Editor, The World Today
Alyson Bailes, who has died at the age of 67, was many things: a successful British diplomat, a polyglot, a teacher, and a passionate contributor to debates on security and disarmament. For readers of The World Today, she was our expert on small states – their security and their resilience – and in particular in the Nordic region.

She wrote the cover story for our Nordic issue (December 2012 and January 2013), answering the question why the countries of north-east Europe had survived the financial shock more or less unscathed. Her answer was that the Nordics learn lessons well and are quick to adapt – through this was not true for Iceland which, she noted, had an adversarial political culture akin to that of Britain or the US.   Erudite and speaking eight or so languages, she wrote with lucid simplicity and tended to stress her lack of expertise (‘To a non-economist like myself…) rather than her huge store of wisdom. 

Latterly resident in the Scottish borders when not teaching at the University of Iceland, she advised the Scottish government on security issues after independence. Writing in our issue of June and July 2013, she looked at how an independent Scotland might share some of the Nordics’ peaceful ideals while not alienating the British military, whose nuclear deterrent would still be based for some time at Faslane. She showed that the Scottish defence issue contained many more avenues for cooperation and discord than had been explored. 

Alyson enjoyed a reputation for sang-froid from an incident early in her career when she was almost killed in an IRA terrorist attack. She was sitting in the car of the British ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, when two gunmen mortally wounded him. She instinctively raised her handbag to protect herself from flying glass. After accompanying the dying ambassador to hospital, she gave a press conference on the incident, and continued with her schedule of meetings. 

Being at the centre of the action was habit. She was in Prague in 1968 when Soviet tanks crushed the ‘Prague Spring’. She was working at the embassy in Beijing in 1989 at the time of the Tiananmen Square student protests. The different paths to reform followed by China and the communist states of central Europe – once again displaying her focus on the world’s smaller countries – was the subject of her first article in The World Today in 1990. We shall miss her understated expertise.