by Senator Chris Van Hollen
Editor’s note: This is an unofficial transcript of Senator Chris Van Hollen’s keynote address to the October 14 webinar on “How Does U.S. Diplomacy Benefit Americans?”, hosted by the American Diplomacy Journal.
Thank you, Ambassador Pearson for that introduction. And let me salute you, the entire American Diplomacy Journal family, and the UNC-Chapel Hill community for organizing and hosting today’s event in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the American Diplomacy Journal.
There’s no question that this program’s theme, what diplomacy does for Americans, is on the front of everyone’s minds especially given the current challenges in Afghanistan and the fast-paced events around the world. In recent weeks in Afghanistan, our diplomats have been on the front lines working overtime to orchestrate the safe evacuation of Americans and many of our closest Afghan partners.
Even though the last American soldier has left Afghanistan, America’s diplomats are still working around the clock in capitals around the world to bring people to safety.
I believe we have an obligation to ensure the safety and help those Afghans who for years have worked closely in support of our common mission. Our nation’s diplomats display extraordinary courage each and every day, often putting themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.
And for me, this issue isn’t just political, it’s personal. I was born into a foreign service family. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and lived in India, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. From a young age I witnessed firsthand the immense impact our diplomats have in furthering American security, American interests, and important values and principles around the world—work that has direct consequences on our ability to live in peace and prosperity here at home.
Throughout my career I’ve gotten to work side-by-side with the extraordinary men and women of our Foreign Service, and others who are part of the State Department family, first as a young staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then as a member of the House of Representatives, and now as a United States Senator, and I’m proud to currently serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where I chair the Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.
I believe without reservation that the United States and the world benefit from strong American engagement and leadership—leadership grounded in our nation’s values, including the promotion of democracy, universal human rights, the rule of law, a free press, and a rules-based free market system.
The success of our diplomatic efforts around the globe has also taken on an added measure of urgency as we face new challenges on the world stage that increasingly depend on effective international partnerships and strong relationships. Those include tackling the spread of pandemic diseases like the current coronavirus and confronting the accelerating climate crisis head on. We must also work with allies to prevent the rise of authoritarianism around the globe, and to support those who support freedom, democratic governance, and human rights—and challenge those who don’t.
In our interconnected and interdependent world, diplomacy is one of the sharpest foreign affairs tools we have at our disposal, and we must use that tool wisely. But sharpening those tools requires that we rededicate ourselves to the mission of defending and supporting our foreign service officers and all others on the front lines of diplomacy
Across the globe these Americans, like our military, work tirelessly to protect and promote America’s interests, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
That is true of their work in normal times, and it’s been especially true in this pandemic. Throughout COVID-19, these public servants have been working overtime to help Americans abroad return home, or weather the storm.
It is vital that we answer that service not only with our words but with our deeds. I’m proud to have worked across the aisle with my Republican colleague Dan Sullivan, Senator from Alaska, to cofound the Foreign Service Caucus, a bipartisan forum to recognize and discuss the challenges facing our career foreign service officers and State Department civil servants, and to develop legislation to better support their needs. The caucus fosters direct engagement with senior State Department leadership, and highlights the critical work of our State Department personnel. And I was very pleased that earlier this year the Senate adopted our resolution commemorating Foreign Service Day.
I was also proud to reintroduce the Foreign Service Families Act with Senator Sullivan. It would provide more overseas employment opportunities and important benefits to Foreign Service and State Department family members, and ensure that we can continue to attract and retain the best and the brightest to serve our nation overseas. We are pushing for passage of that bill in the coming months.
Each of us here has a role to play in protecting, honoring, and defending the brave Americans who are at the heart of our nation’s diplomatic efforts. The American Diplomacy Journal has been engaged in that work for 25 years, and I am proud to call you a full partner in this shared endeavor. It’s in that spirit that I’d like to end where I began, by thanking everyone who’s helped organize today’s webinar, and by congratulating the American Diplomacy Journal on this historic anniversary. Congratulations on 25 years; here’s to 25 more.
Senator Van Hollen (D-MD) is chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Service Caucus, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, and Member of the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism.