Can businessmen become diplomats?

Editorial Two

Issue 382 December 1, 2017

Diplomat are among the finest people that we journalists meet and learn about their country, culture and people. Far from being business people (at least those from countries like India, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia), they are bastions of public service and maintain a safe distance from the commercial world, in order that their decisions are unaffected and unbiased.

Times are changing.

Six years ago, writing in the New Zealand Herald, Bryan Gould, former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, outlined the changing trend in the appointment of diplomats – rather ‘Commercialisation of diplomacy.’

As a former Shadow Secretary for Trade & Industry in the British Shadow Cabinet and as a diplomat, he knew the subject well.

Profit Motive

He wrote, “It is apparently no longer enough to graduate with a good degree and to be accepted against strong competition into the diplomatic service, to have gained years of experience and to have developed special knowledge and skills in foreign languages and international politics, and to have spent a good part of one’s life serving one’s country in sometimes difficult and even dangerous posts overseas.

“These qualities are not what we are now looking for. Anyone, it seems, can be a diplomat. Careful analysis, subtle judgment, accurate reporting, the ability to gain the confidence of people of different cultures and politics, are all beside the point. What is needed instead, apparently, is the ability to focus on the bottom line, to secure a proper return on capital, to cut costs and generally to bring the sharp lash of business realism to bear,” he said.

Mr Gould said that he was once a diplomat and that he would think of better ways of maintaining professional standards and morale if we want an effective diplomatic service.

The American Way

“The Americans have for many years of course treated an ambassadorial post as a quid pro quo for financial contributions to political campaigns – and much good it has done them. But it is not just the diplomatic service that is in the firing line. It is only the latest bastion to fall to the cult of the omniscient businessman.

“From public service broadcasting to running prisons, from providing health care to protecting the environment, there is virtually no aspect of our national life that would not benefit, it seems, from being run as though it were a business. We scarcely have a public service any longer, so numerous are the highly paid consultants who now compete for the work,” Mr Gould had said.

This subject is too important to be mentioned in passing. We will deal with it extensively in the coming issues, drawing upon the wisdom of our people.

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