BALANCING ACTS: Reflections of a New Zealand Diplomat.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian
PositionBook review

BALANCING ACTS Reflections of a New Zealand Diplomat

Author: Gerald McGhie Published by: Dunmore Publishing Ltd, Auckland, 2017, 251pp, $34.95.

Diplomats who write about their careers, or even aspects of their service, perform a valuable function for several reasons. First, they help the public understand what diplomats do--and the importance of their work. Second, their reflections add to the historical record, and will be of lasting value in analysing international activities and approaches to the world's problems.

New Zealand's diplomats have not traditionally been conspicuous in writing for the public, at least partially because of the constriction of the confidential nature of much of their work. Some, like Terence O'Brien, have been assiduous in commenting on policies, though more reticent on their own experience. Only a few have been moved to adopt an autobiographical approach: Gerald Hensley and James Weir (a former ambassador in Moscow) come to mind, while Michael Green wrote about Fiji, from which he was expelled (as was Weir from Moscow).

Gerald McGhie is to be commended, therefore, for committing to paper his thoughts on a number of aspects of his career, not as an autobiography but as reflections--'vignettes from the time'--on some of his postings and some ruminations on future needs. The approach is not chronological but he does, in an introductory chapter, give an outline of his career in order to provide context for his comments on particular aspects. His entry to the diplomatic service was slightly unusual insofar as he did so by way of a period working for Shell Oil, which allowed him to study part time (then full time) at Otago University. He had more work experience then than the other graduates who joined the Department of External Affairs with him in 1965 (right at the end of the McIntosh era) after applying for the diplomatic service during his master's degree studies. During his career he would serve in New York, Hong Kong, South Korea (as ambassador), Harare and (briefly) Nukualofa, but his remarks are mainly confined to three postings--in Moscow, Apia and Port Moresby. Given the focus on the Korean peninsula at the moment, readers may wonder about the lack of any extended observations of Korea and Koreans, but McGhie's purpose was never to provide a comprehensive account; rather he wanted 'to show what one diplomat did in various situations'.

In Moscow, after a 'relentless, quasi-military style existence' for eight...

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