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Twentieth-Century Diplomacy: A Case Study of British Practice, 1963-1976. John W. Young. Cambridge University Press. [pounds sterling]55.00 (US$110.00). xi + 244 pages. ISBN 978-0-521-83926-7.

International historians have tended to explore the goals rather than the means of diplomacy, in connection with matters such as wars and crises, alliances, bilateral relationships and strategy. Focusing on British foreign policy and drawing extensively on government records, John W. Young has provided a skilled exploration of the ways in which diplomacy was actually conducted. In doing so, he has helped to fill a major 'missing dimension' of relations between states (the term 'missing dimension' was used originally by a British diplomat to refer to the limited coverage of how secret intelligence influences policy-making).

The period of the study, 1963-1976, was a busy one for British diplomats. Britain ended its global defence role and focused more on European affairs, joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Developments in the diplomatic world included the greater frequency of summit conferences, the emergence of postcolonial states, the increased salience of international organisations, and advances in communications technology. Mr Young maintains that Britain adapted its diplomatic methods accordingly and coped well with the changing environment. The Diplomatic Service was reformed to provide more support for exports, and there was the establishment of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1968. Three years earlier, in 1965, 'interests sections' had been adopted, enabling diplomats to continue working within the embassy of a third power in countries with whom they had broken diplomatic relations. Communication could be maintained in even the most challenging circumstances.

The period after 1973 saw consideration given to recognising states rather than governments, and the state visit was reformed so that The Queen could meet frequently with other heads of state and government. There was a growth of British diplomatic activity shown by greater use of ambassadors, special envoys and summit conferences. In contrast to some other writers, John Young contends that even in the face of challenges such as summits, special missions, multilateral conferences, and cost-cutting measures, resident ambassadors continued to play a major role in this period. More embassies were established as new states emerged in the developing world, new posts linked to international organisations were developed and embassies had more work in areas such as trade and immigration.

The study maintains that diplomatic practice was not merely a background issue but influenced the relationships between Britain and other states. The frequent Anglo-American summit conferences, for example, were invariably deemed successful by the participants but were often used to moderate ill-feeling caused by problems in the relationship. Although Britain ended diplomatic relations with Rhodesia in December 1965, this was intended only to convey disapproval of a particular policy; bilateral contacts continued. The development of the interests section meant that sometimes a breach in diplomatic relations counted for little except in publicity terms. In 1973, Britain backed the French diplomatic innovation of the European Council within the EEC, contradicting the standard view that British policies toward European integration tend to be unconstructive. Mr Young's original, engaging and authoritative study succeeds in the important goal of bringing diplomatic practice more to the foreground of relations between states.

Dr Colman is a Lecturer in International History in the School of English, Sociology, Politics and Contemporary History in the University of Salford.
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Title Annotation:Twentieth-Century Diplomacy: A Case Study of British Practice, 1963-1976
Author:Colman, Jonathan
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010

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