Reader Skobb77 wondered what I think of "Transformational Diplomacy," a new initiative in the State Department to shift diplomats from Washington, D.C. and Europe to other areas of the world, namely to developing countries, to conflict areas, and to highly strategic countries such as China and India. The Washington Post recently published an article on transformational diplomacy explaining the concept in greater detail. My own opinion doesn’t really matter, because I am not in a position to modify or change this initiative even if I wanted to do so. But I’ll give you my thoughts, for what it’s worth.
Transformational diplomacy makes sense conceptually. The Cold War is over, and the Department’s structure still largely reflects Cold War priorities. Europe still has a disproportionate number of diplomats with respect to its population, and countries such as India and China with over one billion people have far fewer diplomats relative to their size. For example, France, with 60 million people, has one U.S. Embassy and seven consulates, while Korea, with 48 million people, has just one U.S. Embassy in Seoul. The State Department web site listing all embassies and consulates paints a visual picture of this discrepancy. Global priorities have shifted dramatically in the past 16 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall to strategically important places such as the Far East and Middle East. Since 2000, Latin America has become increasingly visible to the U.S. with events such as the Argentine financial crisis, the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, and the rise of Brazil as an economy member of the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China), a group of rising economic powers. Africa may also benefit from transformational diplomacy.
In practice, it will be a difficult transition for many diplomats and their families. Serving in France is generally more comfortable than serving in Korea or in any of the locations that will benefit numerically from transformational diplomacy. With fewer France assignments available, more diplomatic families will have to serve at more difficult and dangerous posts. While hardship pay for diplomats will increase, hardships and risk of danger increase as well. Those who serve in very difficult places such as Iraq often look forward to serving in their follow-on assignment in countries such as France as a respite from the intensity of their current posting. Now, far fewer non-hardship assignments will be available, and diplomats and their families will have to serve at more hardship and danger posts for longer periods of time. Hardship includes not only physical discomfort related to climate or living standards. It also encompasses the difficulties diplomatic families face trying to live relatively normal lives overseas. For example, more diplomatic children will likely be sent away to boarding schools because there are no accredited schools available at some hardship posts. More jobs will be unaccompanied; that is, diplomats will need to leave their spouses and children behind to serve alone at danger posts. More families will be affected by evacuations and crises. The torching of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, Syria yesterday (in in Beirut today) remind me that transformational diplomacy asks diplomats to serve not only in more difficult assignments but dangerous ones as well. At this moment, I’m certain that U.S. diplomats serving in Syria are working hard with European Union missions to help their Danish and Norwegian counterparts, and the entire diplomatic community in Damascus will be adversely impacted by this tragedy. Enjoy your weekend watching the Superbowl while the diplomatic community in Syria handles this crisis.
Transformational diplomacy makes strategic sense, but it will be a difficult transition for some diplomats and their families. The diplomatic life is not the glamorous life it is often feigned to be, and articles such as the recent one by Fred Gedrich and Paul Vallely in the Washington Times inaccurately portrays diplomats as a pampered, spoiled bunch (Gedrich and Vallely should try writing that article in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the frigid cold wearing a parka, or in Monrovia, Liberia, where the power frequently goes down.) Some diplomats will lose jobs they thought they had that are now being shifted to other areas of the world. It might be a good idea to add jobs outside of Europe and Washington rather than shift jobs away from Europe and Washington. I can only second guess the reasons why the Department decided to move assignments rather than add new positions. Perhaps the Department is limited by budget constraints. I only hope that now that the decision has been made and there’s no turning back, history will prove that it was the right decision. Skobb77, I hope that you get the call soon. It’s very frustrating getting so close and waiting for an offer. Good luck, and thanks for posting! Stop by anytime.
Blog Notes: Ron Borges of MSNBC has written the best Superbowl-related article I’ve read yet on why the Seattle Seahawks are being snubbed by the East Coast-centric sports media. Amen, brother. Not coincidentally, MSNBC is a joint venture co-owned by Microsoft, headquartered in Redmond, Washington. In fact, Seahawks owner Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. There may some connection between this fact and Borges’ positive coverage of the Seahawks. It’s also interesting to note that ESPN analyst Scoop Jackson is rooting for the Steelers when his name is obviously connected to the late, great U.S. Senator from Washington State, Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. I imagine that in the 1970’s while playing football Scoop Jackson was given that nickname by fans for his outstanding wide receiver work. He may have no idea that his name has a Seattle connection.