Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft

by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, February, 2018 

Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft
A Lecture to programs on Statecraft at American University, Harvard, and MIT [Republished with permission. The original text is available here]

I am here to talk about diplomacy.  This may seem an odd moment to broach the subject.  Our president has told us that it doesn’t matter that his administration is not staffed to do it, because “I’m the only one who matters.”  In other words, “l’état c’est moi.”

Now that it’s got that straight, the United States Department of State has set about dismantling itself.  Meanwhile, the Foreign Service of the United States is dejectedly withering away.  Our ever-flatulent media seem unconvinced that Americans will miss either institution.

I suspect they’re wrong about that.  Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that Americans have not been educated to understand and whose history they do not know.  It is not about “making nice.”  Nor is it just a delaying tactic before we send in the Marines.

Diplomacy is a political performing art that informs and determines the decisions of other states and peoples.  It shapes their perceptions and calculations so that they do what we want them to do because they come to see doing so as in their own best interest.  Diplomacy influences the policies and behavior of states and peoples through measures short of war, though it does not shrink from war as a diversion or last resort.  It is normally but not always overtly non-coercive.  It succeeds best when it embraces humility and respects and preserves the dignity of those to whom it is applied.  As the Chinese philosopher, Laozi put it:  “A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

Napoleon called diplomacy, “the police in grand costume” but it is usually not much to look at.  It seldom involves blowing things up, most of its action is unseen, and it is relatively inexpensive.  Diplomacy’s greatest triumphs tend to be preventing things from happening.  But it’s hard to prove they wouldn’t have occurred, absent diplomacy.  So diplomats are more often blamed for what did happen than credited for what didn’t.  Diplomats are even worse than sailors at marching.  Diplomacy stages no parades in which ambassadors and their political masters can strut among baton-twirling majorettes or wave to adoring crowds.   Nor, for the most part, does it justify expensive programs that generate the pork and patronage that nourish politics

All this makes diplomacy both obscure and of little or no direct interest to the central institutions in contemporary Washington’s foreign policy.  As any foreign embassy will tell you, the U.S. Department of Defense and other elements of the military-industrial-congressional complex now dominate the policy process.  Both are heavily invested in theories of coercive interaction between states.  Both favor strategic and tactical doctrines that justify expensive weapons systems and well-paid people to use them.  Activities that cost little and lack drama do not intrigue them.  They see diplomats as the clean-up squad to be deployed after they have demolished other societies, not as peers who can help impose our will without fighting.

U.S. foreign policy is heavily militarized in theory, practice, and staffing.  No one has bankrolled the development of professional diplomatic doctrine, meaning a body of interrelated operational concepts describing how to influence the behavior of other states and people by mostly non-violent means.  So there is no diplomatic equivalent of military doctrine, the pretensions of some scholars of international relations (IR) theory notwithstanding.  This is a very big gap in American statecraft that the growing literature on conflict management has yet to fill.  The absence of diplomatic doctrine to complement military science eliminates most options short of the raw pressure of sanctions or the use of force.  It thereby increases the probability of armed conflict, with all its unpredictable human and financial consequences.

Working out a diplomatic doctrine with which to train professional diplomats could have major advantages.  Diplomatic performance might then continually improve, as military performance does, as experience emended doctrine.   But developing diplomatic doctrine would require acceptance that our country has a need for someone other than dilettantes and amateurs to conduct its foreign relations.  Our politicians, who love the spoils system, seem firmly convinced that, between them, wealthy donors and campaign gerbils can meet most of our needs in foreign affairs, with the military meeting the rest.  The Department of State, which would be the logical government agency to fund an effort at the development of tradecraft and doctrine, is usually led by diplomatic novices.  It is also the perennial runt at the federal budgetary teat.

Leadership of foreign policy by untrained neophytes was to a great extent  the American norm even during the Cold War, when the United States led the world outside the Soviet camp and  deployed unmatched political attractiveness and economic clout.  Now retired and active duty military officers have been added to the diplomatic management mix.  They are experts in the application of violence, not peaceable statecraft, to foreign societies.  How is this likely to work out in the new world disorder?  As the late Deng Xiaoping said, “practice is the sole criterion of truth.”  So we’ll see.  But while we wait for the outcome, there is still time to consider the potential of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft.

The basis of diplomacy is empathy for the views of others.  It is most effective when grounded in a sophisticated understanding of another’s language, culture, feelings, and intellectual habits. Empathy inhibits killing.  It is not a character trait we expect or desire our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to have.

Language and area training plus practical experience are what enable diplomats to imagine the viewpoint of foreign leaders, to see the world as they do, to analyze trends and events as they would, and to evaluate the pros and cons of actions as they might.  A competent diplomat can use such insights to make arguments that foreign leaders find persuasive.  A diplomat schooled in strategy can determine what circumstances are required to persuade foreign leaders that doing what the diplomat wants them to do is not yielding to superior power but deciding on their own to do what is in their nation’s best interest.

Empathy does not, of course, imply alignment or agreement with the viewpoints of others, just understanding of them.  It is not the same as sympathy, which identifies with others’ perspectives.  Sometimes the aim of diplomacy is to persuade a foreign country to continue to adhere to established policies, because they are beneficial.  But more commonly, it is to change the policies, behavior, and practices of other countries or individuals, not to affirm or endorse them.  To succeed, diplomats must cleave to their own side’s interests, convictions, and policy positions even as they grasp the motivations and reasoning processes of those whose positions they seek to change.  But they must also be able to see their country and its actions as others see them and accept these views as an operational reality to be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denounced as irrational or duplicitous.

To help policy-makers formulate policies and actions that have a real chance of influencing a particular foreign country’s decisions, diplomats habitually find themselves called upon to explain how and why that country’s history and circumstances make it see things and act the way it does.  In the United States, most men and women in senior foreign policy positions did not work their way up the ranks.  They are much more familiar with domestic interest groups and their views than with foreign societies and how they work.  Explanation of foreign positions is easily mistaken for advocacy of them, especially by people inclined to dismiss outlandish views that contradict their prejudices as inherently irrational or malicious.

It’s good domestic politics to pound the policy table in support of popular narratives and nationalist postures and to reject foreign positions on issues as irrational, disingenuous, or malevolent.  But diplomats can’t do that if they are to remain true to their calling.  In a policy process driven more by how things will look to potential domestic critics than by a determination actually to change the behavior of foreigners, diplomats are easily marginalized.  But when they are backed by strong-minded leaders who want results abroad, they can accomplish a great deal that military intervention cannot.

Let me give a couple of examples of how U.S. diplomacy has rearranged other states’ and people’s appraisals of their strategic circumstances and caused them to decide to adopt courses of action favored by the United States.  These examples show both the complexities with which diplomacy must deal and its limitations in terms of its ability to secure assured outcomes.

 

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Russia Expels U.S. Diplomats, Closes Consulate General @USinStPete

Posted: 12:53 pm PT

 

On March 26, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate in Seattle over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain (see U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack).

On March 29, in an expected tit for tat move, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 American diplomats and the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg. AP citing the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that “the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.”

If Russia is not expelling U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg, but closing the consulate there, this could mean that diplomats assigned to St. Pete potentially could move to Moscow, but 60 diplomats (and family members) will still be sent home.  We figured this was coming, some realities of diplomatic life: pack up with as little as 48 hours notice, for those with kids, pull children out of school, find new schools, arrange for shipment of pets, leave your household effects, move into transitional housing for an undetermined duration, etc.

Keep them in your thoughts. It will be a rough time for a while. For Foggy Bottom readers,  please check with AAFSW or the FLO, they may need volunteers to assist with the arrivals.

Here is a brief post history of @USinStPete:

St. Petersburg was the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780, with Frances Dana as the Minister-designate. Dana spent three years in St. Petersburg, but his credentials were never accepted by the Russian Court. Thus the first Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of the United States in Russia, was John Quincy Adams, who presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander I on the 5th of November, 1809.

Adams served almost five years in St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. He finally left St. Petersburg because, as he wrote to President James Madison, he could not afford the expenses related to being Ambassador at Court. John Quincy Adams later became the Sixth President of the United States.

Another future President of the United States, James Buchanan, served in St. Petersburg as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from 1832-1833.

During the turbulence of the revolution and civil war, Ambassador David R. Francis departed Russia on November 7, 1918, leaving Felix Cole to serve as Charge d’Affaires ad interim until the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed on September 14, 1919. By then, the ruling Bolsheviks had moved the country’s capital from Petrograd (the city’s name since the outbreak of the First World War) to Moscow, and the U.S. diplomatic presence in Peter’s City disappeared for over half a century.

The U.S. Mission was not restored until 1933, when the U.S. Embassy was opened in Moscow, the capital of the USSR.

The U.S. diplomatic presence was reestablished in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was then called) in 1972, with the opening of a U.S. Consulate General.

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U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack

Posted: 4:08 am  ET

 

 

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Trump Fires Tillerson: Reactions From Around the World

Posted: 4:06 am  ET

 

President Trump finally announced via Twitter the firing of his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on 13 Mar 2018, Tuesday at 9:44 AM. Below are some reactions from around the world, with a couple of cartoons thrown in.

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Snapshot: Total Non-Resident Arrivals From Canada, Mexico, Europe, Total Overseas (August 2017)

Posted: 1:35 am ET

 

Via DOC’s National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO):

click image for a larger view

Note that the NTTO’s main source of I-94 arrivals data is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who releases the I-94 arrivals data to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NTTO for a its count of all travelers entering the United States. The data reports also integrate the volume of inbound International visitors to the United States from residents of other countries using three U.S. and International government sources: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection I-94 arrivals program data, Statistics Canada’s International Travel Survey and Banco de Mexico travel data.

The preliminary data indicates a -3.6 percent decrease in overall total of arrivals in year-to-date reported at the end of the 3rd quarter in August 2017. Also a higher year-to-date dip at -6.0 percent in total overseas arrival (excluding Canada and Mexico), a -7.6 percent dip in year-to-date arrival from Mexico, and a -2.1 percent dip in year-to-date arrivals from Europe. Year-to-date arrivals from Canada is up at 4.5 percent, slightly higher than the 3.8 percent at the end of the 3rd quarter but a tad lower than the 4.6 percent in the 2nd quarter.

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@StateDept: “…We’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18”

Posted: 3:49 am ET

 

Via state.gov:

QUESTION: Hi, I – yeah, just an arithmetic question, really. When the OCO money, the 12 billion, is brought under the caps, does that effectively expand the 39.3 up to 50 billion? Or will that be rolled into the 39.3?

MR PITKIN: It’s all part of the 39.3. So previous to this adjustment, if you look at the printed materials that are going to come out today from both our initial budget and OMB, that 12 billion will be separate. So it’ll be 30 – about 27 in the base budget, and then 12 billion —

QUESTION: So that 12 billion is just being renamed.

MR PITKIN: It’s being renamed or —

QUESTION: It’s not disappearing or —

MR PITKIN: Right. Right, right.

QUESTION: — being added onto anything?

MR PITKIN: It’s still the same topline amount. The advantage is it’s now all now under the same spending caps that all the other agencies have to operate under as well.
[…]
QUESTION: That is relative to a decrease, as Josh pointed out, of something like 30 percent from 2017, though. So —

MR PITKIN: That’s true. But again, I think, the – as the Secretary has said that we did not think that the $55 billion that was provided last year, including a supplemental, was sustainable over the long term. So I think even the House and the Senate – we’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18. I think until we have to – it’s hard to compare what we’re requesting now versus ’18 because the House and the Senate still have to act on FY18 appropriations, take into consideration these caps. But we would note that the levels that the committees marked up back several months ago did not even there reach the $55 billion level. But again, we have to wait and see what Congress says for ’18 before we can make a true apples-apples comparison. But even they were not at the FY17 level; they were down as well.

Doug Pitkin
Director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning/State
Briefing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID
Feb 12, 2018

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VPOTUS Swears-in Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large, Also Kansas Refuses to Fast

Posted: 3:03 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS — the comments though are extraordinarily … um blunt. We have no particular favorite but  ‘irony committed suicide in the Potomac” is memorable.

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Nambia Bites Back: Come Visit “Sh*thole Namibia” With Over 300 Days of Sunshine

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

VPOTUS is on overseas travel, and during his interview with The Associated Press, the poor man defended President Trump over his recent comments “disparaging immigration from Africa and Haiti, telling the AP that the president’s “heart” is aimed at a merit-based system that is blind to immigrants’ “race or creed.”

In Haiti, Reuters reported that about a couple thousand people took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, the capital and most populous city in the country to protest comments attributed to the U.S. President about the nation being a “shithole” country. Early Monday morning, the US Embassy in Haiti announced that it was expecting a large protests outside the embassy. “Please limit your coming and going to/from the Embassy during this time. If the protest is large and/or violent, U.S. Embassy employees will be expected to shelter in place. No one will be able to enter or depart during this time and anyone outside of the Embassy will be directed to shelter in place at an offsite location.”

Meanwhile, a tour agency in Namibia has turned Donald Trump’s slur into a sales pitch.

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‘Very Stable Genius’ Finds Alibi Not to Cut Ribbon at Opening of New Embassy Castle With Moat

Posted: 3:57 am ET

 

The Financial Times calls it London’s first new moated building since the medieval era. After project planning and construction that spanned about a decade, the New London Embassy is set to open shortly.  The new compound is reportedly buffered by an 8 ft-deep, crescent-shaped moat, and set back from surrounding roads by 100 ft per security requirements. The Guardian says its “concrete bulwarks come disguised as earthworks, and its anti-truck bollards are fig-leafed with hedges.”

The New London Embassy project was announced on October 2, 2008 by Bush appointee, Ambassador Robert Tuttle:

Meeting the challenge of providing a modern, open and secure American diplomatic facility in London, the U.S. State Department today signed a conditional agreement with the real estate developer Ballymore to acquire a site in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth for the construction of a new Embassy.

“This has been a long and careful process,” said Ambassador Robert Tuttle, who has led the search for a new site. “We looked at all our options, including renovation of our current building on Grosvenor Square. In the end, we realized that the goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable Embassy could best be met by constructing a new facility. I’m excited about America playing a role in the regeneration of the South Bank of London.”

On February 23, 2010, Obama Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Louis B. Susman, and Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Adam Namm, announced that KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania won the design competition for the New London Embassy.

The ground breaking for the New London Embassy did not occur until November 2013 under second term Obama Ambassador to the United Kingdom Matthew Barzun.

President Trump’s new political ambassador to London, Ambassador Woody Johnson said that the new embassy represented “a signal to the world that this special relationship that we have is stronger and is going to grow and get better.”  The Telegraph also quoted Ambassador Johnson, who owns the New York Jets, saying that the price tag was a “bargain” compared to the $1.6B stadium built for his team in New Jersey.

President Trump has now tweeted that he will not be doing the ribbon cutting because in his words it’s a “bad deal.” For those curious about the necessity and the funding of this new compound, see  US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds and our related posts below:

New Billion Dollar U.S. Embassy London to Open to the Public on January 16, 2018

New London Embassy: Design Passed the Full Mockup Blast, So Why the “Augmentation Option” For $2 Million?

Photo of the Day: New Embassy London Topping Out Ceremony

Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips (July 2014)

New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass? (diplopundit.net)

US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds

A New Embassy for the Future. In London. For $1 Billion

US Embassy London Celebrates 10,750 Visitors to Winfield House With a Time-Lapse Video

State Department’s Embassy “Design Excellence” Initiative: Year in Review (Video)

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USUN Ambassador Haley Hosts Reception For “Friends” With US Against UN Jerusalem Resolution

Posted: 3:11  am ET

 

The eight countries who voted with the United States include Guatemala and Honduras, countries with significant interest in migration policies and have large number of nationals on DACA status. Guatemala has already announced that it will follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. We’re watching how soon Honduras will follow this move. Last November, DHS extended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018. We’ll have to see what happens next; state actions are in the country’s national interest, intentional, and never coincidental.

USUN Ambassador Niki Haley’s shit list includes the top recipients of American foreign aid for years like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and a host of other countries. How this will end? (see Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2012 and FY2013 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2010, FY 2011 RQSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid).

On January 4, the United States announced that it is suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan according to Reuters “until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.”

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