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?)