HE BERLIN WALL FELL IN 1989, and in 1991 the Soviet Union simply broke apart, much as George Kennan had expected would happen if the West could hold firm to a policy of containment. The United States breathed a sigh of relief, and, once the Gulf War was over, turned its attention to domestic problems. Politicians debated how best to apply the budget savings of disarmament, which were termed the peace dividend: on health? education? the budget deficit? tax reduction?
Most American forces overseas in Europe and Asia were brought home. The defense budget was reduced by a third in a few years time. Unfortunately, appropriations for the conduct of foreign relations were cut even more. Between the height of the Cold War in the mid-1980s and 1995 , there was a reduction of over 50 percent in constant dollars in the Function 150 Account of the U.S. Federal budget. These are the appropriations allocated to the State Department, the Foreign Service, our overseas embassies, public diplomacy, arms control, foreign aid, the Peace Corps, the Export-Import Bank, and payments to international organizations. As of Fiscal Year 1999, the budget projections of both the Congress and the Clinton Administration will force a further reduction of 12 percent in these resources over the next five years.
The result has been a retraction in American official presence abroad, in the recruitment and training of Foreign Service officers, in the basic infrastructure of American diplomacy. Between 1992 and 1997, the United States closed thirty-six overseas embassies and consulates.
Unlike multinational corporations and the Department of Defense, the State Department and embassies abroad although their work is grounded upon information and communication lack up-to-date information technology: teleconferencing capability, enciphered e-mail systems, ready electronic access to key information and data bases in foreign countries. A report on the advocacy of U.S. overseas interests by fourteen distinguished Americans1 has recommended an urgent appropriation of $400 million to redesign and modernize the nations diplomatic information technology and communications systems. While inadequate resources are the central problem, the Department of State has not been well managed. In the second half of the twentieth century, the only Secretary of State to pay sustained attention to the organization and infrastructure of American diplomacy was George Shultz.
National security is supported and defended by our diplomatic corps, our intelligence assets, and our armed forces. Their interlocking functions make up a system analogous to the meshing of land, air, and sea components within the military services. Diplomacy is prevention, our first line of defense. If we can resolve international differences through discussion and negotiation, we do not have to send our forces into battle and risk their lives. If diplomacy is weak or inadequate, troops may have to be deployed prematurely. Yet the international affairs (diplomacy) budget is treated as a domestic appropriation and as part of discretionary funding, which will remain the essential target for cuts as long as entitlement programs are not touchable and defense/intelligence are addressed separately under the National Security rubric.
The State Department, for budget consideration, is linked with the departments of Justice and Commerce, and so must compete with the domestic political constituencies of small business, the judiciary, law enforcement, the war on drugs, and so forth. Small wonder, in the absence of the sort of life and death threat earlier posed by the Soviet Union, and without strong presidential leadership, that appropriations for the conduct of diplomacy have plummeted since 1992.
Meanwhile, the world becomes more and more interdependent, and diplomacy is as involved with economic and social issues as it is with national security. Financial markets are intertwined, as we learned from the Asian crisis of 1997/98. The United States is the worlds largest trading nation. Exports now account for a third of Americas real economic growth, and have created one million new jobs in this country over the last few years. Overseas markets are pivotal for cereal and soybean producers of the Midwest and plains states. American consumers benefit from a diversity of foreign products; manufacturers depend on the timely arrival of components produced abroad. Cyberspace does not know national borders. The overseas travel of American businessmen, students, and tourists continues to increase (although there are no longer American consulates to support them if needed in, e.g., Lyons, Bordeaux, Genoa, or Palermo).
The timing is bad for a decline in Americas diplomatic readiness. At the dawn of the new millennium, American foreign policy seems less manageable than it was during the Cold War. The Soviet threat was a yardstick against which to measure each issue. Whether the challenge arose in Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo, Central America, the Middle East, or Afghanistan, we knew what we had to do. Advanced American technology, and dominant American military and economic power, were normally relevant to the task and could be deployed effectively. We sought, but were rarely dependent upon, the support of allies.
How has the international agenda of the United States changed? A new list of issues and problems has replaced the nuclear stand-off of the Cold War. These include:
Such questions seem rather more complex than the deployment of American economic strength and defense capability to block Soviet expansion. The new agenda of problems cannot be solved unilaterally by one nation, even the worlds only superpower. They require communication with other peoples, building coalitions of concerned governments, working together with others to address issues which ignore national borders. In short, they demand diplomacy.