Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 15: Disguised ‘Embassies’

p. 230, Spain as a protecting power: In the later stages of the First World War, the Spanish minister (head of legation) in Berne, Don Francisco de Reynoso, was responsible for the protection of the interests of so many states (21 in  all) that he had to obtain the use of three separate buildings: ‘one for the business of Spain, one for the Allies, and one for the Central Powers’ (Reynoso. p. 220). What the precise division of labour was between his own duties of protection in neutral Switzerland (where the major combatants had their own embassies anyway) and those of the Spanish missions in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, Reynoso does not make clear, although it is not difficult to guess. There is an authoritative online account of the Spanish policy of neutrality that made possible Madrid’s role as an important protecting power in the First World War in Ponce (see Further reading below).

pp. 232, 234-5: Interests sections in US-Cuba relations.

It is striking that in its lengthy ‘backgrounder’ on US-Cuba relations published shortly after the dramatic rapprochement between the two governments was revealed at the end of 2014, the US Council on Foreign Relations made no mention at all of the role played by interests sections in those relations. It is unlikely that this was an oversight. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, like the US Interests Section in Havana, was always located in the former embassy building. On 20 July 2015, these interests sections formally became ’embassies’ once more.

In a lengthy and frank account of his time as chief of mission at USINT in 2002-5, James C. Cason makes it abundantly clear that his first priority was to ‘support’ – not just glean information from – Cuban dissidents, among other things by distributing books and shortwave radios to them and giving them Internet access on his compound. He was a self-admitted ‘subversive’ and, also contrary to usual diplomatic practice, appears in no way to have been controlled by his nominal chief, the Swiss Ambassador (see Cason interview in Further reading below).

pp. 237-8: representative offices

Chas W. Freeman, who played a key role in establishing the US Liaison Office in Beijing in 1973, provides a very interesting, detailed account of his experience in the course of one of his interviews recorded in Frontline Diplomacy <………….>.

Key points to emerge are that (a) Kissinger was initially most reluctant to agree to this step because he feared it would weaken his personal control of relations with China; (b) Kissinger appointed two of his own people to the US liaison office; (c) US legislation was needed to confer privileges and immunities on members of the Chinese liaison office in Washington because such an office ‘didn’t fit any category of American law’ – and without such privileges and immunities similar ones could not be expected by the members of the US liaison office in Beijing; (d) Freeman and others saw establishment of the liaison offices as a key means of ‘institutionalizing’ the new Sino-American relationship at a time of increasing political instability in both the United States and China.

An earlier but even more interesting example of what was a borderline case of a representative office was the British mission in Russia established by Robert Bruce Lockhart in early 1918, first in an apartment in Petrograd and then – following the retreat of the Bolshevik government in the face of the German advance – at a hotel in Moscow. Britain had not recognised the Bolshevik government formed in the previous October (it did not extend de jure recognition until the beginning of 1924), and in February 1918 withdrew its diplomatic staff from the embassy in Petrograd, handing protection of its interests to the Dutch Legation. As a result, Lockhart was called by the Foreign Office simply ‘British Agent, Moscow’, while the Bolsheviks labelled him ‘British Diplomatic Representative’. His mission was only a borderline case of a representative office because the Foreign Office also described him as ‘Head of the British Commercial Mission to Russia’ (see Hughes, Inside the Enigma, p. 128). However, no-one believed this – it did little if any commercial work – so it was more a representative office than a front mission. To add to the confusion in British diplomacy in Russia in 1917-18 (which reflected divided control in London as well as turmoil in Russia), consular and intelligence officers remained under the protection of the Dutch minister, Wilhelm Oudendijk, so Britain had an ‘interests section’ there as well. Lockhart’s despair over this situation and his extraordinary experiences in 1918 – including his relations with Trotsky, Chicherin, and the famous spy Sydney Reilly, his love affair with ‘Moura’, and his imprisonment for a month by the Cheka following the near-successful assassination attempt on Lenin and the Allied military intervention in the north – are recorded in his absorbing memoirs (see ‘Further reading’ below).

pp. 235-7: Consulates.

Two interesting examples of consulates being employed to preserve contacts following a breach in diplomatic relations in the early 1960s are referred to in the oral history interview with US diplomat Donald McConville (see ‘Further reading’) below. They were employed by the United States following breaches with Panama and Cambodia. However, it is clear from press reports on the Panama incident at the time (I have not yet checked FRUS), that fairly high-level contacts under the auspices of the Organization of American States, both in Washington and Panama itself, were more important for political discussions. Diplomatic relations were broken in mid-January 1964 following serious anti-American riots over a flag incident in the disputed Canal Zone and resumed by an exchange of notes on 4 April 1964.

Further reading: additions and links

  • Cason, James C., interview (2009), FAOHC, 87-109
  • De Reynoso, Don Francisco, The Reminiscences of a Spanish Diplomat (Hutchinson: London, 1933), ch. 15
  • ‘U.S.-Cuba Relations’, CFR Backgrounders, 15 April 2015
  • Hughes, Michael, Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939 (Hambledon Press: London, 1997) – a very valuable book.
  • LeoGrande, William M. and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba: The hidden history of negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC, 2014)
  • Lockhart, R. H. Bruce, Memoirs of a British Agent (Putnam: London and New York, 1932)
  • McConville, Donald, interview (2001), FAOHC
  • Oudendyk, William J., Ways and By-Ways in Diplomacy (Peter Davies: London, 1939)
  • Ponce, Javier, ‘Spain‘, in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2015-03-20