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Archive for July 13, 2019

Newsline: The UK ambassador scandal will make diplomats think twice before hitting send

Diplomacy was dealt a hammer blow this week. Kim Darroch’s sudden departure from Washington will have many diplomats wondering if they could be next. The UK ambassador’s resignation — after his assessment of Donald Trump was leaked — has created a global chill that will undoubtedly be felt for some while, and not just by British diplomats. It’s no secret that many foreign ambassadors have sent home scathing assessments of the President. “The leaker is guilty of the worst breach of trust in our service in my career. The damage after three days is evident in the resignation of the most senior British diplomat,” said Simon McDonald, head of Britain’s Diplomatic Service. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/12/europe/kim-darroch-diplomacy-impact-robertson-gbr-intl/index.html) So what should diplomats do? Stay shtum when your capital asks for your unvarnished assessment of person A, or situation B? In so doing, you would fail your central mission of ensuring your country has every advantage. Or would you tone down your assessment, risk under-informing your political bosses, and by extension undermine your national interest ? Theresa May wants a third way: Keep up the frank exchanges but find new ways to avoid leaks. Following his resignation, she praised Darroch and told UK lawmakers: “Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice. I want all our public servants to have the confidence to be able to do that.” To restore that confidence might require a shakeup in the way diplomats report. Currently “diptels” — the cables which Darroch used to tell May that Trump and his White House were “inept” and “dysfunctional” — get security gradings based on “national security” rather than political sensitivity. To counter leaks, a new, more restrictive grading could take into account the political impact a leaked diptel might have, which would mean fewer people would see the ambassador’s raw assessments.