In an important independent research study, the author concludes on the basis of interviews with scores of U.S. Foreign Service officers of virtually all ranks that as institutions, neither the Department of State nor the Foreign Service is ready to meet the challenges to American diplomacy foreseen between now and 2010. Disturbing news, indeed. Read on for details and the remedies proposed by career diplomats to overcome this perceived state of unreadiness. ~ Ed.
NOTE: The opinions and views in this paper do not reflect State Department policy but only the perspectives of the individuals interviewed and the author. Quotation marks are used throughout to indicate the words or phrases of officers involved in the project.
Can you picture the world in 2010? No matter how many scenarios one imagines, it is difficult to conceive of one in which the course and quality of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy do not play an important role. This raises an important question: exactly how well prepared are our foreign affairs institutions and our diplomats to negotiate the future?
In order to learn how Foreign Service colleagues assess the readiness of their institution to meet the challenges of 2010, I sought the response of a range of officers to the following five groups of questions:
- What are the most important challenges facing U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade? How do you assess the quality and readiness of the Foreign Service to meet these challenges?
- What attributes will the complete diplomat of 2010 need to exhibit that his/her counterpart might have been able to do without five to ten years ago? What are the implications of this for the Department of State/the Foreign Service?
- Many have called for a significant change in the culture of both the Department of State and the Foreign Service: what are your views?
- What professional skills can we develop through training and what must we develop through on-the-job training?
- Does the Department of State have core values? Does the Foreign Service have core values? If yes, what are they and how are they transmitted? If no, why not? What is the role or relevance (if any) of core values in an organization or a national institution?
According to a wide spectrum of Foreign Service officers (FSOs), both the Department of State and the Foreign Service are currently hollowed-out institutions badly in need of renewal. Our future diplomats will need expertise and skills beyond those of their twentieth century counterparts. They will need to be equally adept at policy and resource management. They will need a solid understanding of the interaction between and among politics, culture, national security, economics, technology, and ecology in order to gain the best results for U.S. interests in an increasingly globalized world.
The officers interviewed for this project echo many of the issues and concerns raised in recent studies conducted by CSIS, the Stimpson Center, the National Research Council, and most recently, the Department of States own Overseas Presence Advisory Panel (OPAP):
- reinventing diplomacy in the information age;
- managing foreign affairs in the twenty-first century;
- strengthening science and technology expertise in foreign policy;
- right sizing our overseas diplomatic presence and strengthening Embassy security, ambassadorial authority, and overseas management and administrative services.
However, many also recognized that the most earnest prescriptions and best-intended improvements cannot transform any organization unless they are part of a long-term strategy that supersedes politics and administrations.
There is a window of opportunity between now and the next election for the Foreign Service to forge a collective call for action to focus attention on this need and to commit itself to promoting the kind of change that will help renew and modernize the Department of State, strengthen the Foreign Service, and better prepare our diplomats of 2010 to serve the country.
Responses to the questions listed above varied considerably. There were no doctrinaire answers, but there was an unmistakable sub text: the Department of State and the Foreign Service the countrys lead foreign affairs and diplomatic institutions must change. A long-term, strategic process of modernization and renewal of these institutions must be a priority for the next administration. Neither a Democratic nor a Republican foreign policy agenda will be well served by a corps of public servants whose institutional and cultural core is hollowed out.
Those interviewed for this project broadly agreed on only four points:
- States Foreign Service has high quality personnel.
- As institutions, neither the Department of State nor the Foreign Service is ready to meet the challenges to American diplomacy foreseen between now and 2010.
- The Foreign Service must be more explicit and consistent about the qualities and skills it expects of all it officers and match those expectations with appropriate incentives and training. And,
- Core values are very important, if not crucial, to the operational effectiveness of organizations like the Department of State and the Foreign Service.
The most striking finding was the near unanimous belief that core values are very important, juxtaposed with the absence of any agreement on whether State or the Foreign Service have core values and, if they do, what those values are. In some cases, the perceived core values are decidedly negative, e.g.,dont rock the boat. Findings on this issue alone suggest a serious lack of cohesion and a need for institutional renewal. (See Appendices I-III.)
This paper describes respondents views on the most important challenges to U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade, which can be summarized as international risks, institutional relevancy, resources, and renewal. It details findings on the core value issue and considers their implications. Drawing further on officers responses, the paper advocates a well-defined diplomatic apprenticeship based on service in two main areas: policy management and resource management. It calls for a more rigorous training regime to prepare officers to meet the challenges of globalization and help strengthen professional identity, results-oriented management, leadership, and common purpose. Finally, it challenges all FSOs to seize the window of opportunity between now and November 2000 to forge a collective call for action that the new administration and Congress should take to begin a strategic, long-term, modernization of the countrys lead foreign affairs and diplomatic institutions. A summary of proposals made by respondents that are mentioned in the paper can be found at the end of this text.
NEXT: THE CHALLENGES:
Risks, Relevance, Resources, and Renewal
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