J. H. Adam Watson

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John Hugh Adam Watson (10 August 1914 - 21 August 2007) was a British diplomat, scholar and propagandist. He was a professor at the Center for Advanced Studies, University of Virginia 1980-2007.


A former diplomat, Watson stressed the importance of diplomacy in international relations, arguing that diplomacy had "reached its full flower as an art" in the European states system from the Italian Renaissance to the end of the First World War.

He pointed out that professional diplomats were often sceptical of ideology and argued that contemporary diplomacy had four primary tasks. These were: information-gathering abroad; the analysis of such information by foreign ministries at home; developing policy based on that information; and communicating such a policy. [1]

Watson joined the Diplomatic Service in 1937 he was stationed in the Balkans and Egypt during the early part of the Second World War and in Moscow towards its close. In 1950 he served at the British Embassy in Washington before being made head of the African department at the Foreign Office, in which position he had to contend with the Suez Crisis, the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya and other challenges to British authority in Africa. In 1958 he was appointed CMG. [2]

Watson was ambassador to the Federation of Mali (1960-61) and to Senegal, Mauritania and Togo (1960-62). Watson then went to Cuba (1963-66), and was there at the time of President Kennedy's assassination. Watson ended his diplomatic career in 1968 as the London-based undersecretary of state for NATO affairs and then spent five frustrating years as diplomatic adviser to the newly formed British Leyland Motor Corp. He was caught in a dispute with Israel in the early 1970s over discussions within the company to sell Land Rovers to Arab countries. [3]

In the mid-1970s, he administered two Swiss humanitarian foundations, for which he worked to get books and other materials to intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain, as well as to help their work find a Western audience.

International relations

In the late 1950s, Watson was invited to join a group of eminent historians led by Sir Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, known as the English School, which set out to lay the foundations for a modern theory of international relations. [4] He also become an early member of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics. The group, with Rockefeller Foundation providing initial funding, formed in the late 1950s to create a new framework for thinking about international politics. [5]

Watson's most significant published contributions to the study of international politics were: Diplomacy: the Dialogue between States (1982); The Expansion of International Society (co-edited with Hedley Bull, 1984); The Evolution of International Society (1992); The Limits of Independence (1997); and Hegemony and History (2007).


Watson was a member of the founding council of the Institute for the Study of Conflict and when he resigned he went to Paris to run the International Association for Cultural Freedom, the successor to the Congress for Cultural Freedom. He was Director General there 1974–78. [6]

Watson had previously been second in command of the Information Research Department and involved with British Psychological Warfare policy. [7] The ISC was filling a role that an increasingly constrained and downsized IRD was no longer able to play. Adam Watson recalled of both organisations:

Obviously one had a very much freer hand. I think by then it wasn't just a question of getting out certain elementary facts. Indeed, I think one could say not that there was a need for exposing Soviet activities in the world, so much as that in a world where a press values its freedoms and doesn't like to depend on government for its information, it is obvious that there are considerable advantages in a private operation. [8]

Lashmar & Oliver state that not only did a private propaganda organization have the advantage of apparent objectivity and disinterest, but it could also cover areas that state agencies were restrained from, or wary of, covering. One such area was domestic subversion and the activities of the British far left. This was a gap that the ISC was already in the process of filling.


  1. 'Professor Adam Watson', Telegraph.co.uk, 1 October 2007
  2. 'Professor Adam Watson', Telegraph.co.uk, 1 October 2007
  3. Adam Bernstein, J.H. Watson, 93; British Envoy, Scholar, Washington Post, 14 September 2007
  4. 'Professor Adam Watson', Telegraph.co.uk, 1 October 2007
  5. Adam Bernstein, J.H. Watson, 93; British Envoy, Scholar, Washington Post, 14 September 2007
  6. ‘WATSON, (John Hugh) Adam’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008
  7. Lashmar, P. Oliver, J. (1998) Britain's Secret Propaganda War. pp. 43, 46-7, 86, 90, 96-7, 102, 164-5
  8. Lashmar & Oliver, pp.164-5