Demystifying diplomacy

Australia’s High Commissioner to London Sir Alexander Downer welcomes a book that brings diplomacy’s image into the 21st century – and it’s a good stocking filler for Christmas!

For many, diplomacy remains an enigmatic profession. While the global challenges that diplomats are tasked with monitoring, analysing and responding to are changing every day, perceptions of diplomats and the diplomatic service are often fixed and outdated.

Sir Brian Barder’s text attempts to illuminate the roles, responsibilities and realities of the diplomatic service. The text provides an instructive ‘how-to guide’ for those working, or seeking a career, in the Foreign Service.

Barder draws on his experience of more than 30 years in diplomacy. From humble beginnings at the Colonial Office in London in 1957, he enjoyed a long career in the UK Foreign Service with various postings and appointments, including Ambassador to Ethiopia and Poland and High Commissioner roles in Nigeria and Australia. With this background, he certainly has the credentials to provide counsel on ‘what diplomats do’.

Rather than recounting career highlights, Barder frames his writing around a fictional character ‘Adam’ and follows his journey from joining the Foreign Service through to his appointment as Ambassador. Barder focuses on the human element of diplomacy.

He provides anecdotes from his own experience, including many from his time in Australia. I recall Sir Brian from his posting in Canberra and read with interest his account of attempting to conceal his personal opinions and political allegiances while representing the British Government!

What Diplomats Do: The Life and Work of Diplomats reads more like a self-help guide than a conventional foreign policy text, but perhaps that’s what diplomacy needs.

RRP £26.95 (hardback), Rowman & Littlefield (, ISBN 9781442226357. Order with NBN International by 31 December for a 20% discount