A commitment to improved diplomatic and development capabilities is essential to our
national security and economic well-being.
It would seem that the world is coming apart at the
seams. Tensions and violence have risen between old enemies
around the world, and new conflicts seem to arise weekly. Afghanistan,
Iraq, and Israel and Palestine demand immediate attention.
Combined with pressing domestic issues, one might think that the
new administration takes office at one of the worst possible times
in U.S. history. Rather, our leaders have a distinct opportunity to
reassert a more positive presence in our global neighborhood,
which would very likely offer economic dividends at home through
improved diplomatic and development activities.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking to the U.S.
Global Leadership Campaign* last July, made the case for strong
improvements in our non-military diplomatic and development capabilities—what he referred to as “the tools of persuasion and
inspiration,” that are as important to foreign policy success as are our
Non-military U.S. interests abroad are represented by several
important authorities, including embassies, consuls general and the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). While the international
affairs budget has increased substantially under President
George W. Bush, so has the demand for the services of the diplomatic
and development cadre. In the past twenty years, the world
has welcomed dozens of new countries as the USSR and Yugoslavia
dissolved, each requiring embassies and U.S. representatives. To
those increased demands was added the intense diplomatic and
development pressures of Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots.
When combined with other global challenges—such as AIDS and
other pandemics, global warming and environmental degradation,
and failing and rising states—the international affairs budget still
falls short. These dynamic challenges must be met with a significantly
more robust foreign affairs capacity that includes skillful diplomats
and trained international development professionals.
To clarify the problems of our current foreign affairs capacity, the
State Department reports a shortage of more than 2,400 personnel to
conduct core diplomatic work and meet emerging policy challenges
and public diplomacy needs. Moreover, that shortage contributes to
inadequate training when the workforce is prevented from pursuing
necessary training for fear of leaving operational jobs unfilled. For
example, the Governmental Accounting Office found in 2006 that
29 percent of the language-designated positions at embassies and
consulates were not filled with language-proficient staff. In addition,
the shortage in trained embassy personnel contributes to lost opportunities
to utilize public diplomacy to promote a positive image of
the U.S. among the citizens of the host state.
USAID also suffers from personnel shortages. According to a report
by the American Academy of Diplomacy, USAID currently has 2,200
personnel who administer more than $8 billion annually in development
and other assistance. In 1990, nearly 3,500 personnel oversaw $5
billion annually. Moreover, there will be an increasing need for postconflict
civilian stabilization efforts, tasks which should be managed by
civilian staff through the State Department. Today, many of those tasks
are being managed by the Department of Defense, a practice which
contributes to what Gates laments as the “creeping militarization of diplomacy” and to the declining image of the U.S. in the world.
Diplomatic and development activities are vital to U.S. interests.
Use of this “soft power” represents unlimited opportunities to build
stronger economic, political and cultural ties between the U.S. and
our global neighbors. Moreover, U.S. personnel engaged in diplomatic
and development activities are the most important “eyes and
ears” of the administration and other elements of U.S. society. Companies
like Caterpillar, organizations like Catholic Relief Services, and
average citizens who travel rely heavily upon—and benefit significantly
from—the relationships that U.S. diplomatic and development
personnel make in their host states. Those personnel must have the
funding to be fully manned and trained, including language training,
to go beyond the walls of the embassies and utilize the public diplomacy
opportunities to interact and cultivate positive conditions for
the U.S. and her interests around the world. In this way, the U.S. will
be much better able to meet foreign policy challenges and recognize
foreign policy opportunities.
Despite reports of a diminished world view of the United States,
the U.S. remains the world’s leading military, political and economic
power, what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the “last, best hope.”
From around the world, people seeking freedom from despotism and
desperation will continue to look to us as a global leader, and turn to
us with hope. A commitment to improved diplomatic and development
capabilities is essential to our national security and economic
well-being, and to reaffirming our status in the world. iBi
*The USGLC is an organization of more than 400 diverse members who
share an advocacy for the importance of diplomacy and international
development to U.S. vital interests. The USGLC lobbies for full funding for
the international affairs budget. Members include Caterpillar, Catholic Relief
Services, AIPAC, Boeing, Save the Children and Motorola, to name a few
of local interest.