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An Interview with Dr. Chris Kilford on Social Skills and Diplomacy (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/22


Dr. Chris Kilford is the President of the Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch. He discusses: things to watch; book and authors for those with an interest in diplomacy and international relations; the need for high-level social skills in those work settings; and final feelings or thoughts.

Keywords: authors, books, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian International Council, Chris Kilford, Victoria.

An Interview with Dr. Chris Kilford on Social Skills and Diplomacy: President, Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch (Part Three)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Interview conducted on February 3, 2020.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What do you think will be some of the work that Canadians will need to keep an eye on, in terms of the work you’re doing, but also in terms of the concerns of ordinary Canadians who may have an interest in the international work that is around? I should note for those who may be interested you are the President of the Victoria Branch of the Canadian International Council.

Dr. Chris Kilford: Yes, I am the President of the Canadian International Council Victoria Branch. It has almost 500 members. I am on the National Board as well. When I look to the involvement of Canadians down the road, one area that we have been absent is U.N. peacekeeping. We have maybe 30/40 peacekeepers out in the world right now. We haven’t been taking up the slack and helping out with deployments. We have great people who can make a huge difference. This would be one area that I think we should focus on. Sometimes, though, we don’t really know how many Canadians are out in the world. I think the latest coronavirus situation has shown us how many Canadians live in Wuhan, who we would never think about. In the case of Mali, where we did have some peacekeeping forces, recently -they have now left. But, there are huge Canadian interests there. The gold mines, the universities in Quebec have been working with the Malian population to improve agriculture for decades. There are so many Canadians involved internationally and doing good work. On the other hand, our foreign aid budget hasn’t kept pace with many other countries. We are way behind in the amount of money that we can give based on the recommendations of the U.N. Our military presence, as I mentioned, through the U.N. is quite limited. Diplomatically, we have a number of missions, but we should probably think about where else we can expand our footprint. Especially when it comes to driving things like trade. We also haven’t had a foreign policy review for quite some time. The last time we made a serious attempt was in 2004 with the International Policy Statement put out by the Paul Martin government.

We have a defence policy. It’s called Strong, Secure, Engaged. It was put out in 2017. It reads very much like a foreign policy. I think it is the reason Minister Freedland, foreign minister at the time, gave her speech in the Parliament the day before the defence policy was released is because the government was concerned that we didn’t have a foreign policy top cover for our defence policy. It looked like defence was driving our foreign policy. So, to come back to this, we simply haven’t had a foreign policy review in 16 or so years, where we sat down, nationally, and said, “Okay, what is it that we want to be doing in the world? Where are we going to put our focus? We can’t have trumped up plans between different departments about what they intend to do. We need a central vision as to where the country is moving to. That includes everything from our trading relationships to immigration to defence relationships, diplomatic representation, participation in international fora. We don’t have endless resources. We have to think about this. The relationship with the U.S., etc.” These are questions that need to be answered in a new foreign policy review. I don’t know when the government plans to do that. I know that in the Canadian International Council, we are currently making our own plans to do a bottom-up citizens’ foreign policy review, where we as an organization with our branches in 16 cities get together, look at all the factors and submit what we consider the best foreign policy for the country moving forward to the government.

2. Jacobsen: If someone is getting interested in international relations, political science, military and military history, what are some books to look into and authors to look into for the inquisitive younger generation?

Kilford: Yes, that’s a good question because there is quite a bit out there. I would say that I’ve learned some of the most insightful things from books that our past Canadian politicians have put out. Stephen Harper has a book on his time in office, which came out recently. Jean Chretien has his observations. Chretien’s Senior Policy Advisor put out a book called The Way it Works – Inside Ottawa. While these books our former prime ministers and others put out can be very frustrating, because they are, obviously, guarded sometimes, they provide fascinating insight into how government works, and also how foreign relations work, and how important personal relations are. Even though, you get to see a leader, e.g., Angela Merkel once or twice a year if for some reason, you hit it off with them, and if they like you, in a crisis or in a general negotiation, you can say to someone, “I need to talk to Angela Merkel.” When Angela Merkel is told that the Prime Minister of Canada wants to speak with her, she says, ‘Yes! Sure, I would love to do that.” Ah, really! [Laughing] personal relations are so important. That’s what you learn by looking at the books that leaders have put out. My first suggestion would be to “read more about our prime ministers and their challenges.” Then you can extend that to others internationally who have written about their times. Start with the people.

3. Jacobsen: So, in other words, a lot of your work comes down to interpersonal relations and high-level social skills in diplomatic settings.

Kilford: Yes. I spoke about that briefly at the UBC Model United Nations conference. The social niceties, the interpersonal relations, the ability to hold a knife and a fork at a dinner table, these are all part and parcel of, yes, diplomatic life, but also how you handle your social interactions. We like to think that we are living in a fast-moving, very casual world, where a quick email will do the job. But it is not like that. The personal touches are still really important. It is interesting when you travel. When you have visiting delegations come to a country like Turkey, there is normally a little gift exchange that occurs. Being very Canadian wee have financial limits that you are able to a) give as a gift and b) able to receive as a gift. I think it’s probably like $100. It is very modest. Canadians go and give their hosts a book of photographs about Canada. They will shake your hand and say, “Thank you very much.” And then they will give you a lovely Turkish tea set with glasses and holders, and a tea pourer. It’ll be all gold and very extravagant [Laughing]. “Oh my God! I can’t take this you’ll think. It’s above the limit. I’ll have to report it” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Wow.

Kilford: You get put into these situations. Or they’ll give you two tea sets and something else. You’ve only given them a book!

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kilford: Obviously, you are made aware of this before you go out and then accept it for what it is. You can’t refuse gifts because that wouldn’t be right. So, you get attuned to all of this. But other countries put a lot of thought into their guests; and they’re going to roll out the red carpet, even if you are mid-level. You don’t necessarily have to be the ambassador. You will be treated incredibly well. I was the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently. I am not an official now. But I do know some people there. They invited me to talk. I sit down. All of the sudden, a young man appears. My host says, “Would you like Turkish coffee? Turkish tea? What would you like?” Of course, I have lived there. I know the routine. I said, “Turkish coffee would be great.” So, the person went away. They came back. They served you. There was some Turkish delight . You would not get that [Laughing] kind of treatment in any Canadian office. They employ, circa 1950s in England, an entire group of young men like the women who used to push tea carts back then and serve tea to people in their offices. That doesn’t happen anymore. In other countries, it is still the case. They do that still. You just have to be aware of it. Now, what that meant for me back in Canada…if I had a foreign delegation coming I would change my habits. Whilst I didn’t have someone to get the tea for me, I made sure to get the tea and the coffee and to do this for them myself. I would have some cookies as well [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kilford: Because I knew that is what they expected.

Jacobsen: I think this goes back to the point about small, nice touches as fundamental.

Kilford: Yes, when you are in another country, you become aware of the personal touches, the interpersonal side of the house. Now, when you are back in Canada, if you are dealing with foreign delegations or individuals, you become aware of their expectations. That makes you a better diplomat, because you’re not somebody who just says, “Come on, sit down,” and then gets to business. You understand that before you get to business, you should probably talk about their family, their time, how they’re finding things. You do that little bit of small talk to get to the business of things. You have coffee on hand as well. So, that foreign exposure is really invaluable. It’s great while you’re out there. You’re learning. But it really is when you come back to Global Affairs Canada, and you’re the director of this or that. That foreign exposure, doesn’t matter which country it is in, affects you. You think, “I must do things differently now. How can I adjust or pick-and-choose among the best that I’ve seen to make a better representative of Canada, and a better diplomat when I head back out into the world?” Your first deployments; you’re pretty naïve. You may have some training and read a book. You’re pretty naïve in the early days. By the second or third posting, you’re a pro. Those are the kind of people that Canada needs. The people who have this experience.

4. Jacobsen: Do you have any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Kilford: Speaking at the UBC Model United Nations conference with the young people there, it was really good to see. I think jobs in foreign affairs and in the Department of National Defence, or any of the other departments and agencies with a foreign focus are great. But, they are hard to come by. I would say for younger people who are reading what you’ve been doing that my advice has always been to go for the dream job. If you don’t get it, don’t give up, look into the department for positions at a lower level than what you might normally want , and get your foot in the door with the department that you are interested in. It may be at the lowest level and you may be a clerk even with a B.A. or an M.A. What you see once you’re in a  department are jobs that aren’t advertised or are internal deployments I know, from experience, that young people who enter at lower than expected levels will move up faster because once their expertise comes to the awareness of their bosses, then they think, “Oh, yes, they should be doing this, and doing that.” There will be a lot of interesting work in the future as well, as Baby Boomers are moving out. Some have been holding onto their jobs longer than usual. Eventually, they will move out. There will be space created and opportunities for international careers for folks. That would be the advice. If I had all those young people in the room to talk separately about careers, especially with the government, that is what I would have been telling them.

5. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Kilford.

Kilford: Thank you for the opportunity to chat, I am going to be off to talk about Turkey and the battles in the Middle East later today. Our chat about the Middle East has got me all fired up for later on.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kilford: [Laughing] how’s that?

Jacobsen: I think that’s great. Thank you so much.

Kilford: You take care. Have a great day.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President, Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 22, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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