Are We Seeing the Twilight of Professional Diplomacy?
A C C O R D I N G T O N E W S reports, the U. S. military establishment, 1.2 million people strong, costs some $246 billion a year, more than all of the United States’s NATO allies combined. The nation’s foreign affairs establishment, on the other hand, carries out its vital functions at a much lower level of staffing and funding; the budget totals some $18 billion, including contributions to the U. N., not much more than one percent of the total federal budget.
Now that the Cold War has well and truly ended, questions arise, and must be addressed directly, about priorities not only between domestic and international programs, but between levels of U. S. participation abroad. Taken to an extreme, the American public could be faced with the question of whether or not diplomats are needed at all in today’s world of instant global communications, a query similar to one raised in actuality and apparently in all seriousness by a Congressman in the late nineteenth century. If a case can still be made in the affirmative for the continuation of a professional American presence abroad, then the debate centers on funding totals.
Four timely comments follow:
- The first came several months ago, at the end of 1996, from Robert J. Ryan, a senior retired American diplomat.
- The second, on the Department of State’s importance (or lack thereof) by Tim Zimmerman, was excerpted from a national news magazine.
- Third is the summary of a related Task Force report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution.
- Finally, we offer an excerpted account of remarks by newly appointed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
by Robert J. Ryan, Sr.
D I P L O M A C Y, our nation’s first line of defense in this post-Cold War world, is dangerously eroding because of both the lack of public interest in and the low priority level given by the Congress and the administration to foreign affairs.
But whether the administration, Congress or the public is concerned about our relations with the outside world, it does not change the reality that we are faced with many serious challenges to our national interests. The world will face a long litany of global problems in the 21st century.
While we no longer have the massive Soviet nuclear arsenal pointed at us, proliferation of nuclear weapons continues to be a threat as smaller countries such as Iraq and North Korea have or seek to gain nuclear weapons. Drug trafficking, terrorism and international crime recognize no borders as they threaten our way of life. World environmental pollution such as thinning of the ozone layer, new diseases such as Ebola and energy resource problems are the new challenges to us all. And the old problems of was and peace, whether in a region or within a nation, continued to threaten the stability of the world.
Diplomatic relations for the world’s only superpower with 185 sovereign nations and multilateral organizations like the United Nations, NATO, OAS, etc., will continue to be a challenge. President Clinton said during his November  Australia visit, “in a global economy with global security challenges, America must look to the East no less than it looks to the West” and that “the United States and Australia should use their strength and prosperity to move steadily, strongly against the new threats change has produced.”
To solve these complex and often interlocking global problems, nations clearly must work together. Today’s interdependent world must be managed as a whole and not managed piecemeal. Effective and visionary U. S. leadership and an adequately equipped foreign affairs arm of our government are essential and in our overall national interest.
While we have identified our global problems, we should be gravely concerned at our failure to recognize fully the inadequacy of the world’s social, economic and political institutions to deal with them in an effective, timely and farsighted manner.
Given this scenario, it’s impossible to understand why the foreign affairs budget has been cut more than 50 percent in real terms in the past 10 years.
The Department of State (including the U. S. Foreign Service), one of the smallest agencies in the government, has for years taken budget cuts which have reduced its numbers, forced postponement of annual Foreign Service Officer examinations, adversely affected morale and caused the departure of highly qualified people. Needed maintenance of properties in the United States and overseas has had to be curtailed. Procurement of essential equipment like computers has had to be deferred, leaving our embassies with ’60s technology to meet what will be 21st century challenges. Since 1992, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts and 28 USAID posts have been closed. Americans are receiving less overseas service and protection than ever before.
Foreign aid accounts for 0.8 percent of the federal budget today, not the 18 percent the average American believes we are spending.
|“Among the world’s industrialized nations America now stands dead last in percentage of GNP spent on foreign aid.”|
Among the world’s industrialized nations America now stands dead last in percentage of GNP spent on foreign aid. After World War II, the United States topped the list, giving 2.5 percent of its GNP in overseas economic assistance.
On the multilateral side, the United Nations, for example, has for years met annual demands for reform to curtail wasteful hiring and spending practices and has been forced to operate on the brink of bankruptcy. The United Nations has instituted major management reforms. It has a zero growth budget. The United Nations regular budget has cut $178.9 million from its current $2.6 billion 1996-97 budget. The United Nations has shrunk from 12,000 employees in 1985 to 9,000 in 1996, a 25 percent downsizing. U. N. specialized agencies like the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization have experienced similar or worse downsizing.
Non defense spending for foreign affairs (Department of State, U. S. Foreign Service, USIA, AID, multilateral organizations like the United Nations and NATO), which was about $25 billion in 1984, today is $18 billion, or only 1.2 percent of our $1.6 trillion federal budget. Even after 20 percent reductions, defense spending for 1996-1997 will be about $250 billion, representing about 16 percent of our national budget.
Our leaders should not continue to shortchange U. S. international interests trying to shrink the federal deficit and put the national budget in order. A smaller government shouldn’t mean the retreat of American leadership in a complex, perilous world.
Diplomacy, including nation burden-sharing through membership in multilateral organizations like the United Nations, can be the most cost-effective method to engage in and influence the world. Diplomacy cannot be done on the cheap as we are now trying to do.
Much to our regret, foreign affairs received little attention in the 1996 presidential campaign. It was accorded even lower priority in congressional and state political campaigns. Various polls showed that Americans ranked foreign affairs near the bottom in listing matters which concerned them. This, as it has in the past, affected congressional thinking and priorities on budgetary matters at all levels of government.
As U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright predicted earlier this year , Washington is now finding itself becoming diplomatically isolated in the United Nations because of:
- Its longstanding $1.4 billion debt which keeps the United Nations on the brink of bankruptcy;
- Its continuing criticism and U. N.-bashing, especially by the Republican-dominated Congress, regardless of the reforms initiated;
- Its early questionable public opposition to the reelection of Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the 14- 1 Nov. 20  Security Council vote cast in favor of his retention; and
- The Nov. 8  General Assembly vote which for the first time keeps the United States off the important 16-member U. N. Advisory Committee for Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACAVQ).
U. S. and U. N. relations are now in crisis.
With the elections behind us, it is in our national interest to redress immediately in a bipartisan manner this ill-advised and dangerous national priorities situation.
|“[The president] and Congress should immediately review funding priorities among diplomacy, the military, and intelligence and give our new secretary of state the needed resources.”|
- The president must take a more forceful lead now and speak out to set our foreign relations at the top of our national priority list.
- He and Congress should immediately review funding priorities among diplomacy, the military, and intelligence and give our new secretary of state the needed resources to meet our twenty-first century diplomatic responsibilities.
- New programs and instructional methods designed to better educate our citizens, students and legislators about the importance and complexities of foreign affairs should be developed and vigorously carried out by our educational institutions, the media and civic and community organizations.
- We as individual citizens must take more responsibility ourselves to get the information required to understand and appreciate the important role foreign affairs plays in our daily lives.
- Together, we must constitute a better informed and concerned foreign affairs constituency that will be heard in our national and state legislative chambers.
- Most important, America must conduct foreign relations responsibilities in a truly bipartisan way.
|This column appeared originally in the Daytona Beach, FL, News-Journal of December 2, 1996; reprinted by permission of the author.
Ambassador Ryan’s assignments during his long career in the U. S. Foreign Service included U. S. ambassador to Niger and counselor of embassy at the U. S. embassy in Paris; he also served as assistant secretary general of the United Nations in New York.
~ The Editor
Twilight of the Diplomats:
Does the State Department Still Matter?
by Tim Zimmerman
(Excerpted from the US News and World Report, 1/27/97)
W H I L E S E R V I N G as George Washington’s envoy to Paris in the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson did much the same sort of work that America’s embassies do today: He concluded a consular convention, worked to promote American whale-oil and tobacco exports to France, and reported on the mob violence that preceded the French Revolution. The principal difference, however, is that Jefferson did it with a staff of one.
Today, America’s Paris embassy has a staff of 800, part of a sprawling bureaucracy that employs 23,000 people worldwide in 249 embassies and consulates. Luxurious by Jefferson’s standards, perhap — but in her recent Senate confirmation hearings, President Clinton’s feisty nominee for secretary of state, Madeline Albright, added her voice to a swelling bipartisan chorus lamenting the austerity that has been imposed on the State Department and warning that America cannot conduct first-rate diplomacy “on the cheap.”
In traditional foreign-policy circles, what has happened to the State Department’s budget since the 1980s is seen as a disaster for U. S. diplomacy. American foreign-affairs spending has fallen by about 50 percent in real terms, 36 installations have been closed, and 2,000 people have been let go. Noting that only about one percent of the federal budget goes toward foreign affairs, Albright said. “That one percent may well determine 50 percent of the history that is written about our era.” Seized by this logic, the White House is now planning to press for a $1 billion increase in the foreign affairs budget for next year, bringing it up to $19.3 billion.
|“American diplomats still inundate Washington with 2.5 million cables and 25 million E-mail messages a year.”|
How quaint. There is no doubt that the deep cuts have materially affected America’s ability to understand and influence the world. But many current and former Foreign Service officers aver that American diplomacy suffers from far deeper ills than money problems. They point out that much of what diplomats actually do day to day — especially sending Washington long, analytical cables detailing the political situation in the countries they are posted to — is an almost 19th-century anachronism in this day of rapid global communications . . . .
Nothing so epitomizes the anachronistic nature of the beast as the quintessential State Department institution of the cable. Before the era of easy transoceanic communication, reports from U. S. diplomats were generally the only reliable means Washington had of learning what was happening in distant capitals. Today, American diplomats still inundate Washington with 2.5 million cables and 25 million E-mail messages a year. . . .
The result is entirely predictable: “I would argue that I did not read one cable from Sarajevo that made a difference in what I did,” says one National Security Council staffer who worked on Bosnia. Embassy cables from Mexico so completely failed to provide warning of the 1994 peso crisis that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot complained in one meeting that the reporting on Mexico “looked like Norway”. . . .
Being there. American diplomacy’s reflexive commitment to versatility “–maintaining a diplomatic presence in virtually every country around the globe–” is another cold war holdover that is being called into question. Albright complained to the Senate that the U. S. ambassador to Moldova is forced to do his dishes in the bathtub. But elsewhere, elaborate embassy buildings are white elephants; the U. S. Embassy in El Salvador, completed just in the early 1990s, is trying to rent out unused floors. And a disproportionate share of resources still goes to large and politically connected embassies in the garden spots of Europe. “Do we really need people sending cables from London analyzing whether John Major is going to be re-elected?” asks one American diplomat.
Even the harshest critics of diplomatic business as usual acknowledge that there are times when nothing but face-to-face diplomacy will do — such as last week’s U. S.-brokered agreement on Israeli redeployment from Hebron.
Nevertheless, a new age demands new approaches. As State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns concedes, “There’s a culture that says ‘Trust us. We managed the great crisis.’ Well, that won’t work now.” Burns has struggled to prod career diplomats out from behind their desks to make their case directly to the American public in “town meetings” and radio and TV interviews. That’s a start. But the critics suggest that American diplomacy’s challenges go deeper than inadequate PR and inadequate budgets.
Source: firstname.lastname@example.org (American Foreign Service Association)
Financing American Leadership:
Protecting American Interests
(Excerpted from the Task Force Report of The Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution)
R E L A T I V E T O T H E A V E R A G E of the 1980s, spending on international affairs has fallen nearly 20 percent in real terms, and it would decline by as much as another 30 percent under the plans proposed by the President and the Congress for balancing the federal budget by 2002.
Noting this trend in foreign affairs spending, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, while taking no positions on the question as organizations, convened an independent Task Force composed of distinguished private citizens with a strong commitment to foreign affairs to examine its consequences and to make such recommendations as it might see fit.
- The Task Force concludes that the cuts already made in the international affairs discretionary account have adversely affected, to a significant degree, the ability of the United States to protect and promote its economic, diplomatic and strategic agendas abroad. Unless this trend is reversed, American vital interests will be jeopardized.
- The Task Force calls on the President and the Secretary of State to exert the strong and sustained leadership that will be necessary to secure the understanding of the American people and the bipartisan support of the Congress to provide the funds necessary to finance American global leadership. This effort must be accompanied by a thorough review of the foreign affairs agencies with an eye toward a structure and to processes that will be more efficient and effective in terms of toady’s requirements.
- The Task Force recommends that the President call for an increase in international affairs spending from its 1997 level of $19 billion to $21 billion in 1998, with annual adjustments through the year 2002 to offset projected inflation.
- In addition, this report calls for the creation of a bipartisan commission to consider possible reforms in the State Department and the other foreign affairs agencies . . . . The amount of the net increase the Task Force proposes represents only about one-tenth of one percent of the entire FY 1997 federal budget and less than four-tenths of one percent of the total discretionary budget.
Although these amounts are small in absolute terms, the potential consequence of not having them are quite large.
Source: email@example.com (American Foreign Service Association)
America’s Weakened Pillar:
Finding the Resources
to Do Diplomacy
(Remarks by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Department of State, Washington, D. C., Jan. 27, 1997)
“. . . I will devote the full measure of my energy and skill to working within this Administration, with Congress, and with the American people to obtain the resources we all need to serve our country and to do our job. . . . “
I T H O U G H T T H I S A F T E R N O O N that we would talk briefly about my intentions, priorities, and ways of doing business. From the outset, let me say, as some of you know, I don’t shilly-shally much. I don’t say “one the one hand/on the other hand.” I’m not that kind of a person. I am an advocate. I believe that America is strong because we have the world’s most productive economy, the world’s most versatile and powerful military, and the world’s finest diplomacy. If we are to remain strong, we need all three.
But today the third pillar is threatened, not so much by hostility as by ignorance. What we do here in this building and around the world is not always understood. There are those who question the very relevance of diplomacy in an era characterized by instant communication and no single overriding threat to American interests. The result has been a sharp decline in funding, a reduction in our overseas presence, a severe test of our morale, and a battle cry among some on Capitol Hill that we have only begun to shrink.
To such attitudes and policies we have a compelling response, and we must state it. For it is not too much to say that upon successful American diplomacy depends the future of the world. And it is no accident that the world is safer now than it was three or four or five years ago. It is no accident that nuclear weapons no longer target our homes; no accident that the Middle East continues to move toward peace; no accident that the carnage in Bosnia has come to an end;
- no accident that North Korea’s nuclear program has been frozen;
- no accident that democracy, which had been stolen from the people of Haiti, has been returned;
- no accident that Saddam Hussein remains in a strategic box;
- no accident that agreements have been forged to ban nuclear tests and to eliminate chemical weapons from the face of the earth.
And it is no accident that trade pacts have helped millions of Americans to find good new jobs.
None of this just happened. In each case, hard-nosed diplomatic work was required, work conducted not just by those whose pictures ended up in the newspapers, but by those who originated the ideas, conducted the research, attended the meetings, drafted the talking points, planned the strategy, and answered the summons to duty on holidays and weekends. . . .
“.To ensure excellence, we must also manage the resources of this Department as efficiently as possible.”
Let me introduce myself to you with this pledge: from this day until the day I leave this office, I will devote the full measure of my energy and skill to working within this Administration, with Congress, and with the American people to obtain the resources we all need to serve our country and to do our job. . . .
Time and again I have seen embassies, over-burdened and harassed, work double and triple overtime to get the job done — in fact, I’ve often been responsible for embassies’ working overtime — and I am aware of the terrific sacrifices you often must make in terms of family, comfort, and as we were so tragically reminded in Bosnia a year and a half ago, risk of life. As Secretary, I will do all I can to see that consistent with the work that needs to be done, your needs and those of your families are addressed.
Over the decades, you have established and maintained a standard of excellence. During the next few years, we must work together, not only to continue that standard, but to raise it higher still. . . .
To ensure excellence, we must also manage the resources of this Department as efficiently as possible. . . .
The management of this Department and our foreign policy institutions has improved in recent years, but must improve more. We need to work together to share ideas, rethink old habits, conduct intelligent experiments, and remember that our goal is not to spend time serving institutions, but to make our institutions serve the times. . . .
Source: firstname.lastname@example.org (American Foreign Service Association)