United Kingdom "A Remarkable Interaction Between Our Two Countries"

Sunday, January 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Sir David Manning, British ambassador to the United States.

Editor: Sir David, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Manning: I read history at Oriel College, Oxford and went on to Johns Hopkins University to study international relations. Following university I joined the Foreign Office and was sent to learn Polish since my first overseas assignment was to be at the British embassy in Warsaw. This was in the 1970s, and the Cold War dictated intergovernmental relationships. The first 20 years of my career concerned East-West relations in the main - I served in Moscow in addition to Warsaw - although I also served in India during the late 70s. In recent years I have served as British ambassador to Israel, to NATO and, most recently, as foreign affairs advisor to the Prime Minister.

Editor: What have been the highlights of your 30-plus years at the Foreign Office?

Manning: Every post I have held has included something extraordinary. My first assignment, in Poland, was marvelous, and I have a deep and abiding appreciation for the Polish people. To have served in India - particularly at a young age - was a wonderful experience. Paris, of course, was wonderful. I had spent time there as a child, and going back was a fascinating experience for me.

Being in Moscow in 1990 must rank as one of the most interesting experiences that a person could have in my profession. The collapse of the Soviet Union was taking place day-by-day and right in front of us. The Soviet system, the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War were international realities that had appeared, if not indestructible, certainly enduring. And they were suddenly gone altogether. The emergence of the three Baltic states after 50 years of Soviet domination was something I found very moving.

To go to Israel was an interesting departure for me. I did not know much about the Middle East, and I had a great deal to learn. And in a hurry. I arrived just when Prime Minister Rabin was murdered.

Finally, working for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was a remarkable experience. I have been very fortunate throughout my career, and every assignment has had its highlights.

Editor: What are the principal responsibilities of the British ambassador to the United States?

Manning: The chief responsibility is to promote a very exceptional partnership between the two countries. The relationship has many layers - political, commercial, military, intelligence and so on - and much of it functions without reference to an ambassador. That is something that is important to keep in mind. At a very profound level the ambassador is trying to explain each country to the other, an exercise that is much more complicated than one would think. The two countries have had a remarkable interaction for a very long time, and they think they know each other so well that they need not explain themselves. There are times when that is not the case, when careful explanations are necessary.

One of the biggest problems for a British ambassador to the United States is prioritizing. The field is so vast that it is hard to determine what issues to address, and then taking on too many means running the risk of really addressing none. It is crucial to focus on the key issues.

It is also important to avoid becoming ambassador to Washington as opposed to ambassador to the United States. We have consulates and offices all across the country, and it is essential that the ambassador remain in direct communication with them and with the issues they are handling.

Overall, the ambassador attempts to ensure that the relationship remains productive for both sides. Communicating and connecting across both sides of the policy making process is at the very heart of this remarkable interaction our countries have enjoyed for so long.

Editor: You mentioned your role as foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister. In that role you were instrumental in the development of the Foreign Office's strategic international priorities. Would you tell about the priorities?

Manning: My task in that role was to reflect the Prime Minister's priorities and preoccupations in the strategic priorities of the Foreign Office. That is, the Prime Minister's foreign policy advisor does not control policy, but he does draw upon the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defense and other agencies in providing options for the Prime Minister to consider, and he then acts as a channel of communication in the formation of policy.

By way of example, if the Prime Minister has a particular concern for peace in the Middle East, that concern is conveyed to the relevant agencies, which then provide input on addressing and possibly resolving the issues. That input is assessed against the Prime Minister's position, and the exercise results in the preparation of options for his review. After consideration, the Prime Minister's views are then refined into strategic priorities of British foreign policy. The position of foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister is fascinating, but, in light of its very small staff, it is also a very challenging one.

Editor: How do the Foreign Office strategic priorities connect to the foreign policy initiatives of the U.S?

Manning: Taking the example of peace in the Middle East, it would be inconceivable that Britain alone could produce a solution to the problem. Inevitably, any British policy will look to U.S. policy, and, indeed, one of the constants in British foreign policy is the commitment to conducting international relations in concert with our partners and allies.

Editor: One of the themes of our publication is the rule of law, and specifically progress on the rule of law in places that have known somewhat rougher governance arrangements. Commitment to the rule of law has been a particularly strong aspect of British foreign policy. How are we doing in this discussion?

Manning: The discussion has taken on a new saliency after 9/11. We in Britain have always believed that a functioning international community must be based on a coherent international system of law and order. The tragedy of 9/11 has brought us face to face with a breakdown of international law and order. A rules-based international system is predictable and stable. The absence of such a system has very grave consequences for all of us, not the least of which is the failed state. In today's world a failed state cannot be contained locally. As with Afghanistan, the impact of the failed state is felt by the entire international community. We support the rule of law discussion because it is the right thing to do, but we also recognize the stake we have in seeing the world evolve as a predictable and stable community where people can resolve their differences through recourse to law.

Editor: And, I gather, a multilateral approach in working toward such a community is better than a unilateral one?

Manning: Yes. With a country of our size, there are few problems that lend themselves to unilateral action. The United States has a preeminent position, but with respect to issues such as counterterrorism, universal health concerns, the nuclear arms proliferation problem, and the like, no one country is in a position to act by itself alone. We are attempting to deal with the development of nuclear arms by Iran and North Korea on an international basis, and I think this is clearly the way in which to address any such issue.

Editor: The British Embassy recently hosted a conference on counter-terrorism and enforcement with a number of American and European leaders, including the U.S. Attorney General, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the British Home Secretary. What was the purpose of the conference?

Manning: The conference was hosted by us, but it is part of an ongoing series of meetings that the U.S. and the EU are having on this issue. The importance of dealing with terrorism on a worldwide basis - sharing information and coordinating our activities - is something that all nations recognize. Among the issues under discussion are border security, biometric passports, the various technologies that lend themselves to traveler identification, and so on, all with the purpose of making our countries safer. The recent bombings in London have given the discussion a particular urgency for us, and our EU partners share in this concern. We have introduced a common arrest warrant - something that is certainly a step forward, but difficult to implement - and utilized it to arrest a suspect who had fled London for Rome after the bombings. This is an example of how countries can work together. We have a long way to go, but the important thing is that the discussion is now underway.

Editor: What can we do to improve our collective response to terrorism?

Manning: This is a very tough issue, and one that will not be solved quickly. It is essential, I think, to sustain an international effort. The participation of as many countries as possible is crucial to success, and that includes the sharing of intelligence.

Another important factor in the war on terrorism involves taking steps to make the message of the terrorists less attractive. By that I mean working toward the reduction of global poverty. It is poverty that underlies political instability and the risk of failed states, and that is the environment in which terrorists flourish. Increasing the flow of aid to places where there is such a risk - much of Africa is a prime example - is something that the British government believes serves to undermine the terrorists' message.

All of these efforts interconnect, so a broad international consensus is crucial. In light of Jordan, Indonesia and several African countries having been the targets of terrorist attacks, the developing countries have as much at stake in addressing the issue as the developed, and I am hopeful that the contribution of such countries to the discussion will serve to build that consensus.

Editor: Last year the Prime Minister spoke about Britain's role as a bridge between Europe and the U.S. It is a special role, but it can also be an uncomfortable one. Would you share with us your thoughts about this particular aspect of British foreign policy?

Manning: The Prime Minister has been clear that he sees no conflict between Britain's close relationship with the U.S. and its place in Europe and close relationship with its European allies. He does not see why there must be a choice. He is both passionately pro-American and passionately pro-European, and in an age when the closest international cooperation is necessary to address the world's ills that is an eminently sensible position. A strong Europe - which includes a strong Britain - should be a strong partner of the United States. In an increasingly interdependent world, and one in which the proportion of people living in Europe and the U.S. gets smaller each year, it is essential that we together seek to build new partnerships throughout the world.

Editor: And Britain's place in an increasingly globalized economy? As more and more of the world joins this economy, is there a particular place that Britain occupies?

Manning: We are passionate advocates of globalization and the liberalization of trade rules, and we continue to tell our partners in Europe that we all must be part of an outward-looking EU. Globalization is here to stay, and the fact is we must compete. Trying to hide behind tariff barriers is not going to work in the long run. As for Britain's particular place in all of this, Napoleon called us a "Nation of Shopkeepers." In light of the fact that today 25% of the country's GDP is earned through exports and 70% of the British economy is tied, directly or indirectly, to international trade, he was not far off the mark. The City of London sells its services to the entire world and has done so for a very long time. With such a wealth of experience and expertise, we see globalization as an opportunity, not a threat.