by Anthony C.E. Quainton
The author brings to bear his thirty-eight years of experience in diplomacy to issue a strong call for greater recognition in the ongoing Presidential campaign of the role of diplomacy in the conduct of U.S. relations abroad, and for added emphasis on support for a strengthened U.S. Foreign Service. ~ Ed.
“The American Foreign Service provides the linguistic, cultural, and analytical skills which must inform every United States activity beyond its borders. . . . The costs of diplomatic failure are high.”
BOTH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES have now spoken about their vision of America’s place in the world. Both are calling for American leadership in defense of freedom. Both advocate a strong military. Al Gore, seemingly the more activist, calls for a stance of forward engagement to create an “ever widening circle of freedom, human dignity and self-sufficiency.” But George Bush is equally clear about the need for “a distinctly American internationalism” which encourages “stability from a position of strength.”
Muscular foreign policy is in vogue. Both candidates are clear about the military resource implications of their policies. Gore espouses a strong national defense and a military capability second to none in order that America can wage peace through diplomacy. George Bush explicitly has announced he would restore the morale of the military, which he asserts has been squandered by shrinking resources and multiplying missions. The solution he proposes is better training, better treatment, and better pay. Gore calls for the “forces and resources” needed to deal with all threats to America’s security.This emphasis on military resources has an ironic sound against the background of the extensive global agenda which the two candidates are committed to pursuing. None of the problems which they identify in U.S. relations with Russia, China, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, etc., is susceptible to a military solution. All require energetic and patient diplomacy. And yet diplomacy, as managed by the State Department and implemented by the Foreign Service, gets short shrift. Bush is dismissive, referring to the “smirks and scowls of diplomacy.” To be sure, Gore calls for waging peace through diplomacy and castigates the Republicans for their refusal to fund America’s diplomatic and international development efforts. But these are off hand remarks in a speech more notable for its emphasis on military capabilities than for its concern about the political, economic or social dimensions of foreign policy. Neither candidate acknowledges the hollowing out of America’s diplomatic capabilities over the last fifteen years as budgets have been slashed by more than forty percent in Democratic and Republican congresses alike.
None of America’s lofty goals and little of its leadership potential can be achieved without a strong professional diplomatic service, adequately funded, politically supported, and publicly acknowledged. Like that of its military counterparts, the Foreign Service’s morale has been squandered. But in addition, the profession of diplomacy has been demeaned, reduced in the public’s mind to a board game played by effete, elegant, and unrepresentative individuals more knowledgeable about champagne and caviar than the real concerns of Main Street America. The result has been a false sense that America’s world leadership can be had on the cheap. Like the armed forces, the Foreign Service needs better training, better treatment, and better pay.
A recent book from the American Academy of Diplomacy, First Line of Defense, eloquently makes the case for greater attention to diplomacy. It notes the high price in terms of lives lost that the American Foreign Service has paid over the years. It is no disrespect to the American military to note that more Ambassadors have given their lives in terrorist incidents than Generals did in Vietnam. Diplomacy is a high-risk business on which the security of America relies. The reporting, analysis, representation, and negotiation which America’s representatives abroad carry out are essential ingredients of our global leadership. No overseas program, whether in counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, trade promotion or sustainable development, is likely to succeed without the value-added of professional diplomacy. The American Foreign Service provides the linguistic, cultural, and analytical skills which must inform every United States activity beyond its borders. When diplomacy fails, almost inexorably we are called on to use military resources.
The costs of diplomatic failure are high. As the presidential campaign unfolds, the candidates should explicitly recognize that diplomacy is indeed America’s first line of defense and forthrightly call for the resources necessary to sustain and enhance it.
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Anthony C. E. Quainton was a career diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1959 to 1997. Among his senior assignments were ambassadorships to the Central African Empire, Nicaragua, Kuwait, and Peru. He was assistant secretary of State for diplomatic security, 1992-95, and director general of the Foreign Service, 1995–97.