 232.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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