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Diplomacy in the 21st Century July 14, 2010

Posted by jonathanlarkin in Analysis.
Tags: , , ,

It has almost become received wisdom that American diplomacy must change to keep pace with a seemingly ever expanding foreign policy agenda and certainly a vastly expanding field of players in the foreign affairs arena, governmental and non-governmental, state actors and non-state.  There is a broad, bipartisan consensus that an imbalance has emerged between our military means for countering security threats and the diplomatic and development means that might deflect or stifle a threat before it requires military action.  Diplomacy in the 21st century is more important than ever to U.S. national security.  But it will not be diplomacy as we have known it.

While traditional diplomatic functions – government to government relations – will remain a major priority for the U.S. Foreign Service, America’s diplomats will increasingly need to interact directly with every sector of foreign societies, the private sector and academia, NGOs and think tanks, the media, and religious and cultural institutions to reduce poverty, support education and good governance, and promote human rights and the rule of law.  Moreover, Foreign Service officers will have to work effectively with their colleagues from an ever growing variety of agencies across the U.S. government, not to mention NGOs and other private sector entities.

Secretaries Clinton and Gates have argued forcefully that America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development must finally be given the resources they need to play their essential role in protecting U.S. national security.  Their overlapping tenures provide an excellent opportunity to get something done.  Unfortunately, the high level agreement on the need to rebalance the roles of the military, diplomacy and development in U.S. foreign policy has run smack in to the political and fiscal demands of an exploding deficit and tighter budgets.  The minuscule 150 Foreign Affairs Account is under tremendous pressure because, lacking a constituency in Peoria, it appears an easy target, especially in an election year.

More resources, whether for people or programs, however, are not the only or an adequate answer to the imbalance in our national security capabilities.  Functions and mind-sets also need to change.  Diplomacy must take on new tasks, reconstruction and stabilization missions being perhaps the most visible.   The institutions of diplomacy, the Department of State first of all, must adapt, through training, through new incentives and definitions of career success.  In short, the international realities of the 21st century require a new culture and mindset among the professionals whose job it is to protect America’s interests in a new geo-political arena.

Budget Insight will be examining these and other issues in the weeks ahead.



1. Nadia - July 15, 2010

Great article! I’m looking forward to the upcoming entries.

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