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Adam Watson: A Tribute

John Hugh Adam Watson, CMG

John Hugh Adam Watson, CMG

John Hugh Adam Watson, CMG, was a remarkable man. After an very successful career as a British diplomat– which included service as the British Ambassador to Castro’s Cuba– he became one of the founders of the so-called English School of International Relations Theory. In 2007, at the age of 93, Ambassador Watson died, after making an indelible contribution to both the theory and practice of international affairs. I recently received an e-mail from his daughter, Polly, informing me of a website that has been created in his honor. As a former student of Adam Watson’s, I can say that he had a critical impact on my own thinking about international relations. Nearly thirty-years after taking his course on International Relations in the 20th Century, I still find that so much of my theoretical framework for understanding the international system is based on what I learned from him. The website contains photos, tributes, a discussion of his books, and other items from his life.

Among the documents on the site is an obituary published in The Times (of London), which is reproduced below:

Adam Watson.  Diplomat and academic of broad erudition who was an early member of the English School  of International Relations.

Adam Watson was a distinguished diplomat, academic and author whose career spanned seven decades.  His formidable intellect and breadth of learning made him one of the leading figures in the study of international politics since the war.

From 1960 he was a member of the newly formed British Committee on the Theory of International Politics, later known as the English School. This group of academics and practitioners in the field of international relations – including the historians Sir Herbert Butterfield and martin Wight and later the political scientist Hedley Bull – came together to study the relationship between states and to analyse the rules and norms governing the formation and evolution of what they termed the states system and the international society.

John Hugh Adam Watson was born in Leicester at the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. His father, a banker, was stationed in Buenos Aires where Watson spent the first years of his life. He returned to England to attend school and was educated at Rugby and King’s College, Cambridge.

He joined the Diplomatic Service in 1937 and was posted to the British Legation in Bucharest in 1939, where he was stationed when war broke out. At this time he struck up what became a lifelong friendship with the broadcaster and writer Reggie Smith and his wife, the author Olivia Manning, whose wartime novels included a fictionalised caricature of Watson.

With the German invasion of the Balkans, Watson was posted to the British Embassy in Cairo in 1940, where he was designated to handle the surrender of Egypt in the event that the British lost the battle of El Alamem. In 1944 he was posted to the British Embassy in Moscow.

After the war, Watson joined the Foreign Office and in 1950 he was posted to the British Embassy in Washington. In the same year he married. He was appointed head of the African Department at the Foreign Office 1956-59, and was involved in the Suez Crisis. At this time he was also appointed British Consul General at Dakar.

Over the next few years his remit covered most of French West Africa, being appointed Ambassador to the Federation of Mail 1960-61, and to Senegal, Mauritania and Togo 1960-62.

From 1963 to 1966 he was British Ambassador to Cuba, a position that required the utmost diplomatic skills in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of President Kennedy.  In 1966 he was appointed under-secretary at the Foreign Office but in 1968 he decided to retire early from the foreign service.

From 1968 to 1973 he was diplomatic adviser to British Leyland, but after a short interlude lecturing at the Australian National University in Canberra, he moved to Paris to take up the position of Director General of the International Association for Cultural Freedom and also assumed the chairmanship of La fondation pour un entraide européene intellectuelle, another charitable organisation concerned with intellectual freedom of expression.

Watson had begun his career as an author with works including The War of the Goldsmith’s Daughter (1964) and Nature and Problems of the Third World (1968). In 1979 he accepted the position of Gwilym Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia and from 1980 to 1995 he was a professor of international studies at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It was during this period that his most productive and stimulating work in the field of international affairs took shape. After the death of Butterfield, he edited and finished the historian’s last work, The Origins of History (1981). The following year he published Diplomacy: the Dialogue between States, widely regarded as a seminal work in the field. Together with Bull he edited and partly co-wrote The Expansion of International Society (1984), but it was with his own acclaimed The Evolution of International Society (1992) that Watson made his greatest contribution to the study of state systems. This was followed by The Limits of Independence (1997).

Watson’s insatiable appetite for knowledge and intellectual investigation never left him and he continued to lecture and write to the end of his life. His valedictory work was Hegemony and History, published this year.

Formal in outward demeanour, but always approachable, Watson was an accomplished linguist and a polymath whose interests and pursuits covered a bewildering range. In addition to his academic writings, he wrote a number of plays for the BBC, including an adaptation of Hebbel’s Gyges und sein Ring.

He was made a Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1958. He is survived by his wife and their two sons and a daughter.

Adam Watson, CMG, diplomat, academic and author was born on August 10, 1914. He died on August 21 2007, aged 93.

Photo- Adam Watson Memorial

Photo- Adam Watson Memorial

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.