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Philip Jessup, Diplomatist

ISSUE:  Winter 1975
The Birth of Nations. By Philip C. Jessup. Columbia University Press. $14.95.

ONE of the late Dean Acheson’s last essays refers to Philip Jessup as a diplomatist. Jessup notes his grateful acceptance of the accolade in his “The Birth of Nations.” Why “diplomatist?” Why not “diplomat?” Acheson’s choice of a word sought to articulate a distinction. To him “diplomatist” denoted a devotee—one disposed to be a connoisseur of his calling, associating himself with recondite traditions celebrated for their transforming potential—whereas a “diplomat” might be merely a practitioner applying his skills in constant awareness of the limitations of his vocation. Acheson, for example, thought of the late Charles Bohlen as a diplomat and of George Kennan as a diplomatist as well.

Jessup’s reputation for scholarly authority about international negotiations had been established long before his tenure as a special representative to the United Nations and then as Ambassador at Large in the State Department during Truman times. Thereafter he would go on to further notability, especially as a judge of the International Court of Justice. Clearly the experiences of 1948—53 have a special place in his recollections. It was a fortunate time for so versatile and unremitting a practitioner. Novel and intricate problems in foreign policy abounded. The Secretaries of State successively in office were not inclined to corner all the important tasks.

A full memoir of Jessup’s pertinent activities would touch upon virtually every significant aspect of external affairs of the Truman epoch. The scope of “The Birth of Nations,” however, is restricted mainly to recollections and observations about the processes of bringing new states—namely, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Libya, Somalia, and Israel—into juridic existence. A chapter about Japan’s illfated sponsorship of Manchukuo in the 1930’s is added. In each case Jessup is intent to delineate how positions on issues were arrived at within the United States government and then negotiated between it and other governments. The intricacies of bureaucratic policy-making and the pull-and-haul of diplomacy are much alike, as Jessup observes—citing in support a sage quotation from Richard Neustadt:

. . . relationships between allies are something like relationships between two great American departments. These are relationships of vast machines with different histories, routines, preoccupations, prospects. Each machine is worked by men with different personalities, skills, drives, responsibilities. Each set of men, quite naturally, would rather do his work in independence of the other set. If one government would influence the actions of another, it must find means to convince enough men and the right men on the other side that what it wants is what they need for their own purposes, in their own jobs, comporting with their own internally inspired hopes and fears, so that they will pursue it for themselves in their own bargaining area.

Jessup’s accounts—applying that insight case by case— are done with characteristic meticulousness. He has searched the record scrupulously. The reader gets a convincing lesson in what a detailed and taxing business negotiation is. Jessup’s philosophizings about the nature of foreign policy and the methods of making it—expressed in an introductory chapter and in the interstices of his accounts—are strictly professional in perspective. Writing before the transfer of the Kissinger miracle shop from the White House to Foggy Bottom, Jessup expresses deep misgivings about the eclipse of the State Department. One wishes to know how he might amend his criticisms if writing them now. In any event, that view which sees the President as constitutionally endowed to be captain in external affairs, with the State Department and its Secretary no more than prominent agents among many others subserving the President, is not for Jessup. He writes: “I do not wish to obscure my conviction that the foreign policy of the United States should, as through most of our history, be directed by the Department of State under a Secretary of State who is not only the titular ranking Cabinet officer but who is actually in charge of formulation and execution of foreign policy.”

Jessup’s most interesting illustrative horror story concerns President Truman’s precipitate unheralded recognition of the State of Israel at the virtual instant of its self-proclamation in 1948—an action which derailed deliberations then in progress at the United Nations, left our diplomatic spokesmen at Lake Success stultified and speechless, and, in Jessup’s estimate, put the United States in a position irresolvably at variance with the asserted goal of evenhandedness between Israel and its Arab adversaries and thus generated no end of mischief. Things are different now, of course. Our posture has been rectified. Crowds have cheered President Nixon through the streets of Arab capitals, and Secretary Kissinger has been gathering accolades for another prodigy of policy. How has all this occurred? A recent piece by George Will points out the source of change. It lies in the reversals suffered by Israel in the Yom Kippur war. I mention the thought because it has a bearing on a diplomatist’s approach to policy. Reading Jessup, one gets an impression of determinative importance in the processes of diplomacy. Neustadt’s quoted wisdom pertains to interallied relationships. Adversary diplomacy is somewhat different. One needs to be reminded that diplomacy of that sort is a method of registering consequences which have been determined by factors of material strength and will—that, rather than being an alternate method of creating consequences.

Anyway, Jessup is willing to forgive President Truman his offense. A true United Nations buff, he remembers with highest approval Truman’s soliloquizing at another critical juncture, “We can’t let the UN down!” He observes, “It is impossible to imagine President Nixon uttering or harboring any such sentiment—in a crisis, or in the run-of-the-mill activities of the United Nations.” He recalls in further contrast to Mr. Truman that “Acheson, when Secretary of State, found the United Nations quite a bore. . . .” For my part, I should say that the comment about Nixon is one of the scant few forgivable things I can remember having heard about the man lately. I doubt whether boredom quite expresses Mr. Acheson’s attitude toward the United Nations, especially in his latter years. However expressed, that attitude surely was different from Jessup’s. Jessup is inclined to ask imaginatively what problems can we solve by the United Nations mechanism. Acheson was wont to speculate on what mischief it was likely to do. Such a difference sums up what distinguishes the liberals’ approach from that of conservatives.


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