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Developing Diplomats for 2010:
If Not Now, When?

by Stephanie Smith Kinney*


 • Risks
 • Relevancy
 • Resources
 • Renewal

 • Core values matter
 • What ARE the value?
 • Symptomatic cynicism
 • Drawing on idealism

 • Diplomats' dual functions
 • Training for what?
 • "Be more like the military"
 • Creating a "training float"
 • What kind of officers?
 • Rethink the cone system
 • On formal training needs

 • Coherent culture
 • Coherent policy process
 • Call for action



Special Report:
The State of American Diplomacy

William C. Harrop, a distinguished retired U.S. ambassador and former Inspector General, warns of the risks and offers succinct guidelines for the next U.S. President: "The Department of State apparently does not intend to pursue [several] urgently needed reforms. It is critical that the next administration vigorously carry out the modernization of its diplomatic infrastructure." (The Infrastructure of American Diplomacy)

FSO Stephanie S. Kinney, in an unsettling independent research study, finds 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." She proposes some fundamental remedies. (Developing Diplomats for 2010: If Not Now, When?)

Anthony Quainton, a former director general of the Foreign Service, issues a strong call for greater recognition in the Presidential election campaign of the need for stronger and healthier diplomacy: "The costs of diplomatic failure are high." (What ever happened to Diplomacy?)



Chaos in the Congo

Herbert Weiss, veteran political scientist and Africa expert, probes the roots of the Congo's instability. His findings are gloomy: "In a word, war is still very much present, and peace is still only a hope. . . . [Meanwhile] hundreds of thousands of internally displaced civilian Congolese suffer endless afflictions from hunger to rape to massacres." (War and Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Herman J. Cohen, an old 'Congo hand' and former assistant secretary of state for Africa, observes that "in a continent that is lagging further and further behind the rest of the world in economic development, this latest tragedy makes one wonder how and when Africa will finally hit bottom and start moving upward again."
(Agony in the Congo)


Posse or Global Cop?
Warburg 2000 Conference on Collective Security, Part II

Presentations by three scholar-diplomats complete the series begun in our Spring 2000 issue:

  •  Amb. Harry Barnes on India and Pakistan: "Pakistan will be bleeding India and India will be teaching Pakistan lessons. It is easy to imagine new clashes, new incidents, renewed escalating." (The Spread of Nuclear Weapons)

  •  Amb. Monteagle Stearns on Greece and Turkey: "If Western diplomacy has a role to play it will have to be discreet and carefully considered, always bearing in mind that the governing rule of diplomats, like that of doctors, must be 'first, do no harm'." (The Clash of Civilizations)

  •  Amb. Robert White on the U.S. role in Colombia: "Although President Clinton seems unaware of it, the $1.6 billion he is requesting to fight coca production in Colombia amounts to intervention in another country’s civil war." (Heading for Trouble in Colombia and The Wrong War)

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Risks, Relevance, Resources, and Renewal

As FSOs look to 2010, they see many challenges to U. S. diplomacy, most of which could be categorized as follows:

  1. International risks to U. S. interests,
  2. the growing irrelevancy of the Department of State and the Foreign Service as institutions,
  3. new and additional financial and personnel resources, and
  4. institutional renewal.

It has taken time, but the obvious is beginning to dawn on almost everyone: guiding the post-Cold War peace to constructive ends may be more challenging and complicated than winning the Cold War itself, and the United States will be as important as any other factor in determining the course of the coming decade. As such, it will not be well served by foreign policy and diplomatic institutions that are “hollowed out,” almost “to the point of being dysfunctional.”


Officers were quick to identify a list of commonly cited challenges to U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade. These could be defined in terms of “international risks to U. S. interests:” rogue states, terrorism; nuclear proliferation, ethnic conflict, China, Russia, and the evolution of NATO, among others. A few officers referenced The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman’s book on globalization; however, many more characterized the world Friedman describes in their own terms, noting discrepancies between State’s traditional culture and organization and the globalizing world in which it must now operate.

Officers spent almost as much time talking about international risks posed by U. S. choices and behavior as they did about risks posed by adversaries. “Graceless U.S. unilateralism” combined with other nations’ “fears about U.S. hegemony” troubled many. Others worried about the risks inherent in a diplomacy and global leadership style “designed to shorten the duration of U.S. political dominance” by breeding resentment and loss of confidence in American leadership and reliability. About a third of the respondents pointed out the risk of not developing more officers possessed of “skill and expertise in working with and through International Organizations and regional structures.”

The consequences of “broad public skepticism” about international engagement, State’s poor relations with Congress, and the continuation of “thirty years of running against Washington” are viewed as presenting serious risks for U.S. diplomacy. So too is the potential for “U.S. failure to move from playing a balancer role in a bipolar world” to becoming a “balance-of-power chess master” in a multi-polar world. Several officers looked at the same situation, but saw the problem as one of “advancing policy in a uni-polar world.” For still others, risk lies in not being able to “conceptualize the historic crossroads we are at and develop a bipartisan basis for a new strategy,” one focused on exploiting opportunities rather than just dealing with threats and crises.


Officers voiced concerns about the “growing irrelevancy” of the Department of State or the Foreign Service. Reasons for the concern varied. Some pointed to our inability to respond fast enough to the challenges of the information revolution. Several made the point underscored by the CSIS report and others that State needs to realize that power and value in the future will reside in rapidly sorting, interpreting, shaping, and sharing information rather than holding it exclusively: “reporting and information management have to change.” Others noted that the diplomacy of the coming decade would involve “educating decision makers and public opinion at home and abroad.” A new balance must be struck between a more traditional “close-hold security mind set” and one that puts the principles and “capabilities of the Internet and the information revolution to work on behalf of U.S. foreign policy priorities.” Some question whether this will be possible without leaders who are themselves Internet savvy.

Many believe “a nineteenth-century Foreign Service diplomatic culture” will make the Service irrelevant in the coming decade. Some believe this culture produces an “insular mind set” or “an arrogant operating style,” which then turns potential allies into adversaries in the interagency process, especially when others have resources and State does not. Some see progress with the “emergence of habits of outreach and cooperation” on the part of some officers as they work within State, in the interagency process, and with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and business. However, many noted that we have made little progress where such habits are most needed — with Congressional staffers and their principals, citizens groups, and grass roots movements, both domestically and internationally.

Two or three people mentioned McKinsey and Company’s “War for Talent” survey, which they felt substantiates their concerns about institutional relevancy. They noted that its findings raise questions about State and the Foreign Service remaining relevant employment options for the “best and brightest” of the younger generation. Two people questioned whether we needed “the best;” others felt we do; still others asked “the best of what for what purpose?” When reminded about the report, few people held out hope for the needed long-term response, given upcoming elections.

A plurality of officers stressed that to remain relevant, the FSO corps quickly needs to become more literate and operationally effective in multilateral diplomacy and in the issues under the authority of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs (G) and the bureaus of Political-Military Affairs (PM), Arms Control (AC), Nonproliferation (NP), and Verification & Compliance (VC). One under secretary pointed out the limited number of FSOs in most functional policy bureaus (often 30 percent or less), noting that other services and agencies are “leading global issue policy.” Another under secretary lamented limited Foreign Service influence in trade policy and negotiations and found disturbing the prospect of a “Foreign Service without real foreign policy capabilities,” i.e., one that only provides program management, administrative and consular services. Two assistant secretaries expressed concern that the “global policy bureaus are eating our lunch,” a perception met with incredulity in those bureaus, given their staffing issues.

Many officers feared growing irrelevancy “if we just keep doing what we know how to do.” Asserting that “the Embassies are the only things that really work anymore,” some officers feared that this would cause the Foreign Service to retreat further to its “instinct for the bilateral” in the face of globalization and growing requirements for multilateral expertise. While one or two senior officers asserted that we should remain focused on area expertise and field experience — “our real value-added expertise” — others despaired that the Foreign Service is becoming nothing more than a “bilateral platform custodian” or that it is merely “fulfilling a concierge function” for other agencies at Embassies. Close to half of the senior officers interviewed expressed concern that the Service produces “conal specialists” rather than the multidimensional, multi-skilled “integrators and coordinators” they believe will be required in the coming decade.

The challenge of remaining “relevant” was seen by some related to “ a declining commitment to the principle of a professional diplomatic corps.” The emergence of “power politics over professionalism” was cited as an example. As one person put it, if we are to be relevant, we must “get the public and the Secretary to view the Foreign Service as a national asset to be used.” Many senior officers noted the set of skills George Shultz brought to the Department in this regard.


Opinion among senior officials was unanimous on the subject of resources: State and the Foreign Service cannot function effectively and maximize the benefits of integration with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the U.S.Information Agency (USIA) — much less modernize themselves — without substantial new resources now. As one senior official described it: with $300 million in deferred physical infrastructure maintenance and no shedding of workload commensurate with the roughly 1,000-person Foreign Service downsizing since 1994, “our institutional base is hollowed out.”


The implication of the challenges identified above is that institutional renewal will also be a major challenge for U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade. In this regard, some officers cited the need for a broadly experienced “permanent chief of staff” or permanent “under secretary for diplomatic readiness” to lead a long-term process focused on strategic institutional renewal. Such a function would bridge administrations, serve bipartisan interests, and ensure that the Secretary’s and the President’s institutional assets are ready to meet their and the nation’s needs. Others called for a legislative initiative analogous to Goldwater-Nicholas in response to what they see “a dysfunctional institutional infrastructure.” Several lamented the lack of clearly articulated and publicly benchmarked reform goals and objectives.

Officers as a whole did not perceive or acknowledge important efforts already underway to promote institutional change. Many dismissed State’s Strategic Planning Process as a labor-intensive paper process that lacks follow-through and real consequences for resource allocation. The most common response to questions about State’s Mission Statement, its Accountability Report to Congress, the Leadership and Management Training Continuum, and the Overseas Presence Panel (OPAP) was “What’s that?” or “I haven’t seen it.” Somehow the word is not getting through to the troops that real efforts are being made to address institutional distress. A twice-yearly employee satisfaction or “organizational climate” survey might help in this regard. It would:

  • pick up on these kinds of perception gaps,

  • help refine and benchmark the implementation of ongoing management initiatives, and

  • provide an ongoing mechanism for identifying and responding to emerging employee concerns about institutional or system issues and provide a clear framework for action.

In general, respondents conveyed a strong sense of “victimhood” regarding the decline of State and the Foreign Service. Everyone is looking to someone else to solve the problem. The responses to questions about “core values” provide yet another insight into the status of our institutional culture.



NEXT: CORE VALUES: Crucial but Confused — If We Have Them, We Need To Live Them

  CONTINUE READING KINNEY : 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5  


American Diplomacy                Vol. V, No. 3                Summer 2000
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