Dr Jason Dittmer, University College London

 

This project reconsiders British diplomacy from the perspective of the everyday interactions with other diplomatic entities that are prior to, and shape, foreign policy formation. It does so through a series of historical snapshots of moments when new ‘outside’ elements were incorporated into the British diplomatic apparatus. Produced through archival research and interviews, these snapshots together provide a different picture of the way foreign policy is produced than is usually presented. The first historical snapshot is of the creation of the Foreign Office itself, in the late eighteenth century. Prior to this there had been two secretaries of state, each of whom had domestic and international responsibilities. The creation of the Foreign Office involved producing everyday bureaucratic procedures and interactions among those previously attached to the two secretaries, and constituted for the first time a coherent approach to that which was beyond the kingdom’s borders. This understanding of foreign policy, as the coherent, rational decision-making emanating from within a specialized bureaucracy, remains popular to today – both within the FCO and outside of it. The remaining historical snapshots serve to problematize this account, as they entail the steady incorporation of ‘outside elements’ into the foreign policy apparatus.

 

The first of these is the implementation of intelligence sharing in the post-WWII context, first with the United States and later with other allies such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. From this point on, British foreign policy would be premised on a slate of information shared among a group of states. That these states were like-minded in some way prior to the agreement is obviously true. But the everyday sharing of intelligence serves to predispose these states further to like-mindedness, given a common set of understandings of what is going on in the world. Other historical moments widen this circle of collaboration, such as the creation of NATO and its principle of interoperability (by which allies prepare to act in common, both in terms of infrastructure and procedures) and the creation of the EU’s External Action Service (which attempts to coordinate member state’s foreign policies, both centrally and among EU embassies ‘in country’). While none of these dictate UK foreign policy, and clearly there are moments of divergence (e.g., the Iraq War), they nonetheless hint at the ways in which British diplomacy can be understood to be integrated with other diplomatic actors in an everyday sense, meaning that the ‘outside’ is already ‘inside’ before any formal diplomacy occurs.

 

This theoretical shift towards everyday diplomacy is important because it hints at the possibility that a loose group of states (often referred to as ‘the West’) have enmeshed their foreign policy apparatuses in ways that predispose them to (but do not require) collective action. Just as a group of people can congeal into a crowd, with their micro-scaled interactions resonating to create collective actions (like a crowd becoming a mob) without each individual losing the sense of their own agency, we might imagine everyday diplomatic interactions as productive of just such a collective.

This is particularly important, as the final snapshot is of the First Class Foreign Policy Programme, an attempt to, among other things, advance the meaning of ‘digital diplomacy’ by integrating internet-based expertise into foreign policy formation processes. This ongoing effort promises to incorporate non-state elements into the British foreign policy apparatus. Therefore, understanding how these micro-scaled interactions might resonate and shape international relations is of paramount importance.

 

University College London project page

RCUK Gateway to Research