By Paul E Vallely, MG US Army (Ret)
How many Americans realize the difference between our modern-day political leaders/diplomats and those great statesmen of the past? What has happened to the art of statesmanship in the West? This has been validated in the Biden and Obama administrations. We see total incompetence in our modern U.S. State Department officials and Europe. This is apparent in the Ukraine-Russia conflict and relations with China and North Korea.
Much like the United States, U.S. diplomats are a diverse group of people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Diplomats work both in formal and informal settings. A formal setting could be negotiating a peace agreement or hammering out the terms of a security treaty. An informal setting could be meeting local school children abroad or helping map areas after a natural disaster.
Individual qualifications for being a diplomat vary based on their type of work. In all settings, diplomats use personal relationships to advocate for U.S. interests. U.S. diplomats collaborate with officials and citizens of the host country on common causes. Throughout this work, diplomats explain U.S. society and values.
State Department training may vary by one’s career track and the needs of the service. Depending on one’s language aptitude test scores, assignment to the Foreign Service Institute’s language program would be in order. Political officers with high aptitudes are often assigned to complex languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Mongolian for two years plus a third year for the most talented students. Following such training, officers are usually assigned to countries using those languages. Usually, officers will receive appropriate language training before a first overseas assignment.
U.S. diplomats have a clear mission: to conduct the United States foreign policy. This manifests in a variety of responsibilities. For example, diplomats work to advance American business interests. They protect the United States from harm via counter-terrorism operations. Diplomats welcome foreign visitors and scholars by providing travel and student visas. They also ensure the safety of international flights. Diplomats help keep the world stable. They assist foreign governments and foster international collaboration and relationships between global leaders. They also deliver humanitarian aid to people in need.
Americans living and traveling abroad benefit from the work of diplomats. They can turn to embassies for help in favorable situations, such as registering the birth of a child. They can also seek help in adverse situations, such as evacuating a country during a crisis. Diplomats work on various issues, even beyond those listed here. They are critical players in protecting and maintaining a peaceful global community.
An overwhelming number of Foreign Service Officers (about 40%) hail from liberal ivy league colleges. They carry their liberal leanings to excess. With 40+% of FSOs from liberal colleges in New England, heartland America is poorly represented. I would like to see a representative quota established.
Russian diplomats are known for their vital professional training and deep linguistic and cultural knowledge of assigned regions.
The principal pipeline for new diplomats remains the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), which conducts rigorous training in diplomatic theory, area studies, and foreign languages. Entry-level officers are expected to have mastery of at least two foreign languages and focus on one region of the world, moving from post to post while rising slowly through the ranks.
While the Service is still a prestigious and valued institution in Russia, it has faced challenges in recent years that have lowered its prestige, including competition from higher-paying private-sector jobs and complaints of limited autonomy and agency. Further, while in the past, the vast majority of those attending MGIMO were specifically pursuing careers in foreign ministry, this is no longer the case. A survey published in 2011 suggested that the ministry needed to adapt to the needs of the post-Soviet generation.
Diplomatic services around the world face many similar challenges: nurturing officers who are globally aware and still deeply connected to their nation; managing the growing centralization of foreign policymaking in the offices of presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors; engaging a growing array of non-state actors with whom they must do business; and widening their scope of expertise to include commerce, terrorism, energy, and cybersecurity, among other issues.
German diplomatic culture derives from the combined legacies of geography, history, tradition, and philosophy. Although Germany did not achieve statehood and national unity until 1871, it has an extensive history and rich diplomatic tradition that long predates unification.
Its contemporary diplomatic style reflects the competing 19th-century traditions of Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck. The tradition of Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich was characterized by the maneuver and compromise needed to hold together the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire. In contrast, the tradition of Prussian Chancellor Bismarck was that of machtpolitik (power politics) employed to unite Germany’s disparate principalities into a modern nation-state.
Trained as a diplomat himself, serving as ambassador to Russia and later to France, Bismarck created the modern diplomatic corps and left behind a tradition of urbane, well-prepared diplomats. The Auswärtiges Amt (foreign office) at Wilhelmstrasse 76 was a highly centralized and rigid operation, organized along military lines and tightly controlled by the chancellor, who once declared that “if an ambassador can obey, more is not required.”
The French see themselves as missionaries for their revolutionary liberty, equality, and fraternity ideals. French diplomats believe they invented the modern art of diplomacy in the 16th century. They seek not only to secure the interests of the French state but also to promote these ideals through public diplomacy and other forms of “soft power.” They do so in a relationship between posts and capital that seems unique: French diplomats are empowered to take stances consistent with the government policy without returning to base at every juncture. This flexibility has allowed diplomats to command conversations rather than react to the positions of others. Thus, France has succeeded in the international community by consistently leading conversations and directing dialogue.
Recruitment and Training in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Immediately after selection, new hires complete a six-month training course to familiarize themselves with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese diplomatic system. They typically spend their first three-year assignment at MFA headquarters in Beijing and are not considered full diplomats until their first international posting.
As they progress through their careers, junior officers participate in several training courses—ranging from a few days or weeks to as long as two years—to be eligible for the promotion. A unique feature of their professional development is that approximately 140 officers are sent to major national and international universities annually to complete a full year of graduate-level academic study.
Selection for this additional academic training is a strong indicator for future promotion to leadership ranks. Advancement to key leadership positions can occur early, and many ascend to ambassadorial posts by age 40. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tightly controls this process within the Ministry. Most of these graduates are then assigned to specific countries and taught how to infiltrate universities, companies, businesses, and other social organizations. This influence has been a powerful tool of the CCP.
The Brazilian, German, and Indian services have the most extensive initial training of the eight countries ranging from three semesters in Brazil to three years in Germany. France, Russia, and the United Kingdom provide a different level of initial training, relying instead on their rigorous selection process from elite institutions and the professional education entering officers receive before joining the service. Several services offer focused training courses at various points throughout a career. Brazil and China link mandatory mid-career training courses to eligibility for promotion, while France requires mid-career management training after 15 years of service. German and French services seem the most advanced in promoting a “work-life balance” through generous family leave policies, flextime work arrangements, and partner job placement help.
To regularize promotion procedures and make them more transparent, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has established Assessment, and Development Centers, which administer written and interactive exercises focused on management and leadership. Similarly, Turkey requires meritocratic examinations between the sixth and ninth years of service. In all eight countries, ambassadorial posts are almost entirely reserved for career diplomats. Most ambassadors to key posts have prior experience as ambassadors, speak the local language fluently, and have served at senior levels in their home ministries. The contrast between the professional standards of these countries and the U.S. practice of assigning political appointees to critical posts is conspicuous.(1)
It may be only me (but I do not think so), but I see no one in the United States or Europe leading in any way to diplomatically solve the war in Ukraine. I see no diplomatic negotiations with Latin America Countries to stop the flow of illegal border crossers invading the southern American border. It is not happening.
As a senior military officer, I have had the opportunity in many countries to experience and witness our international relations and diplomacy in war and peacetime. From my analysis, we need to educate future diplomats extensively. Obvious shortcomings and explanations are:(2)
• Minimal cognitive political thought in the education and learning process.
• Limited historical studies in great historical speeches.
• We do not teach to any degree rhetoric or debate that the British were always known for!
• We do not teach American history significantly, as the education system is failing our youth in the history of America and global nations.