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A Prescription for the Renaissance of American Diplomacy

by Benjamin L. Landis

The advent of the Obama administration, plus widespread recognition, even by military leaders, of the need to shift resources from military defense to diplomacy, offers the opportunity for much-needed strengthening and reorganization of the State Department and Foreign Service, this essay argues. The author outlines specific changes that should be made. – Ed.

It is now fairly well accepted that the challenges facing the United States in this century cannot be well met and resolved through the use of military force.  Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, as long ago as November 26, 2007, in his Landon lecture at Kansas State University said, “But these new threats require our government to operate as a whole differently – to act with unity, agility, and creativity.  And they will require considerably more resources devoted to America’s non-military instruments of power.”  He further said, “The Department of Defense has taken on many of these burdens that might have been assumed by civilian agencies in the past…But it is no replacement for the real thing – civilian involvement and expertise.”  And in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs hehas written,“…not every outrage, not every aggression, nor every crisis can or should elicit a U.S. military response…We should be modest about what military force and what technology can accomplish.”

On January 12, 2009, as reported in The New York Times, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, at a ceremony at the Nixon Center in Washington, D.C., told his audience that “the military receives vast resources – and then is asked to do even more.”  He said, “I believe that we should be more willing to break this cycle, and say when armed forces may not be the best choice to take the lead…we need to reallocate roles and resources in a way that places our military as an equal among many in government – as an enabler, as a true partner.”  I assume that the admiral meant a relegation to the level of “equal” from that of “teacher’s pet,” especially in view of Mr. Gates’ statement in the lecture referred to earlier that “when… Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department ‘in a heartbeat,’ assuming it was spent in the right place.”  Unfortunately, such a statement sounds more like charity than a willingness to consider the State Department an equal partner in assuring the national security – especially, since it would be tied to a determination, probably by the admiral himself, as to where it would be spent.

In any case, one must accept enthusiastically these admissions on the part of the leaders of the military establishment that there are limits to the efficacy of the military’s capability to deal with the challenges facing us.  It is also gratifying that they seem to recognize that there must be a reallocation of resources in the federal budget.  This seems to mean that they are willing to see the Department of Defense receive a smaller share of the financial resources of the government.  The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.  The defense establishment has a long track record of using fear tactics to obtain the funds it wants from the President and Congress.

With respect to the Department of State the important and obvious question is: Is the Department ready to assume a greater role in maintaining the national security?  The new Secretary of State declared in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing on January 13 that “…the State Department will be firing on all cylinders to provide forward-looking, sustained diplomacy in every part of the world.”  Unfortunately, the Secretary is jumping into the driver’s seat of a jalopy with a two-cylinder engine.  What will it take to transform it into a powerful eight-cylinder all-terrain vehicle?

Is the State Department really a “jalopy”?  Let the Secretary of Defense tell us.  “What is not as well known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the ‘soft power,’ which had been so important throughout the Cold War.  The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time.  The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s.  And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department.” (Landon lecture, Kansas State University, November 26, 2007)

There are four steps that need to be taken in order to increase the number of cylinders in the State Department engine and to transform the jalopy into a powerful, hitting-on-all-8-cylinders, all-terrain vehicle for the new Secretary.

1. Increase Staffing, Funding
First, staffing and funding must be increased.  The study by The American Academy of Diplomacy entitled “A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future: Fixing the Crisis in Diplomatic Readiness” completed in October 2008 presents in detail and in concrete terms the increased level of staffing and funding needed in the immediate future to overcome the current shortfalls.  The report can be found on the Academy’s web site:

The recommendations of the study are:

  • “U. S. direct-hire staffing in the four categories above [core diplomacy, public diplomacy, economic assistance, reconstruction /stabilization] be increased over FY 2008 levels by 4,375 over the timeframe of 2010-2014…to be accompanied by significant increases in training and in the number of locally employed staff overseas; the additional staff and related costs will rise to $2 billion annually by FY 2014;
  • “Funding to permit ambassadors to respond effectively to humanitarian and political emergencies be increased by $125 million in FY 2010 and $75 million annually thereafter;
  • “Public diplomacy programs, especially exchanges, should be expanded significantly, at a cost that will total $455.2 million annually by 2014; and
  • “Authority over selected Security Assistance programs, totaling $785 million annually, be moved in stages from the Department of Defense to the Department of State, with much of the implementation remaining at Defense.  In areas where combat operations continue, authority would stay with Defense for the duration of those operations.”

These proposals call forth a comment and a question.  First, the comment:  One should recognize and accept that these very specific recommendations may not represent the total new requirements in staffing and funding for the Department of State and its diplomatic efforts, if the responsibility de facto for United States foreign policy and its implementation does, as it should and must, shift to it from the Department of Defense.  The additional requirements will come from the adoption, in one form or another, of the proposals made below.

Now, the question:  Where are the necessary funds to come from?  Ambassador Charles W. Freeman writes in his article “Debt, Defense, and Diplomacy: Foreign Policy Dilemmas before the President-Elect” (, that “In the aggregate, military spending accounts for 36% of government outlays, or about $965 billion [of which] only a little over half…are covered by our $515 billion defense budget, with the rest of the funding authorities hidden like Easter eggs all over the rest of the federal budget.  Roughly $200 billion of this is for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  About $222 billion is for military research, development, and procurement.”  He then concludes that “…defense is the only part of the budget in which substantial cuts are feasible.”

It is interesting and encouraging to note that the Secretary of Defense strongly implies in the passages cited above that he would not oppose reductions in the defense budget in the future in favor of increased funding for the Department of State.  It is even more interesting to note that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his remark reported and endorsed by his boss is ready now to accept reduced funding.

Where could these reductions be made in the immediate future without impairing the capabilities of our armed forces?  There are a number of possibilities.  Let me cite just three.

First, of course, are the reduced requirements for operations in Iraq as the withdrawal occurs.  There is good reason to believe that a reduction in combat operations can occur in the immediate future by expanding the role of the Iraqi Army.  Moreover, if a strong diplomatic effort were made by the United States to reconcile the various factions that are rending Iraqi society and government and to establish, first, a truce between the United States forces and the Iraqi Army on the one hand and the insurgent groups (excluding Al Qaeda) on the other and, second, to begin negotiating a long term solution for the creation of a stable Iraqi state with possibly a different constitution and government, the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq could be expedited.  If the United States were to move vigorously in the diplomatic area, the presently envisioned 16-month withdrawal term could be significantly reduced.

A second potential area for reducing the defense budget would be to eliminate the effort to install an anti-missile defense system.  There is absolutely no indication that the presently envisioned system would be more than marginally effective in eliminating missiles directed at United States territory.  It is axiomatic, and proven time and time again by military conflicts, that every defense system engenders a more effective offensive system to overcome it.  There exist more effective and less costly means for protecting the United States against hostile missiles.  I refer the curious reader to Chapter Twenty, Section C, Subsection 5 (Defense Policies and Practices) of Searching for Stability: The World in the Twenty-First Century by this author.

A third area would be to withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea and from Germany.  The reasons for their emplacement in those countries no longer exist.  South Korea is today quite capable of defending itself against North Korea.  Germany and the European Union are under no threat of a Russian attack.  The size of the forces involved adds virtually nothing to the defense capabilities of the host countries.  Once these forces are withdrawn, the authorized strength of the armed forces should be reduced accordingly, since these forces were never available in the past to meet other military requirements, and the funds used to support them should be taken out of the defense budget.  In other words, they have been quite superfluous in meeting the challenges that have faced the United States in this century.

Although Ambassador Freeman does not believe that other areas of the federal budget are susceptible to reduction, I believe that there may be some.  For instance, the manned space flight portion of the NASA budget.  Does manned space flight contribute to our knowledge of space significantly more than unmanned space exploration in proportion to the larger costs involved?  Is there any additional knowledge that can be gained from putting another man on the moon that cannot be gained by unmanned exploration?  Is there any increased knowledge to be gained from a manned flight to Mars over unmanned flights?  Is the knowledge that is being gained from the maintenance of the space station commensurate with the costs involved?  I believe that the answers to all these questions are “No.”  I believe that a presidential commission needs to be created to study the manned flight portion of the NASA programs in order to determine definitively whether the costs are justified in comparison to the costs of unmanned space exploration and the knowledge to be gained from both.

There are undoubtedly other areas of the federal budget susceptible to reductions in funding.  For additional ideas, I can only turn the curious reader again to the author’s text cited earlier.

There is still another area in which funds can be found to support the diplomatic efforts needed in this century.  Namely, new taxes.  I recognize that it is definitely not politically correct to talk of additional taxes in a period of economic crisis.  On the other hand, it should be recognized that there are possibilities for new taxes that will have no adverse impact on the economy, on the ability of Americans to pay their rent or their mortgages, to buy food for their families, to pay for the necessities of a reasonable life style.

May I suggest two areas.  First, a federal tax of 1-2% on all wagers made in the United States (casinos, lotteries, races, other sporting events, etc.).  In 2006 gambling revenues amounted to about $90 billion.  A 2% tax would create about $1.8 billion, almost what the Academy of American Diplomacy study estimates to be required to bring the Department of State employment up to the required level.  The money spent in gambling is not being used to pay rents, to pay off mortgages, to buy food, to pay for schooling, etc.  Furthermore, the level of taxation proposed would not work a hardship on the gaming industry.  At the most, it would simply reduce modestly the levels of the payoffs to successful gamblers.  Second, federal luxury taxes.  A 2-5% tax could be levied on all jewelry and watches costing more than $1,000, on all non-commercial automotive vehicles costing $50,000 or more, on all pleasure boats costing $75,000 or more, on all aircraft purchased for non-commercial purposes costing $75,000 or more.  A person who is ready to pay $1,000 for a wrist watch will not balk at paying $1,050; a person who is ready to pay $50,000 for an automobile will not hesitate to pay $52,500, etc.  Again, persons who are able to purchase such luxury items are not foregoing lodging, food, clothes, etc.

In summary, it is, I believe, evident that sufficient funds can be made available to sustain an enhanced diplomatic effort without increasing the anticipated budget deficits.

2. Enhance Professionalism
The second step that needs to be taken is to enhance the professionalism of the Foreign Service and to transform it into a flexible, mission-and-career-oriented service.  In an article entitled “Needed: A Unitary Diplomatic Service of the United States” (,  Stephanie Kinney trenchantly analyzes the deficiencies of today’s Foreign Service.  She also proposes solutions.  First, “the creation of a unitary diplomatic service…that…requires its employees at all levels to be broadly educated, insightful, adaptable, and agile – intellectually and operationally.”

How can this be achieved?

The concept of the Foreign Service as it has developed, and one could say, eroded, over the years needs to be rethought and rendered more coherent and more appropriate to meet the diplomatic challenges of this century.  The starting point must be the redefinition of the concept of the Foreign Service.  It must be, first, a “unitary” service which encompasses not only the traditional disciplines of core diplomacy, public diplomacy, economic assistance, and reconstruction and stabilization, but also such disciplines as intelligence, information technology, human resources, security, and facilities management.  Second, it must be a service in which the individual accepts that most of his career will be spent overseas and that assignments are at the discretion of the Department of State and not of the individual.  Stateside assignments would generally be limited to tours at the Department of State, at the United Nations as a part of the United States delegation, or at the Foreign Service Institute as an instructor/professor.

In order to achieve the goals of a “unitary” service the recruitment methods used to bring individuals into the Foreign Service must be changed. These should comprise a competitive examination to select students to attend selected universities at the expense (tuition, books, room and board) of the United States Government.  The number of students would be a function of the needs of the Service.  A specific program of studies would be established for each successful candidate, to include specific foreign language studies.  The summer vacations of these students would be devoted to assignments to embassies, consulates, to the headquarters of the Department of State for on-the-job training, and to the Foreign Service Institute for training in specific skills.  Upon the successful completion of the four-year academic program the candidate would become a member of the Foreign Service and would be required to serve a minimum of eight years.  If a person is deemed inapt for the Foreign Service, either during his/her university years or after graduation, or fails to maintain satisfactory academic grades, the individual would be eliminated from the program and required to serve two years, either in the armed forces or in the Peace Corps, for each year of his/her fully subsidized university education, or if after graduation, up to the requisite eight years.

The next change for achieving the goals of a “unitary” service would be the development of career programming.  Such programming would create career paths of increasing responsibilities and of advanced education to meet those responsibilities.  Such education would be available at the Foreign Service Institute as well as at civilian universities.  In this regard, based upon the observations in Stephanie Kinney’s article cited above, it would be necessary to enhance the level of educational programs and instruction at the Foreign Service Institute.  If an individual joins the Foreign Service at the age of 22, his/her career may well span 40 to 45 years.  During that time, he/she should spend about 10 years in advanced education. And even after 35 to 40 years of service, the individual Foreign Service officer could well expect to receive additional advanced training depending on his/her possible end-of-career assignment.  All advanced education, whether at the Foreign Service Institute or at civilian universities, would require that the individual concerned commit himself/herself to twice as many years of service after the completion of the training as the duration of the training.

The individual arriving in the Foreign Service after the educational program prescribed above should be fluent in one foreign language and moderately fluent in a second.  His/her fluency in these languages should be improved by judicious assignments, but his/her career should not be limited to those countries in which those languages are spoken.  An assignment to a country in which another language is spoken should be preceded by an intensive program of instruction in the language.  The Foreign Service officer throughout his career should be required to maintain a high degree of fluency in at least two foreign languages.

Position assignments should be limited in duration.  An assignment to a position in the United States should be limited to three years, with the possibility of a maximum extension of three years at the request of the organization’s hierarchy, not of the individual.  This same duration should apply to positions in “desirable” areas overseas.  Positions in overseas “hardship” areas should be limited to one to two years depending upon the area.  The same rules for extensions would apply to overseas areas as for the United States.

3. Reorganize State
The third step that needs to be taken to power-up American diplomacy is to reorganize the Department of State.  Even a quick glance at the organization chart for the Department blatantly displays the lack of logic, coherence, and pertinence to today’s diplomatic challenges.  There are, if the organization chart on the Department’s web site is accurate, 21 individuals reporting directly to the Secretary of State.  This does not include the Deputy Secretary of State, who undoubtedly for a certain number of these individuals serves as a gate keeper.  Nonetheless, these 21 have the right to deal directly with the Secretary of State.  It is a wonder that the Secretary finds time to pursue the diplomatic goals of the government.  Obviously, with such a proliferation of direct subordinates many of these individuals lack supervision and lack also easy access to their chief and, consequently, lack a voice in determining policies and decisions.  The number of individuals reporting to the Secretary of State must be reduced by at least 50%.  In fact, in order to liberate the Secretary to concentrate on diplomacy, it may be prudent to envision the creation of several Deputy Secretaries, thus reducing the span of direct control imposed on the Secretary, each Deputy being responsible for two or more Under Secretaries and their areas of responsibility.

Another major change that is needed in the Department’s organization is to highlight the diplomatic “hotspots.”  At present, they are buried in the office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs in several of the geographical bureaus, such as Near Eastern Affairs, European and Eurasian Affairs, South and Central Asian Affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  It would be far more logical and efficient, I believe, to create several Under Secretaries for Political Affairs.  One would be the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Task Force I (or, if that sounds too military, Area I), whose responsibilities would cover the major powers, i.e., Russia, to include the ex-Soviet republics that are not members of the European Union; China; India; and possibly Brazil.  The Under Secretary of State, Task Force II, would be responsible for the Middle East from Egypt to Iran; the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Task Force III, would be responsible for Europe, to include Turkey, and the countries along the south shore of the Mediterranean less Egypt; and so forth.  With such an organization, the critical areas in international relations calling for forceful American diplomacy are brought to the forefront where the Secretary can have ready access to her experts in these areas and where these areas are not buried in outmoded geographical arrangements.

There are two other areas of critical importance to effective diplomacy that are currently submerged or inexistent in the present organization.  One is policy development.  One of the major contributing factors to the sporadic success of past American diplomatic efforts can be attributed to the lack of country-specific, long-term diplomatic goals.  A reorganization of the Department of State must include the creation of a policy development structure.  A detailed description of the purpose and functions of such a structure are contained in my article “A Foreign Service for the Twenty-First Century” posted on this web site (

The other is intelligence.  A successful diplomacy depends on intelligence to the same extent as does a successful military operation.  American embassies and consulates, as well as other organizations under the control of the Department of State, are a prime source for information on the total range of international operations.  Yet, the Department does not currently have the structure to transform this information into usable intelligence.  As a consequence, this information has not been a prime element in furnishing intelligence to the Secretary and to the President, who are forced to rely on intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency and the armed services, but whose intelligence is not directed toward supporting diplomatic action.  The Department of State needs intelligence oriented toward diplomatic action, not toward military or anti-terrorist action.

The above are, I believe, the most critical areas that need to be addressed in a reorganization of the Department of State.  I feel certain that close study would reveal other important areas needing to be reorganized.

4. Reactive to Proactive
The fourth and last step that needs to be taken to create an American diplomatic engine powerful enough to meet this century’s challenges may perhaps be the most difficult to achieve, although the fiery words of the new Secretary lend hope that the effort will be made.  This fourth step is a complete transformation of the American diplomatic mind set from “reactive” to “proactive.”

The United States needs to recognize the issues that are creating instability in international relations and the issues that are eroding the possibilities for the majority of the world’s population to live useful, well-developed lives.  The federal government needs to attempt to address these issues before they become crises.  It needs to address them by developing and proposing long term solutions (proactive) rather than coming up with spur-of-the-moment short term solutions to alleviate a crisis (reactive).  One of the most important tools for the President and the Secretary of State to become proactive would be the development of the country-specific, long term goals I have cited earlier.

It is only by a complete change of mind set that the other three steps for an effective American diplomacy can be realized.

Specific Actions
What can be done in the short, medium, and long term to take the four steps I have described above?

In the short term, the Secretary, using the authority she has as the head of the Department of State, can:

(1)  Develop a budget to eliminate the shortfalls in staffing and funding requirements going out at least five years and with the support of the President prevail upon Congress to accept this increased funding.
(2)  Prevail upon the President to appoint only professional diplomatic personnel to ambassadorships.
(3)  Create a Departmental ad hoc group to begin the development of country-specific, long term goals pending the creation of an organizational structure that will include policy development elements.
(4)  Launch an effort to create an intelligence capability in the Department, again on an ad hoc basis pending a departmental reorganization.
(5)  Set up a study group to develop a new concept for the Foreign Service, to include recruitment, terms of service, and a career program.
(6)  Set up a study group to revamp the Foreign Service Institute, its proposals to be coordinated with the Foreign Service study group with regard to meeting educational requirements for Foreign Service officers.
(7)  Set up a study group to develop a plan for the reorganization of the Department of State.

The study groups recommended above should finish their work and present their recommendations to the Secretary within six months of their activation.

In the medium term, the groups’ recommendations need to be transformed into bills for Congressional action.  Congressional adoption of these bills should occur within one year from their presentation to Congress.

In the long term, the restructuring of the Foreign Service and the Foreign Service Institute and the reorganization of the Department should be completed within two years after the adoption of the respective bills by the Congress and the signature of the laws by the President.

In addition, within two years after the initiation of the efforts, Presidentially-approved, country-specific, long term goals and a full-fledged intelligence capability should be in place.

In the event that the Secretary does not, for whatever reasons, find it necessary to revamp the Foreign Service and the Foreign Service Institute and to reorganize the Department of State, I can only suggest that the American Academy of Diplomacy take up the gauntlet.  The service it would render to the well-being and effectiveness of the essential instruments of American diplomacy would be immeasurable.

The twenty-first century may well be one of the most critical centuries the world will face for many hundreds of years.  The United States is in the position of being one of the major factors in successfully meeting the challenges of this century.  These challenges can only be successfully met through diplomacy.  The time has come to create the instruments of American diplomacy to meet those challenges.End.

Benjamin L. Landis
Benjamin L. Landis

Benjamin L. Landis retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after a 27-year career that included service with the Military Assistance Advisory Group at the U.S. embassy in Paris and as Senior U.S. Liaison Officer with the French Forces in Germany. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the French Army Ecole d’Etat-Major, and has an MSA from The George Washington University. After retirement, he was Director of Administration and Finance for several major law firms in Washington.


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