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Quotations on diplomacy and foreign policy

Ambassadors are the eye and ear of States.
Guicciardini, 1495

There is no government on earth which divulges its affairs less than England, or is more punctually informed of those of others.
Sagredo, Venetian Ambassador, 16th century

An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country. (This is often misquoted as ‘An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.’ Wotton, who was the English ambassador to Venice, was playing on the double meaning of ‘lie’. PH)
Sir Henry Wotton, 1604

An ambassador must be liberal and magnificent, but with judgement and design, and his magnificence should be reflected in his suite. His table should be served neatly, plentifully and with taste. He should give frequent entertainments and parties to the chief personages of the Court and even to the Prince himself. A good table is the best and easiest way of keeping himself well informed. The natural effect of good eating and drinking is the inauguration of friendship and the creation of familiarity, and when people are a trifle warmed by wine they often disclose secrets of importance.
de Callières, L’Art de négocier avec les Princes, 1716

May the pens of the diplomats not ruin again what the people have attained with such exertions.
von Blücher, 1813

We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.

The only use of a plenipotentiary is to disobey his instructions. A clerk or messenger would do if it is necessary strictly to follow them.
Lord Palmerston, 19th century

There is all the difference in the world between good-natured, good-humoured effort to keep well in with your neighbours and that spirit of haughty and sullen isolation which has been dignified by the name of ‘non-intervention’. We are part of the Community of Europe and we must do our duty as such.
Lord Salisbury, 1888

There is nothing dramatic in the success of a diplomatist. His victories are made up of a series of microscopic advantages: of a judicious suggestion here, of an opportune civility there, of a wise concession at one moment and a far sighted persistence at another; of sleepless tact, immovable calmness and patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunder can shake.
Lord Salisbury, 19th century

British foreign policy exists to protect and promote British interests. Despite all the changes in the world that underlying truth has not changed.
Douglas Hurd, 1993

The Foreign Office is a splendid Rolls Royce, whose owner keeps telling it to go faster, while cutting down on the fuel. Pride ensures that appearances are kept up: the chrome is as highly polished as ever and the exterior is kept perfect. But from time to time, although the owner needs the Rolls for professional purposes, he gets embarrassed at owning such a status symbol, administers an almighty kick to the bodywork and tells them in the pub that he is thinking of scrapping it or swapping it for a Ford Cortina.
Ruth Dudley Edwards, True Brits, 1994

In the world beyond parliaments, the press and think tanks, parochialism is being jettisoned; to survive, the fittest have to be international and manage change, not seek to defy.
Malcolm Rifkind, The Sunday Times, 1995

We live in a modern world in which nation states are interdependent. In that modern world foreign policy is not divorced from domestic policy but a central part of any political programme.
Robin Cook, 1997

Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.
ditto

Many people have no idea that the FCO is staffed by down-to-earth, unstuffy people working hard in Britain’s interests ... The Diplomatic Service represents Britain abroad; I want it to represent all the communities of modern Britain today.
ditto

The full selection of diplomatic quotations is available to registered users of DIPLOTAXIS.