America’s other army

Wednesday 7 November, 2012

I attended a presentation by Nicholas Kralev, author of a new book, America’s Other Army:  the US Foreign Service & 21st century diplomacy.   Why does he & should we care about diplomacy?  When the Berlin Wall fell, it changed his life, as well as those of many others, as US foreign policy & diplomacy brought the wall down.  He tried to answer 3 questions in his research:

  1. why should we care about diplomacy?
  2. what is diplomacy in 2012?
  3. what do US diplomats do?

He spoke with 7 Secretaries of State & 600 diplomats in 52 embassies & consulates, such as Cameron Munter, who served in Pakistan & Serbia, Yuri Kim, who served in Turkey & North Korea, Gavin Sundwall, who served in Afghanistan, & David Lindwall, who sold American weapons to other countries, including Iraq.  He also helped reform the Guatemalan child adoption system, (the 3rd largest source of foreign adopted children for the US), & the Chilean judicial system.

Kralev sees the duties of the foreign service as these:

  • teach governance
  • negotiate nuclear pacts
  • organize cultural events
  • sell weapons
  • help countries recover from natural disasters
  • promote US businesses
  • facilitate passports, visas, etc.

The National Security Strategy focuses on these issues:

  • prevent conflict
  • promote economic growth
  • strengthen states
  • lift countries out of poverty
  • combat climate change

The US promotes it’s own national interest by promoting other country’s security & prosperity, & by instilling the values of human rights, democracy, & equality.  The underlying premise is that the only way the US can be stable is for the rest of the world to be stable, & for the US to be successful, we need more growth economies.

The mission of the foreign service is not to promote democracy per se, rather transformational diplomacy which promotes good governance, rather than dealing with the world as it is, as in traditional diplomacy.  Traditional democracy simply manages foreign relations, represents the interests of the US, assists citizens abroad, & addresses transnational issues.  Transformational diplomacy promotes accountability, responsibility, respect, & provides economic opportunity.

Kralev compares resources with the military with a $600B budget for 1.4M members, to those of the Dept. of State with $53B for 13K Americans & 44K locally-engaged-staff.

The US works on humanizing it’s diplomacy with not just the Dept. of State, but also the Foreign Commercial Service of the Dept. of Commerce, & Agriculture Dept. to both foreigners & the American public.  Obama has tried to get us on a level playing field by working with local governments & matchmaking for businesses.  US companies complain about our effectiveness despite the many connections of locally-engaged-staff.

9/11 was a shock to the system, & led to an identity crisis for the foreign service, which requires new skills & duties.  Insufficient training is being beefed up.  For those who work there, American diplomacy is weaved into the fabric of people’s lives.  The system rewards those who learn fast & get things done.  Kralev’s criticisms are that the foreign service lacks a strategic vision, such that no 1 has a vision of what the foreign service should look like in 10 years.


  • most postings last 3 years, but Iraq & Afghanistan are 1 year posts, & posts used to be able to be extended to 4 years.  The problem is diplomats are only effective 1 of each of those 3 years.  The 1st year is spent learning the ropes & the last year is spent lobbying for the next post, so the only productive year is year 2.
  • locally-engaged-staff complain about pay, benefits, & continually training new bosses, but have low turnover & are well-respected.
  • foreign service officers are trained in local languages, but Kralev couldn’t evaluate how well.  The foreign service tries to give each FSO @ least 2 languages.  He was told that each hire is a $5M investment.  In sum, in these positions, who you work for & what you work on are vitally important.

In the future, keep your eye on the Center on the Practice of Diplomacy


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