Obituary: Sydney Bailey
Thursday 30 November 1995
Sydney Bailey was born in 1916, son of a lapsed Methodist father and a non-observant Jewish mother. He left school at the age of 15, worked in a factory, a bank and an insurance office and, by the time the Second World War started had - despite the intellectual problems it posed - embraced pacifism and in consequence served for six years in the Friends Ambulance Unit in Burma and China. That is where the non-warrior contracted the tropical disease bilharzia. He lived stoically with this painful condition for most of the rest of his life.
It was in China that Bailey joined the Society of Friends. The peace testimony at the heart of Quakerism provided the basis for his life's work, but he was never to become a conventional Quaker. His uncompromising intellectual honesty gave to all he did a quality of critical and self- critical analysis that was always in solidarity with the whole human family in its predicament. On his return from China he married Brenda Friedrich, Quaker daughter of an English mother and a German father who had been imprisoned in Buchenwald for helping persecuted Jews. So began a lifelong and highly productive partnership.
It did not take long for Bailey to become a competent self-taught political scientist, beginning with authoritative work on the constitutions and parliamentary systems of Britain and the Commonwealth. However, his principal work was centred on the United Nations and disarmament. He wrote definitive texts on the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Secretariat. There followed his two-volume How Wars Ended (1982). He published 17 books in all.
Bailey's disciplined intellectual passion was matched by his determination to turn his scholarship to practical use. He became a very personal diplomat, a consultant to people in positions of responsibility at home and abroad, a self-effacing mediator in places of conflict and an exacting member of numerous non-governmental organisations. I came to know him as a patient but demanding mentor and colleague in the International Affairs Division of the British Council of Churches, which he chaired with an unusual mixture of modesty and authority. To some who did not know him well, his sharp mind could seem intimidating.
From 1954 to 1958 Bailey had served with his wife as full-time staff members of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York. Supported after 1960 by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, he was actively involved in peace negotiations in the Middle East, in Ireland and many other places. Despite his physical disability he did not shun strenuous travel.
He played a characteristically unobtrusive part in the establishment of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Conference on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament and the establishment at King's College London of a lectureship on the ethical problems of war. Whitehall - and political leaders elsewhere - valued his advice even when they did not take it. He had a deep understanding of the problems and limitations of power. He never sought it for himself but empathised with those who did, even when, more often than not, he disagreed with them. His apparent closeness to those in power and even those with military responsibility was not always understood by his fellow pacifists. Rhetorical condemnation was never part of his armoury.
Perhaps Bailey's most creative initiative was the convening from 1952 to 1976 of 10-day conferences of diplomats from most of the nations of the world, but particularly bringing together in a confidential setting senior representatives of nations that were not on talking terms; Arabs and Israelis, for instance, long before the present thaw. This was long- term diplomacy preparing for the day after tomorrow.
I served with Sydney Bailey on the Church of England working party that wrote The Church and the Bomb (1982). It was his quiet, rational advocacy rather than my more intuitive approach that convinced a non-pacifist majority of the moral and political case against nuclear weapons. Yet he was always able to articulate and to appreciate the arguments on the other side.
Bailey sought no honours but was human and gracious enough not to reject them. He was a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, served on Foreign Office advisory committees and received from the World Academy of Art and Science the Rufus Jones Award for his work for world peace. The school leaver at 15 had reason to be pleased when, in 1985, the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred on him the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Civil Law. He had, by then, earned any number of doctorates.
In a Festschrift on Bailey's formal retirement in 1981 Nicholas Sims wrote of him:
He has . . . bestraddled the often mutually uncomprehending worlds of the scholar and the practitioner in international affairs, and of the churches and Whitehall. He has made connections . . . between research and policy, politics and ethics, religion and diplomacy; and brought together for serious discussion and social fellowship people with so little apparently in common, that without his determined persuasion they might never have met.
Even when he was 79, fighting cancer with characteristic courage and good grace, his mind remained alert and interested. Putting mind over matter, defying pain, he was editing one more book - a third edition of his The Procedure of the UN Security Council, first published 20 years ago - almost to the end.
Sydney Dawson Bailey, peace and human rights activist: born Hull 1 September 1916; married 1945 Brenda Friedrich (one son, one daughter); died London 27 November 1995.
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