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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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Be Clear What We Are About and Why

Diplomats’ Dual Functions

Most experienced officers confidently assert that the reason the Foreign Service exists is to serve as the country’s diplomatic and consular service, both of which flow from articles of domestic and/or international law. To paraphrase Fletcher University’s Professor of Diplomatic History Alan Henrikson, professional practitioners of diplomacy form one of the “constitutive orders of the international system,” since at least the Congress of Vienna.

Diplomatic services around the world not only represent and serve national interests. They also serve a larger international purpose, that of knitting the multi-state system together through a web of relationships and common parlance, practice and values that facilitate relations and negotiations among contending nation states. Diplomats constitute something of an international guild characterized by a common tradecraft. As such, they help order a messy international arena. The Internet, NGOs, and Wall Street now also provide opinionated new players in this arena, but they do not yet speak for the nation states. The challenge for diplomats of the future will be to incorporate in their “state-centered roles” skills and modalities that recognize and maximize the positive values “new non-state players” bring to the diplomatic arena.

The services that diplomats provide to their homeland and to the larger international system include but are not limited to: two-way education, advocacy, negotiation, conflict resolution, representation, coalition and alliance building, cross cultural interpretation, consular services, facilitation, and the collection and transmission of privileged information. Without such predictably available services, international relations would be even more problematic than they are. If the international diplomatic corps did not exist, the serious states of the world would have to reinvent it, the Internet notwithstanding. As America looks to the foreign affairs challenges of the next decade, renewing and strengthening the long-term institutional infrastructure of our lead foreign affairs and diplomatic organizations is a prudent investment.

Know What We Are Training For

The first requirement is to “know what we are training for.” Younger officers unsure about their professional identity believe training is one way to define it, but they do not know what “it” is. Formal training requirements would help define the skills and experience that provide officers with the “credentials” needed to qualify as “diplomats” and “foreign affairs professionals.” As yet no one has defined “the credentials,” anymore than they have meaningfully defined “core values.” We need to do both.

Several officers pointed out the inherent conflict between traits valuable to diplomacy — ambiguity, unstated understandings, compromise, conflict avoidance, infinite negotiation, process for the sake of process — and those required for effective organizational management and leadership — clarity of mission, articulated values, clear goals, objectives and expectations, honest feedback, and results-based performance. How one interacts with and operates in the diplomatic context may not be the most effective way to develop competent personnel and build an organization. We need to develop officers who are proficient in both functions. As one junior officer put it, “I can’t tell if all the ambiguity around here has a real purpose or if it’s just an excuse for people not knowing what they are doing. I’m afraid it’s the latter.”

“Be More Like the Military When It Comes to Training”

Many senior and mid-level officers advocated greater definition and the accountability that goes with it in almost every dimension of Service life. Many senior officers said that the Service should “be more like the military,” especially in the area of training. In the military, they pointed out, “training goes way beyond skills; it reflects a core value, builds individual competence and conveys a corporate sense of purpose.” Both mid-level and senior officers called for “more across-the-board-discipline” involving training requirements, assignments and performance standards.

A number of officers at all ranks would like to see the Foreign Service emulate the military by developing exemplary career paths with required training for different kinds of career goals at the FSO-1 and Senior Foreign Service levels, e.g., ambassador, DCM, consul general, multilateral mission head, master multilateral negotiator, regional specialist, deputy assistant secretary, executive director, and office director. Some felt identifying such paths could be a prelude to identifying training and types of assignments required to qualify officers for promotion; others (particularly younger officers) just want a better idea of the kinds of assignments that might help them get from point A to point B. Many were skeptical of “formal ticket punching,” but an equal number (often with reference to the military) thought the time has come to “make it happen.”

There seemed to be a strong desire for what the military calls “doctrine,” although the word itself made most senior officers flinch. One officer pointed out that we already have it: the Foreign Affairs Manual. There were pervasive calls from juniors to seniors for greater “clarity,” “articulation,” “definition” of the following: mission, expectations, core values, desired results, required training, required or demonstrated professional skills, career paths, and types of assignments and training required for promotion.

Efforts at the bureau level, e.g., Consular Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs and European Affairs, to more clearly define and articulate expectations and values have reaped positive results. Such efforts should be widely publicized and encouraged as good models for others to embrace. A similar effort will be required in the context of any long-term initiative to modernize and renew State and the Foreign Service as institutions. However, many officers cautioned that “sloganeering won’t do it;” we need to see everyone “walking the talk.”

Junior officers have been quick to pick up on the fact that unlike the military, training is not valued in the Foreign Service, that senior officers brag about never having had training except for foreign languages. In contrast to their elders, younger officers regard well-developed training programs as a mark of a “serious organization,” the only kind of an employer they are interested in working for. They want their organization to stake out its mission clearly, define its expectations, develop its people, encourage change and innovation, and either get the resources required or scale back the mission. They do not think it is reasonable to be told that it is their job to “lift the invisible veil and figure out the real questions and answers that lie behind it.”

Mid-level and junior officers thirst for leadership — “for someone who cares about the officers below.” As one mid-level officer put it, “If assistant secretaries think their most important job is to draft and redraft talking points, then we have failed.” From senior officers through junior officers there seems to be a large body of opinion in favor of defining and articulating the skills and experience that qualify FSOs as “diplomats and foreign policy professionals.”

Don’t Take No for an Answer on Creating a “Training Float”

Most officers cautioned that any move toward a required training regime would require a fifteen-twenty percent personnel “training float.” Some felt the need for training is so great that the Service should demonstrate the urgency to Congress by identifying the work or functions that the Service will eliminate in order to establish an initial mandatory regime. It should not take “no” for an answer. Most people were unaware that the Department has tried unsuccessfully to obtain the training float. There is strong feeling that we must be more specific about our needs in this area, explaining just how the “float” would be used and the results we would expect. Our current efforts will simply not produce the quality of officers needed in 2010.

The “training float” is also crucial to maintaining diversity. Expanded ethnic, gender and class diversity within the Service means that new officers do not bring homogeneous backgrounds, expectations, preparation and skills to the job. Real inclusiveness means helping everybody understand how things operate and what is expected. As one junior officer pointed out, “A bunch of us have no background in foreign policy and diplomacy and are not even sure why we were selected.” Given the global challenges facing the United States and the challenge of leveraging the varied strengths of an increasingly diverse corps of officers, we have no option but to turn State into a “learning institution” if we want to develop and retain quality officers in the coming decade.

What Kind of Officers Do We Want to Develop?

Experienced FSOs quickly point out that the classic attributes of a good diplomat will continue to provide a starting point for professional formation today, the same as in the fifteenth century. Identified as important attributes are:

curiosity, cultivation, insight, discretion, loyalty, personal and intellectual integrity, good judgment, foreign language ability, broad contacts at home and in the host country, the confidence of one’s leader, excellent speaking, writing, listening, reporting and negotiating skills, and so on. But this will just be the starting point!

The American diplomat of 2010 will also have to focus on another set of requirements inherent to the profession, although less articulated: “building teams and coalitions in both the domestic and international arenas,” “exercising multilateral as well as bilateral diplomatic expertise,” developing a “sound grounding in international law” and the linkages between economic and political power management. Truly non-traditional requirements include: “broad scientific and technological literacy” that reaches from outer space to the depths of the oceans; Internet skills and Web literacy; a strong “understanding of Internet processes and capabilities;” program and resource management expertise, and “effective engagement with grass roots phenomena and non-state players.“ Developing good diplomats takes time. If we want state-of-the-art in 2010, we must begin developing them today!

Many senior officers, comparing the diplomat of the future to themselves, are impressed by how much more future diplomats will need to know. In his book on understanding globalization, Tom Friedman echoes this sentiment as he describes the six dimensions of “knowledge arbitrage” that “students, diplomats, journalists, professors, spies and social scientists” must now constantly perform in order to function effectively in a globalizing world: politics, culture, national security, economics, technology, and ecology. Also important is a solid understanding of the consequences of the democratizations of technology, finance, information and decision making and how to take advantage of these processes. As Friedman says, if “you cannot see the interactions that are shaping the world, you surely cannot strategize about the world ... in this more complex and fast-paced system, management and leadership matter more.”

Rethinking the Cone System

Many officers believe that the Foreign Service’s traditional on-the -job professional apprentice system “has broken down” and fails to develop “whole officers” who possess the combination of issue management and resource management skills now required. Many mid-level and senior officers advocate “updating cones” in order to produce “truly multifunctional officers instead of narrow conal specialists.” The following sentiments were common:

  • “We need to blur conal distinctions or get rid of them.”
  • “Cones have to change.”
  • “Political officers need to speak ‘resource management’ and admin officers need to speak ‘policy.’”
  • “We need to recognize that policy and resources are one and the same and stop supporting the Department of State lie that they are different.”
  • “You make policy when you apply resources.”

Fewer officers took the position that a two-cone system is desirable but unworkable. Others commented that the current cone system has bred harmful stereotypical thinking about cones and “internecine caste warfare,” both of which weaken the Service. One officer wrote, “I have heard so many cross-cone disparaging remarks that it must reflect something deeper than a mere joke at another colleague’s expense.” Noted another, “Cross training would build greater solidarity within the Foreign Service.” The two-cone proposal was first recommended over a decade ago; perhaps it is time to reconsider it.

To deal with the concerns expressed above, one senior officer suggests a single requirement or alternating assignments between policy/issue management jobs and resource management jobs at least up through the first or second 0-2 assignment. Others thought requirements should be drawn more tightly to include an initial consular tour for everyone before alternation sets in. Several agreed on the need for “documented” crisis management operations experience or a single “Operations Center or Secretariat tour” before passing to 0-1.

The “integrated FSO” model could incorporate and build on existing conal designations. Given the integration of ACDA and USIAinto the Department, the concept of alternating assignments assumes that policy/issue management jobs and resource management jobs will roughly balance each other. Requiring alternating assignments between the two skill-set groups would make clear a desire for more well-rounded, whole officers in lieu of more narrow “conal specialists.” If this requires remanding some current FSO positions to specialist status, this should be explored.

Views on Formal Training Needs

There is a marked difference of attitude toward formal training between senior officers and junior and mid-level officers. The former give lip service to the importance of training, but would clearly not like to admit that they could be spared to do it; their promotability (and self esteem) would suffer. Mid-level officers blame their bosses for not letting them take the training that is available. Juniors accept that they must learn a lot on the job, but want a substantive framework or context for that experience in addition to the “technical information” they get in A-100 and initial tradecraft training related to conal specialties. Many officers advocate formal training followed by a related assignment. Some also advocate linked domestic and overseas assignments in the areas of global issues, similar to that which occurs with policy and admin officers going from abroad from geographic bureaus.

Officers give the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) high marks for its long-term econ course and its foreign language, admin and consular training. Reviews are more mixed with regard to area studies, tradecraft, management, and global issues training. One has the sense that the haphazard nature of training experienced by most officers detracts from its overall value and impact. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), which has begun requiring basic management training for all first time supervisors, praised courses in this area. FSI has worked hard to strengthen environment, science and technology training, but the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and the senior adviser for Arms Control and International Arms control (T) bureaus believe there is more that could and should be done to develop course content related to their issues.

Some officers think that FSI should provide training for Schedule C (non career) appointees in Washington. To wit, a Schedule C deputy assistant secretary complained bitterly to the author last year about not having had any training for his position and wanted to know why FSI was not required to provide such. Only because this person knew the esteem in which he was held did he get an honest response: Up until the Eighties, it was assumed that deputy assistant secretaries had served a fifteen- to twenty-year apprenticeship for the position.

Younger officers are interested in the prospect of the new Leadership and Management School, but few were familiar with the recently published Leadership and Management Training Continuum, which needs broader circulation and perhaps a more concise format. Again, the concern is that supervisors will not let subordinates off to attend classes, especially given the current staffing deficit. A number of officers cautioned that the new school should be careful not to confuse “sensitivity training” with leadership skills and management techniques. Several wanted to know how “leadership” will be defined, skeptical because of what they perceive to be a core value of “not rocking the boat.” A number of junior officers recommended that A-100 include “shadow time” or a “short tour” in the relevant bureau before their first overseas assignment in order to better understand the requirements and expectation of Washington leadership. (This is now beginning to happen.)

There is broad agreement that in a globalizing world all officers will need a sound grounding in basic economics and that economic officers will require a truly sophisticated grasp of their subject matter, particularly if they are to retain credibility with the economic elites of other developed and industrializing nations. Current statistics indicate that a significant number of new junior officers slotted to be econ officers have no economics background. This suggests that the economic function could benefit from both more basic training and more targeted recruitment.

Another new requirement will be general “global issues literacy.” More than half the senior officers emphasized the need for greater “science and technology literacy.” Such training is required in order for FSOs to:

  • work more effectively with technical experts in the inter agency context and abroad;
  • meaningfully manage our many bilateral S&T arrangements and agreements;
  • work on non-proliferation and other security issues, and
  • maintain a credible role in the growing number of economic, commercial, trade, environment, and political-military issues under negotiation at the regional and global levels.

A basic introduction to the fundamentals of international law and some of the international legal frameworks under development (criminal, environmental, trade, commercial, maritime) would help all officers better integrate and leverage global, regional, and bilateral interests. Such training would also provide invaluable preparation for aspiring multilateral negotiators. More uniform exposure to the principles, processes, and issues related to promoting “rule of law” would help all officers identify and take advantage of targets of opportunity, irrespective of conal functions. Some familiarity with law enforcement would no doubt help diplomats protect broad — rather than very narrow — U.S. interests involved in many narcotics, international crime, and terrorism issues.

The continued growth of international and regional diplomatic processes and negotiations will require more officers trained and experienced in these matters in the coming decade. One of our most senior officers noted that in just the last two years he has become convinced of “the urgent need for the Foreign Service to become known for something other than its traditional bilateral expertise.” “This won’t happen naturally without structured pressure tied to advancement,” he believes. As “conference diplomacy” related to international negotiations and regional processes proliferates, the Foreign Service needs to decide whether it is going to develop a cadre of officers to meet these needs or not. If it is, it will need to think through and build career paths for such officers, paths that will build on initial bilateral experience and language learning (preferably UN languages) and then be sequenced with training and assignments designed to develop more “master negotiators“ than the Service has at its disposal today.

Finally, officers believe we have only begun to respond to the imperatives of the information revolution when it comes to IT and public diplomacy. Officers need not only personal IT skills but also a broader grasp of IT applications, capabilities, emerging developments and what these mean, not only for State and the Foreign Service as institutions but also for host country politics, economics and culture. Officers need to move beyond seeing public diplomacy as “something USIA does.” Rather, public diplomacy needs to be embraced as a basic component of professional diplomatic know-how. Numerous officers noted that in an Internet world, policy officers may not be reporters as much as they will be “sorters, evaluators and interpreters of information;” “they will need to be strategic shapers of public opinion” through the dexterous use of IT and public diplomacy techniques and programs. They will need to move from a passive observer role to one more active and focused on shaping the flow of information and events.

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


American Diplomacy                Vol. V, No. 3                Summer 2000
Copyright © 2000 American Diplomacy Publishers, Durham NC

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Copyright © 2012 American Diplomacy Publishers Chapel Hill NC