Diplomacy in a Time of Scarcity

March 25, 2013

Last October (yes, I’ve only just got around to reading it) the American Academy of Diplomacy, The Cox Foundation and Stimson put out a paper looking at the challenges faced the State Department in an era of declining budgets.  The key reference point is a report that they put out in 2008 on A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future.  The earlier report  called for large increases in staffing at State and USAID.  The new report recognizes that there have been staffing increases but notes that changing in staffing levels don’t map on to empty posts.  In particular there are big gaps in the mid career posts with the Public Diplomacy specialization the worse affected being unable to fill 220 posts, 22.5% of the total.  Their argument is that because diplomatic jobs require experience it’s difficult to make up for staffing losses in the past.  Their solution is to ease restrictions on retired FSOs being brought back on a temporary basis.  Their earlier report also called for a 64.8% increase in PD spending (including the creation of a network of cultural centres, more academic and professional exchanges) but the actual increase in funding has been only 28.8%

In an effort to avoid similar staffing problems in the future the report argues that any cuts should be focused on programmes rather than personnel  The rationale for this is that programme spending can be easily reconstituted while trained staff can’t be. They also suggest that if it’s faced with big cuts in personnel State should look to cut its network of embassies and consulates in order to demonstrate to Congress that cuts have real costs. ‘There could be no more visible metaphor for  “America in Decline” than the closing of some of our embassies.’ –

One thing that struck me is this list of what America’s diplomats are supposed to do

Today’s and tomorrow’s diverse diplomatic challenges all require frontline activity by skilled diplomatic professionals. They must:

›     Highlight and demonstrate American values;

›     Strengthen the growth of civil institutions and the rule of law;

›     Promote democracy;

›     Serve and protect the millions of Americans who live and travel abroad;

›     Promote trade and investment;

›     Fight illicit drugs;

›     Stop the trafficking of persons;

›     Support sustainable development to combat poverty;

›     Prevent genocide;

› Strengthen foreign cooperation and capacity to address global security challenges such as terrorism, weapons proliferation, international crime, disease, and humanitarian disasters.

America’s diplomats will still seek to influence foreign governments—bilaterally and multilaterally. But in a pluralistic world changed by information technology, they will increasingly work directly with other nations’ emerging interest groups and future leaders—businesses and academia, urban centers and remote villages, and religious institutions—who shape their nations’ values over the long term.

The traditional business of diplomacy, managing relations between states, is almost reduced to a footnote.


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