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The author, a distinguished retired U.S. ambassador, prepared the following in May 2000 as a draft issues paper under the auspices of the Rand Corporation 2001 Project. Summarizing multiple recommendations under ten headings, his penetrating analysis of the problems and needs of the United States’s foreign affairs arm provides a succinct set of guidelines for the next U.S. President and his administration. He makes all too clear the need for a substantially strengthened Foreign Service. ~ Ed.

“Reforms are essential to adapt a diplomatic system effective during the Cold War to the very different new environment. . . . The Department of State apparently does not intend to pursue a number of the urgently needed reforms. It is critical that the next administration vigorously carry out the modernization of its diplomatic infrastructure.

THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, first to take office in the twenty-first century, will be more dependent upon diplomacy than his predecessors. In the global era the world’s major power and largest trading nation has no choice but to be engaged. The question is not whether, but how the United States will interact with the rest of the world. The international agenda has been transformed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and most new issues require collective rather than unilateral action. These changes have magnified the importance of communication and persuasion among governments and peoples.

Perversely, however, the United States since 1992 has systematically reduced its appropriations for the conduct of foreign relations. American diplomatic readiness has been eroded, and continuing budget reductions projected by both the Congress and the Executive will further hollow out our capabilities. The new president should place high priority upon reversing this dangerous slide. In the absence of a conspicuous external threat such as existed during the Cold War, only the president’s sustained leadership can marshal the needed public and Congressional support.

Fundamental reforms are required to equip our diplomatic system for the challenges of the twenty-first century. These reforms have recently been specified and analyzed in three perceptive (and compatible) studies prepared by distinguished American leaders. The failure of a resistant administration and bureaucracy to implement these important recommendations, and to place appropriate emphasis upon diplomacy, has understandably contributed to the reluctance of Congress to provide more resources. Congress seldom appropriates more than the executive requests.

The Components of National Security

Our national security, reliant upon the dynamism of the American economy, is buttressed by three elements of the federal government: intelligence, diplomacy, and the armed forces. Their interlocking functions make up a system analogous to the meshing of the land, air, and sea components of the armed forces. Diplomacy is prevention, our first line of defense. If we can exploit opportunities and resolve international differences through discussion and negotiation, we do not need to risk the lives of our servicemen and women. If diplomacy is weak, or ineffectual, troops may have to be deployed prematurely.

Yet, the international affairs (diplomacy) budget, the 150 Account, is addressed by the Congress as a domestic appropriation, part of “discretionary spending”. Appropriations for the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce are debated in a single bill, so that diplomacy must compete directly for resources with the domestic political constituencies of small business, the census, the judiciary, law enforcement, the war on drugs, and so forth. Diplomacy lacks a domestic constituency. By contrast, appropriations to support defense and intelligence, the 050 Account, are addressed quite properly by the Congress as national security: they are protected from diversion behind a national security “firewall.”

Small wonder, in the absence of the sort of life and death threat posed by the Soviet Union, and in the absence of vigorous presidential leadership, that appropriations for the conduct of diplomacy have plummeted since 1992. In the 1960s, the international affairs account made up about 4 percent of the federal budget. By the early 1990s, it was down to 1.5 percent. Now, the Congressional Budget Resolution agreed in mid-April 2000 has fixed the allocation for Fiscal Year 2001 at $19.8 billion, just 1 percent of the proposed federal budget and $3.5 billion less than total appropriations for this function for Fiscal Year 2000. Since the end of the Cold War, the administration, as again this year, has consistently requested too little for the 150 Account, and Congress has consistently further reduced these already inadequate requests. The budget for foreign affairs, in constant dollars, is today 41 percent below its level of the mid-1980s.

America’s New International Agenda

Meanwhile, the world grows increasingly interdependent and diplomacy is as involved with economic and social issues, notably export promotion and business support, as it is with national security. Financial markets are intertwined. The United States is the world’s largest trading nation. Exports account for a third of our economic growth and have provided a million new jobs in recent years. Overseas markets are pivotal for American agriculture.

So the timing is bad for a decline in America’s diplomatic readiness. American foreign policy now seems more complicated, less manageable, than it was during the Cold War. Then the Soviet threat was a yardstick against which to measure each issue. Whether the challenge arose in the Congo, Cuba, Central America, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Middle East or Angola, we knew what we had to do. Advanced American technology, and American military and economic power were relevant to the task. We sought, but were rarely dependent upon, the assistance of allies.

How has the international agenda of the United States changed? A new list of issues and problems has replaced the nuclear stand-off of the Cold War. These include:

  • The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems
  • Enforcement of trading rules (intellectual property rights, dumping, non-tariff barriers)
  • Terrorism
  • International crime, especially traffic in drugs
  • Regional conflicts, often ethnic or religious, causing refugee displacements and, frequently, enormous bloodshed and human suffering
  • World environment (population growth, global warming, pollution, exhaustion of natural resources)
  • Maintenance of international financial and economic stability
  • Democracy and human rights, including the status of women and minorities
  • Regulation of hundreds of international activities in the age of globalization (telecommunications frequencies, air traffic control, food and drug standards, health, immigration, taxation, etc.)

Such issues seem rather more complex than the decision to deploy American economic and military strength to block Soviet expansion. The new problems cannot be solved by one nation, even by the only global power. They demand communication, building coalitions of concerned governments and organizations, working together with others to address issues which ignore national borders. In short, diplomacy. Other nations tend to hang back, expecting leadership from the superpower .

The Hollowing Out of U.S. Diplomatic Readiness

How has the denial of resources affected America’s ability to defend its national security and to promote its expanded international agenda?

A global power should support its interests through representation in essentially all world capitals (although embassies in small countries need comprise only a few people). There is no telling when a vote in the United Nations may prove critical, where key minerals may unexpectedly be discovered, where terrorists may find a haven, when access to a particular airfield may become essential, when an American tourist or an American company may desperately need help. The cost of such representation is minimal. Yet, at the millennium, there has been retraction in America’s official presence abroad. Since 1992 the United States has closed some forty of its overseas embassies and consulates.

American embassies and the State Department, although information is the bread and butter of their work, operate with outdated, needlessly complex and dysfunctional information management and communications systems. In fact, there are presently four separate information technology systems, none of which provides full service or internet connection to the worldwide web. In fairness, it must be said that this lamentable state of affairs is due to poor management as well as inadequate resources.

The Department of State has revealed that in the year 2000 there are 200 fewer mid-level Foreign Service officers than there are positions around the world to be manned. In the mid-1990s, the dearth of appropriations led the Department to suspend its Foreign Service entry examination, and to drastically reduce both the intake of junior career officers and the promotion of those already in the Service. Unlike the Department of Defense, the State Department, when requesting appropriations, makes inadequate work force provision for the personnel requirements of travel, leave and training . So the actual deficit in the Foreign Service is closer to 700 officers, about 15 percent of requirements.

A result of this situation, beyond persistent staffing shortfalls and tasks only partially accomplished, has been a contraction in professional training, including language study; it has been difficult to spare overworked diplomats for training. The inadequacy of funds has also obliged the Department of State to limit American representation at international meetings and conferences.

The physical state of many American embassies, and the working conditions for overseas staff, are shameful. In late 1999, the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel found that “the overseas facilities of the wealthiest nation in history are often overcrowded, deteriorating, even shabby”. In regard to the inadequacy of funding for security at overseas posts, the Panel noted that “thousands of Americans representing our nation abroad still face an unacceptable level of risk from terrorist attacks and other threats”.

Morale has inevitably suffered under these circumstances.

Modernization and Reform

REFORMS ARE ESSENTIAL TO ADAPT a diplomatic system effective during the Cold War to the very different new environment. Some of these needed changes are closely related to the current lack of resources — almost a vicious circle — while others are within the prerogative of the State Department (or, if several agencies are involved, of the president) without demand for more resources. While implementation of three major recommendations — revamping information technology, overseas buildings management, and enhanced security — require new spending authority, others should realize economies.

Attitudinal change will be necessary. Reform always must overcome bureaucratic resistance, and this requires determined leadership. The Foreign Service has a powerful, inner directed culture; this is an institutional strength — except that such a culture resists change.

The three studies cited earlier reach very similar conclusions:

The Stimson Center Report*, under a senior Steering Committee chaired by Frank Carlucci, was launched in an effort to replicate for diplomacy the experience in the 1980s of the Laird/Goodpaster/Odeen Commission, which contributed importantly to passage of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act to reform the Department of Defense.

The CSIS Report**, under an advisory panel of sixty-three distinguished Americans, recommends “sweeping reforms in the conduct of diplomacy with a focus on the information revolution, the widening participation of publics in international relations, and the concurrent revolutions in global business and finance”.

The Overseas Presence Advisory Panel*** (OPAP), composed of twenty-five leaders from business, politics, government, labor, and defense, was appointed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright following the report of Admiral William Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards on the bombing of American embassies in East Africa in August 1998. Its broad mandate was to consider the future of America’s overseas presence.

The recommendations of these serious reports, along with the recommendations specifically on security from the Crowe reports, can be distilled under ten headings. While the Department of State has begun to implement some of the OPAP report, the administration failed to request and to justify to the Congress adequate funds to pursue the major, most basic recommendations. The Department of State apparently does not intend to pursue a number of the urgently needed reforms. It is critical that the next administration vigorously carry out the modernization of its diplomatic infrastructure. The studies named above provide a clear blueprint for action.

A summary of the proposals follows:

Security of American Embassies and Consulates

  • Budget approximately $1.4 billion for security annually for ten years, in appropriations additional to and separate from appropriations for normal operating expenses, to upgrade barriers, windows, warning systems in overseas properties, construct new overseas office buildings to agreed criteria where necessary, procure modern equipment, employ more and better trained security specialists, enlarge cooperation with host governments, expand training in security awareness and procedures for all overseas staff; reinforce lines of authority and accountability

Information Technology

  • Consolidate State’s four systems into two, classified and unclassified, that can provide both access to the internet and the ability to communicate internally; build a system linking together all government agencies which have overseas interests; upgrade State’s current information technology capability using commercial off-the-shelf technology wherever possible; establish a working capital fund of approximately $400 million to finance the costs of acquiring outside consultants, equipment and additional bandwidth, retraining information technology staff, hiring and retaining additional technicians, and modernizing the systems in the future as new technologies become available; the working capital fund, which could be replenished as necessary by contributions of agencies utilizing the systems, should be established outside the function 150 account since the expenditures will benefit a large and growing number of agencies now operating overseas in addition to the traditional foreign affairs agencies.

“Right Sizing” of Embassies

  • Better adapt the staffing of U.S. embassies to actual U.S. interests country by country through a comprehensive review, under specific presidential authority, of the overseas presence of all agencies; while it is assumed that such a review will lead to substantial reduction in staffing, particularly at smaller posts which should need only two or three persons, maintain United States representation in virtually all world capitals; increase flexibility and adaptability of representation through development of “magnet embassies” with functional specialization, a surge capacity to reinforce small embassies in time of crisis, and revival and expansion of a foreign service reserve system to be tapped as needed.

Managing Overseas Buildings

  • Create a federally chartered government corporation, an Overseas Facilities Authority (OFA), responsible for building, renovating, maintaining and managing the Federal Government’s overseas civilian office and residential facilities, replacing the Foreign Buildings Office of the Department of State and with more authority, more flexibility, and increased participation by other U.S. Government agencies with significant overseas presence.

Relations with Congress

  • Establish a State Department Congressional Liaison Office on Capitol Hill patterned after the successful Capitol Hill offices long maintained by the armed services; provide incentives for middle and senior grade personnel to serve in the Department’s legislative bureau.

Public Diplomacy

  • Seek repeal of those portions of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 which prohibit domestic dissemination of programs designed for foreign publics, and the Zorinsky amendment which prohibits use of appropriated funds to influence public opinion in the United States; expand State Department and embassy relations, consulting and contracting with non-governmental organizations and the academic community; encourage ambassadors to engage in active dialogue with the media and public.

State Department Workforce Planning

  • Undertake a comprehensive workforce review to identify the skills required in the twenty-first century, then recruit and train accordingly; provide for and seek funding for expanded training in languages, regional and functional expertise, management and leadership competence; match skills to needs; improve the quality of life for overseas employees and families.

Commercial Diplomacy

  • Establish a tripartite State Department/Congressional/Business Community Forum to discuss issues affecting business and government in specific foreign nations and markets, and to develop procedures and policies for more effective advocacy of American business interests; distinguish between the very different needs of big business and those of small and medium sized companies; revive the business exchange program under which foreign service officers work for a tour in a private firm; institute user fees for services to business.

Decentralization — and its Implications

  • Delegate implementation of policies determined in Washington and the management of country strategies to ambassadors in the field; look to ambassadors to coordinate the programs of the various agency representatives under their authority, and to set priorities among American purposes, which in the local context are often complex and not always consistent; require ambassadors to act as the president’s representative and chairperson of an interagency team, not just as officials of the State Department; given the responsibilities placed upon them, select ambassadors carefully for judgement, experience and leadership capability, and see that they receive thorough training.

Inter-Agency Coordination

  • Utilize to best advantage the National Security Council system, which, despite human frailties, has stood the test for fifty-three years; make greater use of interagency coordination mechanisms for international trade, monetary, environmental, and law enforcement questions; look to ambassadors for coordination in the field; strengthen the link between the Departments of Defense and State, especially between ambassadors and their staffs and regional CINCs and their staffs, including periodic regional crisis simulations, and in expanded exchanges of personnel between the departments.


All three of these reports, while proposing remedies for managerial and institutional flaws they found in the diplomatic system, urged early restoration of adequate resources for the conduct of America’s international relations. The next President must exert personal energy and leadership to obtain both the necessary reforms and the essential appropriations.


* Equipped for the Future, by Frank Carlucci, Warren Christopher, Carla Hills, Max Kampelman, Ralph Larsen, Donald F. McHenry, Sam Nunn, Phil Odeen, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, George Shultz, Robert Strauss, Cyrus Vance, and John Whitehead. The Henry L. Stimson Center, October 1998.

** America’s Overseas Presence in the 21st Century, Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, Lewis B. Kaden, Chairman. U.S. Department of State, November 1999.

*** Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age, Project Co-chairs Richard Burt and Olin Robison. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 1998.


William C. Harrop
William C. Harrop

*Amb. Harrop served in the U. S. Foreign Service from 1954 to 1994. During his long career, he held ambassadorships to Guinea, Kenya and the Seychelles, Zaire, and Israel. He was deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, 1977-80, and inspector general of the Foreign Service, 1983-86. Ambassador Harrop is a member of the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers, this journal’s parent organization. Paper published by permission ocf the author.

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