Diplomats Are Made, Not Born

Diplomacy and politics may go hand in hand, but their partnership isn’t one of equals. It is logical — especially in a democracy — for a country’s diplomacy to serve its political leaders. Sometimes, however, smart leaders allow diplomacy to influence politics.

For that influence to be truly worthwhile, governments around the world must solve an acute problem: Global diplomacy today is not very effective, in part because it is misunderstood and starved of resources. The best diplomacy carries out foreign policy professionally, yet most countries let amateurs practice it.

I’m talking about appointees who receive diplomatic posts thanks only to political connections. To resolve at least some of the many conflicts, disputes and other problems around the world, governments must start building or strengthening professional diplomatic services, providing them with proper training and career development, and giving them all the tools, resources and authority necessary to get the job done.

Few countries come close to this standard today. No one is born with the ability to practice international diplomacy — to manage a country’s relations with other states, understand and engage foreign societies, influence governments and publics, conduct difficult and consequential negotiations, anticipate threats and take advantage of opportunities. These are skills that have to be acquired.

The State Department’s Loss Is Corporate America’s Gain

So what if many of America’s most senior career diplomats have been forced out by the Trump administration? Thousands of their former colleagues remain in the Foreign Service and are more than capable of getting the job done. This is what the administration, including the State Department leadership, has been saying for months.

Even the departing diplomats, while lamenting the loss of longtime expertise, have taken solace in the talent and skills of the rising stars they left behind, as they have pointed out themselves at all-too-frequent retirement ceremonies in the past year.

It turns out, however, that many of those rising stars have recently concluded they are no longer wanted, understood and appreciated — and though they were years from retirement, most likely with brilliant careers ahead of them under normal circumstances, they resigned.

The State Department declined to provide an official figure, but several current and former Foreign Service officers said that at least several dozen have left because of what they see as the administration’s neglect of diplomacy and gutting of the department — a higher-than-usual number. One recently departed officer said she personally knows at least a dozen former colleagues who have stepped down since January 2017.

The State Department’s diversity problem

FPBy Nicholas Kralev
Foreign Policy Magazine
May 22, 2016

When Naomi Walcott joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2005, she was “delighted” to find a new class of officers that was diverse “in every possible meaning of the word: age, religion, ethnic and educational background.” To a lesser extent, she also found a diverse group at her first overseas post in Honduras. But when Walcott, a Japanese-American, arrived at the embassy in Tokyo in 2008, she was shocked to find a predominantly white male U.S. staff. “I was one of very few female officers,” she said. “I went through a bit of an existential crisis of wondering if this job was really for me, and whether there was a place for me in this organization.”

After over a decade into what the State Department says has been a dedicated effort to make the Foreign Service “look more like America,” it has found itself on the defensive in recent days, following criticism by Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, about the lack of diversity among America’s diplomats and the rest of the foreign policy workforce. “In the halls of power, in the faces of our national security leaders, America is still not truly reflected,” Rice said in a commencement address at Florida International University in Miami on May 11, borrowing former Sen. Bob Graham’s description of the career services as “white, male and Yale”…
 
>> READ THE FULL STORY IN FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE

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On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” American Foreign Service Association President Susan Johnson talks about the varying value the U.S. places on diplomacy, investing in a professional diplomatic service, and the State Department’s “struggle” to explain to Americans what it does.

20,000 want to be U.S. diplomats each year

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” the director-general of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, talks about recruiting, selecting and training America’s diplomats, and what it takes to maintain 275 diplomatic posts around the world.

Kerry’s deputy sees ‘reduced accountability’ of career employees

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Pickering decries ‘expanded’ political appointments at State

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” we conclude our conversation with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, about U.S. diplomacy in the 21st century, the Foreign Service and the increasing number of political appointees at the State Department, in positions previously help by career diplomats.