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The National Security Council
Department of State
Department of Defense
Single-Issue Foreign-Affairs
Diplomacy by Domestically Oriented Government Agencies
Unofficial Diplomacy


Diplomacy arises out of the fundamental character of the nation-state system, with its basic assumption that nation-states are sovereign but divergent in their interests and unequal in their power. Diplomacy is about the process of interstate relations, while foreign policy concerns the objectives of those relations.

Following World War II, Washington's diplomacy adapted all of its foreign-policy instruments to the policy goals of the Cold War. In the diplomatic sphere, the United States adopted the activism of a superpower, leading a broad, military-political alliance. The U.S. relied heavily on bilateral relations to build a nexus of durable political and military coalitions as major diplomatic tools. These included anti-Soviet coalitions (such as NATO, CENTO, and SEATO) and institutions for the promotion of global economic and political development (such as the Marshall Plan and GATT). To implement this more ambitious foreign policy, the traditional departments were expanded in staff and resources, and a new family of government agencies was created with responsibility for a new range of activities, including covert intelligence collection and special operations, propaganda, and economic and military assistance.

With the end of the East-West rivalry as an organizing principle, governments and peoples are turning inward, focusing their attention on specific local interests. At the same time, a growing number of transnational issues bedevil countries large and small. Furthermore, a number of actors have recently assumed greater roles on the international scene: resurgent ethnic and regional nationalism; international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization; multinational corporations; and private voluntary organizations (PVOs).

The multiplicity of these interests and actors who, in the absence of a single organizing theme such as competition with the USSR, clamor for priority attention presents new diplomatic challenges implying the need for a more multifaceted and nimble diplomacy. For instance, while U.S. bilateral relations with Japan during the Cold War concentrated primarily on security considerations, trade and investment questions are now of increased importance, and the process of influencing Japanese behavior requires paying attention to a more diverse number of Japanese interest groups and power centers--the Ministry of International Trade and Industry as well as the Defense Agency; the Japanese car industry as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the same time, the U.S. finds its ability to pursue aggressive, bilateral diplomatic activity limited by expanding multilateral obligations arising from its leadership role (e.g., in NATO and the U.N.) and by the American public's growing insistence on a domestic focus.


Retrenchment and reduction appear to be the dominant trend with respect to the American diplomatic organs. The best measure of the funding for diplomacy is the data on government spending by functional category. One of the categories is international affairs (the 150 account ). The funding for the 150 account fell 46 percent in real terms from FY 1985 to FY 1995. Furthermore, both the FY 1996 budget proposed by President Bill Clinton and the congressional concurrent resolution on the FY 1996 budget project steep reductions in the 150 account between FY 1995 and FY 2000: their respective projections are for a 23 percent and a 43 percent decline in real terms.

Between FY 1985 and FY 1995, the reduction in the 150 account was primarily in international security assistance, i.e., military aid. The funding for the conduct of foreign affairs, other than peacekeeping assessments, is perhaps the category most related to diplomacy. That category rose by only 8 percent in real terms from FY 1985 to FY 1995. The Clinton administration forecast that it will decline by 19 percent between FY 1995 and FY 2000 (Congress did not break down the 150 account forecast into the component elements).

Most of the existing official foreign-policy community--the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the specialized agencies, and the foreign-affairs components of main-line departments--was created to augment the Department of State in the conduct of American diplomacy during the Cold War. Calls for budget-cutting in general are jostling for attention with proposals for reorganization. For instance, Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) proposed in 1995 the abolition of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) as independent organizations, with the transfer of their functions to the State Department.

Until World War II, the building now known as the Old Executive Office Building housed the Department of State, Navy, and War.

Reorganized or not, the existing government organizations will continue to be charged with implementing American diplomacy in pursuit of U.S. interests utilizing a variety of instruments that can be mixed and matched to specific ends. These range from prodding North Korea into compliance with international norms on nuclear questions to protecting access to government contracts for American aircraft producers. The form in which they are used also can vary, from quiet bilateral contacts by resident embassies through "shuttle diplomacy" by senior officials to highly publicized summits of chiefs of state. The United States has also developed a program of regularly published official reports on specific subjects, such as human rights, narcotics traffic, and terrorism, that combine public diplomacy with public pressure on other governments.

Modern diplomacy is like an iceberg that lies largely underwater; most of the business of influencing other governments takes the form of myriad daily contacts outside the notice of the media and the public eye. In general, the stronger the overall bilateral relationship, the easier to settle specific issues, such as police treatment of an American citizen or access to the local market for a U.S. product. Conversely, the weaker the relationship, the more difficult effectively to use diplomatic tools to obtain changes in behavior, as seen in U.S.-Iran relations.

Treaties and International Agreements Concluded Annual Average, 1946-94

The National Security Council

Established by law in 1947 as a body of cabinet-level officials, the National Security Council (NSC) advises the President on national-security policy. Its role was expanded during the Eisenhower administration, when a relatively small NSC staff organization was created to serve as a secretariat coordinating foreign policy.

The National Security Advisor (NSA) and his staff have since moved far beyond the Eisenhower-era concept of interdepartmental coordination. The position of National Security Advisor now has cabinet-level status, and is often seen as primus inter pares on the NSC. In the Kennedy administration, the National Security Advisor began to play a direct role in policy formulation, a role expanded by Henry Kissinger, who essentially assumed the power and role of chief diplomat as well as principal foreign-policy advisor in the Nixon administration. Although the trend of increasing power in the hands of the National Security Advisor slowed somewhat during the Reagan years, a new twist was introduced when the NSC temporarily assumed an active role in covert operations. Under President George Bush, Brent Scowcroft reintroduced the concept of the NSA as an "honest broker" who coordinated U.S. foreign policy. This approach, when combined with an engaged President and an effective Secretary of State (James Baker) in an atmosphere of collegiality among senior officials, produced a notably coherent, nimble, and well-integrated U.S. foreign policy, even in the hectic days of the Soviet Union's collapse.

Trends in U.S. Government Overses Presence 1984-94

The Clinton administration also aimed for a collegial relationship among its foreign-policy and diplomatic principals, and the current National Security Advisor appears to be operating more as an inside coordinator than external diplomatic operator. Correspondingly, the principal roles of the NSA and his staff appear to be prioritizing issues, seeking consistency, and coordinating instruments within the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, as well as adjudicating the underlying competition for resources among agencies and departments.

The NSC is challenged to keep up with the growing foreign-policy portfolio. Because the President's role in formulating U.S. foreign policy and directing diplomacy will remain central--despite an increasingly assertive Congress--the importance of the NSC's integrating role can only increase. At the same time, the roles of the National Security Advisor as a spokesman and negotiator cannot be completely curtailed, though they can be held in reserve for rare occasions when U.S. wishes to demonstrate the depth of its interest.

The Department of State

The State Department is the core diplomatic institution for the U.S. government. It employs all of the diplomatic instruments, from public spokesman to secret negotiator. Arranging agreements--formal and informal, written and oral--is a basic function of the department. More than fourteen thousand treaties and other international agreements were concluded by the U.S. government between 1946 and 1994.

President Clinton meets with family members at the memorial service for three U.S. diplomats killed near Sarajevo in 1995.

As the senior foreign-policy advisor to the President and chief of the core diplomatic organization, the Secretary of State can claim primary responsibility for the overall integration of these various special interests into a coherent foreign policy, subject to the wishes and governing style of the President. State's role as foreign-policy and diplomatic coordinator is performed at various levels: in the NSC itself, in the formal interagency process, and in the daily conduct of business between agencies in Washington and in embassies, not to mention informal arrangements, such as a weekly lunch among three or four principal cabinet officials. Coordination is a major responsibility of the department's component units, with the geographic bureaus focusing on bilateral relations with other governments (the warp), while the functional bureaus increasingly deal with the substance of specific issues (the woof).

The State Department has primary responsibility for communication with other governments. It manages this role through multiple channels: foreign embassies resident in Washington; the U.S. embassy network resident in other countries' capitals; participation in international organizations; official delegations; and (as discussed in the chapter on public diplomacy) formal public statements by senior officials or through the daily State Department press briefing. The bulk of communication with other governments, on subjects as far apart as the welfare of an American citizen in a Chinese prison to the alleged export of Chinese missiles to Pakistan, is conducted through these regular established channels. Increasingly, however, the end of the Cold War has seen these regular, established channels supplemented by more informal and ad hoc arrangements, none of them entirely new.

For instance, there is a growing tendency to use special envoys and representatives in crisis situations, ranging from Bosnia to Somalia. They are intended to reflect high-level interest in a subject, and often allow for a quick end-run around bureaucratic boundaries. President Carter's mission to Haiti, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott's trips to Russia, Ambassador Robert Galluci's voyages to Korea, and numerous envoys to Bosnia are all excellent examples of special envoys. They were attempts, successful in President Carter's case, to convince a government to take certain actions before the United States implemented more forceful measures. Successes by special envoys, however, must be weighed against the breathless character they sometimes give American diplomacy. Further, the short-term successes of a special envoy's mission sometimes confuse the difference between first-aid and major surgery, and blurr the long-term responsibilities of the regular bureaucracy.

A number of other techniques have been prominently employed recently and appear likely to continue to be of regular use. Modern transportation makes formal state visits easier to accomplish, and modern communications make them both more useful and more dangerous. Thus, in dealing with local crises, the world's governments have energetically employed secret talks, as in the Middle East; proximity talks, as in Bosnia; contact groups, also as in Bosnia; and shuttle diplomacy all over the place, but notably in the Middle East and Bosnia. In many of these diplomatic developments, the United States has acted as a broker rather than as a principal party.

International Security Affairs Budget Authority

(FY 96 $ billion)

Source: FY 1996 Budget

Note: Excludes international financial programs, which are often negative because of debt repayments and spiked in FY 1993 due to IMF quota increase. All data refer to fiscal years. After FY 1995, data refer to Administration proposal in FY 1996 budget.

The State Department traditionally has not been an agency that designs and manages operational programs, but has worked in cooperation with and provided policy guidance to other departments and agencies that conduct programs overseas (such as USAID, USIA, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, and the Departments of Defense and Agriculture). During the Cold War, the State Department's responsibilities expanded enormously in response to the new global leadership role, then later to increasing economic and technological globalization and the emergence of so-called transnational or global issues. Some of these new responsibilities led to the creation of State Department operational programs with special congressionally authorized budgets to deal with international narcotics, terrorism, and refugees.

The basic professional skills of the Foreign Service consist of multidisciplinary and multicultural expertise, language skills, and operational diplomatic skills, such as negotiating, investigating, reporting, and analysis. To the traditional and still valid category of skills must be added specialized knowledge in rapidly developing areas, such as sustainable development, narcotics, investment, and communications. These skills, combined with a personnel system that provides rank-in-person organization (similar to the armed forces) and worldwide availability, constitute the value-added qualities of a professional foreign service. The professional core of the Foreign Service is its approximately 3,000 commissioned officers, a number not significantly changed in almost forty years despite increased demands. Its continued usefulness depends upon aggressive recruitment and training, imaginative utilization, and adequate administrative support.

The growth of responsibilities and subjects in international relations, which began in a dramatic way after World War II, has required that the Foreign Service core be supplemented by large numbers of specialists employed partly by the State Department but mostly by other agencies. One way to note changes in the operating environment for American government employees deployed outside the United States is to check the rapidly expanding list graven in marble in the diplomatic entrance of the State Department of such employees who died in exceptional circumstances. It currently shows 171 names: 72 for the almost two-hundred-year period from the Revolution to 1960, and 99 in the period 1961-1994. The latter figure represents both State Department employees and those of other agencies--from Marines to DEA agents--who were serving at U.S. embassies or other posts.

Despite its prominence, the State Department is the second-smallest department of the U.S. government, with an annual budget of approximately $5.5 billion and a worldwide staff of approximately 25,000, of whom approximately 10,000 are foreign nationals performing mostly support functions. Within the context of a decline in overall spending on international affairs, the State Department's budget rose 24 percent in real terms between FY 1985 and FY 1995, but that was in large part a result of accounting procedures. A more relevant measure is the spending on diplomacy is the budget category called the conduct of foreign affairs, other than peacekeeping assessments. That measure rose only 8 percent between FY 1985 and FY 1995, despite a dramatic expansion in responsibilities as more countries became independent (e.g., with the breakup of the USSR) and world problems became more complex. Furthermore, as also noted above, the budget for the conduct of foreign affairs is projected to fall steeply between FY 1995 and FY 2000.

A variety of initiatives have been taken or are under discussion to reorient the activities of the State Department. To increase the priority given to functional, as distinct from regional, issues, and to clarify the chain of command, the Clinton administration reorganized the State Department into five areas, each headed by an undersecretary of state: political affairs (including all the geographic bureaus); economic, business, and agricultural affairs; arms control and international security affairs; global affairs; and management.

In late 1994 and early 1995, other and more dramatic proposals for significant reorganization of the foreign-affairs and diplomatic establishments were floated, from both administration and outside sources. Many of these proposals call for devoting fewer resources to diplomacy by cutting personnel, programs, budgets, and overseas diplomatic posts. As a result of this post-Cold War debate, reduction of the Department of State is under consideration--first as part of the overall reduction in the federal budget, and secondly as part of a reorganization effort by State Department management. The reorganization appears to focus on headquarters' needs rather than the field structure and on administration rather than substance. It will be difficult to implement the reduction while sustaining the capabilities to handle an increasingly complex package of U.S. national interests.

Tools of Diplomacy in Bosnia

The multiple efforts by the international community to end the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1994-95 gave rise to the expanded use of several diplomatic tools that were either innovative or seldomly used in normal circumstances:

* The contact group is the most prominent example. It was designed to meet an old problem: how to separate out the principal players and engage them to reach agreement before getting the rest of the participants to join in the solution. The creation of the contact group evolved from a background of ill-fated attempts by the international community to hammer out a peace plan acceptable both to all parties at war and to all parties in the community responsible for implementing the plan. First, there was the Vance-Owen proposal stemming from the September 1992 International Conference on Yugoslavia (ICFY). Vance-Owen gave way to the Owen-Stoltenberg (or Invincible) package in 1993, but with no success.

* A special envoy for Bosnia, an exceptional diplomatic technique, was used by the U.S. in 1994. The envoy worked hard to achieve a Bosnia-Croat federation. At the same time, as proposed by the ICFY cochairmen, the principal powers reached a comprehensive accord among themselves and then undertook to sell it to the warring factions. Out of the envoy's and the contact group's efforts came the "51%-49% Map" to divide Bosnia's territory between the federation and the Bosnian Serbs, as well as a further series of notional principles to end the war.

* A special military advisor to the Secretary of State was appointed in March 1994, as part of the U.S. approach to bring together the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims. The advisor was given the mandate to achieve a better working relationship between the military commands of Bosnian Croats and Muslims, which only weeks earlier had been slugging it out. The advisor (first retired General John Galvin, and later retired General John Sewall) faced an uphill battle not only in Bosnia but in convincing the other members of the contact group that their advice was strategic and not tactical.

* Shuttle diplomacy, another time-tested by infrequently employed technique, was begun after renewed fighting in the spring and summer of 1995. After the U.S. NSA tested the waters with a series of exploratory meetings in Europe, Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke undertook a frenetic schedule of discussions with principal players and protagonists. He succeeding in bringing the right set of representatives to the conference table and got them to reach an accord on a cease-fire and then a peace agreement. While due in part to battlefield victories by the Croat and Muslim side, along with battlefield fatigue, Holbrooke's sucess was also due to skillful diplomacy, backed up with some classic diplomatic persuaders: lifting trade sanctions, providing economic aid, denying of diplomatic recognition, and enforcing of an arms embargo.

* Talks held in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 were the key to achieving a peace settlement. Unlike similar mediated efforts, such as the Camp David negotiations, these talks included many parties, (e.g., representatives of the contact group countries) brought together under the chairmanship of Holbrooke and the chief European negotiator, Carl Bildt.

The Department of Defense

The Department of Defense

As described by General George Marshall, the only man ever to serve as both Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, military force without diplomacy is pointless, and diplomacy not backed by military force is mere posturing. The traditional synergistic relationship between diplomacy and war has deepened to the point where these two instruments are deeply intertwined in daily activities.

In pursuing its responsibilities, DOD employs a large range of diplomatic instruments, but within a more restricted range of subjects than the Department of State: for example, base rights, training assistance, and equipment interoperability programs among NATO partners; and human-rights obligations of armed forces, but not among the population in general.

Present at the creation of the post-World War II U.S. foreign policy: Secretary of State Dean Atcheson (right) and Secretary of Defense (earlier Secretary of State) George Marshall.

While the military services long exercised a role in diplomacy through the military attaché, the Cold War saw the development in the Department of Defense of a so-called Little State Department. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy has three senior assistants whose responsibilities specifically include relations and interactions with foreign governments and institutions, largely but not exclusively military (such as nongovernmental organizations involved in humanitarian assistance). These are the assistant secretaries for international security affairs, international security policy, and strategy and requirements.

On the military side, the principal player in diplomacy are the Joint Staff's Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5) and the regional unified military commands, headed by regional commanders-in-chief (CINCs), who exercise active command of military forces deployed outside the United States and who are therefore in regular contact with foreign governments and forces on matters ranging from coalition formation to the provision of military technical assistance and the coordination of contingency war-fighting plans. The role of the military in the employment of the panoply of diplomatic instruments has been strengthened by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, a congressionally mandated organizational and management reform that provides for greater integration and coordination. In particular, the enhanced role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provides for greater focus on these areas for DOD as a whole; however, this enhanced role is a matter for current discussion, with some commentators arguing that integration of the various elements of DOD has gone too far.

In the heyday of the Cold War, there was criticism that DOD's role was too ambitious, preempting broader national goals in favor of security interests strictly defined. The current international environment calls for a more complicated and diverse role for DOD, fully integrated with overall foreign policy and under the State Department's diplomatic leadership--in order to avoid having one diplomatic organ pursuing activities that compromise or conflict with the work of another. For instance, the State Department is traditionally oriented toward individual countries, while the military is organized around regional commands, which cross country lines. Consequently, the military is more focused on security problems that cross country lines, while the State Department brings a bilateral approach to the interrelationship among problems.

Single-Issue Foreign-Affairs Agencies

During the Cold War, the United States created a series of essentially single-subject foreign-affairs agencies, such as USIA, USAID, ACDA, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and the Peace Corps. These organizations deal directly with foreign governments and international organizations through resident representatives and delegations, and employ the full range of diplomatic instruments, from public statements through negotiations to involvement in multilateral organizations. Each is the lead agency for policy formulation, and often implementation, in its area of responsibility, although all are subject to the policy guidance of the Secretary of State and the operational control of the President's representative on the spot--that is, the ambassador.

Each of these agencies provides important channels for communications with other governments. Except possibly for the Peace Corps, they have the advantage of specialized expertise and contacts, as well as a single-minded concentration in their area of responsibility. Some of these agencies can bring potential concrete benefits to the diplomatic table: USTR can offer or deny market access to the U.S., while USAID offers development assistance. Others, such as USIA, have more ambiguous relations with governments. Given the present organization of the U.S. government, single-issue agencies are the obvious instruments for seeking specific objectives in their areas of competence. For example, the Treasury Department would be the natural choice to handle negotiations on the codification of international norms for foreign investment, and USTR to handle bilateral trade negotiations.

However, single-issue agencies' institutional resistance to balancing benefits in their area of competence against costs in other areas can create tension, if not conflict, between specific and broad national interests. Thus, their activities require consistent and coherent central management to ensure that the agencies pursue their objectives within the context of overall U.S. policy and in coordination with other agencies.

The independent status of these agencies and the relative importance of their subjects are part of the overall debate on the reorganization of the State Department and the whole foreign-affairs establishment. The argument is that merging USIA, USAID, and ACDA into the State Department will provide savings by eliminating duplication of personnel and programs, and allow for better coordination of U.S. foreign policy. Defenders of the agencies counter that such a merger will result in the subordination of specific objectives to the general concern for good diplomatic relations. Thus, the question facing the reorganizers is whether these instruments would be better deployed in the post-Cold War era by a community of relatively specialized agencies under some sort of overall direction (coordination by guidance) or by a single diplomatic organization responsible for the whole range of foreign-policy concerns (coordination by organization).

Recognition Policy as an Instrument of Diplomacy

The end of the Cold War witnessed both the collapse of several multiethnic states and the decline of ideology as a factor in international affairs. These events forced the United States to make a series of decisions concerning the diplomatic recognition of new states and new governments. The act of recognizing a country itself became a more prominent instrument of national power.

The success of the new recognition policies varied widely. On the one hand, recognition of the new countries formed from the former Soviet Union reinforced their independence, and in the case of the Baltic States contributed to their security. On the other hand, international recognition of a non-viable state like Bosnia contributed to the tensions that led to bloody conflict. Even the issuance of a visa to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was read in Beijing as a step towards eventual recognition of Taiwan, and the Beijing government responded accordingly.

In the case of Vietnam and North Korea, both former Cold War adversaries, steps toward normalization and eventual recognition became an effective instrument by which to pursue U.S. policies on POWs/MIAs and nuclear non-proliferation respectively. Recognition policy has proven to be a powerful instrument that has received inadequate attention.

Diplomacy by Domestically Oriented Government Agencies

Traditionally, diplomacy was a matter only for diplomats and foreign offices. But the increasing globalization of economics, as well as of politics and social developments, has led to expanding roles for other government departments once considered to be purely domestic in orientation. As they enter into foreign affairs, these departments are employing diplomatic instruments in their areas of expertise: enunciating U.S. policy, negotiating agreements, and maintaining regular relations with foreign governments in an ongoing process of suasion.

For example, the Department of Agriculture operates the Foreign Agricultural Service as an integral part of U.S. embassies, and manages a number of subsidy, grant, and sales programs, as well as programs to eradicate plant and animal disease. The Department of Commerce manages the Foreign Commercial Service, which also functions out of U.S. embassies. The Department of Labor, in conjunction with State, trains and employs Foreign Service labor officers and formulates U.S. policy toward labor unions outside the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the lead agency for U.S. government participation in multilateral health organizations, such as the World Health Organization; HHS units such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control are major international institutions. The Department of Treasury is the lead agency for policy toward international financial issues in general, as well as for U.S. government participation in multilateral financial organizations and groups, such as the World Bank, regional development banks, and the Group of Seven. The Justice Department maintains liaison with foreign police authorities, and is becoming a more active partner in the foreign-policy process and in diplomatic activity, as a result of U.S. government concern over narcotics, terrorism, and immigration.

Warren Christopher on the USIA Worldnet.

These departments and agencies participate in diplomacy in three ways:

  • Formulating policy.

  • Providing specialized staff who may practice diplomacy as members of U.S. missions and delegations.

  • Managing cooperative programs with other governments.

    Like single-issue agencies, these departments possess specialized expertise and contacts in foreign countries, and can be used to pursue U.S. interests outside of their nominal area of responsibility. For instance, the Agriculture Department's food-export program is vital to humanitarian-assistance operations, and often plays a significant role in economic-assistance programs.


    Governments communicate in ways ranging from direct contact between home-based officials to public statements carried over CNN, but the bulk of business takes place through resident diplomatic missions. The United States maintains a diplomatic network of 263 embassies, consulates, and missions. Even with improvements in communication and transport technology, the explosion of intergovernmental business has increased the demands on embassies. The traditional tasks of representation, analysis, and negotiation must now be pursued across a wider range of issues: economic, social, environmental, and so on. Embassies now often include human-rights and environmental experts as well as political officers, military attachés, and vice-consuls. In a sense, embassies are the retail outlets for U.S. foreign policy, employing a toolbox full of diplomatic instruments on a daily basis in direct, regular contact with foreign governments and, in the process, conducting the bulk of everyday diplomatic business. They:

  • Ensure that U.S. positions are known and understood in other countries by lobbying, explaining, and maintaining a regular dialogue with the local leadership.

  • Learn the other country's interests, attitudes, policies, and plans at the source--especially as they relate to the country's leadership.

  • Provide early warning of developing crises, as well as a readily available crisis manager on the ground.

  • Oversee and manage foreign assistance, narcotics interdiction, and other programs.

  • Provide consular services to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, including the processing of visas.

  • Supportmultilateral diplomacy by providing the direct link to national governments.

    Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser arafat sign the 1995 Peace Accord in Washington, as President Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak look on.

    The embassies are not, as some have suggested, obsolete institutions that have been superseded by summit meetings or other direct, high-level contacts. Rather, they are the support base and implementing tool for those two instruments. The capacity to communicate instantaneously affects and changes the role of resident embassies but does not eliminate their usefulness.

    Traditionally, State attempted to provide overall coordination and management of all U.S. activities in a given country through the authority of the ambassador. While this situation still exists in theory, the growth in non-State personnel stationed in U.S. missions overseas (they now constitute almost two-thirds of overseas staff) and the range and complexity of programs have strained if not overwhelmed the department's management role. Various innovations have been made in an attempt to deal with this management problem. The Country Team concept, chaired by the ambassador and including all the agencies present in a country (except military elements serving under the command of a CINC), was introduced in the Eisenhower era.

    During the course of the Cold War, as the influence and role of other departments expanded, and the resources of the State Department and the ambassador did not, the ambassador's ability to fulfill his role as manager of all U.S. programs in his country became increasingly strained. While an understandably satisfactory development from the perspective of the majority of agencies and departments involved, many saw in this trend conflicting agendas, duplicative functions and organizations, and lack of proper focus and concentration on the more important issues.

    The size, cost, and mission of embassies and consulates is under review in the context of the wider review of the State Department and other foreign-affairs agencies. The expansion of the U.S. overseas diplomatic establishment following the Cold War--over twenty new posts--was not accompanied by commensurate increases in budgets or staff (except for specialized staff in administration and security, and in programs like counter-narcotics). Budget pressures led to a 1995 decision to cut in the next five years the number of overseas posts by nineteen and the number of personnel by up to 25 percent at some major embassies. These conflicting demands and pressures have been partially met by hollowing out the substantive core of U.S. missions--the professional political and economic staff. By reducing opportunities for representation and intelligence, the trend could have negative implications for the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy, if only for the obvious reason that even the best diplomatic instruments require effective implementation by skilled and experienced officials.

    Unofficial Diplomacy

    Official diplomacy is practiced by the executive branch of the U.S. government, but various forms of congressional, quasi-official, and informal diplomacy--sometimes called Track II diplomacy--are practiced by Congress, ex-Presidents, and other former government officials, as well as by government-financed research institutions, lobbyists, and nongovernmental organizations.

    Congress has long promulgated the basic limits and parameters of U.S. foreign policy, and congressional action itself can be a powerful instrument of U.S. policy. One need only remember the Marshall Plan. In the two decades after the end of World War II, however, a tradition of bipartisanship in foreign affairs was generally respected by legislators on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and their staffs travelled extensively around the world on investigative missions, but tended to abstain--at least publicly--from negotiating or representing positions different from those articulated by the executive branch.

    Rep. Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico) meeting with Burmese Nobel prizewinner Aung San Suukyi

    The erosion of the bipartisan congressional tradition in foreign affairs began during the Vietnam War and was subsequently exacerbated by the decline in party discipline, the exponential increase in professional staff in Congress, and the lack of policy consensus in the post-Cold War world. Congressional figures--both elected members and staff--now regularly engage in public communication and even in negotiations with foreign governments, international organizations, and other international entities. A similar development is now seen among ex-Presidents and other former senior executive-branch officials; President Jimmy Carter has institutionalized his interest in influencing foreign policy through the Carter Center. From this base, he has played a significant role as a mediator or intermediary in a number of political situations, e.g., the 1994 agreement with North Korea about nuclear proliferation and the 1994 voluntary departure from Haiti of the military rulers. Such figures appear inclined to take up active, personal diplomatic roles--although generally with at least the informal blessing of the White House.

    Congressional delegations are a peculiarly American diplomatic instrument, which arise from the division of powers in the U.S. federal system. Members of Congress are senior government officials but are not part of the executive branch, which gives them a unique admixture of authority and freedom of action. Congressional members and staff use their trips and contacts with foreign representatives to promote their personal agendas and legislative responsibilities, sometimes on their own and sometimes in coordination with the administration. Congressman Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico), for instance, has made numerous successful foreign trips to pursue specific diplomatic issues, such as obtaining the release of U.S. citizens imprisoned in Iraq and the return of the body of a helicopter pilot lost in North Korea, inquiring about servicemen missing in action in Vietnam, and investigating the situation of Burma's leading democratic politician. When congressional figures are willing to coordinate their activities with the executive--which they often are --such activity provides additional communications channels for the executive branch.

    Use of these eminent persons has its benefits and its problems from the perspective of officialdom. They offer opportunities for innovative interaction with other governments, and they provide a means to sound out the other side without committing the U.S. officially. That must be balanced against the dangers of blurring U.S. foreign policy with a multitude of voices. After all, Congress members and ex-officials are motivated by their own agendas, which may to varying degrees differ from those of the U.S. government.

    More clearly unofficial diplomatic agents are advocacy groups, PVOs, and research institutes who often practice what has been called Track II Diplomacy. Advocacy groups for better relations with particular countries--such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee--lend themselves to use as channels of communication and negotiation for the United States as well as for their clients. PVOs have become increasingly active and effective in the expanding interstices between national governments (see the chapter on International Organizations). Research institutes include those that are branches of the U.S. government (such as the Institute for National Strategic Studies), government-funded institutions (such as the Asia10Foundation, U.S. Institute for Peace, and the National Endowment for Democracy), and private policy institutions that receive government contracts for specific projects, such as the University of California's government-funded series of conferences on alternatives for multilateral security in Northeast Asia. In the pursuit of their professional interests, these institutions closely follow international developments and can therefore be sources of intelligence and analysis. Their networks of international contacts, often at quite senior and influential levels, offer another conduit for proposing and exploring ideas and proposals unofficially. Current proposals to cut or eliminate federal government financial support for many of the quasi-government institutions will have an obvious effect on their usefulness as diplomatic instruments.


    In the more fluid situation of the mid and late 1990s, the emphasis in diplomatic techniques is shifting from the large, formal, semi-permanent negotiating delegations between formal coalitions that occupied the center ring of American diplomacy during the Cold War, towards greater use of a wider ranger of instruments. An increasingly complex world, with each state less bound to a static coalition, and the more global character of the international environment call for more ad hoc arrangements involving special envoys, contact groups, and shuttle diplomacy. Furthermore, the non-executive branch players, ranging from Congress to PVOs, are playing an increasing role, influencing the behavior of governments.

    The role and relationships between the various elements of the U.S. foreign-affairs establishment do not necessarily reflect the priorities of the new international situation. The role of the State Department as the core repository of expertise on regional and global issues, the integrating authority among an expanding number of specialized departments, such as DEA and the immigration service, and the overall manager of official diplomacy would benefit from review, and probably strengthening. In this perspective, a fundamental review of the U.S. government foreign-policy establishment, in light of the conflicting pressures of the current international situation and domestic budget-cutting imperatives, appears overdue.

    U.S. diplomatic institutions are being asked to do more with less, in more countries and on a greater range of issues. Therefore, the programmed cuts in resources for these institutions and activities will pose a challenge for the U.S. ability effectively to pursue its national interest through the practice of effective diplomacy, especially preventive diplomacy.

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