Jeffrey LewisLowy Interviews John Duncan

Fergus Hanson at the Lowy Interpreter interviewed John Duncan, UK Permanent Represtantive to the Conference on Disarmament and charter member of the Twitterati, about the impact of new media on diplomacy.

One of the questions was “whether blogs can really play a useful role in the hands of government officials who are constrained by what they can say.” Duncan’s answer is fascinating.

Duncan explained that the United Kingdom gives its ambassadors wide latitude to express their personal views on the basis of a concept called Assumed Competence:

For the UK we have a concept called ‘Assumed Competence’ where ambassadors are given a fair degree of latitude to express what are clearly labelled as their personal views in their blogs. In general this has worked well. Over the past four years UK Ambassadors have done something like 4000 blog posts, of which only three have caused problems. Personally I think it is important for the diplomatic community to be part of and engage with the Government 2.0 exercise, ie. the development of communication via internet based social media; not only because of the widespread use of these tools during the Arab Spring, but for wider public diplomacy reasons.

I love that: assumed competence. I gather that there is some training prior to the assumption of confidence, but that is a quaint doctrine that works well for a sensible little country like the UK.

The thought of doing that in the United States terrifies me.


  1. Julian Borger (History)

    An exquisitely-placed photo, if ever I saw one.
    You have more political appointees as ambassadors, who haven’t been through a diplomatic smoothing machine, so that might be a problem. On the other hand, it would be more interesting. Culturally, the state department is more cautious and risk-averse when it comes to public comment, but Alec Ross ( is supposed to revolutionising the place.

  2. FSB (History)

    US ambassadors don’t need to blog: Assange does that for them.

  3. blowback (History)

    The photo – perfect.

  4. FSB (History)

    I like the photo but Bolton craps out of his mouth all the time though, including when he was in office. He didn’t need to blog: FT and WSJ did that for Bolton….

  5. Anon (History)
  6. narender sangwan (History)

    The thought of allowing United States officials to Blog terrifies you for what reasons.Assumed Competence is a good concept as it allows individuals to have their say on important matters of policy and yet they are considered as their own opinions and not official creates a lot of flexibilty in this ever changing world.