Summer is traditionally the time of the BBQ and get togethers at garden parties. Lazy Sunday afternoon strolls by the river or canal and a pub lunch. A day out at the beach. Holidaymakers jetting out to different lands or eager campers and caravaners packing their cars for a ramble nearer to home or on the continent. However, Summer 2014 will be remembered for very different reasons. It is one of the bloodiest summers in the world’s history. Daily we turn on the TV to the worsening of crisises in three parts of the world: Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq.
As the Prime Minister cuts his Summer holiday short to come home to chair meetings of COBRA, he will determining Britain’s response to violence breaking out around the globe and calling on the language services for assistance. Language services are of utmost importance in diplomacy. The English language must be translated in a way that our message is clear and understood. It must not incite or inflame the fires of violence and likewise must make the views of Britain crystal clear. Despite the relative size of the UK to other European Countries, it is still looked upon as a world super power. Around the globe one of the most requested languages for which important documents, treaties and agreements are to be translated into: is the English language. Language services translate these important papers which could determine the very tone of a peace settlement or change the course of the conflict.
As the violence esculates in Iraq and journalists are beheaded in acts of revenge for the US airstrikes, the Prime Minister’s team at COBRA with undoubtedly include a specialist team of language services’ advisors. Communication must be clear and precise. In such a diplomatic crisis there is no room for error.
We only need to turn our attention to the 1980s, to see how words misinterpreted during those dark years of the Cold War, can drive events to the point of total and utter destruction. During 10 days in November 1983, the United States and the Soviet Union nearly started a nuclear war. Newly declassified documents from the CIA, NSA, KGB, and senior officials in both countries reveal just how close we came to mutually assured destruction — over a military exercise. According to a important document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by National Security Archives researcher Nate Jones, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Adroprov warned U.S. ambassador Averell Harriman six months before the crisis that both countries “may be moving toward a red line” in which a miscalculation could spark a nuclear war. Diplomatic leaders have learned from such eventualities and now language services are a key aspect of any foreign office advisory team.
After Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Prime Minister is understandably reluctant to risk the lives of more British serviceman. Indeed sending in the armed forces could be seen as a threat and further inciting violence. The people of the United Kingdom watch with bated breath to see how he will proceed. As history has shown us: one just hopes he has a good team of language service advisors.