Title:
PP/GC/LE/132 Letter from Sir G.C.Lewis to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, setting out his opinions on the general principles of foreign policy, 23 November 1860
Date:
23/11/1860
Content:
Letter from Sir George Cornewall Lewis, second Baronet, [Secretary of State for Home Affairs], Kent House, [Knightsbridge, London], to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: there is a medical maxim that prevention is better than cure. This maxim should be applied with discretion to politics, especially foreign politics. "If the evil is proximate and certain or highly probable, a wise statesman will, if he can, prevent it. But with respect to remote and uncertain evils, the system of insurance may be carried too far. Our foreign relations are so numerous and so intricate, that if we insure against every danger which ingenuity can devise there will be no end of our insurances." Even in private life, those who operate on a large scale do not insure. One thing, according to the saying, insures another. A man who has one or two ships and one or two farmhouses insure. But the owner of many ships and farmhouses does not insure. "We keep in every country of the world a paid agent - often of great activity and intelligence - whose time in general is only half employed, and whose business it is to frighten his own government with respect to the ambitious and encroaching designs of foreign governments. I am not seeking to under value the services of diplomatic and consular agents. I know that on the whole they are of great benefit to the country which employs them. But it is natural and proper that they should keep a sharp look out for the machinations of foreign governments, and that their imagination should sometimes be stronger than their reason. If their advice was listened to, we should be perpetually taking expensive precautions against remote and problematical risks." Lewis believes that in general Britain's foreign policy is too precious. They are apt to be scared by bugbears and underestimate the power of England and the fear it inspires in foreign nations. France's possession of Algeria is not disadvantageous to Britain. It is a constant drain on the military and financial resources of France. In the event of a war, Algeria would fall into British hands, as long as the British maintained or obtained "the empire of the sea". The possession of Egypt and Malta did not assist France in the [Peninsular] war. "If an evil is certain and maximate and can be averted by diplomacy, then undoubtedly prevention is better than cure. But if the evil is remote and uncertain, then I think it better not to resort to preventive measures, which ensure a proximate and certain evil. The evil may probably never occur, and the cure may never be required. If the evil should occur, the cure may perhaps be simple and inexpensive, and may not imply hostilities. It seems to me that our foreign relations are on too vast a scale, to render it wise for us to ensure systematically against all remote risks; and if we do not ensure systematically, we do nothing." 23 Nov 1860
Extent:
Two papers
License:
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Subject:
Foreign relations; diplomacy
Peninsular war #Bdate=00/00/1808
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