Foreign Policy under the Chatham House Rule

I went to lunch the other day intending to learn something about US foreign policy, but first I had to learn about the Chatham House Rule.

Chatham House Rule

According to the Chatham House website, “the world-famous [now I feel completely inadequate] Chatham House Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.”

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

“The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion.”

Building on my feelings of inadequacy, I learned – again from its website – that  “Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a world-leading source of independent analysis, informed debate and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and secure world for all.”


I try not to waste time listening to dummies. If I had, I would not have written about it.  Also dummies often favor publicity while more thoughtful speakers invent things like the Chatham House Rule.

Globalization and the US

  1. The forces of globalization are undermining national power. Nation states are of decreasing importance. Power and authority are separate and often reside in different places. We have to get beyond nation states because they no longer control reality.
  2. US power has declined since September 11, 2001 but only relative to others. Loss of American hegemony during that period is primarily attributable to our involvement in wars in which we did not belong. We have no strategy, just tactics.

Washington Politics

  1. A debate on national renewal focusing significantly on economic inequality is required. The cause of the inequality seemed less important to the speaker than the fact of its existence.
  2. The Constitution is built on compromise, but compromise is now depicted as losing. Leaders [if any] in both parties must bear the responsibility and change the tone.
  3. Voters have to register displeasure with Washington paralysis.

Foreign Policy Making

Foreign policy was easier when few people knew enough to care. Thanks to enhanced communication, more people are familiar with, and vocal about, issues that would once have been obscure. Yet more fuel for the Washington slugfest.

Middle East

  1. There is a very high risk of the Middle East spinning out of control, but the US should avoid any military involvement lest we appear to be at war with Islam.
  2. Syria has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with a 1200 year old sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias. The US has no role in sectarian wars.
  3. The solution to the Middle East has several components, but the US will have no influence if it does not know where it is going:
  • Iran is a proud country that needs to make concessions.
  • The proposed sanctions legislation is stupid.
  • Syria is a problem that needs resolution without the precondition of telling Bashar al-Assad to leave.
  • Israel/Palestine — the near-term loser will be Palestine and the longer-term loser will be Israel.
  • If Israel/Palestine could be solved, the result would be Singapore on the Mediterranean.

Cyber Warfare

  1. For the moment there are no rules or norms on cyber crimes because there is no consensus on what those rules or norms should be.
  2. We should make it clear to China, the biggest offender, that we will do to them what they are doing to us and that we are better at it than they are.
  3. When there is a possibility of harm, there will be rules.

No prediction was offered as to whether any of the suggestions would be followed especially as to Washington politics.




7 Responses to “Foreign Policy under the Chatham House Rule”

c matheson, January 21, 2014 at 8:50 am said:

Those are the same rules as an AA meeting.


Haven Pell, January 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm said:

I did not know that. Thank you. I suppose communicating the substance of what is said can be helpful without making the speaker self conscious.


David, January 21, 2014 at 11:53 am said:

Anyone else notice that this post is notably “less cracked” than some here? Must be those CH rules….

So, Haven, can you tell us how many different speakers are summed up above, and perhaps provide a biographical hint or two (“DC think-tank neo-con”… or “UK academic and pundit”… or “NYC university-based public intellectual” ) without, of course, breaking any rules?

Alternatively, you could call me at 917-484-2892 and let me know who’s being so anonymously wise!


Haven Pell, January 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm said:

yes, this was definitely less cracked than usual but I hope it helps provide a frame of reference as one reads about these issues.

I’d prefer not to get into guessing games but both speakers had substantial roles in policy making positions for administrations of each party.

These were not spectators pretending to be experts.


Andrew Kreig, January 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm said:

Chatham House Rules seem very stimulating and otherwise beneficial upon first impression. But if used generally — and they are often imposed on the media for foreign affairs and other covering — they hurt the public by removing accountability.

My new book “Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters” explains why this is so. It does it by providing more than a century of history to describe how and why Chatham House (among other elite institutions) was created as a propaganda outlet for foreign affairs in the UK and Commonwealth, and how the practice became so ostensibly successful in the short run (although ultimately disastrous in the group-think later enabling Hitler’s rise) that the practices have spread to the United States. This movement involves not simply speaking rules but the policies underscoring much of what this particular speaker (whoever he or she may be) sought to convey in the reported remarks. The beauty of this system is that most participants are well-intentioned and kept in the dark regarding larger options and missing information. This provides the appearance of openness and debate and a beehive of related activity — but very little public understanding of the full array of winners-and-losers or policy options.

Andrew Kreig


Haven Pell, January 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm said:

I am glad I included the term in my key words, not least so you would find the article. Many thanks for the comment. Good luck with your book.


Haven Pell, January 22, 2014 at 11:12 am said:

“We have to get beyond nation states because they no longer control reality.”

If that is in fact true, which is the most important annual event?
a) the UN General Assembly?
b) the World Bank IMF meetings?
c) The World Economic Forum going on right now in Davos?
d) something else?


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