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New world requires new strategies

Democracy and digitalization make urgent demands. How, and how fast, can the US adjust?

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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advocated a restructuring of the US diplomatic corps in 2006 and aimed to shift assignments away from Washington and Western Europe to the developing world and emerging powers like China and India. The initiative ran afoul of conducting two wars.

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More recently, Clinton initiated the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the first installment of which came out in 2010. It called for enhancing the use of "soft power" by beefing up efforts in civilian priorities like health, food security, and governance. It calls for better coordination and more flexibility in working with the nongovernmental organization community and civil societies.

Princeton's Slaughter, who headed the team that delivered the QDDR, says it took crucial steps to refashion US diplomatic efforts for the 21st century by elevating the place of development work and laying out a plan for State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reform.

The review also recognizes the fact that diplomacy, broadly speaking, is no longer the domain of government alone, Slaughter says, but includes the vast community of NGOs and private business.

"The world of ... foreign service is changing quite fast, and much of it is generational," she says. "Young people think more in terms of five- to seven-year chunks in the three areas of government, the private sector, and NGOs, and they choose to specialize by sector – the environment, or human rights, or conflict resolution."

The names of new schools of international affairs in Berlin; Budapest, Hungary; and Oxford, England, she says, reflect this world of multiple actors: "They call themselves schools of 'governance' rather than 'government,' " she notes, "and that says a lot."

Is the change to a new diplomacy happening fast enough?

Slaughter chuckles. "Change never is fast enough, especially in established bureaucracies," she says. But she turns serious and says, "I think we're due for the 100-year change in the Foreign Service." Such reform would require the participation of Congress, she says, which means that "getting there is going to take a while."

SAIS's Serwer answers the same question with an emphatic "No," adding that incremental change won't be enough.

Noting that the Bible cautions against "putting new wine into old bottles," Serwer says he's about to publish a new book that calls for abolishing the State Department and USAID and starting from scratch. In their place, the former diplomat envisions a new "foreign office" that enhances the role of US civilian power in development, democratization, and in a broadened conception of national security.


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