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The new burden of diplomacy: the enemy within

By Sir Ronald Sanders

The mess resulting from reports that the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, made about President Donald Trump and his administration, underscore the dangers of leaking confidential government documents.

If nothing else comes of this affair, the identification and prosecution of the person or persons responsible for leaking Sir Kim’s confidential and classified cables should be vigorously undertaken. The Ambassador’s reports to his government were an integral part of his job and were not meant for public disclosure.

If the perpetrators of this crime of violating the official secrets act are not brought to account, the effectiveness of diplomatic agents will be undermined and the nature of diplomacy itself will be severely compromised.

The persons who leaked Sir Kim’s confidential communications to his government did so for a narrow domestic political purpose. Their purpose appears to have been to serve those intent on Britain exiting the European Union in any circumstances, regardless of the consequences. 

In their recklessness, they sacrificed Sir Kim’s diplomatic career in service to his country and they ruptured the relationship between the governments of the UK and the US. They also succeeded in violating the sanctity of a centuries-old protocol of diplomatic communication. Few will trust the system in the future. They will write less and more cautiously, making it difficult for traditional diplomatic reporting to continue. What will replace it could be sinister.

In the event, there is now, at the very least, an urgent requirement for new ways to safeguard the secrecy of Ambassadors’ reports to their governments.   But how possible that is, when reports are maliciously leaked for political purposes from within, is an open question.

All Ambassadors and other diplomats, who man their country’s diplomatic missions, are expected to send home candid reports, analyses and opinions about events and circumstances in the country or organisation to which they are assigned. This extremely sensitive task has now been made very perilous.

What Sir Kim did is no different from what US Ambassadors and diplomats of other countries do every day.   Indeed, in some cases, US and UK Ambassadors have gone beyond confidential reporting; they have publicly lectured and criticised the governments of the countries to which they are accredited, including the Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Evidence of this was revealed in November 2010 when more than 250,000 diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world were publicly released by the online whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks. Those cables and thousands of others that were subsequently published, showed that US Ambassadors and their staff criticised government policies and programmes, offered harsh personal assessments of leaders and influenced decisions about the countries in which they were posted. US officials also reported conversations with subsequently embarrassed locals who thought that their conversations were ‘private’.

At the time, the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs dammed the WikiLeaks disclosure, saying, "We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information". John Kerry, then chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later Secretary of State, rightly said, “These sensitive cables contain candid assessments and analysis of ongoing matters and they should remain confidential to protect the ability of the government to conduct lawful business with the private candour that's vital to effective diplomacy”.

Those arguments work both ways. 

Nonetheless, it is clear that Sir Kim could no longer be an effective Ambassador in the US despite his relationship with top officials of the US government, his entertaining many of them at his official residence, and information exchange between the UK and US governments of which he had been an agent. He did the right thing in resigning, particularly after President Trump publicly stated: “We will not deal with him”.

The British Government, particularly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has been forthright in defending Sir Kim. Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, could not be more supportive when he wrote to Sir Kim, stating: “The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and whole of the public service have stood with you: you were the target of a malicious leak; you were simply doing your job”.

Observations about precisely what “doing your job” means for an Ambassador is worth recording here. In a nutshell, an Ambassador has two primary functions

The first has both a public and private face – it is to promote the most beneficial relationships between his or her government and the government to which he or she is accredited. That is not always an easy task because of many factors, including policy differences that might arise between the two governments. In both the private and public dimensions of this task, an Ambassador has to use all the tools available, including the media to project and promote his or her country’s interest. 

The second has no public side; it is quintessentially secret. And, that is to provide his or her government with sound information and candid analysis about situations that have relevance to the Ambassador’s government and its decision-making.

This second task is especially recognised by all countries in Article 3 (d) of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations which states that the functions of a diplomatic missions consists, among other things, of “ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State”. 

Some may argue that, Sir Kim was injudicious in the candid remarks he made about President Trump in his confidential and classified cables to his government. But it should be recalled that he was expected – indeed, duty bound - to do no less than give his candid assessment. In doing so he was following normal diplomatic practice and expectation that his cables were – and would remain – secret between him and his government. This accounts for why the British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and others stood up with him and have not criticised him even after he resigned. \
Having said all that, Ambassadors and diplomatic agents now have a new concern in carrying out their jobs – who in their own governments could deliberately and maliciously leak diplomatic communications to serve the interests of one side or another in domestic political infighting.

Latest News in Pictures

Speaking at US Capitol Hill in behalf of CARICOM during Caribbean Legislative Week on 5 June 2019


Meeting Wesley Kirton Co-Chair Caribbean Studies Associaton, US, and Captain Gerry Gouveia of the Guyana Privat Sector at Antigua and Barbuda Embassy, Washington, DC on 4 June 2019


On 15 May, 2019 with the formidable US Congresswoman Maxine Waters who is Chair of the Financail Services Committee of the US House of Representatives.  I had presentred the case against de-risking, withdrawal of correspondent banking relations and blacklisting alone with CARICOM Ministers of National Security. 


 Testifying on 14th May, 2019 before the US International Trade Commission on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda and Caribbaean States on the perennial US trade surplus with the region which reached $7 Billion in 2018. 


Sir Ronald at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, talking trade and other relations between the US and CARICOM countries, especially Antigua and Barbuda, with Cingressman Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati) on  27 February 2019.


Caribbean Ambassadors in Washington with US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Kim Breier, at the US State Department. Sir Ronald third from right in January 2019. 


In July 2018, while in Ottawa for Antigua and Barbuda bilateral talks with Canadian government officials, Sir Ron ran into old and repected friend, Joe Clarke - former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Canada and a great warrior in the anti-apartheid struggle.


With Ambassador Jesus Silvera of Panama, receiving a donation to the rebuilding of Barbuda, June 2018


With OAS Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, on 6 June 2018, signing the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and  Related Forms of Intolerance.  Antigua and Barbuda was the first signatory to the Convention and the second country to ratify the Convention. 

 Signing ceremony in Washington, DC of Abolition of Visa Requirements between Ukraine and Antigua and Barbuda in May 2018.  Ukraine Amnbasador (left) and Joy-Dee Davis, Minister Counsellor, Antigua and Barbuda Embassy (right) 


 With Governor-General of Canada,Her Excellency Julie Payette, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 30th 2018.  In addition to beeing accredited to Canada as High Commissioner, I have the honour of sharing the distinction with this amazing former Astronaut of being a Senior Fellow at Massey College in the University of Toronto.


In Tobago after delivering feature address at The Tobago Finance week on 13 November 2017.  Photo shows, Economist Terrence Farrell, Sir Ronald, Tobago Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack, and Anthony Pierre, Chairman of the Caribbean Association of Chartered Accountants


 In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad speaking at the annual Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Trinidad and Tobago on 9 November 2017


 Speaking at a meeting in Geneva, prior to appearnace at the World Trade Organisation on Antigua and Barbuda's contention with the US government on the WTO award to Antigua over Internet Gaming, September 2017 


 Speaking on Refugees resulting from Climate Change and the growing danger to small island states at an event organised by OXFAM in Washington, DC on 30 October 2017. (Heather Coleman, OXFAM; Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda; Selwyn Hart (Barbados), Lisa Friedman, New York Times)


Sir Ronald speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC on 12 October 2017.  He was talking about the devastation of Barbuda by Hurricane Irma and the remedies for Climate Change and Global Warming.  To his left are:  The Prime Minister of Grenada Dr Keith Mitchell, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin la Rocque and St Lucia Prime Minister Alan Chastanet


Sir Ronald speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the security and other threats posed to the Caribbean and the Hemisphere of Climate Change and Global Warming on 13 September 2017


 Sir Ronald (third right) with senior officers of the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, DC after discussing what assistance could be given in the clean up and rebuilding of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma (Friday, 15 September 2017)


With US Congressman, Ranking member of Committee on Foreign Affairs at Capitol Hill on 14 September, discussiing secutty matters, Hurricane Irma and Barbuda and the US-Antigua and Barbuda WTO issues.  Very helpful.


 With US Congressman Mark Meadows on Capitol Hill talking the US-Antigua and Barbuda WTO issues, and the effets of Hurricane Irma on the island of Barbuda on 12 September, 2017.  Good man. 


 Talking to the Emergency Agencies of the OAS about the impact of Hurricane Irma on the island of Barbuda and seeking assistance on 14 September 2017


Sir Ronald with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on 28 August 2017 discussing Canada-Antigua and Barbuda bilateral matters.


Sir Ronald with the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, at the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States in Cancun, in June 2017


Heads of Delegations to the OAS General Assembly in Cancun.  Mexican Presdident, sixth from right, front row.  Sir Ronald fourth from right, front row.


Meeting of Consulation on the situation in Venezuela at the Organisation of American States on 31 May 2017 Sir Ronald (far right).


With Texas Congressman Randy Weber at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, talking energy, water and US-Antigua and Barbuda relations on Wednesday 5 April, 2017 



With my colleague Argentine Ambassador to the OAS, Juan Jose Acuri (right) and the Argentina candidate for election to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rigjts Dr Carlos de Casas on 29 March 2016


 At the International Monetary Fund with Exceutive Director for Canada and the Caribbean, Nancy Horsman, to discuss Antigua and Barbuda matters.


At the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy receiving Antonia Urrejola, the candidate of Chile for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, on 23 March 2017 


 With the Mexican Candidate for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Joel Hernadez Garcia, on 21 March 2017


 At the World Bank on20 March 2017 meeting Christine Hogan, the Executive Director for Canada and the Caribbean, to talk about Antigua and Barbuda matters.


With Joe Barton, US Congressman from the State of Texas in his Office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, 16 March 2017 discussing US-Antigua and Barbuda relations


Hosting a meeting at the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy in Washington, DC of diplomatic representatives of St Lucia (Ambassador Anton Edmunds, St Kitts-Nevis Ambassador Thelma Phillip-Browne and St Vincent Deputy Chief of Mission Omari Williams)


Meeting the Cuban Ambassador to the United States, Jose Cabanas Rodriguez at the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy on Tuesday, 21st February, 2017


With the Ambassador of Ecudaor to the United States, Francisco Borja Cevallos, talking Ecuador-Antigua and Barbuda relations on 13 February 2017


 With US Congressman Gus Bilikakis (Dem,Fl) for talls on Caiptol Hill in Washington


With Charlie Crist, US Congressman (Dem, Fl) for discussions on US-Antigua and Barbuda matters


 With US Senator Jeff Duncan, Chair Foreign Relations Committee talking energy and Citizenship by Investement Programmes in the Caribbean


 With Professor Louis Gates Jr at the Smithsonian National Musuem of African American History in Washington, DC after an evening of enlightening presentations on the neglected story of the building of the US