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Lessons from Diplomacy

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Herbert Lehman on the front cover of TIME Herbert Lehman on the front cover of TIME

This collection of case studies in Foreign Policy is edited by Robert Hutchings at the Univ. of Austin and Jeremi Suri at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to writing the 20-page introduction together, Hutchings has contributed a chapter on diplomacy that saw the end of the Cold War, and Suri tackles Nixon's opening of relations with China.


Other authors delve into (among other topics) the Israel-Egypt diplomacy involving Begin, Sadat and US Pres. Carter; the beginning of humanitarian diplomacy during and after World War II; and how Mexico has used diplomacy to negotiate NAFTA and Pacific trade.


The editors are careful to distinguish between 'diplomatic success' and 'successful diplomacy'. The former, they note “is outcome driven.” They believe “successful diplomacy is a more useful concept. That is the focus of this book. Political leaders set objectives for their diplomats; if those objectives are achieved, the diplomacy can be judged successful.”


The first chapter considers what the author Stephen Porter calls Churchill's “audacious” move in 1940 to announce a plan to stockpile food for the post-war world. This was just a few months after the war had started!


The book is generally well edited, but the reference twice in one paragraph (on pg 30) to Britain's chief economic advisor Frederick Leith-Ross needs a slight editorial touch. That aside, Leith-Ross is shown here to be a key player over the first two years of this plan. We learn he paid a “quiet visit” to Washington in mid-1942 “to try to prod the United States to a quicker pace.” It seems to have worked as the Soviet and Chinese ambassadors were called to a meeting by the US.


These early efforts led to the creation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) with Pres. Roosevelt appointing former NY Governor Herbert Lehman to be in charge of the American side of things. He became the director-general of UNRRA, which got $1.3 billion in Congressional funding shortly after its official creation in 1944. It's a fascinating story of how diplomacy allowed the UN, through this organisation, to provide “food, medical care, specialized aid to the displaced, and agricultural and industrial expertise” to countries emerging from the devastation of the war.


A chapter of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is enlivened by the 1968 tale of American diplomats rushing to the US consulate in Geneva to give Pres. Johnson important news about a joint draft treaty with the Soviet Union. They got stuck in a snowdrift, and were taken by the Soviet deputy ambassador to the consulate in his car. Why the rush? Johnson's State on the Union address to Congress was the following night, and it formed an important part of that address.


I would have liked a clearer explanation of the promissory note written by the nuclear powers in this chapter by Jonathan Hunt. He writes that due in part to this 1968 note, the US and Russia agreed in 2010 “to reduce their deployed warheads to 1,550 apiece.” The role of such a note of diplomacy is assumed rather than explained, and how this particular very important note came to be is a bit fuzzy.


For diplomatic lessons learned, I think the chapter by Hutchings is the most illuminating as he provides tables outlining the negotiations that led to the end of the Cold War. One looks at positions vs interests from both the American and Soviet point of view; the other is 9-point list of negotiating principles including such things as salami slicing and two-level gaming. Too complex to detail here, but well worth a read for budding diplomats on lessons that can be applied to future world crises.


Overall a very valuable book, and a welcome addition to the diplomatic literature.



Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy (284 pages) is available in hardcover ($99) & paperback ($29.95) by Oxford Univ. Press

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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