New world requires new strategies
Democracy and digitalization make urgent demands. How, and how fast, can the US adjust?
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"These three forces create the elements of a global village," Dr. Slaughter says, "and that makes connections among people across the globe much more important. Of course, diplomacy is still about government-to-government relations," she says, "but now we have to do government-to-society diplomacy, and society-to-society diplomacy."Skip to next paragraph
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Some diplomats and experts say the world is changing faster than diplomacy, that the days of démarches and the overseas cable are still the reality for too many diplomats and embassies.
"We need 'doing people' rather than 'reporting people,' " says Daniel Serwer, a former US diplomat and expert in postconflict reconstruction who worked in Iraq and the Balkans. "Diplomacy has been completely upended, and I don't think most diplomats understand or appreciate that."
Dr. Serwer, who teaches conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, says too many Foreign Service officers are tasked with the traditional job of information-gathering, for example, when the government's sources of information have exploded, from international organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to local citizens groups focused on issues as varied as food security and the impact of rising oceans.
"The diplomatic establishment is misconfigured, misconceived, and it's doing things that aren't what we need to be doing anymore," Serwer says.
The American Foreign Service is still too focused on the traditional diplomatic capitals of Western Europe, many international affairs experts say, even when the world has witnessed an explosion in the number of countries in recent decades – from 160 in 1990 to nearly 200 today – while new regional and indeed global powers are rising in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Serwer recalls when he was deputy chief of mission in Rome in the early 1990s, in charge of 800 diplomats and other officials from a long list of US agencies. Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts came to visit and told Serwer he wanted to cut back on diplomatic assignments to Rome.
"I said, 'Senator, you can zero out my [State Department] budget, and this mission will still have 700 people, with all the folks that everybody from Justice to Agriculture has here,' " Serwer said. "It's all legacy," he adds, meaning it's all the plum assignments that have built up over decades. "The distribution of where we have people is extremely cockeyed and doesn't match today's world and needs," he says.