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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

Says former top diplomat...

Monday, February 15, 2016

 Just recently, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the chair of the UK's United Nations Association (UNA) and former UK ambassador to the UN (1998 to 2003) was reported in the Guardian as critical of the government's cuts to the Foreign Office, arguing that they undermined the country's standing on the world stage.

The role of former diplomats in advising and critically commenting on government policy is an interesting topic for further exploration in diplomatic studies. There is a wealth of tacit knowledge built up in a lifetime of professional service.

Societies of the past valued such knowledge and did not let it go to waste with specific roles for respected, retired diplomats. They served as almost a reserve corps of diplomacy professionals to be accessed for advice, for missions where their seniority and reputation would be valued, or even as an elders' council through which policy would pass before implementation.

In today's society, this wealth of knowledge lays under-utilised, often only coming to the fore in criticism of government policy fuelled by a media eager to add weight to an already decided agenda. Examples where governments have sought to access this knowledge are few and far between, and certainly not institutionalised. More often than not, it is done in a purely facilitative manner - the use of a former senior diplomat to support policy rather than make, review or revise government decisions on policy.

In ageing societies across the developed world, there are an increasing number of diplomats going into retirement. A few of these make the transition to corporate advisory roles, academia, or some other role with an instituitionalised advisory capacity. But the vast majority, including those with a wealth of tacit knowledge but without the senior titles to match it, do not enter into any advisory role. Should there be a better way to utilise this wealth of tacit knowledge?

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