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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

December 2008

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“Fixing the Crisis in Diplomatic Readiness” with increased resources, as called for in the report of the American Academy of Diplomacy (see the box at the top of this page), is clearly necessary but is only a first step toward assuring the long-term success of U.S. diplomacy, this essay argues – quality enhancements and conceptual changes are also critical. The role of ambassadors and the Secretary of State must be strengthened, professionalism must be improved, long-term foreign policy goals must be developed, and out-dated concepts such as balance of power must be discarded. – Ed.

A Foreign Service for the Twenty-First Century

In its report of October 2008 entitled “A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future – Fixing the Crisis in Diplomatic Readiness,” the American Academy of Diplomacy takes a hard look at the state of the capabilities of American diplomacy and renders a verdict of unsatisfactory.  It states that:

… the new Administration will face multiple, critical foreign challenges with inadequate diplomatic personnel and resources to carry out policy effectively…Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the diplomatic capacity of the United States has been hollowed out…Our foreign affairs capacity is hobbled by a human capital crisis. We do not have enough people to meet our current responsibilities. Looking forward, requirements are expanding. Increased diplomatic needs in Iraq, Afghanistan and “the next” crisis area, as well as global challenges in finance, the environment, terrorism and other areas have not been supported by increased staffing…The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests…There must be enough diplomatic, public diplomacy, and foreign assistance professionals overseas and they cannot remain behind the walls of fortress embassies. They must be equipped and trained to be out, engaged with the populace and, where needed, working closely with the nation’s military forces to advance America’s interests and goals…

The report proposes that:

• U.S. direct-hire staffing in [core diplomacy, public diplomacy, economic assistance, reconstruction/rehabilitation] be increased over FY 2008 levels by 4,735 over the timeframe of 2010-2014, a growth of 46% above current levels in these categories (20% of total State/USAID staffing), to be accompanied by significant increases in training and in the number of locally employed staff overseas; the additional staff and related costs will rise to $2 billion annually by FY 2014;
• Funding to permit ambassadors to respond effectively to humanitarian and political emergencies be increased by $125 million in FY 2010 and $75 million annually thereafter;
• Public diplomacy programs, especially exchanges, should be expanded significantly, at a cost that will total $455.2 million annually by FY 2014; and
• Authority over selected Security Assistance programs, totaling $785 million annually, be moved in stages from the Department of Defense to the Department of State, with much of the implementation remaining at Defense. In areas where combat operations continue, authority would stay with Defense for the duration of those operations.

The report is commendable in that it recognizes that the present staffing and funding of the American diplomatic effort is seriously inadequate, in that it pinpoints the inadequacies, and in that it proposes very concrete rectifications to that situation.  I recommend its reading to all who are interested in the success of American diplomacy, who recognize that it is through the Foreign Service that American diplomacy is conducted, and that the success of that diplomacy rests upon the effectiveness of the Foreign Service.

Concepts and Quality
There are, however, other aspects to the effectiveness and success of the Foreign Service of the United States that the report does not address, namely, the concepts on which American diplomatic efforts are based and the quality of those efforts. 

The report acknowledges implicitly that lack of success in American diplomatic efforts, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, are to some extent the result of inadequate staffing and funding of the Foreign Service; and it indicates that continued insufficient personnel and monetary support of these efforts in the future will continue to contribute to diplomatic failures, such as the misunderstanding by other countries of American purposes and objectives, the consequent unwillingness of other countries to adhere to American leadership, the reluctance of Americans to engage themselves beyond their own borders except in moments of crisis, the degeneration of relations with friendly governments, the exacerbation of relations with unfriendly states, and the ill-advised use of armed force instead of patient, persistent, and coherent diplomacy.

The report opens by stating that it has considered the twenty-first century “challenges for American diplomacy, and proposes a budget that would provide the financial and human capacity to address those fundamental tasks that make such a vital contribution to international peace, development and security and to the promotion of U.S. interests globally.” 

However, the report does not go far enough in examining how American diplomacy is going to face successfully the challenges of the twenty-first century.  These challenges are unique, not only in their nature, but also in their extent and intensity:  climate change, the exhaustion of petroleum as an energy source, environmental pollution, the development of new non-polluting energy sources, the fractious movement of the Islamic world into the comity of nations, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rampant and enduring poverty of a majority of the world’s peoples, the overcoming of demographic pressures other than by warfare.  The United States is the only country in a position in this century to lead the world in successfully meeting these challenges.  And it will, and must, be through its diplomatic efforts as conducted by the Foreign Service that the United States will be able to assume a position of leadership to overcome them.  I do not believe, however, that the United States Foreign Service will be able to play this primary and essential role, regardless of how well staffed and funded, without a change in the concepts of American diplomatic action and an enhancement of the quality of that action.

I will address in this article certain ideas on what organizational, operational, and philosophical concepts should be adopted in order that the Foreign Service achieve the capability of fulfilling the expanded mission it needs to accept in this century.  I encourage the reader to examine them with a critical eye, to modify them, to expand on them, even to reject them, if he/she does not believe in my basic premise, i.e., that the concepts on which Foreign Service actions are based need to be changed for them to be effective.

Role of Ambassadors
First, the concept of the ambassador and his/her role needs to be expanded.  (I will henceforth use only the masculine pronoun to mean both men and women.  I regret that there exists no pronoun in the English language to cover both sexes.  The use of “he/she,” “him/her,” or “one” clutters the writer’s style and tends to render it stilted.)  The ambassador must be the primary instrument of American diplomacy in the country or the international organization to which he is accredited.  He must be responsible for all the diplomatic, semi-diplomatic, and pseudo-diplomatic activities in his country/international organization on behalf of the United States.  His responsibilities and authority would not only cover the traditional scope of diplomacy – to use the words of the study, core diplomacy, public diplomacy, economic assistance, reconstruction and rehabilitation – but also frequently, and very importantly, military assistance.  In addition to the Foreign Service staff, the representatives of all U.S. government agencies in the country/international organization – Agriculture, Treasury, Immigration, Customs, Defense, etc. – must be primarily responsible to him.  He needs to have authority over their activities.  They must be an integral part of his “country team.”

There are, nonetheless, two exceptions.  First, in situations such as prevail today in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ambassador must share the mission of the United States with the military commander.  In these situations, where the ambassador and a military commander share the responsibilities of the mission, I believe there must be a coordinating element in country, civilian rather than military, to ensure that the actions of the two “commanders” are well and fully coordinated without pre-empting their responsibilities and authority.  This “supra-ambassador” would report directly to the president, leaving the ambassador and the military commander to report to their respective hierarchies.

Second, because of their nature, the ambassador cannot, and should not, be responsible for the activities of the CIA in his country.  In view of his diplomatic mission to encourage, establish, and maintain American influence in his country, he must be in a position of honest deniability vis-à-vis CIA operations.  He must ensure that no CIA activities take place within the Embassy and that no persons who are responsible to him are involved in such activities.  I recognize that this has not been the common practice, that CIA station chiefs and others have had pseudo-diplomatic posts.  I believe that other less diplomatically sensitive means of creating cover for CIA operatives can be found without much difficulty or imagination.

Role of Secretary of State
The second change that I propose is that the position of the Secretary of State as the exclusive director of American foreign policy and diplomacy under the guidance of the president be re-established.  In view of the complexity and multiple layers of foreign policy in this century this is an essential prerequisite to success.  The encroachments on this concept of mono-directorship of United States foreign policy that have spread during the last half century, particularly by the Department of Defense and the National Security Advisor, must be arrested and reversed.

For the third change I believe that it is vital that the ambassadorial level of the implementation of foreign policy be professionalized.  The long-standing tradition of awarding ambassadorships to friends, political cronies, and campaign donors must end.  Ambassadors must be Foreign Service professionals who can be guided by the Secretary of State in order that American foreign policy in today’s unstable world achieve its objectives.

As a corollary, it is of paramount importance for American ambassadors in the world’s key countries to be very fluent in the language of their host country.  The same must also hold for the key officers in these embassies.  Ideally, every ambassador should be fluent in the language of his host country, but I recognize that for a country of lesser geopolitical importance and with a language that does not go beyond the country’s borders such a requirement may be almost impossible.  This does not, however, preclude an honest effort on the part of the ambassador and of the embassy personnel to learn and practice the rudiments of the host country’s language.  One of the primary reasons why, even under the most favorable circumstances, the United States has not been able consistently to penetrate the politics and cultures of the rest of the world has been the lack of emphasis, even disdain, on learning the languages of the rest of the world to the extent of being able to use them comfortably.  Obviously, in the Foreign Service there must be officers fluent in all languages of the world, and the cultivation of foreign language capabilities must be a continuing preoccupation for all Foreign Service officers.

Enhanced Professionalism
Fourth change:  The professionalism of all levels of the Foreign Service must be enhanced.  This is obviously a long term effort and one that can most efficiently begin at the entry level through the adoption of a program to train individuals to devote a career to the Foreign Service.  It could comprise a competitive examination to select the required annual number of students to attend selected universities at the cost (tuition, books, room and board) of the United States government.  A specific program of studies would be established for each successful candidate, to include specific foreign language studies.  The summer vacations of these students would be devoted to assignments to embassies, consulates, and to the headquarters of the Department of State for on-the-job training, individual expenses to be paid by the government, to include a salary.  Upon the successful completion of the academic program the candidate would become a member of the Foreign Service and would be required to serve a minimum of 8 years.  If a person is deemed inapt for the Foreign Service, either during his university years or after graduation, or fails to maintain satisfactory academic grades, the individual will be eliminated from the program and will be required to serve 2 years, either in the armed forces or in the Peace Corps, for each year of his fully subsidized university education, or if after graduation, up to the requisite 8 years.

In Part II, “Training – Department of State,” the Academy’s report states that:

Emerging policy priorities will also require expanded programs in professional education for Foreign Service personnel. The [Foreign Service Institute’s] staffing and budget must be increased to ensure that the Foreign Service personnel of the future have the skills they will need. Those skills include foreign language fluency, advanced area knowledge, leadership and management ability, negotiating skills, public diplomacy, foreign assistance, post-conflict/stabilization, job specific functional expertise, strategic planning, program development, implementation and evaluation, and budgeting…All of these elements need to be incorporated into a comprehensive career development program for each officer.

I confess my lack of knowledge of the “inner workings and hidden mechanisms” of the Foreign Service and its Institute, but I conclude from the above that the Academy believes there is a serious shortcoming in the professional development of Foreign Service officers throughout their careers.  I regret that the Academy chose for whatever reason not to address this problem in more detail, since the enhancement of the professionalism of the individual officer is critical to the success of the Foreign Service and of American diplomacy.  I believe that every Foreign Service officer should receive during the course of his career, which could well last 40 to 45 years, at least six, and preferably eight, years of advanced schooling in the various areas cited by the report.  Such schooling should be spread across all the years of his career, so that even at 35 years of experience, he receives additional schooling in order to meet the conditions and challenges at the peak of his career.

Long-term Foreign Policy Goals
All the foregoing proposed changes – fully staffed and funded operations, increased ambassadorial responsibilities, re-emphasis on the role of the Secretary of State as the director of American foreign policy, enhanced professionalism, to include language capabilities – will come to naught unless there is a coherent long term foreign policy on which American diplomatic efforts can be guided despite the vicissitudes of changing governmental administrations.  Hence, the fifth change:  The State Department should be tasked to develop specific foreign policy goals for each of the world’s countries and international organizations based upon a definition of the long-term interests and aspirations of the United States as well as, in the case of countries, of their own citizens. At the same time, where these aspirations are not reflected by the government actually in power, the foreign policy goals should provide a modus operandi in order to maintain open relations with the government while attempting to influence it and to encourage its citizens to achieve their long-term interests.

Such a document could be prepared in conjunction with advice and counsel from non-governmental organizations knowledgeable in the field of diplomacy and international relations.  It should attempt to deal only with long term policies, leaving the short term policies to successive administrations.  This does not mean that the policies of a particular administration are not to be followed by the Secretary of State, by ambassadors, by the Foreign Service.  On the contrary, such policies would naturally preempt those of the long-term-policy document, but would not eliminate them.  For example (admittedly, a rather crude one), it may be in the short term interests of a particular administration to support a dictatorship in a particular country for a period of time, while the long term objective of American policy would be to foster the development of a democratic government.

Obviously, the document would need to be approved by the President in office, and his successor(s) could certainly require that the long-term objectives for particular countries be reviewed and revised, as could successive Secretaries of State.  Additionally, such a document should not be released to the public and should be highly classified.   

What is the advantage of such a document?  First, it would serve as a guide for the Ambassador.  He would be fully cognizant of the long-term goals of the United States for his host country.  In the absence of specific, overriding instructions from the Secretary of State he would have a basis for his conduct and that of the personnel under his authority.  Second, it would furnish to the Ambassador, as well as to the federal government, a basis for establishing and funding programs at all the levels of diplomatic effort – core and public diplomacy, economic and military assistance, reconstruction and rehabilitation – so as to most efficiently work toward the accomplishment of the United States’ long-term goals for that country.  Third, it would serve as a yardstick against which the long-term success of the diplomatic efforts can be measured.

Re-thinking Foreign Policy Concepts
If the staffing and funding recommended in the report of the Academy of American Diplomacy are to be effectively applied in a systematic and coherent manner with a high chance of achieving the objectives of United States diplomacy, the changes I have proposed above represent a sine qua non.  I accept that there may be other changes that would also further the achievement of those goals.  However, I don’t believe that the changes I propose or the recommendations of the study alone will be sufficient to enable the United States to play the role that it must play in meeting the challenges of this century.  Additionally, there must be a re-thinking of the concepts on which the foreign policy of the United States has been traditionally based.

It’s evident that the foreign policy of the United States government should have the single aim of furthering not just the interests, but the long term interests of the United States.  Those interests cannot be defined, however, without reference to the interests of the other nations and peoples of the world.  In general, if the long term interests of the countries and peoples of the world are truly defined, there is no reason for incompatibilities to exist.  However, elaborating these long term interests is complex and often results in badly defined interests that are not, in fact, the true ones for the nations and peoples involved.

There are a number of factors that militate against the development of a definition of the true long-term interests for a sovereign state:

(1) The concept of the balance of power.  This is a conflictive concept developed by the Western European powers in their attempts to establish hegemony on the Eurasian continent and in the world through mercantile colonialism.  It is a concept that no longer has validity in the globalized geopolitics of today in which hegemony is unrealizable.
(2) The prejudice that “If you are not my friend, you are my enemy.”  The United States has no natural enemies among the other sovereign states of the world.  The enemies that the United States may have are those it has created.  With respect to other states, if a state has traditionally considered a second state as its enemy, the reasons lie in the failure of both states to comprehend their long term interests and in their succumbing to the specious glitter of short term interests. (The issue of international terrorism is separate from relations between sovereign states.  International terrorism is not a sovereign state and is an enemy of the United States, just as it is the enemy of all other sovereign states, to include those who may shelter and foster it.  Nonetheless, in acting against international terrorism, the United States needs to recognize that it has contributed to the development of international terrorism through its failure to use its influence and its power to bring about an end to the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that it has further fanned the terror flames by its ill-advised invasion and occupation of Iraq.)
(3) The belief that international politics is a zero-sum game, one based on the principle of “I win, you lose.”  This belief has led in past centuries to the overwhelming of long term interests by short term ones in relations between sovereign states.  In the long term, international relations have never been a zero-sum game.  And in the evolving world of the twenty-first century, international politics has the enormous opportunity of being an “I win, you win” game for all the peoples of the world.  However, the burden for ensuring that international politics does not degenerate into a zero-sum game rests largely on the more powerful, more advanced nations.

The development of the long-term interests of the United States must overcome these factors.  The foreign policy of the United States must be based on the concept that the long-term interests of the peoples of the world are compatible and that it is incumbent upon the national governments through which they express their interests to sustain relations that will support these long term interests.  Therefore, the foreign policy of the United States must attempt to achieve and maintain close and harmonious relations with all the other sovereign states of the world.  It must also attempt to enhance the progress of the other peoples of the world toward the realization of their long-term interests.  These two aspects of American foreign policy may not always be compatible.  It may well be that the government of a state may not be in harmony with the long-term interests of its citizens.  The United States in such instances must have a foreign policy that maintains open relations with the government so as to be able in whatever degree possible to influence it to respond to the aspirations of its citizens.

In this regard, the long-standing practice of breaking off diplomatic relations must be recognized as an anachronism.  It is precisely at those times when in the past a state severed diplomatic relations with another state that those relations are most vital to the furtherance of foreign policy objectives.  It is when there is discord that communication is essential.  The United States should renounce the use of this outdated practice.  It should immediately attempt to reestablish diplomatic relations with any nation, such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc., with which it has severed them.  And if the nation concerned refuses, the United States should persevere until it succeeds.

Promoting Basic Freedoms
The Department of State should be charged with developing the overall, long-term foreign policy goals of the United States for the approval of the President.  These goals should be made public.  The overriding principle on which they should be based is that the American people through their government will do what it is possible for them to do to ensure that all the peoples of the world enjoy the essential freedoms necessary to lead useful, meaningful lives, i.e., freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in one’s own way (I hasten to add that this freedom must also be understood as the freedom not to worship any god, if an individual so chooses), freedom from want, freedom from fear.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt enunciated these basic freedoms over 60 years ago.  (It is tragic to contemplate the little progress and the little effort that have been made since then in installing them throughout the world.)  They should include a commitment to helping to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations as an organization for averting armed conflict, for maintaining peace, for preventing acts of barbarism, for aid to developing countries, for aid to peoples in need, and for the expansion of cultural and social contacts throughout the world.  They should include a commitment to the continuing globalization of the world’s economy, to the development of a well regulated capitalism as the most efficient means of achieving higher standards of living for the peoples of the world, and to democracy as the surest means of protecting people from oppression.  However, such commitments must never be transformed into efforts to impose globalization, capitalism, and democracy on other societies.  To do so would be disastrously counter-productive.

In keeping with its ideals and traditions, the United States must always support the aspirations of the world’s peoples to achieve meaningful lives.  It may be obliged to maintain open relations with governments that do not represent those aspirations, but it should never encourage such governments.  It should welcome every manifestation of moves toward democratic government, but it must be extremely cautious in pushing democratic government on populations who are not, in fact, interested in establishing it.  Democracy is not a priority for a large percentage of the world’s peoples, for whom the overwhelming needs are to survive and to achieve an acceptable quality of life.  On the other hand, the United States has unnecessarily supported dictatorial regimes and has refused to support the efforts of peoples who were actively trying to establish democratic governments in their countries.  These attitudes are a sad manifestation of the lack of long-term objectives in U.S. foreign policy and the support of inimical short-term objectives.

Parts of this article are excerpted from the author's book, Searching for Stability – The World in the Twenty-First Century, published by The Big Bison Press in 2008.

 

 

Benjamin L. Landis retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after a 27-year career that included service with the Military Assistance Advisory Group at the U.S. embassy in Paris and as Senior U.S. Liaison Officer with the French Forces in Germany. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the French Army Ecole d’Etat-Major, and has an MSA from The George Washington University. After retirement, he was Director of Administration and Finance for several major law firms in Washington.

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