Adam Sambrook is the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Bucharest. He took up his assignment in April 2014.
Adam Sambrook joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2001, with his first role as Desk Officer for Hungary and Poland. Following Hebrew language training in London and Jerusalem, he was Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv from 2004 to 2008. He led the FCO’s European Defence Team from 2008-2010, before taking over as Head of Climate Strategy Team from 2010-2012. Following a period as Head of Nuclear Deterrence and Disarmament Team, he began studying Romanian in London and Iasi, Romania.
How would you characterise the present climate of cooperation between London and Brussels? How is Brexit going to change the way the cooperation infrastructure?
While our future relationship with the EU is still to be determined, we are not leaving Europe. Britain will remain a close friend, ally and trading partner with our European neighbours but we will pass our own laws and govern ourselves.
We will want the strongest possible economic links with our European neighbours, as well as our close friends in North America, the Commonwealth and other important partners around the world.
Brexit provides many opportunities and the UK remains the same outward-looking, globally-minded, flexible and dynamic country it has always been. The economic data we’ve seen since the referendum has been encouraging. According to the IMF, the UK was the fastest growing G7 economy in 2016. Manufacturing activity in September 2016 grew month on month at its fastest rate since June 2014. Britain’s economy grew by 0.5 percent in the third quarter of 2016. Employment is at a record high. And we attract a fifth of all foreign investment in the EU.
The UK is a country with the self-confidence and the freedom to look to the economic and diplomatic opportunities in the wider world. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, of NATO, of the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth, we continue to play a leading role globally. We have no plans to turn in on ourselves; quite the reverse.
The way European citizens perceive the referendum from the United Kingdom is categorical (far from nuanced). How do you think this process of public consultation should be perceived by the non-British public?
The referendum was a democratic choice. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. It was legitimate. And it is right that the Government is determined to respect the result and get on with the job of delivering the decision of the British people.
Whatever their views on the decision – and I have heard many divergent opinions – the vast majority of non-British people I have spoken to respect the decision, as we respect democratic decisions taken in other countries.
Please tell us about the relations between Bucharest and London? Has this relation been influenced by the new path that Romania choose after 1989?
How could it not be?
The relationship between the UK and Romania has changed dramatically. We know each other better. We trade more with each other. And we work closely together to tackle common threats.
I remember as a boy seeing the stories on the TV news about the revolution, how Romanians had taken their fate into their own hands and changed this country’s destiny. And I also remember the pictures of Ceaușescu’s orphanages, which provoked a massive outpouring of sympathy for Romania. I see the legacy of that today as I speak to British citizens who came to Romania in the 1990s to lend a hand in a spirit of solidarity. Many of them fell in love with this beautiful country and its welcoming, talented people and made a new life for themselves here. That means that we know each other better than we did 25 years ago, and, as more Romanians come to work, live and contribute to the UK’s economy and cultural life, that will continue.
More than this, we have thickened our cooperation in so many spheres. Bilateral trade – at nearly £4bn – is at an all-time high. Over 4,700 UK companies operate in Romania.
Cultural links are better than ever with many events in 2016 commemorating 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and many Romanians contributing to the UK’s cultural life.
We work hand in glove with Romanian institutions to tackle the joint threats that we face – cross-border crime including terrorism, smuggling and modern slavery (Romania is consistently a major country of origin of potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK).
But perhaps the biggest change I’ve seen in my nearly three years at the British Embassy is the dramatic increase in the bilateral defence relationship. We talk to each other much more and at the highest levels. Our armed forces see each other as closer partners than ever. In 2017, for example, we expect to see one of the Royal Navy’s most modern destroyers visit Romania; over 1,000 British soldiers will participate in NATO exercises on Romanian soil; and Royal Air Force Typhoons – some of the most capable aircraft in the world – will be policing the skies of Romania. That’s a testament to the strength of the bilateral relationship.
How do you see the concept of Public Diplomacy? To which extent is this branch relevant for the interstate cooperation?
In an open democracy, power is diffused and many voices influence policy. Diplomacy is about building bridges to those voices, influencing them and making sure your view is understood.
A previous British Ambassador to Romania, Martin Harris, once said that you can`t be an effective diplomat in the modern world without knowing how to get the best from social media. Social media offers us a platform to make our views understood and to see the reaction to them. You get almost instant feedback from it – on Facebook, Twitter and below the line on press articles. That means you can pretty much judge the effect of what you’re doing and, if necessary, do more. Or change course.
Social media is, though, democratic; anyone can get on it and anyone’s voice can be heard if it’s sufficiently interesting. So diplomats need to be not just authoritative and authentic, but interesting and engaging too. The current British Ambassador, Paul Brummell is really committed to this – it’s worth following him on twitter, for example, whether or not you are interested in foreign policy.
Sometimes, however, you need a highly coordinated approach. In the past few years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs – has adopted a campaigning approach to allow us to achieve some of our foreign policy goals. So for example, our work on tackling sexual violence in conflict has been given a much higher profile by getting Angelina Jolie involved. And our global effort, aided by the work of climate attaches in British Embassies across the world, to push for high ambition on tackling climate change was instrumental in creating the political space that allowed negotiators to achieve a legally-binding deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Paris in 2015.
This approach can work just as well with the several million Britons who live overseas, as our successful campaign to increase the number of overseas voters ahead of the 2015 general election and the 2016 referendum shows. A centralised campaign, closely monitored by London, but with Embassies given freedom to adapt their approach overseas, led to over a quarter of a million new voter registrations in 2016.
In short, diplomacy is about influence. So why ignore another means to get others to hear your view?
Has globalisation influenced the role of an Embassy? How?
The UK has always been a trading nation with global interests. That means that we need to the tools both soft and hard to ensure that we get the best out of the globalised world.
In terms of soft power, our diplomatic network is one of the largest and most influential in the world – represented in over 85% of the world’s countries. We are the only major country which will simultaneously meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of our GNI on development.
That allows the UK to be at the forefront of tackling the global threats we face.
I mentioned climate change earlier. But the UK has also responded to some of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises. Britain played a leading role in tackling Ebola, particularly in Sierra Leone. The UK committed a £427 million package of direct support to help contain, control, treat and ultimately defeat Ebola.
In response to the crisis in Syria and the region, the UK has committed more than £2.3bn since 2012 More widely, between 2011-2015 UK aid has: Supported 11million children to get a good quality education including 5.3million girls; Supported freer and fairer elections in 13 countries in which 162.1 people voted; Helped to save the lives of 103,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth; Immunised 67.1 million additional children against preventable diseases through support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Supported 64.5 million people to access clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions; and reached over 13.4 million people with emergency food assistance.
The UK’s defence budget is the second largest in NATO after the US and is the largest in Europe. We have committed to maintaining defence spending at 2% of GDP. Our Armed Forces and security and intelligence agencies are respected around the world for their capability, agility, reach and ability to fight and work alongside our close allies, including Romania.
But that’s not enough.
In a globalised world, a country and a culture have to be attractive. The UK is lucky; our language is the world’s lingua franca. We don’t own it, but the world uses it. Even with that advantage, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. So we need other advantages too; ones which take more work. We are home to 18 of the world’s top 100 universities, and four of the top ten. We have more Nobel Laureates than any country outside America. The Premier League is the most-watched football league in the world. The BBC World Service is the world’s largest international broadcaster, broadcasting news, speech and discussions in 28 languages and reaching 246 million people worldwide. One in ten British people now lives abroad, about 5 or 6 million people, the largest diaspora of a high-income country. They spread the values and ideas of Global Britain.
That means that the work of an Embassy – at the heart of our response to the global threats and opportunities we face – is getting harder, more challenging. But it’s also getting more interesting, more dynamic and more varied. I wouldn’t prefer to do anything else.