J.H. Watson, 93; British Envoy, Scholar

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2007

J.H. "Adam" Watson, 93, a British diplomat and international affairs scholar who held ambassadorships in Cuba and western Africa and led the Foreign Office's Africa department during the Suez crisis, died Aug. 21 at a hospital in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England. He had cancer.

Mr. Watson spent 30 years as a diplomat, including an early stint as a Cairo-based liaison with the Free French during World War II. He later was a roving ambassador in western Africa during a period of decolonization. He was assigned to Cuba just after the 1962 missile crisis and, as the brother of two farmers, was said to have connected well with dictator Fidel Castro over a mutual interest in crop yields.

In the midst of his Foreign Office career, Mr. Watson become an early member of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics. The group, with Rockefeller Foundation providing initial funding, formed in the late 1950s to create a new framework for thinking about international politics.

The committee's members were mostly disparate academics -- specialists in law, history, religion and other far-ranging fields -- and included well-known international scholars such as Martin Wight, Hedley Bull and Herbert Butterfield (Mr. Watson's Cambridge University mentor). Mr. Watson was one of the committee's few practicing diplomats and served as its chairman in the 1970s, shortly before its dissolution.

Mr. Watson wrote several volumes incorporating the committee's thinking on the interactions of powerful states with the rest of the world. In his best-regarded work, a comparative historical analysis called "The Evolution of International Society" (1992), he wrote about the influence and repercussions of hegemonies, or dominant societies.

John Hugh Watson was born Aug. 10, 1914, in Leicester, England. He spent much of his early childhood in Buenos Aires, where his father ran a trading partnership.

As a boy, he learned a vast amount of English poetry, apparently because his mother, who never mastered Spanish, had no idea what else to teach him.

After graduating from Cambridge University, where he also received a master's degree in history, he joined the diplomatic service in 1937. He took the nickname Adam after noticing that every head in the Foreign Office seemed to turn when someone asked for "John."

A specialist on Russia by virtue of a stint in Moscow, he was posted in Washington during the early years of the Cold War as a psychological warfare liaison officer with U.S. intelligence services.

From 1956 to 1959, he was head of the Foreign Office's Africa department. His fluency in French was a major factor in the assignment, as anti-colonial violence in Algeria deepened. He also was leading the department at the time of the Suez Canal crisis, the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya and other challenges to British authority in Africa.

Afterward, he became a Senegal-based roving ambassador. Among his responsibilities was to meet with the transitional leaders in newly independent African countries and explain what assistance they could expect from the West.

This was exhausting work, and he took a sabbatical to write "Emergent Africa" (1965), a book that was sharply critical of the colonial system. His bosses in the Foreign Office ordered him to use a pseudonym, and he published the book under the name "Scipio," in a nod to the Roman statesman who defeated Hannibal of Carthage.

Mr. Watson ended his diplomatic career in 1968 as the London-based undersecretary of state for NATO affairs and then spent five frustrating years as diplomatic adviser to the newly formed British Leyland Motor Corp. He was caught in a dispute with Israel in the early 1970s over discussions within the company to sell Land Rovers to Arab countries.

In the mid-1970s, he administered two Swiss humanitarian foundations, for which he worked to get books and other materials to intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain, as well as to help their work find a Western audience. During this period, he also translated and adapted plays for the BBC from German, French and Spanish.

Although he maintained a home in Mayfield, England, Mr. Watson made Charlottesville his primary residence after 1978. He became a visiting professor of international relations at the University of Virginia.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Katharine Campbell "Andy" Watson of Charlottesville; three children, Douglas Watson of Portland, Ore., Alaric Watson of Mayfield and Katharine "Polly" Black of Kernersville, N.C.; a brother; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company