My professional concern about PP is that far from promoting policy common sense it can diminish it.
Take the refurbishment of the British Ambassador's residence in Belgrade back in 2001. The building had been neglected during the long Milosevic years. Everything which could be painted was either Excrement Brown or Rose Pink. The main reception room looked like the forlorn warehouse where all the worst sofas and curtains in the FCO crawled away to die in shame.
So it was agreed that we should upgrade things in the next couple of years. But we had not reckoned with "what if" PP as articulated by the FCO works people...
One idea we had was to remove the vile dark sticky polish and ugly carpets from the original nice woodblock floors and go for a lightly coloured, varnished modern look. But when we asked for this to be done along the upstairs landing we met: "what if a child skids and shoots up and over the landing and plummets down and dies?!"
We asked for the kitchen to have something other than industrial strip lighting, to make it a more pleasant place to work. "What if one of the cooks is ill and cuts himself and drips infected blood into food being prepared for a member of the Royal Family?!"
Work began to replace the nasty tin sentry box for our local staff Serb security team with a small brick building. I happened to stop by and asked why the roof was such a fatuous heavy design. "It is being made of reinforced concrete. What if terrorists attack and try to break in through the ceiling?"
In each case I had to order them all to stop being ridiculous and come to a calm, elegant solution. Had I not done so the taxpayer probably would have had a worse and more expensive outcome.
Yet countless stupidities are not stopped. How does one cost this mess?
Come on, courageous state. Show us the numbers. Then go away.
Y'all are sitting there pondering one of the great Left issues of the day. Is Facebook part of the class struggle? Are people on Facebook a class, and if so are they exploiting or exploited? Why are new forms of social media so dangerous?
The third problem liberals face is the loss of their alternative paradigm – the vanquishing of socialism and communism by the market paradigm. Call it the disintegration of the “Great Left Alternative Paradigm,” which was always a difficult and troublesome and problematic, not least of all because the abstract and noble socialist paradigm was attached to the ignoble and failed practices of Soviet (and Chines) (sic) Communism.
The paradox was that what illuminated egalitarianism and social justice in a theoretical perspective seemed to contradict them when put into practice by revolutionaries in Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea...
To which one says HAHAHAHA. Seemed!
Marxism isn’t really the issue: I mean, after all, we actually know that in 1967 the only real Marxists were in the University of Massachusetts economics department. Those governing in Russia, Cuba, Vietnam or China were fakes using an old ideology to impose a new form of terror...
Curious how so many Marxists in Western universities and media went so far out of their way to aplologise for these terrorists, and in the case of Cuba still do.
Anyway, on it goes at great length making no sense at all on economics (he bewails the 'diminishing of government'!) until finally he gets to social media:
If I am going to address where America is today (and where the world is) interdependently, I want to address— it’s probably not a class—call it “Those Who Are On Facebook” — five hundred million people around the world on Facebook— more than half of all Americans. I want to talk more generally about social media. Democratic or anti-democratic? Exploitative or not? Are they part of a class struggle, or not?
I’m not sure those terms really help; I do know this—I believe (and be happy I won’t make the argument now!) that Facebook and social media are actually anti-social media, anti-political media, anti-civic media.
They act against the interest of participatory democracy; they act against the interest of interdependence—even though they use a web archeology that is both interdependent and democratic. Democratic in the sense that their architecture is horizontal, face-to-face, person-to-person.
That, to me, is a great tragedy; that the great new innovative technology of our time—that young people particularly love—is being used not for purposes of democracy and leveling and equality and the struggle for justice, but is used instead for privatized gossip, for interaction among people who are looking for others just like them rather than looking for people who are different than they are.
Imagine that! People in vast numbers being free to mind their own business and not fret about 'the struggle for justice"!
But it’s much harder, because it doesn’t let itself to these easy kinds of things, to talk about who “owns” social media, who owns the World Wide Web. Does ownership of hardware or a software platform mean control of the medium? What if the software is “bundled” into the hardware? Should we be for or against “net neutrality” or open source software? …from the perspective of social justice?
Penned by a gutless burocrat who spent his entire worthless career cowering inside a British Embassy, knowing that no matter what garbage he wrote, he was safe from interference by the local authorities. And yet now Charles Bunter Crawford inveighs in favour of armed intervention to "go in" and take out Assange?? Yarooooo, you chaps!! The Fat Owl is spouting again!!!
What Chuck Crwford (sic) is really advocating for is, an end to investigative journalism in the world. If the United States can reach out and destroy a journalist who isn't a US citizen and who didn't "commit" their journalism on US soil then, they will have the power to censor journalism all over the world. One would think someone who supposedly writes about stuff for a living like, Chuck Crawford, would understand that.
It is a shame that ambassadors such as Crawford did not take a more principled stand against rendition and torture when working for HMG, rather than honing their skills in duplicity and hypocrisy. No wonder he dislikes Wikkileaks - it exposes the likes of Crawford and his colleagues for the double dealers they are
When Charles Crawford was quivering inside a British Embassy, he knew for sure that no attempt would be made to drag his lardy backside out into the street and make him subject to local justice. Yet here we find the same Foreign Office Fool talking up the idea of going in and getting Assange? Glad to see the Brightest & Best are still coming from the jolly ol' Playing Fields Of Eton, eh??
The Foreign Office used to be full of bastards - but they were clever bastards, now it is full of stupid bastards
Mr Crawford, When having the picture taken which you have posted at the top of your article you wore a friendly mask. Despite the plastic body language you are clearly ‘one of them’. If you had been a commenter on this article rather than its writer, you would have been called a troll.
And my favourite:
I suspect Mr. Crawford wasn't even a 'twinkle' in his mothers eye during the cold war period against Russia so I'll forgive him if he wasn't aware of the honey traps that the CIA, MI5 & KGB set for each others citizens.
Diplomats have mulled over these questions for a good 800 years and more. In the early Middle Ages special grand seals were made to stop documents being forged or improperly opened. A treaty could be cast as a ‘chirograph’, a document containing two identical texts with CYROGRAPHVM written across both of them. When the document was cut in half through these letters – giving one text for each different party – only those two original texts would match, thus guarding against forgery and manipulation.
One top-level way to send a message is indeed to use the form of a letter. This a document signed by someone (say a Prime Minister) addressed to someone else by name (eg a Prime Minister or Head of State) in another country. All the Embassy has to do is hand over a copy of the letter (usually an advance copy – the signed text arrives a couple of weeks later, invariably looking scruffy after the vagaries of the UK diplomatic bag) to the office of the recipient, perhaps adding some further private verbal top-spin as appropriate.
But that is not fool-proof. Once you have handed over the letter you don’t know if the flunkies in the recipient’s office will indeed pass it on to the intended lofty recipient. They may pass it on under a very disobliging commentary of their own, skewing the recipient’s interpretation. They might even have some very wily reasons for not passing it on, and proceed to share those reasons openly with you.
Read the whole thing. It has the severe disadvantage of being (in my own immodest opinion) sensible and somewhat informative, features lost on most of the people commenting so far.
Update I have had a message from African-Italian journalist Matteo FK in Mali who warmly commends the thought I gave at the end of that article and (of course familiar to readers here): It's not what you say - it's what they hear.
Matteo writes: I simply wanted to thank you for your article about diplomacy and the Assange affair. I'm an African-Italian freelance journalist and I often follow diplomatic issues in the region. The lesson you post at the end of your piece is simply a great truth, important even in the daily life of civilians, not just diplomats. People underestimate that importance. Thanks again.
My various postings and pronouncements on the rights and wrongs of the UK government's 'threat' to remove the diplomatic immunity of the Ecuador Embassy in London to enable J Assange to be nabbed have prompted Brian Barder to weigh in.
And when Brian weighs in, he does so thoroughly. His long analysis was too much for the Comment function of this site, so he has sent me his views by email and I am pleased to post them in full below. I have taken the liberty of breaking down his paragraphs into manageable smaller pieces, to make the flow of the argument readable (BB is one for long sentences and longer paragraphs. I am not).
The key issue is simple. BB says (in effect, I think) that the 1987 UK Act purportedly giving the Foreign Secretary the power to remove an Embassy building's diplomatic status under certain conditions is so constrained by the Vienna Convention (apart from an extreme case of obvious 'self-defence') that it can't be used.
I by contrast argue that the Act gives legal force to the underlying time-honoured sense of reciprocity in the Vienna Convention by enabling modulated and proportionate action by a receiving state against grave breaches of the Convention by or through the Embassy concerned.
So we disagree on the margins (important margins) about what abuses of the Convention by/through an Embassy might trigger a legally justified move against the Embassy's immunity. We nonetheless agree that in the Assange case the abuse (if any) by the Ecuadoreans of the Convention by sheltering Assange is NOT such as to make even the temporary removal of the Embassy's diplomatic immunity by HMG a legally appropriate or politically wise response.
Note that some of this is all about deep diplomatic theory and high principle. What happens in practice - and how any case on the matter might come to the courts and who would decide the outcome - is a very different matter. Note too that in his excitement BB ascribes to me a number of positions that I do not hold, and/or strays into some weak non-sequiturs. But I forgive him.
Enough. Judge for yourselves. Here is Brian's analysis, taking up my earlier piece here. CC in black,BB in blue
* * * * *
Brian Barder: I'm afraid there are so many elementary confusions in all this that it's difficult to disentangle them.But here goes.Quotations from your post labelled "CC" are followed by my explanation of why they are wrong, labelled "BB".
CC: "Brian is right that the Vienna Convention at Article 22 lays it all down pretty bluntly:
The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of mission.
To which one can say, so what? The Convention also has a catch-all Article 41 which requires diplomats to respect local laws and not use their diplomatic premises in ways incompatible with the Convention or wider international law rules."
BB:You imply that if the British government believes, rightly or wrongly, that the embassy of Ecuador is behaving improperly, Article 41 of the Vienna Convention (VCDR) permits us to strip it of its diplomatic status and immunities, send in the cops, and arrest Assange, without the ambassador's consent.But that's simply wrong.
We have several options for responding to the embassy's perceived misbehaviour, from a simple protest right up to expelling the ambassador or in the last resort breaking off diplomatic relations with Ecuador and closing down its embassy (which incidentally would be bad news for Assange).
What we can't legally do is renounce our obligation to respect the embassy's diplomatic status, claim to have abolished its immunities (which would be flat contrary to the VCDR), invade it, and arrest anyone we find there -- even the sainted Mr Assange.
I did explain all this in my earlier comment on your blog, from which you quote selectively.Apparently it was not understood, although it seems simple enough to me.
CC: "Thus the 1987 Act, that gives HMG the right to strip a mission of its diplomatic status by withdrawing consent for that status in specified circumstances and "if the Secretary of State is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law" (Note: a somewhat subjective test, ie Brian is not correct above on this point)."
BB:By calling the test "somewhat subjective", you seem to imply that if the Secretary of State declares himself satisfied that what he wants to do is permissible under international law, he can do as he likes.But that's wrong.His declaration of satisfaction that his proposed action is legal would be subject to judicial review.
The courts would look into the basis for the Secretary of State's claim of satisfaction, and would not take very long to find that he had no basis whatever for that claim, since any proposal to muscle into the Ecuador embassy would clearly be contrary to Art. 22 of the VCDR, which you yourself re-quote.
Mr Assange's supporters and the Ecuadoreans or their sympathisers would be sure to seek that judicial review before you could say "William Hague".So it's not purely subjective, and I was not wrong to point it out.
CC: "In other words, it is not open to a diplomatic mission to insist that any given building is its Embassy and remains so indefinitely - that has to be accepted by the receiving State."
BB:Wrong again.Art. 22 of the VCDR, part of which you recklessly re-quote, obliges us to respect the inviolability of what we have already recognised as an embassy and diplomatic mission.Art. 22(2) says:"The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity."
There's no way that can be squared with the receiving State (Britain) itself mounting an intrusion.The receiving State has no option but to discharge its obligations under the whole of Art. 22.There's no basis for your assertion that this has to be accepted by the receiving State, even if you underline 'accepted'. The receiving State has already 'accepted' it by signing and ratifying the Vienna Convention.
Moreover Britain can't wriggle out of those obligations by passing a domestic law purporting to permit it to do so.If it could, any country -- North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, Ecuador -- could pass a similar law, and send its heavies armed with baseball bats into the local British embassy or high commission an hour or two later.No international agreement (including the Vienna Conventions, plural) would be worth twopence.
CC: "And that acceptance can reasonably be withdrawn eg if the receiving State has good reason to think that that building is being used in ways grossly incompatible with international law. That is an expression of the rights available to a receiving State under the Convention, not a breach of the rights of the hapless cheating mission."
BB:Perhaps you would point to the Article or Articles of the VCDR which grants to the receiving State the right to denounce its Article 22 obligations and break into the premises of a diplomatic mission as a mark of its displeasure at allegedly -- or manifestly -- illegal or objectionable activity going on in those premises.
As I have now explained twice here already, there are many ways in which the receiving State can respond to illegal or improper activity in a diplomatic mission, but entering it without its consent simply isn't one of them -- with one clearly defined exception which we'll come to immediately but which is totally irrelevant to anything currently being done by the Ecuadoreans or indeed by Mr Assange.
CC: "Probably no row at all would ensue if eg the Ecuadorean Embassy or even J Assange starting shooting out of the window without provocation at passers-by and/or the police, gravely abusing the Convention. It would be absurd to say that in such a dramatic situation HMG could enter the Embassy only with the Ambassador's permission to stop the mayhem: action to strip the Embassy's diplomatic status would be right in principle, and overwhelmingly popular in this country and probably applauded by any country that takes diplomatic privilege seriously."
BB:The one exception to the principles and rules that I have now explained three times above is where the receiving State acts under its "inherent right of self-defence" under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
To be able to assert this right, the receiving state has to be able to point to behaviour by or from the embassy which poses an immediate threat to the lives and safety of people in its vicinity, such as the kind of situation you imagine -- someone shooting randomly, or at all, from within the embassy.
When young PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot from a window of the Libyan embassy in 1984, the British government would have been entitled to exercise its right of self-defence to enter the embassy and take whatever action was necessary to prevent further murders.(It decided against doing so, primarily because of the risk to the British embassy in Libya if it did -- a point worth considering in the context of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, incidentally.)
This sole exception to the special status of Article 22 is not AFAIK set out in any formal legally binding document, but it is generally recognised by students of international law, and confirmed in Professor Eileen Denza's authoritative book 'Diplomatic Law', as well as in the chapters in the current edition of Satow on diplomatic privileges and immunities (of which Professor Denza was the author).
One further point:you talk about the functions of a diplomatic mission specified by the VCDR as proper and permissible, as if anything not mentioned in the Convention must be incompatible with the mission's obligations under it.But the functions described in the Convention are purely illustrative, as shown by the all-important phrase 'inter alia' in Article 3.
It's therefore wrong to argue that because the Convention is silent on the question of using diplomatic premises to shelter a refugee (something that many British embassies have done for years BTW), therefore sheltering Assange must be incompatible with the embassy's international law obligations.
Whether this action by Ecuador is permissible in international law probably depends on whether the extradition proceedings against Assange can properly be regarded as politically motivatedor whether they are purely associated with accusations of non-political criminal offences, a matter on which you and I will take one position and Mr Assange and the Ecuadoreans will no doubt take another.
But the presence of this gentleman in the Ecuadorean embassy can't possibly justify action by the British government contrary to Art 22 of the VCDR in pursuance of its inherent right of self-defence.End of story.
And my last word on this issue on your ever entertaining blog. If I need to write yet more, I shall do it on my own, athttp://www.barder.com/ephems/, where you and any other reader of this will find a pretty exhaustive account of my view of the issues, both in two recent posts and in my responses to numerous comments on them.
Here at The Corner (National Review Online's popular stream of consciousness in the USA) is a piece by John O'Sullivan that picks up some of my ideas but comes down in favour of gracefully letting Mr Assange stew in his Ecuadorean juice:
With those two points in mind, why not try the following approach: First, make it clear to all of Latin America but especially to Ecuador that Britain fully accepts its diplomatic ability to shelter Assange in its embassy even as London disapproves of its exercising that ability on behalf of someone accused of rape. Second, publicly withdraw, disavow, and if necessary apologize for the earlier suggestion of forcible entry. Third, surround the embassy with police. Fourth, carry on regardless indefinitely...
Assange permanently around the place would be not merely a nuisance but a damned nuisance. He might try to stay in the headlines, but he would gradually sink to page eleven below the fold and the final item on the nightly news (if that). The crowds gathering for his speeches would gradually shrink ( though we should make publicly clear to Ecuador that the U.K. fully accepts its right to give a balcony-platform to the Australian asylee). He would become the Great Bore of Knightsbridge...
This champion of radical transparency hasn't helped Swedish prosecutors with their inquiries. There was his remark about people being jailed for exercising freedom of speech, "There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response", and yet taking shelter in a country that, according to Reporters Without Borders, shut down six radio stations and two TV stations in just one fortnight this June.
No doomed cause can exist without our old favourite ex-Ambassador Craig Murray weighing in wildly. Here is again, watching the Assange balcony scene safely from within the Ecuadorean Embassy.
The Assange case is stuck and embarrassing. How might one look at this issue as a professional mediator?
As things stand, the interests of Assange/Ecuador and UK/Sweden respectively largely coincide.
Assange/Ecuador want to use the issue to bolster their reputations and poke the US/West in the eye.
UK/Sweden want to carry out their legal obligations.
However, perhaps the interests of Assange/Ecuador will start to diverge (there might well be ways in which the UK can crank up pressure on Ecuador, eg by sending the Ecuador Embassy a hefty bill for the extra police needed to keep an eye on their building because a fugitive from injustice is improperly skulking inside it). Plus the charm of hosting Mr Assange may peak then dwindle for the Ecuadoreans.
Likewise UK/Sweden. The UK is on a hook caused by Sweden's legal processes. Can Sweden as a good EU partner help get rid of that hook or at least help the UK get off it?
The very greatest tool a mediator has is a simple little question: What if?
This question invites if not compels the feuding parties to think differently, to step back, to brainstorm, to imagine something different. Any by imagining something different, they can start to look anew at the true costs and benefits of the current deadlock, as compared to alternative outcomes.
So, what if all concerned started to look at alternative outcomes?
Assange has to accept that he can not be 100% safe from an extradition request from the USA other than (a) by hoping that the USA has not yet made one to the UK or Sweden, and (b) making a beeline to a country that has no extradition arrangement with the USA, then staying there for the rest of his life. Not much fun.
Ecuador has to accept that sooner or later Assange has to move out from its London Embassy. Why not sooner, as long as Ecuador does not get dishonoured/embarrassed in the process?
Sweden has to accept that the current deadlock is getting nowhere as a result of Sweden's legal processes, and costing the UK a lot of money that Sweden may not wish to pay.
The UK has to accept any outcome that gets the business sorted (ie if Sweden is happy, the UK should be happy). If Assange is demanded formally from the UK by the USA, he can amuse himself battling it out in the UK and European courts for a few years more - but no guarantees.
So is there an outcome that achieves all that?
Yes there is.
Sweden agrees to send its investigators to question Assange in the UK, perhaps in the Ecuador Embassy.
If Sweden is persuaded by his testimony to drop the extradition request and/or the substantive investigation into his alleged wrongdoings in Sweden, that's the end of it. Assange walks out on to the street, gets his passport back, and then takes his chances with any stray US extradition requests, here or anywhere else that will take him.
If, however, Assange does not give convincing answers and so Sweden decides to pursue the criminal case against him, Assange must agree in advance to surrender himself for prompt transfer to Stockholm accordingly. He has had the chance to put his case, and now must accept that a democratic country wants him to answer under due process of law for an earlier alleged transgression. Sweden may want to offer him legal aid and/or otherwise make it 100% clear that he will be given every opportunity to defend himself.
In either case, Ecuador and the UK can end their boring diplomatic stand-off with no loss of face.
Some of this would involve some deft quiet diplomatic footwork by all sides, so far often lacking. But one learns from one's mistakes.
Plus it (crucially) would require Mr Assange to take a deep breath and start to behave honourably and respectfully himself towards HMG and the authorities in Stockholm - harder, but not impossible if Ecuador says that his refusal to do so will give them little choice but politely andf firmly to send him on his way.
Entertaining knockabout, Charles, but completely wrong. The embassy's premises are unequivocally immune from entry without the agreement of the ambassador, under international law as laid down in the Vienna Convention. Britain can't lawfully withdraw the embassy's immunity by gaily passing a law purporting to say it can (quite apart from the fact that the law explicitly rules out any action under it that would be contrary to international law, as your quotation from it makes clear -- didn't you notice that?). The aide memoire given to the Ecuadoreans explicitly threatens them with action that would be blatantly illegal, would prompt action against us in domestic and national courts, cause a storm of international obloquy, and would unquestionably encourage similar retaliation against our own embassies and diplomats (all right for the likes of us -- we're retired). Even the publication of the threat is already causing a storm, giving the im pression that if Britain is so obviously in the wrong, Ecuador and Assange must have right on their side (which they don't).
If we disapprove of what's going on in the Ecuadorean embassy, such as harbouring Mr Assange (although we have given refuge in our own embassies and indeed in Britain to many dissidents and other fugitives from local 'justice' over the years), we have a range of remedies open to us: formal protests, recall our ambo for consultation, expel the Ecuador ambassador, break off diplomatic relations and make them close down the embassy. What we can't do is flout international law by claiming the non-existent right to strip it of its immunity, enter it illegally, and arrest someone taking refuge there. How clever to threaten the Ecuadoreans with the one form of counter-action that is simply not open to us!
... It's becoming increasingly likely that the FCO lawyers and officials did try to explain to our Foreign Secretary the likely consequences of his folly, but he went ahead anyway -- http://ind.pn/Pw4M1n. Such is the price we repeatedly pay when arrogant ministers think they know better than experienced FCO lawyers and senior officials and ignore their warnings: Blair, Straw, now Hague... They are perfectly entitled to reject the advice of their officials -- they're elected and their officials are not -- but sidelining the FCO and obeying one's gung-ho instincts carries high and unnecessary risks...
Brian is right that the Vienna Convention at Article 22 lays it all down pretty bluntly:
The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of mission.
To which one can say, so what? The Convention also has a catch-all Article 41 which requires diplomats to respect local laws and not use their diplomatic premises in ways incompatible with the Convention or wider international law rules.
Thus the 1987 Act, that gives HMG the right to strip a mission of its diplomatic status by withdrawing consent for that status in specified circumstances and "if the Secretary of State is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law" (Note: a somewhat subjective test, ie Brian is not correct above on this point).
In other words, it is not open to a diplomatic mission to insist that any given building is its Embassy and remains so indefinitely - that has to be accepted by the receiving State.
And that acceptance can reasonably be withdrawn eg if the receiving State has good reason to think that that building is being used in ways grossly incompatible with international law. That is an expression of the rights available to a receiving State under the Convention, not a breach of the rights of the hapless cheating mission.
So much for theory. What would happen in practice if the Foreign Secretary did withdraw consent for a building to be used as an Embassy is far less clear, partly for the reasons Brian gives.
A vast global row would ensue if there was any serious question over the legal merits of the case, as there well might be if we tried to use the murky but footling activities of Assange and his 'diplomatic asylum' as a pretext.
Probably no row at all would ensue if eg the Ecuadorean Embasy or even J Assange starting shooting out of the window without provocation at passers-by and/or the police, gravely abusing the Convention. It would be absurd to say that in such a dramatic situation HMG could enter the Embassy only with the Ambassador's permission to stop the mayhem: action to strip the Embassy's diplomatic status would be right in principle, and overwhelmingly popular in this country and probably applauded by any country that takes diplomatic privilege seriously. Thereafter the lawyers could bicker expensively for years.
Conclusion? The Vienna Convention sensibly does not make diplomatic immunity a blank cheque. The whole core idea is reciprocity, based upon respecting civilised behaviour.
In diplomatic negotiations possible good options fall into different categories that together can be called LEWD: what’s Legal, what’s Effective, what’s Wise, and what’s Deliverable in Practice. Smart diplomats wrack their brains to recommend to Ministers LEWD options.
In this case it looks as if there was a failure of technique. The speaking note handed to the Ecuadoreans pointed explicitly to British options to act under the 1987 Act (ie the FCO ticked the Legal box) while noting in a slightly mournful way that HMG "very much hoped" not to have to use them (ticking, they thought, the Wise box). The aim was to bring these pesky Ecuadorians to their senses and thereby tick the Effective and Deliverable boxes too.
Needless to say, this plan collapsed on its first encounter with the enemy. Precisely because the text had made the "threat" to remove the Embassy’s diplomatic status so directly, it allowed the Ecuadorians deliberately to limit their own room for manoeuvre by granting Assange asylum and by playing the noisy eternal anti-imperialist victim PR card. This in turn reduced HMG’s room for manoeuvre by bringing into play issues of national reputation on both sides.
Why would any country want to limit its own room for manoeuvre? Simples. It’s a key trick in diplomacy: if there is to be an eventual policy climbdown, it boosts the case for getting a bigger price for it.
As things have turned out, it looks as if the FCO should have studiously avoided giving Ecuador that option. The speaking note could have been drafted very differently, for example to include a list of a number of relevant legal instruments (including the Vienna Convention and the 1987 Act) in an annex. The text of the note in a po-faced way then could say that as Ecuador already well knew, HMG had a number of legal options under international and UK law should, alas, Ecuador grant Mr Assange asylum, and invited Ecuador to scrutinize these instruments to draw its own conclusions. This (a) would have cultivated a sense of indirect mystery rather than overt menace, and (b) dodged the unseemly outcome of the Foreign Secretary saying that “there is no threat here to storm the Embassy”, when most normal people would think exactly the opposite.
In other words, if you think that the other side is poised to reduce its options, the trick is to offer ways to increase options instead. That is much less confrontational – and muddies the waters
Having gone through a full cheery diplomatic career without having read the Vienna Convention, I thought that I would see if J Assange might be popp'd in an Ecuadoran Diplomatic Bag and removed from the UK that way.
In other words, can he be 'smuggled' out in broad sight or secretly, the Ecuadoreans claiming that their diplomatic bags are immune from search?
Here is some handy guidance from (of all people) HM Customs and Revenue sharing with us a Note from FCO Protocol Directorate:
Missions are further reminded that in deciding whether particular articles may be carried in a diplomatic bag they are required to observe the requirements not only of Article 27.4 (“only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use”) but also of Article 41.1 (“laws and regulations of the receiving state”).
It is particularly stressed in this context that the regulations governing the import and possession of firearms in the UK are among those which must be observed, regardless of any claim that any firearms may be intended for official use.
In other words, if a man-shaped diplomatic bag is seen emerging from the Ecuadorean Embassy and we prod it with a pitchfork to confirm that it contains only diplomatic items, a squeak of 'Ouch!" would give us all the legal options we need to ask the Ecuador Embassy politely to undo it and show us what or who is therein.
Here is a link to the full Convention. As these things go, it is cast in admirable easy language but does need to be read as a whole. See esp Article 27 and Article 41.
By the way, I also gather that IF Assange is extradited to Sweden and then a US extradition request is sent to Sweden, HMG still have the legal right to be consulted on how that application is processed. Strange but true. So not only would Assange have the benefit of all Sweden's legal and human rights checks and balances - he'd have ours too.
Anyway, the Ecuadoreans have decided after a lot of dithering to give J Assange political asylum.
Nothing at all changes.
In fact the huge noise being cranked up about a supposedly imminent threat by HMG to strip the Embassy's status and storm the building merely goes to limit the Ecuadoreans' own room for manoeuvre.
Maybe something they intended in the forlorn hope that it makes life harder for us?
Here's even more from me at TransConflict on the Metaphysics of Bosnia:
Izetbegovic’s problem was real enough. If the Serbs, Croats and Muslims/Bosniacs retained their equal status as ‘constitutive peoples’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that allowed the Serb and Croat leaders an effective veto against the Muslims/Bosniacs, worked up in coordination with Belgrade and Zagreb. In other words, by piously insisting on ‘equality’ they could jam up the works and guarantee strategic inequality in their own favour in Bosnia.
On the other hand, if he asserted (as he did) the argument that Bosnia was primarily ‘for’ the Muslims/Bosniacs, the republic’s Serbs and Croats necessarily would feel that they risked ending up as second-class citizens.
As Izetbegovic later put it to me himself, he represented two million Bosniacs hemmed in by 14 million Serbs and Croats. One false move and his community could be lost for ever. What room for manoeuvre did he have? I could see his point. He was in a Bosnian-style asymmetrical Mexican stand-off, in which the other two sides might well be bent on ganging up on him...
... Mr Mujanovic tries to be reasonable:
I should like nothing more than if every significant government post in the whole of BiH were occupied by a self-identifying Serb, provided they were actually qualified for the position and pursued responsible, responsive, and democratic policies, which reflected the interests of all the citizens of BiH
Fine. But what if a large bloc of responsible, responsive democratic self-identifying (sic) Serbs (or Croats, or Bosniacs, or Kosovars) conclude that they would rather the borders of the region’s republics were changed to allow them to run their own affairs, in much the same way that Switzerland’s different ethno-linguistic communities do within their cantons? Is that to be ruled out a priori, and if so on what moral basis?
The Dayton deal (messy as it was) created conditions for ruling out certain options and managing the remaining options peacefully, thereby enabling other, slower processes to unfold. These, as it happens, probably favour the Bosniacs in the greater scheme of things.
The smart short-term policy for the largest community in Bosnia (ie the Bosniacs) in such circumstances was to use generous international assistance to create a dynamic, transparent mini-tiger economy that Serbs and Croats clamoured to join.
From the point of view of this Bosniak nationalist policy, it is not important that Bosnia will fall behind on the road to modernisation, because the harder life is in Bosnia the faster will the project of a two-thirds majority be realised, since Croats and Serbs will simply move to Croatia and Serbia.
In this historical perspective, twenty or thirty years signify little when it comes to the one thousand years of Bosnia’s history; and a degree of economic decline of the country is a worthwhile price to pay for the realisation of their supreme project – the creation of a national Bosniak state in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That’s the nub of it – how to deal with mutually incompatible claims to territory as an insurance policy for existential security?
Serbia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in 2000 told me how an elderly Albanian in southern Serbia had put it to him straight: “Mr Covic, you have two children. I have six. I am prepared to sacrifice two of my children to the cause. How many of yours are you prepared to sacrifice?”
Not a question that academics in Canada or ex-diplomats in the UK can easily answer within the usual analytical categories?
By the way, @JewsandBosniaks (sic) on Twitter accuse TransConflict's Ian Bancroft of being a "Serbian sympathizer and moral relativist". You have been warned.
With Ecuador set to make an announcement later today about Julian Assange and his bid for asylum (he currently is skulking in their Embassy in London) the BBC World Service have just interviewed me for some background on the way bids for 'asylum' in Embassies work in practice. I drew on my classic DIPLOMAT article from late 2010:
There are two basic ‘invasion’ scenarios. Those where the people concerned are invading an embassy situated in their own country to try to escape (the two Havana examples above). And those where the invaders are in another country and enter a passing embassy as a way to get to somewhere else. In this latter case, both the embassy and the host government will be pleased to see the invaders leave the country, one way or the other: problem (for them) solved.
The former case is problematic though. It pits the embassy concerned against the host authorities in a way that is embarrassing for both. The host authorities have to face the disagreeable fact that some of its own citizens are so revolted by circumstances in their own country that they entreat another country to help them get out. The embassy involved is likewise torn. The idea that it is seen locally as a source of freedom and succour may be flattering but, on the other hand, relations with the host country have to go on.
This was brought out sharply by the mass demonstrations in Iran this year protesting against the rigged election results. With varying intensity, different European and other embassies in Tehran were saying that the Iranian elections had not, cough, quite met best standards of freeness and fairness. Yet they also had to make clear to the Iranian masses that in practice they would not open their doors to Iranians wanting to escape persecution.
A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman summed it up: Sweden ‘cannot grant asylum on embassy territory…if that decision was to be taken, it would mark a very strong gesture with regard to the Iranian government’.
Which, translated into normal language, is roughly this: ‘Sorry, massed Iranian chaps and chapesses. We do like and support you. Honest. But in this one you’re on your own. Good luck!’
Which sounds harsh, and is harsh, but has to be right. Since envoys were invented millions of years ago, the whole point has been to allow one leadership to keep open lines of private communication with another. If this special mechanism for such discreet top level communication is held hostage by anyone who has a grievance, however justified, a disruptive mess of no real use to either side ensues.
This Assange case is a fascinating version of the genre. He is a national of country W hiding in an Embassy of country X, with the hope of avoiding host country X sending him on to face justice in country Y and perhaps eventual extradition to country Z. Phew!
What is this case 'about'? Let's look at it from the point of view of Negotiation Theory.
On one level it is all about the astonishingly self-important J Assange. Here is an LSE Book Review I wrote earlier this year about him and his quest for fame:
One of the key advantages of WikiLeaks as seen by its avowedly radical ‘hacktivist’ creators led (loosely speaking) by Julian Assange is that it subverts all existing categories of pretty much anything: geography, law, morality, self-restraint. The book notes that by aiming for impunity from the law WikiLeaks hopes for immunity from the consequences of the “wider settlement between journalism and society” and ”a less-reported but similarly liberating degree of ethical and moral flexibility”. Hmm. Which tyrant down the ages has not hoped for such ethical and moral ‘flexibility’?
Take the vital issue of ‘protecting sources’, something journalists claim to be a core part of their professional responsibility. Assange is quoted as saying that any US informants in Afghanistan who were murdered by the Taliban as a result of WikiLeaks revelations deserved their fate, a loathsome and – as he found – unsustainable position.
Likewise the book records that WikiLeaks’ publication of confidential documents about corruption in Kenya led to riots in 2007 which 1300 people were killed and 350,000 displaced. The authors’ assessment is at best baffling: “It also indicated that Wikileaks, and Assange in particular, were prepared to make a different risk calculation that accepted some incidental harm for the ‘greater good’ of transparency.” Had a Western politician described the deaths of 1300 Kenyans as ‘some incidental harm’ caused by a different risk calculation in official policies, imagine the banshee shriek.
In this moral tarpit some people see in WikiLeaks a source of hope. The book quotes ‘cyber-optimist’ Clay Shirky: “it represents, in its irresponsibility, a space for reform and progress”.
No thanks. WikiLeaks is by any normal standards a malign phenomenon based on a business model of stealing then selling other people’s information. It has surged sensationally across the media firmament but now looks bedraggled and discredited. As the authors note in the epilogue, former WikiLeaks enthusiasts are writing it off, as further damage has been done to its credibility.
The real value of this fascinating but uneven book is that it reminds us that especially in an age of ‘anything goes’ e-leaks, the heart of credible journalism remains a sense of unwavering professional responsibility – and a good old-fashioned sense of honour.
So the core visible part of the negotiation here is what happens to him. Does he get extradited to Sweden to face various criminal charges, or not?
By scuttling into the Ecuador Embassy in London, Assange has created a vast amount of expensive hassle for HM Government, who have been quietly pointing out to the Ecuadoreans the fact that they have no real options other than to show him the door, sooner or later, whereupon he will be arrested and relaunched on his way to Sweden.
It turns out that HMG also have the power - a diplomatic doomsday weapon to be sure - to take away the diplomatic status of a foreign country's embassy/consulate. This comes via the well-known and rather witty Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987:
(a) a State ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post; or
(b) the Secretary of State withdraws his acceptance or consent in relation to land,
it thereupon ceases to be diplomatic or consular premises for the purposes of all enactments and rules of law.
(4) The Secretary of State shall only give or withdraw consent or withdraw acceptance if he is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law.
(5) In determining whether to do so he shall have regard to all material considerations, and in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of this subsection:
(a) to the safety of the public;
(b) to national security; and
(c) to town and country planning
This makes sense. If we think that a state is abusing its diplomatic privileges under the usual treaties and conventions eg to pursue activities threatening our country or people, we can take away the immunity of their base of operations.
Note that if we did take away their Embassy's diplomatic status this does not mean that we have to batter the door down to get Assange out. We could (I assume) first start cranking up the financial costs by removing any Embassy exemptions from local and other taxes. And of course the fine free parking-spaces and diplomatic number-plates would be the first things to go: once gone, very hard to get them back, your Excellency. Aaaaargh.
The Act says that the Secretary of State needs to 'satisfied' that stripping away the Embassy's diplomatic status is 'permissible' under international law. In the circumstances that might not be too easy and might itself launch exhausting legal proceedings.
Would (for example) an argument have to be made that in effect the Embassy was part of a criminal conspiracy to help Assange escape due process of law? Much care needed here, as we might not want our own Embassy in Horribleland to be stripped of its immunity next time the local Nelson Mandela arrives there fleeing oppressive local laws. See eg that recent case of Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy in Beijing.
In other words, it's good if your Embassy is seen by downtrodden locals as a beacon of freedom. As long as they do not actually try to enter it for too long.
We have made our legal case politely to Ecuador. They now have turned up their pseudo-aggrieved perpetual-victim Non-Aligned Member loudspeakers and started wailing that we are 'threatening' them and that they are not a 'British colony'. Zzzzzzz
Why are they doing this?
Because on a different level of the negotiation they have a self-created problem of Reputation - it was fun to take him in, but how now to cough him up without losing face at home and internationally?
One way to do this is to make a massive silly noise and show that they 'did all they could and more' to help Assange, but in the end the bullying British imperialists were too relentless and mean-spirited to give them any other choice but to ask him to leave.
HMG likewise have a Reputation problem. The vast diplomatic community in London sets about its daily business safe in the knowledge that it will be treated lawfully and fairly, and that in return they should obey the rules. We can not afford to allow a precedent to be set that anyone wanting to escape British justice races to the nearest Embassy and gets a good deal. And, to be clear, the vast majority of Embassies quite like that austere situation - they do not want these unwelcome guests making a massive mess for them.
So what will happen later today? The Ecuadoreans will proclaim some sort of asylum status for Assange. Hurrah!
Then ... nothing will have changed.
Assange still at some point has to leave the building, and (probably) whatever new status Ecuador says he has will not be recognised by us, allowing him to be arrested and sent on his way (no doubt after yet more lucrative lawyerly litigation) to Sweden.
Perhaps a way could be found to make a joint UK/Ecuador request to Sweden for formal assurances that Assange will be dealt with properly as part of a deal for sending him there? That would help both governments (and indeed Sweden) manage this tedious matter with no lasting damage done at the diplomatic level.
Diplomacy: the art of finding ways to back down gracefully - and move on elegantly.
Back from a week working in Vienna. Here is my piece for Telegraph Blogs on the London 2012Olympics:
... maybe I am following the wrong people but there was also a torrent of British abuse aimed at the Closing Ceremony on numerous counts. The songs were wrong: howls of protest at the vapid ideological emptiness of John Lennon’s Imagine, a dirge that called for a world without countries at a ceremony celebrating each country’s own sporting achievement! The singers were wrong: why was Jessie J warbling against consumerism while circling the arena in a staggeringly expensive (and staggeringly beautiful) Rolls Royce? The imagery was ridiculous: why the embarrassing Churchill-quoting-Shakespeare routine demeaning both Churchill and Shakespeare? Who are those awful people?
All of which – and masses more – completely missed the point.
Both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Games themselves sent much more important messages round the planet. They presented a free, dynamic, confident, creative, inclusive, efficient, successful and inventive country in which women and men alike stand tall. And while most countries round the world enjoy some of those attributes, only a tiny number seriously can claim to meet them all...
In short, the Games presented our country to a vast global audience in an unforgettable and powerful way. The startling improvement in our medals tally since 1996 to the point where we have left behind our European partners and jumped past Russia into third place in the medals table is itself a testimony to smart investment and fine organisation over many years.
Time will tell if the ‘GB’ aspect of this triumph sinks Scottish separatism. It will not be easy now to trump the slogan that the UK is stronger than the sum of its parts when united. However, a case can be made that the biggest loser from the Games is the UK’s membership of the European Union.
Who now will want to get up and querulously try to insist that we risk losing out if we ‘go it alone’ as and when the European Union slumps into some sort of unhappy federalism and we politely head for the exit? On the contrary, the sheer manic quirky national energy unleashed by these Games shows that once the conditions are right this country can do truly astonishing things – all on its own.
My own favourite memory? A split second when Victoria Pendleton accelerated on the outside past a huddle of riders as if they were scarcely moving. Mind you, Mo Farah was quite good too.
Off to Vienna for another Negotiation Skills masterclass for international officials involved in highly sensitive weapns inspections processes. Away all next week, so do not expect too much here.
For something unusual to read in the meantime, look at this excellent piece by Mike D'Angelo about the famous jury drama movie 12 Angry Men. It argues that the jury was persuaded to look at a succession of small ambiguities that togther looked strange rather than the evidence taken as a whole:
Only a stone-hearted soul could fail to be moved watching Henry Fonda slowly, methodically sway 11 other jurors, one by one, employing only reason, compassion, and common sense as weapons. Should any of us ever be falsely accused and on trial for our lives, we’d certainly want someone like him advocating on our behalf. It’s a beautifully idealized depiction of how a jury of one’s peers should (theoretically) operate.
So what if they probably let a guilty man go free?
... None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.”
No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.
Or you’d have to be framed, which is what Johnnie Cochran was ultimately forced to argue—not just because of the DNA evidence, but because there’s no other plausible explanation for why every single detail points to O.J. Simpson’s guilt. But there’s no reason offered in 12 Angry Men for why, say, the police would be planting switchblades...
Very subtle points raised here about the standards we Common Law systems apply to facts and assumptions to help prove guilt and innocence, and the slippery psychological issues lying not far below the surface.
Russian negotiators aim to neutralise that approach by conveying a very different proposition: “It doesn’t matter how much you try to pressure us. First, we can withstand more pressure than you can possibly exert, or even imagine. Second, whatever you do to hurt us, we will do something far worse to hurt you".
It is always a pleasure to see it working so relentlessly and accurately in real life: