How to scupper international negotiations #425; remove the “too competent” diplomat

How do you slow down international negotiations that you aren’t keen on without being Too Obvious about it? One way is talent-control. Make sure that someone who just might succeed where you want the process to fail is removed

Here’s a fascinating interview that I stumbled upon that speaks to just that. It’s Professor Jason Fleming (author of a book called “Fixing the Sky,” about US attempts at weather modification) interviewing a very clever and experienced scientist called Gordon MacDonald, who’d been in the thick of lots of US science and policy for a looong time.

The interview took place in March 1994, five years after the climate negotiations started. Just before the climate negotiations, in the mid-80s, there had been an international agreement on Ozone. That process had started with a relatively toothless “Vienna Convention” in early 1985. There was then enormous pressure (because scientists found a whacking great hole over Antarctica) towards the Montreal Protocol of 1987 and the London Accords of 1990.  But I digress…

I’ve tidied up the transcript a bit, and added hyperlinks. You can see the original here.

Gordon MacDonald: … a leader of the U.S. Delegation [on ozone], Dick Benedick, a very capable and forceful guy. And he went to Reagan and argued him into it…. [Secretary of State George] Schultz said it to me once but he may have been joking, that [Benedict or Schultz] used the fact Reagan had had a couple of skin cancers removed as an argument this was not something that was a trivial problem. But despite the strong anti-regulatory tone of the Reagan Administration, they led the fight for the Ozone Convention.

James Fleming: Is Benedick —? Well, he has the well-written book on the ozone? [“Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet“]

Gordon MacDonald: Delightful book.

James Fleming: Is he involved in global warming issues?

MacDonald: No. He wanted very much to head the U.S. negotiations on global warming. Clearly it could have been follow on to what he had done in ozone, and he knew many of the people involved,…. But it was a [White House Chief of Staff John] Sununu and [President George HW] Bush decision that he was much too able a person to lead … climate change negotiations. So they turned it over to less capable people.




Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gordon MacDonald March 21st, 1994
“This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics”

“Gordon James Fraser MacDonald (July 30, 1929 – May 14, 2002) was an American geophysicist and environmental scientist, best known for his principled skepticism regarding continental drift (now called plate tectonics), and later work on possible non-anthropogenic (for example, astronomical) causes for global climate change. While often on what would turn out to be the “wrong” side of scientific issues, MacDonald was admired for his creative mind, and his ability to connect scientific issues and matters of public policy.”

“James Rodger Fleming is a historian of science and technology and Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Colby College, Maine. His teaching bridges the sciences and the humanities, and his research interests involve the history of the geophysical sciences, especially meteorology and climate change.”
“Richard Elliot Benedick is President of the National Council for Science and the Environment. He is a former diplomat and was chief United States negotiator to the Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer. He is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.”

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