Few law books can begin with as intriguing a biographical note on the author as Satow’s Diplomatic Practice. The reader learns that:
Ernest Mason Satow was born at Clapton, North London, in 1893. He was the son of a merchant from the former Hanseatic seaport of Wismar who had settled in England, and an English lady, Margaret Mason. In his studies at University College, London, he read at an early stage a borrowed copy of Laurence Oliphant’s Narrative of the Earl of Elgin’s Mission to China. This aroused in him a desire to know Asia. In 1861 he came first in an examination for a student interpretership to the Far East. He was assigned to the British Consular Service in Japan…
And so this fascinating life continued, through diplomacy in Japan, China, Thailand (then Siam), Uruguay and Morocco. In retirement in Devonshire, he wrote what H W V Temperley described as ‘a work full of practical wisdom, legal acumen and antiquarian knowledge, entitled A Guide to Diplomatic Practice.’ First published in 1917, the book entered its sixth edition in 2009, after a gap of thirty years, edited by Sir Ivor Roberts. Now a seventh edition has appeared, to celebrate the centenary of Satow’s original work.
Although the sixth and seventh editions appear relatively close together, the book has received a fundamental overhaul between editions. The editor and his team of contributors have been faced with a difficult task, stemming from the fact that diplomacy forms one of the oldest and most historically fascinating areas of international law, while also giving rise to some of its most contemporary legal problems. One of the first posts on this blog examined the public concern which can be caused when the broad immunities granted to diplomats hamper the investigation of serious crime. The press has recently focused on the immunity of a North Korean diplomat who is wanted for questioning by Malaysian police as part of their investigation into the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader. And the public policy considerations underpinning the system of diplomatic and sovereign immunity continue to sit uneasily alongside claims for redress by those who have been subject to torture and other ill treatment (see our analysis here).
The new edition strikes an elegant balance between old and new. Much historical material remains, so that the reader understands the history of diplomacy and the customs, practices and historical incidents which have shaped the modern system. But the new edition situates the practice of diplomacy firmly in the modern world. In a new introductory chapter, Sir Ivor reviews the changes in, and challenges of, modern diplomacy and the changing role of the diplomat. There are new chapters on international law, terrorism and diplomacy, public and digital diplomacy, and, importantly, a new chapter on human rights. The latter focuses on the role of diplomats in upholding and promoting the human rights of nationals and non-nationals (although the chapter does not deal with the other side of the coin, namely situations where diplomatic immunity operates as a bar to the protection of human rights, rather than a means of promoting them.)
So one of the most readable books in the field of international law reaches its centenary in excellent shape – a fitting tribute to Satow’s extraordinary career.