Have the Algerian authorities messed up this ghastly crisis, by forcing a deadly showdown?
One view says yes. Even if the terrorists had started killing the hostages under their control, it's better to keep trying to talk to them to head off complete disaster. An outcome in which some terrorists and some of their captives survive is 'better' than an outcome in which all or almost all die - better to salvage some human lives (even wicked ones) from the carnage than none.
The other view says that there are no meaningful criteria for assessing this extreme situation, and that as it's their country the Algerians must decide how such episodes are going to be tackled on their territory going forward. Looked at like this, the Algerian action sends a commendably clear message:
"If you kidnap people in Algeria and try to make political demands (eg for trading prisoners) using terrorist tactics, you will die and your demands will stay unmet. Maybe it's better to go somewhere else instead?"
A separate question is, of course, how far any action launched by the Algerians to tackle this situation was in fact done well. Western intelligence sources should have had almost real-time analysis of what was happening in and around the compound from all sorts of different information-flows, and perhaps watched aghast at some of the methods and tactics being used.
There again, once incidents like this start to unfold few countries (and especially countries in the Middle East or North Africa) are going to want to suffer the apparent loss of self-esteem involved in asking for outside technical help.
Plus who needs to introduce into an already difficult situation the potential Western legal niceties (and liabilities) over targetting and 'proportionality' that come with having Western soldiers directly - or at least openly - involved in the operation?
Indeed, refusing to call in top-end Western special forces is in effect part of the underlying message the Algerian leadership want to send to the terrorist world:
"We aren't playing these games according to Western 'best practice'. We are doing things our own way, and if that turns out to be a lot more chaotic and merciless than you can imagine, too bad for you."
No easy answers.
One good thing the UK government can do in such circumstances is to call out any journalist or pundit who talks about the terrorists 'executing' hostages. 'Execution' is a word that somehow legitimises these killers and their cause by suggesting an outcome arising from a legal process. Terrorists murder people.
Back from the crazy dynamism of Hanoi to the somewhat less than crazy dynamism of rural Oxfordshire.
While pulling together some pictures for a presentation next week on Moral Dilemmas in Diplomacy, I rummaged around in the Internet for images of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. I was the British government's representative dealing with the organisational aspects of the Games and so became an Olympic Attache - formally part of the British team, living in the Olympic Village.
The highpoint? This. If you haven't seen it for a while, sit back and relax - and wait for the scores.
It took us 18 years to win another Winter Games gold medal - in curling!
Here is my Telegraph Blogs piece on the terrible attack of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens:
There is no easy diplomatic response to such atrocities. Blaming the host country for poor security does not go far – usually they are as appalled as the rest of us at their embarrassing failure to keep diplomatic guests in their country safe.
There is a clear diplomatic path to follow when it looks as if an assassination has been perpetrated by a home-grown organised group: track down and punish the killers. A superb example is the painstaking work done over some years by the British Embassy in Athens to help the Greek authorities finally break the loathsome left-wing terrorist home-grown group November 17, who in June 2000 murdered our Defence Attaché Stephen Saunders. His wife Heather helped the investigation win much Greek public support by her brave media interviews.
But it is much harder where diplomatic victims are part of a wider symbolic target in a generally lawless situation and are killed indiscriminately at the hands of a suicide bomber (as in Baghdad in 2003, when a car bomb blew up the UN offices and the distinguished UN Special Representative Sergio de Mello was among the victims). After the fiercest public denunciations and slower but painfully expensive new security reviews, life has to continue as best it can – it is close to impossible ever to bring to formal justice those behind the murders.
It has not taken long for the death of Ambassador Stevens to get entangled in the US Presidential elections. The Republicans are pouncing on lugubrious Kumbaya-style Tweets put out by the US Embassy in Cairo before it too was attacked by Islamist extremists protesting at a fatuous marginal anti-Islamic video. The fact that the Tweets have now been quickly deleted (but of course captured elsewhere on the web for us now to mock) is a major presentational State Department own goal...
Amazingly it seems that the hapless US Embassy Tweeters in Cairo were foolishly trying to draw Mark Steyn into their inane burblings. Not wise:
I was flying for much of yesterday and only fitfully checking in with the Internet. But at an airport somewhere along the way, and without having heard a word about what was unfolding in Cairo, I found the U.S. embassy had started putting my Twitter handle in their prodigious and pathetic Twitter feed for Volume One of The Decline And Feed Of The American Empire. This was a fairly typical exchange:
US Embassy Cairo @USEmbassyCairo @ahmose_i @MarkSteynOnline We believe in respecting religion
Jim Simpson @jamesmsimpson @USEmbassyCairo @ahmose_I @MarkSteynOnline What about respecting yourselves? What about respecting the country you represent?
This is so embarrassing. We are tweeters in the heart of darkness. The Taliban, the Muslim Brothers, the Ayatollahs and most other fellows paying attention already understand American impotence, the lack of will and strategic honesty, all too well. We could at least cancel the Twitter account and stop advertising it quite so explicitly.
... we do know quite a bit about Ambassador Stevens, particularly the fact that he was a loud and principled proponent of the Libyan revolution from early on. He acted as the US envoy to the Libyan National Transitional Council and may have been among the key voices to persuade President Obama to back a no-fly zone to protect the civilian population from the depredations of Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Stevens spent a lot of time in the Middle East and North Africa and grew to love that part of the world, having taught English in Morocco for two years. His legacy will surely be as a staunch defender of the Libyan people’s right to self-determination. And while no one has the right to speak for him now, it would only compound the misery of his murder to read in it some grim irony about the comeuppance of America’s pro-democratic foreign policy...
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.
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?
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.
Anyone reading this blog regularly will know my views on the Bosnia story and the underlying struggles it epitomizes.
But as there is never enough of a good thing, here is a new longer piece from me over at TransConflict:
Basically, Yugoslavia was a set of sui generis contradictory and dishonest nationalist-socialist structures that for 45 years played down ‘national’ ethnicity for some purposes, while cementing it in to political life in others.
Approaching Dayton, the Americans were dimly aware of some of this, but it did not much matter to them. They were not interested in changing local mindsets or being reluctant imperialists.
The Americans defined the Dayton process not to fit Bosnia, but to fit Dick Holbrooke’s ambition and Bill Clinton’s timetable. They felt that they had made a huge new dangerous commitment to agree to US troops being on the ground in Bosnia – now the overwhelming priority was to get them home as soon as possible, preferably immediately after the 1996 BiH elections.
There was no prospect of the Americans or anyone else taking on a long-term responsibility to run Bosnia as a protectorate and sternly transform it into a modern democracy. On the contrary, the Dayton deal was designed to give Bosnians themselves and not the international community the leading role in running their country after its first ever free and fair elections. The so-called Bonn Powers of the High Representative (that I helped invent) were imposed later (arguably illegitimately) to try to make up for lost time...
Thus Dayton was a grimy US-driven deal cut with the territory’s “violent chauvinist elites” to stop the Bosnian war and create some chances for sensible pluralist political evolution. To make that happen the Americans incorporated their own unhappy creation of the ‘Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and this meant ceding to the Serbs ‘their’ Entity.
Yes, ‘Others’ as a distinct category were marginalised at Dayton and so thereafter. But their numbers, like the numbers of ‘Yugoslavs’ in SFRY, were small enough to be ignorable – and ignored. And that will remain the case far into the future.
Mr. Mujanović here has a strong if overstated point:
Dayton has created, instead, an exclusionary and particularistic linkage between particular “ethnic groups” (whose homogeneity is falsely assumed, as I have previously argued) and particular territories whose present demographic structures are the direct result of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the process, such a constitutional order has effectively disenfranchised persons of other ethnicities, minorities, persons from mixed-marriages and, most of all, civically-inclined individuals who do not identify either as Bosniak, Serb or Croat.
All I am saying is that Dayton drew heavily (and necessarily) on legal forms and precedents taken from the Yugoslav coercive socialist self-management ideological toolkit, which in turn drew on wider European/Soviet precedents.
And I say that this was not illogical or malevolent or even unwise. Because Dayton was set-up in this way, it gave the three dominant different ethno-religious communities as such strong political internationally supported guarantees. This ended the war, allowing generous international assistance to flood in.
Have the Bosnian elites used this investment well? No. The excuse that their wretched failings and corruption over 17 years are caused by the evils of the Dayton constitution does not convince me. Within that flawed framework, a transformative amount more could have been done – and still can be done – to improve living standards and bring in good democratic civic processes.
The whole point is not the one advanced by Mr Mujanovic, our young left-anarchist of Bosnian roots in faraway Canada.
It is that Diplomacy has Limits. Some things can be done, and of the things that can be done most of them involve unpleasant compromises. There is an eternal struggle between Is and Ought - between pragmatically accepting unhappy outcomes and striving (maybe vainly) for supposedly happier outcomes that meet a higher standard of decency and freedom. Both pragmatism and idealism have their merits.
If Mr Mujanovic can persuade the mass of Bosnians to adopt social networked media tools and campaign to bring down the inept ethnic leaderships now running the place in favour of his anarchistic anti-capitalist plans, good for him. I suspect he won't.
That said, I have often wondered how Dayton might have been done differently a few years later as Internet web-based technologies took off (back in 1995 remember that even email was a novelty for most people). That technology gives us quite different options for empowering citizens and bringing in far higher transparency in the public and private sectors alike. Peace deals can now be stacked in that direction. If anyone is interested.
The ultimate limit of diplomacy is that it is run by diplomats, not anarchists. Holbrooke was not a moral philosopher. He was a ruthless fixer, determined to drive through a Dayton peace deal for Bosnia, partly to help Bosnia as he saw it, and partly to impress President Clinton and help his own rise towards becoming US Secretary of State.
This meant that he was not interested in subtle questions going (say) to the way the first BH elections in 1996 were run. Different voting mechanisms and ways to arrange parliamentary seats might have led to very different and more reconciliatory outcomes. All that sort of thinking was pointy-headed European namby-pamby limpness.
Ah yes, they hoot, but all this is irrelevant and pernicious. Don't you see that it was all down to a Milosevic/Serbian genocidal master-plan?
Perhaps it was. But even if it was, what would have happened if Alija Izetbegovic had not pushed for the fatal referendum to force Bosnia to break from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the teeth of furious Serb opposition, but instead had called in international experts to help Yugoslavs and Bosnians design a new set of substantively democratic constitutional arrangements?
Things would have been appallingly messy and unpleasant for a long time. But might not many tens of thousands of people who died in the war still be alive today, and Bosnia a far happier and more prosperous place now?
If you let things get so bad that you need to outsource your new constitution to the Americans, don't be too surprised if you dislike the outcome?
I stir well clear of this one as I don't know anything significant about it from first-hand experience.
Here is a well-turned piece by Tom Phillips, my old colleague from the FCO and its handling of Balkan problems in 1999-2001 and then UK Ambassador to both Israel and Saudi Arabia. He lists 10 factors that individually and cumulatively point to unending deadlock.
Read the whole thing.
I have attempted to post a comment:
I am a former FCO colleague of Tom Phillips (from the late 1990s, dealing with Balkan issues).
The key one is (in my view) Rule 6: “It’s all about Jerusalem and the Right of Return”
There is always something trite about reductionist/essentialist arguments, but they nonetheless get to something really important. What IS this problem really 'about'?
As noted by other commenters, for Israelis this issue is about identity in a pretty direct sense - do they even exist as a coherent community, or not? Much Arab/Islamist opinion (now articulated in an extreme form by the Iran regime) says that they should not exist as the basis for a distinct state as currently constituted.
Given what happened in Europe in the mid-C20 it is not surprising that the Israel side feels that it has little room for manoevre when it comes to making concessions that might in a slippery slope way call Israel's very existence into question, de facto or de jure.
I recall President Izetbegovic telling me that the Bosniac/Muslim community in Bosnia was so small (some 2 million people) that it could not afford "ethnic disarmament" for fifty years until it was quite sure that its neighbours (Serbs/Croats) were not bent on scattering it.
The underlying dynamic here too is therefore simple. Neither side sees any advantage in "ethnic disarmament".
The emerging Arab/Islamist mainstream is content for Israel's resistance to erode over time by creating an endless existential unpleasant if not violent uncertainty. The Israeli leadership responds by digging in hard: it finds no propsect of even finding let alone parking on a safe place that guarantees Israel's very existence. The Palestinians are collateral damage.
The article spots this on Rule 9: "[Israel] will face eventual extinction if it does not make its peace with the locals rather than continue to rely on its overseas backers (for the US now read Christian Europe then). So the Arabs can wait."
Railing against Washington does not help. It is understandable and arguably good that if the Americans are forced to choose between a country that practises some form of substantive democracy/pluralism and a whole range of countries that are substantively undemocratic, openly homophobic and/or national socialist, it will choose the Israel option.
The best way to create a context within which Israel can be compelled to look for strategic compromises is to democratise the Middle East and give citizens there some direct stake in a reasonable peace process and growing shared prosperity.
Unfortunately the world for 50 years has accepted the worst and most extreme forms of Arab undemocracy, not least in Saudi Arabia itself. In short, a policy of "the worse the better" suits too many capitals. Thus Rule 10.
Over at the FT (may be paywalled) is an interesting article by Wolfgang Münchau explaining why the 'pro-Europe' tendency is struggling to articulate a coherent position (basically because if they do, it won't get supported in Germany).
One reader William Thayer Snr offers this terse thought:
Let me state it quite simply. The major problem that has caused the Eurozone mess is that Europeans aren't working enough, and this is especially true in the countries needing bailouts. Europeans work approximately 1500 hours/year vs. US workers at 2000 hours/year. Yet Europeans want roughly the same lifestyle.
There is a problem with that approach. It is called "REALITY"
Here is an unusually astute piece by Aaron David Miller at Foreign Policy looking at key negotiation mistakes made at the 2000 Camp David Peace Talks which he followed at first hand.
You'll need to read the whole thing to get the breadth of his argument. What is good is that he boils things down to manageable categories:
Mistake 1: Don't issue the invites before you brief the president and gauge your chances
To this day, the more I think about this, the more extraordinary it seems. Before we had a chance to actually sit down with Clinton to determine where the gaps on the key issues were, to assess whether they could be bridged, and whether the president was prepared to develop a strategy to bridge them, we had already issued invitations to the party...
Maybe. Of course it is risky to put the President's personal authority on the line without working out potential downsides. But sometimes you need to make power-plays to capture the imagination of people and try thereby to seize the moment. The very fact of calling the meeting brings new energy and compels the parties to look hard at some basic issues, perhaps as never before.
Still, he gives a good answer on this one:
Risks are part of the job description, as are moving forward often with imperfect options. But gauging those risks honestly and weighing the consequences of failure are critical. And it wasn't done. I blame myself plenty: I remember how impressed I was by Clinton's comment after the briefings that trying and failing was better than not trying all.
But what was I smoking? This was a presidential summit. And while it was long on good intentions, it was short on honesty, clarity, and good analysis. The president's credo was appropriate for high school and college sports; it can't be the working assumption on which the world's greatest power bases its approach to negotiations or foreign policy.
Clinton had a great relationship with both Arafat and Barak. He should have said separately to each leader beforethe invitations went out: Give me your bottom lines in confidence on the core issues. And while both would have held something back, to be given up only in the heat of the summit, we would have had a pretty good sense of where the gaps were.
At that point, we could have assessed whether those gaps could be bridged and whether the president was willing to try. If the answer was no, they can't be bridged, Clinton could have said to both: We need more time; or he could have said: We'll have a different kind of summit, with the expectation that we can meet again if we can't work matters out. But neither of you will blame the other...
Mistake 2: Don't coordinate with one side only
America has a special relationship with Israel. You can hate that fact or revel in it, but it's unlikely to change anytime soon. A unique confluence of shared values, moral obligation, domestic politics, and strategic concerns have created a unique bond quite different from America's ties with just about any other country, with the possible exception of Britain.
Yet, to be an effective and successful mediator, even facilitator, you need detachment, credibility, and enough impartiality to get all sides to trust and do the deal. In every example of successfully brokered U.S. diplomacy -- Henry Kissinger's disengagement agreements of 1973 to 1975; Jimmy Carter's 1977 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; and James Baker's 1991 Madrid peace conference diplomacy -- the United States was able to play this role.
At the second Camp David summit, it didn't. Not only did we consistently coordinate our positions with the Israelis, showing them our negotiating texts first -- a practice I might add the Palestinians had come to expect -- but we saw the issues largely from Israel's point of view. I remember how impressed we all were when we learned that Barak was willing to concede 80 percent of the West Bank...
The Israelis' red lines, which would later became pink ones, reflected our baseline, even if we were prepared to push them a bit further.We rationalized this of course by the historic nature of what Barak was prepared to give and by Arafat's refusal to budge much off his need for 100 percent of everything. But the idea that the Palestinians would have to come down to Israel's positions rather than the Israelis moving closer to theirs was built in to our negotiating DNA...
That said, it might be argued that precisely because the Americans were so close to the Israelis the Palestinians may have seen opportunities that would not have been available had the show been run by a 'neutral' mediator.
NB The USA was a not a mediator in this problem. It was a power-player hoping to use its weight to bundle through a deal. All sides knew what was going on and took their chances accordingly.
Mistake 3: Don't lose control
Camp David lasted 13 days, but the summit actually was over on the fourth day. That was the day we lost control of the negotiations and undermined our own credibility and respect as a mediator. Again, let's be clear: This conflict isn't owned by the United States, and the country isn't going to be in a position to force either side to do things it doesn't want to do. But to succeed, the American side requires the respect of both sides and a refusal to be pushed around at key moments.
One of those moments arrived on the summit's fourth day, and it involved something we never took seriously enough -- a negotiating text. Samuel Goldwyn, the great Hollywood producer, once quipped that a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on.
At the first Camp David summit, involving Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, and Carter, the Americans controlled the text -- incorporating changes from each side, working through compromises, accepting some, and rejecting others. That text went through 20-plus drafts before an agreement was reached.
On that fateful fourth day, July 14, we had prepared a text designed to identify where the gaps were on key issues. We showed it to Barak first. He hated it, and we changed it to accommodate him. We then showed it to the Palestinians, and Arafat rejected it too.
The exercise was dead -- and so, frankly, was our credibility.
I am not sure why this point is made in this way. Or why it meant that US credibility was lost once and for all. It's not really explained. And the very idea of 'control' is controversial - unless the chair's role is fully explained and accepted in advance, the control it thinks it has may turn out to be illusory.
The article concludes thus:
Jonathan Schwartz, our lawyer on the delegation and perhaps the most gifted mind in the negotiating business, said it best: We had no respect for the issues and how complex they really were. Perhaps, if there's ever another Camp David summit, we will.
Nice. That's the hardest thing in many tough negotiation situations - to get the issues (and underlying interests and needs) honestly and thoroughly articulated.
To do that means putting aside a lot of time at the start for listening in a way that is closer to 'therapy' than it is to politics. Only by working through that painful process can enough trust be built to create space for deep compromises.
And (usually) busy world leaders just don't have the time - or the technical skill - to sit through all that.
Walter Russell Mead produces smart analysis and informed wisdom at a rate that puts the rest of us to shame.
He blogs at The American Interest. Try any of his recent pieces and marvel at the breadth of his knowledge and insight. This one on the problems facing Europe caught my eye:
The euro isn’t the only governance problem that threatens the European project, but the preoccupation of European elites with their horrible currency experiment and its devastating consequences means that there is ever less political capital and will available to deal with other pressing matters. The southeast of the EU is fraying: Cyprus is looking to Moscow along with non-member Serbia, Greece is growing alienated.
Progress toward resolving the Balkan problems in Bosnia and Kosovo seems to have stopped and even gone into reverse. Corruption in Bulgaria and Romania is if anything a growing problem. The EU’s influence in Ukraine is on the wane. In Hungary and now Romania some basic legal and constitutional principles are at risk...
The political structures of both NATO and the EU mean that the degradation of democracy or the erosion of western influence in southeastern Europe is more than a local question. Any NATO member can veto joint action by the alliance. And EU members who remain in the club but are hostile to its core values and ambitions can wreak all kinds of havoc.
The bottom line: The EU is in much more trouble than the media’s focus on the euro would lead you to believe — and America’s interests are much more affected by these problems than perhaps even most of our national leaders understand.
Gripping. But how true is it?
A grand theme in literature (see eg Macbeth) is the idea that the very act of imagining doing something wicked somehow impels the person who has had that evil thought to do the deed. It's as if we all have within us some moral constraints: by thinking the unthinkable we break our own limits and the unthinkable is not only thinkable - it is thought and then done.
So for the past 40 years or so the countries of Western Europe have not thought in any serious way at all about leaving the European Union or breaking it up to form something else. Armed with that sense of unity and (if you like) solidarity based on agreed shared purposes, the institutional basis for European integration has been widened and deepened to a remarkable extent. It was not always easy, and many of the results have been ambiguous. But we trusted each other.
Now, all of a sudden, the mood is changing.
Unease is stalking the corridors of power across Europe. What if the whole project is in fact built on wobbly if not unsound foundations? What if it starts to fray? What if there are limits on solidarity, not least limits on the willingness of the Finns/Germans/Dutch to use their hard-earned wealth to prop up others who have not worked, er, quite so hard?
What if someone suddenly cracks, jumps ship and quits the Eurozone? Could others follow? Is there a risk that we and a few other suckers will be the only ones left on board as the ship hits the rocks? Should we start making plans to jump ourselves, before it's too late? Who in this mess really can be trusted?
That thought is horrible. The very fact that we are having it is horrible! It's transgressive.
But having had the thought it can not be unthought.
It's out there in our EU minds, gnawing away, waiting for its moment to pounce and drive us to do something we literally could not have imagined only a short while ago.
As you know, this blog takes the view that in a globalised world a terrorist threat to the networks that support modern life are a threat to us all. And that international law doctrines of self-defence and 'national sovereignty' need to be redefined accordingly:
if a state wants the benefit of modern networks and the human ingenuity they support, it must take on a fair share of the responsibility for protecting them
that means that if a threat to these networks is identified on the territory of state X, state X has to deal with it
it also means that if state X is unable or unwilling to deal with that threat, other states have the right to intervene to do so, respecting principles of proportionality, due process (as far as possible), and reasonableness
How in practice is this working out? Quite well, thanks to drone warfare. US methods and the latest technologies are being used to destroy terrorists (and terrorist suspects) in remote corners of the planet where local security forces can't (or won't) operate.
Help! Targeted killings! Murder!
It's legitimate self-defence in the modern era, done with as much discipline and tight operational focus and minimal collateral damage as can be mustered. Better that we attack these people in their backyard than we wait for them to attack us in ours.
But, you ask, who decides whom to attack, and how are those fateful decisions taken?
We now have the answer, thanks to the New York Times. Here:
It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.
The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.
“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
I have linked before to the superb work of Kenneth Anderson in this sensitive but vital area. Here he looks at the NYT piece with a keen eye:
... the administration wants to send a clear signal that the President considers and signs off on these personally, and that this is far from a perfunctory or unconsidered sign-off. I applaud the President for this level of personal review; I think it is right.
This signal carries a certain ambiguity, however – one that I believe the administration needs to consider closely. The ambiguity lies in whether the President’s personal, considered attention to each decision is understood and conveyed to the public as a matter of the burden of the institutional presidency – something that would be no less true of a President Romney than a President Obama.
In that case the implication is that President Obama is stepping up to the plate to establish a process not just for himself, but for his successors and for the institution of the presidency. And he does so in a way that both sets a precedent (in the sense of a certain burden) for the proper level of involvement of the president in targeted killing decisions.
But, while setting a presidential burden, this also gives future presidents important institutional legitimacy, through the weight of precedent established by the acts of a prior president, and institutional stability – to targeted killing, specifically, but also by implication to the emerging paradigm of covert and small-scale self-defense actions against non-state terrorist actors which, in the future, may or may not have anything to do with Al Qaeda and might be addressed to wholly new threats.
The alternative is that President Obama is sending a signal that these actions are legitimate only because he is personally trusted to do the right thing on these decisions, just because he is Barack Obama. His constituencies trust him with this power in a way that they would not entrust to any other president, including those who come after.
In other words, there is a question implicit in the New York Times description as to whether the President is conferring a purely personal legitimacy that disappears with this presidency, or whether he and his administration are creating a long term process, and conferring the weight of institutional legitimacy on it.
It is obvious from how I’ve framed the ambiguity that I believe that the administration has an obligation to create lasting institutional structures, processes, institutional settlement around these policies. It owes it to future presidencies; every current president is a fiduciary for later presidents.
It also owes it to the ordinary officials and officers, civilian and military, who are deeply involved in carrying out killing and death under the administration’s claims of law – it needs to do everything it can to ensure that things these people do in reliance on claims of lawfulness will be treated as such into the future ... there is still room for the players involved to say clearly that these processes are legitimate for the executive, this president and future presidents.
In this area President Obama has set a high and powerful standard. Just as Republicans will continue to snipe at his 'weakness' in foreign policy (because that's what Republicans do), Democrats will hoot at President Romney's out-of-control abuse of power when he does the same (because that's what Democrats do). Meanwhile one-by-one these villains will be picked off.
All of which duly noted, let's also agree that we are at a technological and civilisational turning-point.
For now these high-precision UAV/drones and their supporting networks are still controlled by a handful of states. Good. But the technology will leak and get cheaper and better. Not so good.
In due course the terrorists themselves will get their hands on the kit that allows them to launch remote micro-attacks against us.
These days we can just about stop the IRA lobbing a mortar bomb into the garden of No 10 Downing St. How do we plan to stop a terrorist drone the size of a small soup-plate armed with a lethal poison dart wafting quietly over St James's Park and hovering in the trees near the Trooping of the Colour, waiting to zoom down using its face recognition technology and stab King William as he takes the Royal Salute? Or a flock of them zig-zagging over London, nipping to and fro and bumping off random civilians?
A banquet of food for thought. But this point about the way Nazis were dealt with after WW2 by the Brits and Americans respectively caught my eye:
If Germans could be influenced strongly in their beliefs during the Nazi period, is there any evidence of the opposite once racial hatred became an official taboo after 1945? We compare the level of anti-Semitism in the different zones of occupation. The former British zone today has by far the least anti-Semitic beliefs, even after controlling for pre-1945 differences. The American zone, on the other hand, has strong levels of support for anti-Jewish views.
Based on a detailed examination of occupation policies, we argue that these differences probably reflect different approaches to de-Nazification. The American authorities ran a highly ambitious and punitive programme which resulted in many incarcerations and convictions, with numerous, low-ranking officials banned and punished. Citizens were confronted with German crimes, forced to visit concentration camps, and attend education films about the Holocaust. There was a considerable backlash, and perceived fairness was low. The Jewish Advisor to the American Military Government concluded in 1948 that “... if the United States Army were to withdraw tomorrow, there would be pogroms on the following day.”
In contrast, the British authorities pursued a limited and pragmatic approach that focused on major perpetrators. Public support was substantial, perceived fairness was higher, and intelligence reports concluded that the population even wanted more done to pursue and punish Nazi officials...
This idea has huge ramifications for social policy and the way we look at it.
The piece suggests that simply going after Nazi Big Fish in post-WW2 Germany was far more effective at changing attitudes and instincts than going after Big and Medium and some Small fish, generally rubbing the Germans' collective nose in the vile crimes done in their name and massly supported directly or indirectly by millions of Germans themselves.
Such a policy of course has a direct cost - it allows plenty of people with dirt on their hands to tip-toe away from their misdeeds, and indeed to start to say or even believe that the whole problem was nothing to do with them - somehow they all had got carried away or manipulated.
Yet on the one key issue, namely responsibility for the whole disaster Auschwitz represented, the Pope seemed to me to fall short:
... a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.
This contrives to portray the German people as bamboozled victims, rather than people who in their many millions voted for Hitler and otherwise supported him. Not everyone, for sure. But Germans en masse were not only used and abused. In good part they brought their suffering on themselves, and set in motion untold suffering for countless millions of others.
Pope Benedict might have dealt with this by saying a word about his own connection with the Hitler Youth and the power of temptation, or otherwise addressing each individual's accountability for mass wickedness committed in his/her name. But one way or the other, the formula used here did not, for me, do the trick.
Maybe even the Pope is unable to confess fully and frankly? And perhaps that's the point?
On the other hand, if people have done wrong maybe there is merit in letting them come round to thinking about the issues in a less confrontational fashion, while still punishing the very worst offenders. That arguably diminishes Justice but increases the prospects for longer-term Peace. See war crimes trials for former Yugoslavia - it's much easier to run high-profile punishments (many of them richly deserved) than address reconciliation in a deeper sense.
Which brings us to the present UK approach to most social issues, where the effective emphasis (racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination, bullying, drunkenness, obesity) trends towards the 'stamping out' or (even worse) 'kicking out' improper behaviur and thoughts.
Put to one side the explicit violent-quasi fascist nature of this sort of discourse (as seen on a poster talking about 'Kicking out Racism' seen on the wall in the Oxford DVLA offices - QED). It carries the implication that anyone thinking certain things has to be punished severely. It is not about persuasion - it is about fear.
If you want to change behaviour and attitudes over the long run, maybe a more subtle approach needs to be used? Or at least be more graceful about the way attitudes in many areas are changing, and stop screeching that anyone still who has not been converted to politically correct behaviour and thought is some sort of extreme lunatic? One for the forthcoming US elections...
It obviously suited both sides to cut some sort of quick deal, including the Chinese expressing strong dissatisfaction with the US willingness to take Chen in, and (according to the FT account) noting that the US side has expressed 'contrition' and "promised to take measures to prevent a similar event from happening again".
That, depending on what if anything has been promised, contritely or otherwise,, could be a moderately embarrassing outcome for the Americans: "we are an island of freedom - just don't try to get in!". Against that Hillary Clinton's visit to Beijing can go ahead without this issue being the main story, a vital outcome for Obama (and indeed Hillary).
If Chen ends up leaving China for the USA, it could be better for the Chinese leadership than having him in the country as a photogenic symbol of opposition. Once outside he can be dismissed as someone cowardly who 'ran away'...
* * * * *
Here is a piece I wrote for Telegraph Blogs on the different Shrekish layers involved in the flight of Chen Guangcheng to the sanctuary of the US Embassy in Beijing.
By the way, don't you just hate the word 'dissident'? It defines someone in terms of what s/he opposes (here communist one-party rule) rather than what s/he wants, and thereby subtly downgrades the cause. Here is the Guardian describing Chen as a 'dissident physicist'. I recall with honour how back in 1984 the overweight FCO HR woman in flousy peasant-style clothes ticked me off for being argumentative when I told her how senior Embassy colleagues had dismissed my conversation with Yugoslav 'dissidents':
I left the post in 1984. Back at HQ I went along to Personnel to discuss my future. ‘You are getting a reputation for being argumentative,’ said the frumpy HR lady. ‘Wouldn’t you argue if you saw disaster looming but everyone else ignored it?’ I replied in some exasperation.
‘See, you’re arguing again,’ came the smug response.
I still remember this conversation so vividly, not least the supercilious but unimaginative female on the other side of the table. I pointed out to her that it had been annoying dealing with senior Embassy colleagues who instructed me to go out and talk to Yugoslav dissidents and get their devasting observations on the fecklessness of the Yugo-communists, but then could not spell when they wrote afterwards that these people were 'obviously dissaffected'.
"I find that hard to believe", she sniffed.
Back to Chen:
You might ask why a host embassy does not simply smuggle such sanctuary-seekers out of the country. First, it is not that easy to do so: it took amazing preparation for the British embassy in Moscow famously to "exfiltrate" top KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky out of Moscow in 1985 under the noses of the Soviet authorities. More importantly, such a move would be a profound abuse of long-established codes of diplomatic privilege, and risk far-reaching retaliation from a furious host government, on a scale which would make normal diplomatic life for the embassy concerned impossible for a good time to come.
Similarly, host governments almost never storm an embassy to get back by force their errant citizen. Why bother? That citizen is going nowhere fast. And the new situation creates intriguing new opportunities for making difficult demands and stiffening existing positions.
What factors might influence how long he stays under US protection? It all comes down to Shrek's layers:
A more productive way to look at the problem is via Shrek and onions: it will have many layers.
One layer is all about what happens to Chen Guangcheng himself. Another is the consequences of his new situation for his friends and family and supporters. Then there is the layer of what this episode might mean for wider moves towards or back from political freedom in China. And the layer of wider US and Western support for political freedom in China. And the layer of US/China bilateral trade deals, and Chinese support for the miserable eurozone. Did I mention tensions in the Korean peninsula and other Asian defence questions? And the layer of how to begin to tackle all these subjects and many more during the forthcoming visit of Hillary Clinton.
Not to forget the fat layer of domestic politics in both countries. Mitt Romney has been quick to urge President Obama to protect Chen Guangcheng, signalling that an outcome involving Chen being handed back to the unforgiving Chinese authorities will be a major US election Republican rallying cry. That is a cheap and predictable shot (and none the worse for that). It may help the Obama administration tell Beijing that for now Chen gets free board and lodging at the US taxpayers’ expense, allowing a more leisurely process to unfold as the two sides manoeuvre within and across different layers, maybe wrapping this problem up later as part of a wider inter-layer deal which can be presented by both as honourable.
Beijing too has its own political processes to manage in China’s seething online world. Whatever the outcome, the Communist leadership will not want to appear weak, the more so after so successfully belittling President Obama at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. This is not the China of 1989 which could, perhaps, be lent on by wily Henry Kissinger and persuaded to let Fang Lizhi depart. This is a tough, confident country aspiring to global leadership, determined to show the world and its own people that it can not be pushed around, under any circumstances.
So what next? It could all be over quickly if the Chinese and Americans both want it to be over quickly, and can find a way to get Chen out of immediate US protection which does not cause either side – or Chen himself – any lasting embarrassment. It could drag on for years. Or at least until after the US Presidential elections.
One thing is for sure. Chen soon will be heartily sick of bland US embassy frozen food.
Here is an excellent and readable analysis of a failed attempt by a Congolese national based in Brussels to persuade a Belgian court to ban the 1930s book Tintin in the Congo on (basically) the grounds that it promoted and still promotes racist hatred.
The legal move failed:
This is all the more important since the fundamental problem with the claims is that they would simply open the floodgates for innumerable additional prohibitions, if they were to be allowed. Tintin in the Congo is undoubtedly offensive to many people, but if its contents are brought under the prohibitions of the Anti-racism Act, then an endless list of other works would also wind up in the crosshairs. This is true for most religious books, as well as many of the great literary works, and the writings of virtually all great thinkers of early modernity. Allowing a legal ban on such speech therefore implies the abolition of freedom of expression itself.
All things considered, it is puzzling that the applicants opted to pursue a judicial solution in this case. In doing so, they could only lose. It was clear, from the start, that the comic’s contents – albeit offensive – did not amount to a violation of the anti-racism legislation; let alone that this would be the case for publishing and distributing it...
Meanwhile in a New York public library the book is kept locked away, so extraordinarily offensive are said to be its contents. Not only its banal and awful representation of Africans: also the passage where Tintin drills a hole in a rhinocerous - and blows it up with dynamite!
As the first article notes, all this negative 'politically correct' criticism is having the predictable effect: soaring sales for the book:
Precisely because Mondondo and the Cran opted for a legal solution, the applicants were routinely portrayed as overly sensitive, ‘politically correct’, and bent on censorship. Even the Centre for Equal Opportunities – the Belgian agency responsible for enforcing the federal discrimination legislation – warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness”. In other words, the legal approach has not given rise to the desired critical discussion about the comic itself.
On a separate but not unrelated note, what about the C19 German Inky Boys who spitefully teased the Black-a-moor and were turned as black as ink themselves?
It's easiest (and more importantly wisest) just to be realistic and honest. Attitudes and prejudices do change - let history do the job and gradually swallow up myriad earlier primitive prejudices and their written form.
News that Chinese democracy supporter Chen Guangcheng has sought asylum in the US Embassy in Beijing prompts me to link again to a piece I write for DIPLOMAT magazine about famed episodes of Embassies sheltering people fleeing from their own government.
This theme features in The Hiketeia, a graphic novel turning on the moral responsibilities of asylum. A mysterious young woman arrives at the Themiscyran embassy and seeks asylum under hiketeia, a ritual of the ancient Greeks involving mutual obligations of supplication and protection. Princess Diana (aka Wonder Woman) uneasily accepts, only to find herself dragged into a dark struggle of vengeance and justice – and a fierce battle with Batman.
These Embassy asylum issues can drag on. The world record is 15 YEARS:
The world record for someone staying inside an embassy – to the vexation of the host government – is 15 years, set by fiercely anti-communist Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty. In 1956 in Hungary he was freed from prison during the brief pro-democracy revolution, but when Soviet forces invaded the country a few days later, he sought sanctuary in the United States Embassy. There he stayed until 1971, when he was allowed to leave the country under Ostpolitik, never to return...
Even communist leaders have tried the Embassy escape route:
One excellent case was the peregrinating disgraced East German communist leader, Erich Honecker. Notorious for his unwavering confidence in Marxism even as it crashed around him in 1989 – ‘the Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not yet removed’– he ended up in Moscow after East Germany collapsed in 1989, only to find the Soviet Union too collapsing. With the German authorities calling for him to return home to answer for communist crimes, he fled to the Embassy of Chile where he knew the Ambassador. After months of undignified tomfoolery, he was finally sent back to Germany by the Russian authorities to face trial, but then was allowed to travel to Chile to die as his health failed.
This one has the potential to turn into a vast diplomatic and political sensation, with unfathomable implications for US/China relations.
How can the Americans bundle him out of the door to face certain abuse? Smuggling him out of the country in a diplomatic bag would be a grave abuse of international law and cause more trouble than it solves. And why should the Chinese leadership even consider making any concessions to someone who is embarrassing them so determinedly?
Maybe a dirty quick deal will be cut to find a face-saving formula for all concerned. Or not.
I have written at length here and else where about the moral and policy challenges arising from engagement with wicked regimes elsewhere in the world. See this piece in January about the lawsuit against former MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen over his alleged role in 'rendition' to Libya:
In the real world of foreign policy it makes no sense to take a stark “no compromise” position of substance with dictatorships. They exist. They have UN and other votes. They can export trouble. They probably have Ambassadors in London and Washington. Your aircraft may need to fly over their territory. They may agree with you on various obscure but essential international technical issues.
In short, it's complicated. You almost always end up with some form of “engagement”. But ad hoc technical exchanges or opportunistically looking for areas to build common ground is not the same thing as having a policy of Engagement -- deliberately using a range of options (openly or otherwise) to bring out slow reforms in some other country.
This is what the Blair decision to “engage” energetically with Libya was all about. MI6 was acting under a clear political steer from the top of government to err on the side of “cooperation” rather than confrontation.
Does that mean that “anything goes” in advancing cooperation? Surely not. Lines need to be drawn, and hard decisions taken (see egAl-Megrahi/Lockerbie).
Which brings us to this new situation: certain decisions concerning Libya under Gaddafi now call to be investigated as (perhaps) they strayed into territory which might be seen as unwise, immoral or even unlawful.
So be it. But let’s remember that MI6 is always very careful to get political clearance for sensitive operations. So while the police are emptying out MI6 filing cabinets, they might start asking T Blair, G Brown, J Straw and other Labour leaders the usual questions: What did you know about these renditions? And when did you know it?
There is (of course) no allegation that any British politicians or officials wanted or intended Belhadj to be mistreated/tortured. Rather that they were 'complicit' in the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Gaddafi regime. The argument will run that either they knew, or suspected, or reasonably should have suspected, that such abuse could occur.
So what does 'complicit' mean in these circumstances. I have looked at that that one here:
The term is used in the UN Convention Against Torture. According to the best available formal legal pronouncement upon the subject (namely by the Hague Tribunal dealing with war crimes in former Yugoslavia) it means this:
(1) knowledge that torture is taking place;
(2) a contribution by way of assistance, which
(3) has a substantial effect on the perpetration of the crime of torture itself
Complicity is quite tightly defined here. Anyone complicit in torture would have to be close to the act of torture and 'assisting' it to the point of helping perpetrate the crime.
This is all very technical on one level, but very simple on another. Thus, if (say) HMG are getting via the CIA a stream of reports from eg Uzbekistan which might well have been produced by Uzbek torture, are HMG thereby 'complicit' in that torture by virtue of 'acquiescing' in it?
On the face of it, clearly not. There may well be knowledge or at least very strong suspicions, but there is no British 'assistance' or other contribution which impacts on the acts of torture (if any) themselves.
The landmark House of Lords ruling in 2005 looked at various legal questions arising from dealings with regimes which practise torture and at the status of information known or suspected to have been derived from torture. It drew a vital and respectable distinction between the need for the executive part of government to fulfil its duty to protect the UK public, and what might or might not be used in court (eg could information possibly extracted under torture overseas be admissible as evidence against terrorist suspects? No).
What's the point here?
The point is that dealing with vile regimes involve highly problematic policy choices. In Libya - NB in good part as a response to Nelson Mandela's personal lobbying of Tony Blair - HMG decided to engage with Gaddfi and offered him a Deal: renounce your WMD and sort out Lockerbie, and in return rejoin the civilised world. This deal started to look very attractive to Gaddafo after Saddam fell, and so it was struck.
Thanks to brilliant British and US diplomacy, Libya's capacity to wage international mischief using weapons of mass destruction almost completely vanished. But in return for getting that outcome, we had to 'engage' a lot more closely with the Gaddafi elite. It looks as if that in part ended up with helping them track down some particularly annoying regime opponents.
Jack Straw and Tony Blair presided over that policy, so if the litigation has to fly around it is right too that they be joined in any action. MI6 operational submissions typically are signed off by top FCO officials or the Foreign Secretary personally, depending on their perceived problematicness if things go wrong. On especially sensitive requests No 10 would be consulted.
Note that there are different ways in which Straw/Blair could have directly endorsed any 'rendition' policy:
MI6 might have asked for and been given specific authorisation to help send Belhadj back to Libya
MI6 might have asked for general authorisation to help with a small number of specific rendition cases as and when opportunity arose, and then got on with it without any further submissions to the Foreign Secretary or No 10
MI6 might have been given a broad instruction to use their common sense in developing relations with Gaddafi's people as part of the Deal, and then decided for themselves what actions might or might not be appropriate
One way or the other, there will be a very clear paper trail.
My view? That this litigation is pernicious, unprincipled and destructive.
Belhadj was abused (if he was abused) by Gaddafi's people in Libya. The Libyan state should compensate him, not the UK taxpayer.
Under any conceivable accepted legal sense of the word 'complicit', HMG were not complicit in any abuse he suffered. If Belhadj wants to sue anyone he should sue the CIA, who apparently helped send him back to Libya. He has shown up in the UK courts only because the UK and ECHR human rights law allows almost any aggrieved person to sue for anything, undeterred by London lawyers who may well hope to get huge fees at taxpayers' expense.
NOOOOO! hoot the human rights industry. It was torture! The full truth must come out!
Wrong. If we are to have any intelligence effort at all, it must be allowed to operate under reasonable if confidential democratic control and within a decent legal framework.
That does not mean that the UK courts should assert to themselves the right to weigh the balance of fiendishly difficult policy choices. In this case the global cause of reducing weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an unstable dictatorship was a huge prize: if that meant doing Gaddafi some murky favours, so be it. That sort of engagement is the only way to deal with bad regimes and help move them in a better direction.
It can't be said often enough, so I'll say it again:
Above all, if you engage with dirty people, how to avoid some of their dirt ending up on you? The promise of Engagement is that it offers the hope of slowly but surely changing things for the better; the danger is that while you are doing that, the key leaders of the regime in fact get far richer and learn how to be oppressive in new, cleverer ways.
So in the Libya case. The stupid/wicked/naive Brits trained the Libyan security forces! Of course we did: if you want to set in motion a process of reform and enlightenment in such regressive institutions, what else to do?
Think about what this means in practice. If the Libyan secret police are known torturers, you will be training them while their torturing ways continue. Even if the total amount of Libyan torture declines sharply as a direct result of Libyans cleaning up their act during the wider normalisationprocess, your trainers in one way or the other will be helping a torturing regime be more efficient.
Yet without outside democratic engagement (and the high-level civilisational rewards which rightly flow to the regime for behaving in a less extreme way) the chances of reducing Libyan torture at all (and thereby opening some small new space for opposition trends) are hugely reduced...
The whole squalid business will no doubt end up in some sort of pay-off, funded by the UK taxpayer. The imediate risk of course now is that as a way of asserting their own moral rectitude the current British government will be pleased to see former Labour Ministers writhing in legal knots, and so not defend the key principles involved with unrelenting severity. This weakness in turn will prompt more lawsuits in the English courts designed to create maximum embarrassment and disruptiveness, and so mean that our intelligence services have to pull punches in tackling the planet's villains on our behalf.
High-order weakness and policy folly - and corrosive of the very liberal values which supposedly inspire this litigation.
After Bosnia's first post-conflict elections in 1996, the Contact Group Ambassadors led by High Representative Carl Bildt had to meet Izetbegovic to try to persuade him to accept the highly annoying proposal of co-President Krajisnik - then still unindicted on war crimes charges - that the new BH collective Presidency meet alternatively in the two BH Entities. This in practice meant that Izetbegovic would have to set foot in Republika Srpska - something he found repugnant. Izetbegovic insisted that all the Presidency meetings take place in down-town Sarajevo, which Krajisnik likewise claimed to find objectionable.
When our meeting with Izetbegovic happened, the International Community urged Izetbegovic to be flexible, to get his country's governance going again after so much disaster. Was a rotation of the sort Krajisnik proposed really so bad? Izetbegovic finally lost his temper as we nagged him and said crossly in Bosnian "OK, whatever he wants - we can rotate every first, second or fifth time (svaki prvi, drugi, peti put)!"
But his interpreter/adviser saw that he had been worn down. She brazenly translated that outburst as something quite different, holding the earlier line against the sort of rotation he had just accepted.
When Bildt and the Ambassadors returned to base there was general gloom at our failure to make any impact, until I (having been the only one of us who spoke Bosnian) told them that Izetbegovic had in fact made an important concession.
When the deliberate mistranslation happened, I could have intervened briskly to ask the interpreter to give a correct account of what Izetbegovic had just said. I don't remember now why I did not. A fleeting moment of self-restraint? But if I had done so that might have made things worse, as he would have been embarrassed and humiliated as well as annoyed. Being Right is one thing. Being Wise is another.
The interesting point of technique is that last one. It would have been bad to embarrass Izetbegovic in front of top international represenatives by pointing out that his favoured interpreter had, basically, lied. Better to quietly note his concession and build on it in slower time, as in fact happened.
Here is another cracking Izetbegovic interpreter story. This time Izetbegovic deliberately chose NOT to use his interpreter so that he could claim after his meeting with Robin Cook that something had been said which had not been said. A classic example of BBD - Banal Balkan Duplicity.