Shuttle diplomacy will always be important, but skyway diplomacy has its place, too.
That’s certainly true this week at RBC Plaza in downtown Minneapolis, where workers and shoppers can stop in at a British “Pop-Up Consulate.” Amid images of the queen, the Beatles, Mr. Bean and a beefeater guard, they’ll find be able to learn more about the United Kingdom.
While these interactions are distinctly different from summits of striped-pants envoys, they’re still an important component of diplomacy, said Her Majesty’s Consul General Stephen Bridges, who heads the British Consulate General Chicago.
“Yes, it is all about John Kerry and Philip Hammond and Prime Minister Cameron and Nick Clegg and our various other Cabinet ministers sitting at the table,” Bridges observed. “But in order for them to sit at the table, there’s an awful lot of groundwork that needs to be done by those diplomats around the world. … It’s about building these partnerships, and any decent partnership has to be built from the ground up, and that’s where the diplomats come in.”
The partnership — or in the case of the United States and the United Kingdom, the “special relationship” — is “indispensable,” Bridges said, quoting President Obama’s characterization. And it should remain that way regardless of the uncertain outcome of Britain’s May 7 election.
The partnership between Minnesota and the U.K. is important, too, especially economically. Bridges pointed out that many Minnesota multinationals have a significant British presence and that U.K. companies employ about 16,000 Minnesotans. The U.K. government, along with the Obama administration, hopes to tighten these ties through the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free-trade agreement.
Politically, Minnesota and the Midwest are viewed as important, too. Within the Chicago consulate’s purview are presidential prospects Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (currently in England), as well as the Iowa caucuses and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “You have people. You have events. And you have history,” Bridges said. “That’s a pretty powerful cocktail.”