Obituary: Herve Alphand

Herve Alphand, diplomat: born Paris 31 May 1907; Financial Counsellor, French Embassy, Washington 1940-41; Director of Economic Affairs, French National Committee 1941-44; Director- General, French Foreign Office 1945, Secretary-General 1965-73; member, Nato Permanent Council 1952-54; Ambassador to United Nations 1955; Ambassador to United States 1956-65; married Nicole Merenda (died 1979); died 13 January 1994.

THOSE WHO worked with Herve Alphand during his time as a diplomat, serving in Washington, the United Nations or as the secretary- general of the Quai d'Orsay, knew that he was a most efficient and skilful administrator. Those who did not work with him did not realise this. They saw rather a highly cultured Frenchman who wished to surround himself with people from high society and whose conversation moved from the frivolous to the cynical.

But most people know and appreciate Alphand through the journal which he kept from 1939 to 1973, published under the title L'Etonnement d'etre (1977). Here one sees what an extraordinary and fascinating life he led, and how he came to judge people. He recalled at the moment of the Armistice walking in the gardens of a casino with a former radical and hearing him talk enthusiastically about the future. Europe, he was told, would be united under a German president and France would profit in every way. Alphand defined this Franco- German collaboration in the words of Talleyrand as the collaboration between the horse and its rider.

The problem of Germany and Europe crops up on other occasions. Notably in 1954, when Pierre Mendes-France, with whom Alphand had been a student and whom he disliked greatly, was Prime Minister. He thought that the killing off of the European Defence Community treaty by the government meant that Germany would be rearmed and would reappear as a dangerous power; Germany should only be rearmed within the context of a united Europe.

Ten years later, when he analyses the policies of de Gaulle, he notes that Germany is doing nothing to promote the construction of Europe, and that the results of the Franco-German treaty were disappointing.

We learn a lot about the vicissitudes of a diplomat's life. Mendes- France offered to appoint Alphand ambassador in Cairo. He was then offered Buenos Aires or Tokyo, the government, he believed, having sought out the two posts that were furthest removed from Paris. He accepted Tokyo but his appointment was never made official. Subsequently, under successive governments he was considered for Bonn, Rome or Ankara. Eventually, after much dispute, he was made ambassador to the United Nations in 1955, a post which he describes as being more parliamentary than diplomatic, in so far as it meant counting votes and meeting people in the corridors and talking to them.

Doubtless his most important appointment was to Washington at the height of the Suez affair. In spite of his many assertions that France was the oldest ally of the United States, he noted that the difficulties that existed between the two countries were not, as was often said, the result of General de Gaulle's being in power. Before leaving for Washington he had called on de Gaulle, and his account of the General's pessimism combined with a passing comparison de Gaulle makes between the original French monarch Clovis and himself, is one of the most remarkable portraits of the General whom he had joined in 1941 as Director of Economic Affairs on the French National Committee.

Alphand was a cunning diplomat. He knew how to keep a document secret in his drawer until the right moment to produce it. He knew how to relax: three weeks at Saint Tropez entirely devoted to the sea and restaurants. He knew his literature and when de Gaulle was cynical about the Nobel prize's being awarded to Saint-John Perse (an old enemy), Alphand explained that he could understand Perse's poetry because he read the English translations. But he himself liked to be cynical. Out of prudence, as he put it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own