When I started as an FT foreign-affairs columnist, I told myself that I wouldn’t spend too much time going to conferences. I don’t know quite what I envisaged myself doing instead – working, perhaps? Sitting in monk-like contemplation in a library? Going undercover in the tribal areas of Pakistan?
Anyway, I’m not doing very well on my “avoid conferences” rule. I spent the weekend at Ditchley in the English countryside, conferring about the future of the European Union. And I am currently in residence at Schloss Leopoldskron – an Austrian castle where they filmed the “Sound of Music”. I’m a guest of the Salzburg Global Seminar. We are discussing – let me just look at this folder – yes, we are discussing: “The United States in the World: New Strategies of Engagement”. Later next week, I may re-surface in Texas at yet another conference.
There are legitimate reasons to be suspiscious of the conference circuit. Spending your time in country houses and castles is perhaps a little too comfortable. You can discuss the causes of global poverty or conflict, without ever feeling too upset – and the food and drink are free. You also tend to see the same faces. I was not entirely surprised to encounter Lord David Hannay (author and former British ambassador to the UN) at both Ditchley and Salzburg. (Perhaps he will be in Texas, too?) Read more