She was born in Manchester in the United Kingdom. She graduated from Somerville College, University of Oxford in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree (First Class Honors) in Modern History and a Master of Arts in 1971.
She joined the London Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1969 as a Desk Officer for the Western European Department and in 1970, received her first international posting as a Desk Officer at the British Embassy in Budapest. From 1974 to 1976, she served as Second Secretary in the UK Delegation to NATO. In 1976, she worked in London in the European Community Department (Internal) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In 1979, she served on a special mission as an assistant to the EC “Committee of Wise Men,” appointed by the European Council to advise on institutional improvements in advance of Greek accession. In November 1979, Alyson Bailes was on loan to the British Ministry of Defence as Head of Section in DS11, a civilian department dealing with defence outside the NATO area. In June 1981 she was posted to a job covering defence issues at the British Embassy in Bonn.
In 1984, she returned to London as Deputy Head of the Policy Planning Staff[disambiguation needed]. From August 1987 to November 1989, she served at the British Embassy Beijing as Deputy Head of Mission, Consul-General, and a member of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group on the Future of Hong Kong. From January to July 1990, she took sabbatical leave to research and write on relations between China and Central/Eastern Europe at “Chatham House” (the Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London.
From August 1990 to end-1993, Bailes served as Deputy Head of Mission and Consul General at the British Embassy in Oslo. In 1994, she became Head of the Security Policy Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. She took a further leave of absence from the British Diplomatic Service to work as Vice President for the European Security Programme at the Institute for EastWest Studies (now EastWest Institute) in New York from April 1996 to August 1997. She was then selected as Political Director of the Western European Union in Brussels where she served from September 1997 to July 2000.
Returning to the Diplomatic Service, Bailes became British Ambassador to Finland from November 2000-June 2002. She left that appointment, and resigned from the British Service, to take up her post at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from July 2002. In 2007 she became a Visiting Professor at the University of Iceland.
Since 1990 Bailes has published many articles in international journals, and some book chapters, on subjects principally of European defence, regional security cooperation, and arms control. Her main leisure interests are music, travel, and nature study. She is a member of the Advisory Council of Independent Diplomat. In addition she is a visiting professor to the College of Europe teaching a course in New Security Challenges and Security Governance.
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'Through European Eyes', A collection of Alyson Bailes' speeches with writings from young researchers, and a bibliography, University of Iceland 2009, text at www3.hi.is/solofile/1014855
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