New Zealand’s Foreign Service reviewed in North & South


New Zealand’s Foreign Service: A history, edited by Ian McGibbon, was reviewed in North & South’s September book reviews. Paul Little says:

‘This multi-authored history charts the course of our Foreign Service under its several names from its founding as recently as 1943 up to 2021. It features a surprisingly diverse cast, from much-loved author Witi Ihimaera to the much-vilified likes of Bill Sutch and Paddy Costello. (That said, Ihimaera is probably as glamorous as it gets.)

The likes of those in the Foreign Service are unsung heroes. Politicians may come and go, seizing grim hold of the spotlight and taking it whither they wander. Meanwhile your public servants, highly trained and dedicated, carry on with their vital task of making MPs look good.

There is no way this can be described as a fun read, but it will provide valuable context as a reference for anyone wondering about our place in the world, how we got here and how we held onto it, or didn’t.

It is occasionally told with the sort of understatement for which diplomacy is notorious “When Allen discussed the outcome . . . he got the impression the proposals were more ambitious than the minister had anticipated.” Indeed? Did the minister, one wonders, make his feelings known by raising an insouciant eyebrow? Or did he bite Allen’s head off?

Chapter headings might have been given a little more attention. Chapter 6: “Meeting New Challenges”; Chapter 10 is “A Challenging New Era”; in between is Chapter 9: “A New Framework”.

The book was compiled as the result of a commission from Manatū Aotere Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its status as an almost self-published bureaucratic autobiography means the focus is on recording, rather than judging, its history. That said, it is good to have the history recorded in a manner as thorough and scrupulous as the organisation it describes.’