Simon Boyden and Nicolas Hopton: Regional Challenges in Libya and Mauritania

11 February, 2021

On February 11th, we warmly welcomed His Excellency British Ambassador to Libya Nicholas Hopton and His Excellency British Ambassador to Mauritania Simon Boyden for a talk on their experiences in the Mahgreb. The event was moderated by our Treasurer, Pierre-Louis Le Borgne, and our Event Manager, Maeve Berry.

Nicholas Hopton, UK Ambassador to Libya, has been in post there since September 2019. Previously the UK Ambassador to Qatar and to Yemen, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ambassador Hopton first joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1989, and has held positions in Paris, Rome and Rabat. He also worked on national security issues in the Cabinet Office, led the International Organisations Department in the FCO and was Private Secretary to the Minister for Europe.

Simon Boyden has enjoyed a rich and varied career in the Diplomatic Service, working across different policy areas in London and in Russia, Austria, Germany and, most recently, in Afghanistan. In February 2019, Mr Boyden was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

The event kicked off with Simon Boyden and Nicholas Hopton discussing their career path and sharing briefly their experience as Ambassadors to, respectively, Mauritania and Libya. They discussed how they felt when they were first informed of their current postings, and talked about some memorable experiences, some being certainly atypical, which allowed us to get a glance at what the life of a diplomat is. 

Furthermore, the Ambassadors offered answers to various questions, ranging from the challenges of dealing with governments in challenging regions to the impact of Covid-19 on their work and the countries they are posted in. They also addressed more country-specific issues, like what does the newly appointed Libyan government mean for the UK diplomatic mission or how the issue of slavery in Mauritania is being addressed.

Moreover, both Ambassadors gave advice to the students, shared their vision of what diplomacy really is, as well as how it has been evolving and continues to do so.

We would like to thank Ambassador Hopton and Ambassador Boyden for their time, as well as everyone who took time to attend this amazing event.

Jonathan Marcus: Post-Pandemic Geopolitics

28 January, 2021

Is There a New Cold War Between the US and China?

On the 28th of January, Jonathan Marcus kindly joined us for our fifth event of the academic year. The talk discussed his predictions for post-pandemic geopolitics and was moderated by one of our Co-Presidents, Sarah Ann Lim.

Jonathan has had a long-standing career in broadcasting as a defense and foreign policy analyst, working with the BBC World Service as a Defense and Diplomatic Correspondent. He leveraged on his extensive experience in the area to give us a rundown of the future of US-China relationships in the new Biden Administration, highlighting the necessity of stronger relations especially within international organisations. 

Jonathan also touched upon the Thucydides Trap between the two nations and answered many questions on the impact of their relationship in regions such as Africa, India and South-East Asia.

We would like to thank Jonathan for his time, and all who came along and asked questions.


Franz-Stefan Gady: The Future of Warfighting

16 november, 2020

On November 16th, we warmly welcomed Franz-Stefan Gady for a talk on the future of warfighting. The event was moderated by our Treasurer, Pierre-Louis Le Borgne.

Having reported from a wide range of countries and conflict zones as a journalist and embedded with the Afghan National Army, NATO forces and Kurdish militias, Franz-Stefan also advised militaries in Europe and the United States on structural reform and the future of armed conflict. He now is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Franz-Stefan defined what he means by the future of warfighting. He highlighted that it mainly lies on how new technologies are used together and in conjunction with military strategies, as we move toward a network centric military model along with an increase in the use of non kinetic capabilities. He also insisted on how human and military technologies will work hand in hand, and why human presence will never be fully replaced by technology. 

We rapidly progressed into the Q&A part of the talk. The capabilities of Russia, China and the US were notably discussed, as well as the role of new technologies in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, just to name these two topics. In the final part of the talk, Franz-Stefan shared with us his perspective and experience as a journalist in conflict zones, and we notably learned more about his relation with the US military compared to the British, as well as the story behind his twitter’s background picture. 

We would like to thank Franz-Stefan for his time, as well as everyone who took time to attend this amazing event, our most popular to date this year. 

A Conversation with Simon Mustard:
British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone

22 OCTOBER, 2020

On 22 October we welcomed Simon Mustard for a talk and Q&A on his career in the police and as a diplomat. This talk was moderated by one of our Event Managers, Bethan Richards.

Having been a diplomat for over 20 years, working in Central America, Washington, the Middle East, and Africa, he is now working as the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone. He is also the Chairman of the FCDOs Social Mobility Staff Association –  working to ensure the FCDO is an accessible career option to all.  

Simon identified from his experiences what it takes to be a successful diplomat. It is a hugely varied role, and so adaptability and resilience are important. He highlighted that there is not one route in, and that the skills he developed while working for the police, such as dealing with people during times of crisis, have been hugely beneficial to him. As well as career advice, Simon spoke of his role as High Commissioner, and Britain’s relationship with Sierra Leone. He highlighted specifically the response to Covid-19, how overnight Sierra Leoneans, as a country used to living with pandemics, adopted mask wearing and social distancing, and the positive impact this has undoubtedly had on the number of cases.

We would like to thank Simon for his time as well as all those who attended and submitted questions. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Sierra Leone from another diplomat’s perspective, our Winter 2020 edition of journal will include an article written about the civil war and its aftermath on the country.

Gabriela Castro Fontoura:
Trade and Opportunities in Latin America

28 SEPTEMBER, 2020

On 28th September 2020, we warmly welcomed Gabriela Castro-Fontoura for a talk on Trade and Opportunities in Latin America. Gabriela founded her own company, Sunny Sky Solutions, and works to supporting British businesses across Latin America. Gabriela is also the proud author of “The SME Guide to Latin America” – an e-book on the region for British SMEs. This discussion was moderated by our Presidents Francesca Descher and Sarah-Ann Lim.

Gabriela leveraged on her experiences working in the UK and Latin America to paint a picture of the economic situation in both countries, outlining opportunities for growth especially in a post COVID-19 world. She highlighted the diversity of Latin America, giving us a unique insight into the local culture and working style. Throughout the conversation, Gabriela also integrated career tips for those interested in entrepreneurship and international trade as well as her inspiring story of how she eventually set up her own company.  

The event wrapped up with a Q&A segment where we received many questions about trade diversification opportunities in Latin America, as well as how her consultancy business is adapting to restrictions put in place due to the health crisis.    

Our committee would like to thank Gabriela for her time and insight, as well as everyone who took time off their schedules to attend this event.  We hope this event provided the audience a greater insight into Latin America beyond the classroom.

Exeter Lecturers Roundtable: Politics of the Pandemic

23 SEPTEMBER, 2020

This was the first event for the 2020/21 committee, and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the first ever virtual event the Diplomatic Hub has run as well. For this panel disussion on the ‘Politics of the Pandemic’ we were joined by Professor John Heathershaw, Dr Irene Fernandez-Molina, Dr Nick Kirsop-Taylor, and Dr Elena Gadjanova from the University of Exeter Politics Department. All had been contributories to pandemipolitics.net, a blog set up by Heathershaw and his colleague Dr Brieg Powell to explore the sociopolitical issues to the pandemic. The discussion was moderated by the Diplomatic Hub’s Publicity Secretary, Georgia Mealings.

The event started with questions on the UK experience of the pandemic, with Nick and John talking about the institutional weakness of the British response due to austerity and avoidance of political responsibility. In particular John highlighted the tendency of politicians to hide behind the mantra of ‘we’re following the Science’.

Though perhaps the most enlightening part of the event was the discussion of exceptionalism, especially with regard to the UK. Irene spoke on how the stereotypes that persist against Southern Europe shaped the early perception of the pandemic, despite the high quality of healthcare in countries like Italy. Elena similarly lamented the reluctance of countries in the West to take the warnings of Asian countries and embrace international cooperation.

At the end of the event we had time for some questions from attendees, which included a question on the balance between public health and the economy.

We would like to thank all who tuned into this event and submitted questions ahead of time, it was great to see such a large turnout for our first event. And of course we are hugely thankful for our four panelists for giving up their time and expertise, we urge you to check out their pieces on the pandemipolitics blog.