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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

How Foreign Affairs should be Conducted

How Foreign Affairs should be Conducted.

The proper way to conduct foreign affairs is, it appears to us, diametrically opposite to that which we have recently witnessed. Details as distinguished from broad principles must of course be kept secret while negotiations are proceeding; there may be and should be infinite reserve and caution in the means adopted abroad; but there must be no surprises, the country must understand thoroughly whither it is being led and why it is being led, in a particular direction. There must be reticence, and a good deal of it, but the less reticence the better. The Foreign Secretary page 54 must recognise that it is distinctly his business not only to conduct foreign affairs but to lead the opinion of his countrymen about them, and in this he must be aided by his colleagues. If this be true it follows for the proper management of foreign affairs that a great deal more speaking will be required of the Ministers of the future and of their supporters. The fusillade of oratory which we have had this autumn will be not an exceptional but a normal occurrence. It will no longer be possible for Ministers, of however secretive a turn, to reserve their explanations to the month of February. This increased openness of speech will lead to many inconveniences; but although the government of a free people by itself (when as in this country it has the inestimable advantage of having the highest prize of all withdrawn from the contention of part), thanks to our monarchical institutions, and when a very large number of offices are also withdrawn from being a subject of contention, thanks to competitive examination) is unquestionably the best in the world, no sensible man ever denied that it has its evils, and the atmosphere of constant discussion, in which we and our sons are destined to live, is one of these. Still it is an evil which has its good side. An atmosphere of constant discussion is necessarily an atmosphere of intellectual life, and many minds will be strengthened by political discussion to do good work in fields far removed from politics.