By Patricia H. Kushlis
(The following speech by Patricia H. Kushlis on the future of Diplomacy was delivered at OASIS (Albuquerque, NM) on Monday, February 4, 2013)
On Thursday, January 24th John Kerry sailed through his hour long hearing in front of former colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his quest to become this country’s next Secretary of State. Five days later, Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State by the full Senate with a vote of 97-3. Friday was Hillary Clinton’s last day in that position and on Saturday – Kerry was sworn in as the State Department’s new chief.
He will take over a troubled department in a difficult post 9/11 era when far too often America’s approach has been to strike first and consider the consequences later. He will also follow super-star Hillary Clinton in a position that – with the notable exception of Benghazi – was a far smoother ride for her than for either Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, her Bush administration predecessors.
Already a celebrity as the wife of former president Bill Clinton and Senator from New York, Clinton was blessed by serving under a president who was popular in most parts of the world simply because he saw the world through a very different and more finely differentiated prism than had his predecessor.
This obviously does not mean that our foreign affairs travails disappeared January 2009 but it does mean that we have been far more willing to deal with international issues in coordination with allies and friends using a wider range of tools at our disposal. Often one size or one implement does not fit all – and this is the greatest decision a president faces – what to use, what mix to use – and when to apply it. A political realist will say that the most effective foreign policy rests on the choice of tools, the people who use them and the timing of their use.
It’s a truism that diplomacy is war by other means. Diplomacy is also politics on a grand stage.
Soon after 9/11/2001, the US government under George W Bush launched two major wars in Asia determined to use military force to resolve two very different foreign policy challenges. The first – for which much of the rest of the world was supportive - was the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, the financier and instigator of the murder of over 3,000 people – Americans and foreigners who happened to be at the wrong spot at the wrong time - through the audacious destruction of New York’s World Trade Center and a part of the Pentagon.
The second was the decision to invade Iraq to rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction based on the premise that this would simultaneously solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because - according to the invasion’s brains, protagonists and propagandists - the road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad. The US learned the hard way that it didn’t, it doesn’t and it won’t.
The tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden a decade later, did not take hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground – not even thousands – but it did require a first class intelligence effort on the part of the CIA and its execution by a couple of helicopters and a small crew of special forces.
One thing we should have learned, however, is that torture and water boarding of prisoners did not provide the information needed or used to find Bin Laden – thus what is purported otherwise to be a thought-provoking but controversial new movie – “Zero Dark Thirty” about his capture perpetuates and propagandizes an unnecessary falsehood.
Iraq Invasion Effects
No good case can be made for the ill-fated invasion of Iraq for which we continue to pay dearly. It was based on false premises, built on false information – premises and information which many of you here in New Mexico know our weapons laboratory scientists, the CIA, the Department of Energy and State Department analysts questioned at the time.
To compound the credibility problem, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s false accusations at the United Nations not only destroyed his personally illustrious international career but also called into question the veracity of America’s voice in the world.
But if the largest, best financed and equipped military in the world can’t protect America’s security alone what about its diplomats? How can just a few thousand people – fewer than the number of musicians in military bands – do the job? (15,150 including generalists and specialists; about 6200 generalists in 2004 and the total is not that much larger now) What is the job that needs to be done and what are the characteristics needed to do it?
What is diplomacy how is it practiced?
Let’s begin with definitions of diplomacy and diplomats. Is a diplomat a representative of a government sent abroad to lie for his or her country? Is diplomacy naturally duplicitous – or is Colin Powell’s “misstatement” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction at the UN not representative of what American diplomacy can or should be? Or is diplomacy synonymous with the world’s second “oldest profession,” that is spying – or information collecting through surreptitious means?
Is diplomacy a way to solve problems? Is it to avoid wars? Who practices diplomacy? Who is a diplomat? Is it a briefcase-carrying man in a pinstriped suit? Is it jazz or hip hop musicians performing in other countries under US Embassy auspices? Or traveling privately? Where does diplomacy happen? Is it in conference rooms? Is it on basketball courts or golf courses? What does diplomacy help solve? Does it help resolve disagreements between countries? Quell world hunger and disease? What does diplomacy do, who does it and why?
State Department's definition
The State Department defines diplomacy as a complex and often challenging practice of fostering relationships around the world in order to resolve issues and advance American interests. That it is. But what are those relationships? What issues can diplomacy resolve? And how does it take place?
I don’t disagree with the Department’s definition but I look at the practice of diplomacy somewhat differently. So let’s begin with the term “relationships” - who relates to whom?
A little history
Traditionally a diplomat is a formal representative of one government appointed to deal with officials of another government or governments on official state business whether trade, culture, water rights or matters of war and peace.
The practice began well before the 19th century concept of the nation-state had been conceived. The word itself comes from ancient Greek. Throughout history emperors sent and received official emissaries. The Holy See received emissaries. The Byzantine, Ottoman Empire, Hapsburg and Russian Empires did too as did the Emperors of China’s Middle Kingdom. In short, people and their communities did not and do not live in vacuums. Inevitably their goals and actions rub up against each other sometimes smoothly, sometimes not.
Over time, the profession of diplomacy became highly structured and hierarchical in terms of international protocol and within the US government as well. Governments maintain Diplomatic Lists that contain the names and ranks of every diplomat accredited to the country. Ambassadors formally present their credentials to heads of state before they can officially conduct business with them. Even before arrival, the host country has agreed to recognize the individual as the sending country’s official representative – a process called ‘agrément’ from the French.
Until 1924 with the introduction of the Rogers Act, the US did not have a professional diplomatic corps – instead all positions abroad went to the highest bidder. Consuls were paid with the money they collected for issuing visas and performing other consular tasks.
Even today more than 30% of all US Ambassadorships are political appointments bought and paid for by fealty to and ability to raise money for a presidential campaign regardless of political party.
Everyone else who becomes an American diplomat has survived a rigorous several step examination process, is confirmed by the Senate and approved by the President and has moved up the hierarchical ranks of the State Department, or occasionally USAID, the CIA, the US military or the Department of Commerce through an opaque annual evaluation process. The ranks in the US government’s internal hierarchy roughly – although not entirely – correspond to the international ranking protocol I mentioned earlier.
James A. Baker's Memoirs: characteristics of winning diplomacy
James Baker’s III memoirs The Politics of Diplomacy published in 1995 and subtitled Revolution, War and Peace 1989-92 is about his time as Secretary of State – perhaps the most monumental period in US post-World War II diplomacy. In these memoirs Baker described diplomacy as the continuation of politics, pointed out that most foreign leaders with which a US diplomat deals are themselves politicians and argued that the characteristics that make for a successful politician are the same as those for a successful diplomat.
I’m going to crib a lot from Baker today because I agree with much of what he wrote. Perhaps most importantly on a practical level, he was instrumental in seeing the peaceful unification of Germany and the soft landing after the Soviet Union’s demise in August 1991 at a watershed time in European history when the after effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union could have been as violent as Yugoslavia.
So what are some of the characteristics that make for winning diplomacy based upon Baker’s observations?
Here are his Big Five: persuasion, confidence-building, tending long term alliances, planting seeds for future opportunities, and recognizing the limits and dimensions of power.
- Persuasion. To be persuasive a diplomat needs to be credible. Credibility needs to have been established over time to be able to overcome reticence and persuade others to join so as to extend a country’s influence through coalition building. Or if this is not possible, to persuade them to acquiesce – that is not to oppose whatever the US policy is at the time. We are not the indispensable nation. We saw during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our own raw military force cannot achieve our objectives – whatever they were - alone. To be persuasive a diplomat needs to understand what objectives, arguments and trade-offs are important to would be partners. If you think back as to how the US conducted the Gulf War in 1991 under the George H W Bush administration with Baker as Secretary of State, you’ll see a successful example of this approach. Compare that with Bush’s son’s multiple foreign policy failures based on the unipolar, go-it-alone model a decade later. The effective use of persuasion is complex. It runs the gamut from formal and informal negotiations to every day meetings and cocktail parties. Negotiations sometimes last for years as happened with the Soviets during the Cold War over the wording of treaties and agreements. They may include the casual lunch, dinner or US INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) negotiator Paul Nitze’s 1982 “walk in the woods” with his Soviet counterpart Yuli Kvitsinski where ideas for compromise were explored away from the negotiating table without committing anyone to anything. The “walk in the woods” also had public diplomacy value. According to Nitze, it was made public as a way for the Reagan administration to demonstrate to skeptical European publics that it did have the continent’s interests at heart. The use of persuasion then also embraces what is called public diplomacy – the recognition that another’s public is important in a country’s foreign policy making and that therefore there is a need to make one’s case openly – usually done through the media whether traditional or now social - as an indirect way of influencing another government or governments as was the case of the “walk in the woods.”
- Second is confidence building: to gain the confidence of others: this means a diplomat’s words and deeds must match, and the promises made must be kept in private and in public.
- Third is to tend the country’s alliances or partnerships over the long term because the time will come when these relationships become critical and in the perpetually changing realities of global politics the when is not necessarily immediately self-evident. Alliances based on shared ideas and purposes or values – such as the practice of democratic principles – are the strongest. But alliances based on a common fear of another can be the flip side of the coin and tending these more fragile relationships is just as demanding and crucial to keeping an international relationship alive and healthy.
- Fourth, looking to the future: while solving today’s problems, a successful diplomat needs to consider how the results could fit into a larger whole and how to plant a seed for future opportunities. Diplomacy is also about dealing with adversaries with the goal of reducing tensions and hopefully, turning swords into plowshares. The Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris which began while the war was continuing in South Vietnam, the six-party talks with North Korea, the various kinds of negotiations with the Soviets during the Cold War, and even the limited contacts between Iran and the US often between the Iranians and the US through Swiss intermediaries or in multilateral settings are part of the desire to deal with short term emergencies while looking for seeds of future opportunities.
- Fifth a successful diplomat needs to appreciate the uses and limits of power, how success can enhance power and how to husband this precious asset for use when the timing is right. Power – or the ability to get another person, group or country to do what one wants - comes in a variety of forms: economic and military might, group expectations and pressure, and most lastingly the power of ideas. As Baker suggests, it’s much easier to persuade people to do something by convincing them that it is in their own best interest than attempting to force them to obey through the barrel of a gun: Shared values provide that foundation. As my mother used to say, it’s far more effective to catch flies using honey than vinegar.
James Baker was and is no pacifist. He comes from the realist school of international politics. In fact, I can’t think of a Secretary of State who does not see the military – or use of force - as one tool in America’s diplomatic arsenal. But what Baker understood as did Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, George Schultz, John Kerry and other former and present Secretaries is that the use of coercion should be kept as the last resort – not employed as the first.
Diplomacy is deal-making
As a lawyer, Baker was a trained deal maker and that’s how he behaved as America’s top diplomat. Baker’s approach was to seek the best deal possible for his client – the president of the United States – but when everything failed he was not afraid to support military action as was the case in the Middle East during Gulf War I and also with the removal of Noriega in Panama.
To make deals Baker had to get to know his negotiating partner or partners personally to gain their confidence and understand their situations and needs. This took time, effort and the ability to listen and also read the person and his or her surroundings well. He describes his relationship with then Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in those terms: an incredibly fruitful relationship that aged like a fine wine.
Failed reset during George W. Bush's Second Term
Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush’s second Secretary of State, tried to reset America’s relationships in the aftermath of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq but she failed. Why? Far too much damage had already been done during Bush’s first administration for even the most charismatic Secretary to overcome. Meanwhile, far too much of the power in foreign policy decision making had moved to the burgeoning Pentagon, the American military and the neoconservatives who surrounded Vice President Cheney: the Secretary of State simply did not have the clout the position previously held in Washington’s power galaxy. Furthermore, Bush, himself, perhaps to attract right wing support, had become toxic to most of the world – perceived as representative of all things wrong with America especially its imperious way of conducting itself internationally.
Seeing the world through a different prism
The Obama administration – the tragedy in Benghazi notwithstanding – has demonstrated that it does understand how to practice diplomacy in managing most of America’s international problems. John Kerry the new Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel nominated for Defense Secretary are well known quantities. Vietnam veterans, they both understand the limits of power and realize that the US cannot resolve its international problems by shooting first, going it alone and only thinking later. Everything I’ve read about these two men suggests that their views fit closely with the president’s own.
Elephant versus mouse
Today approximately 20% of the US budget is devoted to the military – and that does not include money for veterans care once they do come home. It has bought us the strongest military in the world – in fact, we spend more on our military than do all other countries on theirs combined. But has it brought us peace? Is it configured correctly to meet today’s threats? Or has it become instead the elephant in the Congress supported by special interests each advocating for its share of the pie?
In comparison, the US spends only about 1.3% of the federal budget on diplomacy and foreign aid. There are many reasons for this discrepancy, and I’d be happy to explore them in more detail during the question period – but the fact remains, as the US shrinks the federal budget, it needs to make hard decisions as to what its international goals are, how best to advance its policies abroad and what roles diplomacy and defense should play in the mix.
No easy answers
The international issues the US faces are complex: they range from the rise of China, the threats from Al Qaeda and its franchises from North Africa to the Philippines, the North Korean nuclear threat, Iran, Israel-Palestine, the civil war in Syria, the troubles besetting the European Union as well as too numerous to name transnational and cross-border problems that are complex and persistent. They require a mix of various forms and tools of diplomacy. Only in certain cases can and should US policies be backed up by the threat of coercion which carries with it the means for implementation if necessary.
To conclude: diplomacy is about forging and maintaining relationships between and among nations and their representatives. It’s been with us for centuries and won’t disappear in the near future. Successful diplomacy rests on five building blocks: 1) persuasion; 2) confidence-building; 3) alliance tending; 4) seeing the larger picture and planting seeds for future opportunities; and 5) appreciating and understanding the limits and scope of the use of power.
The use of diplomacy is far from dead; and it is a far less expensive way of managing international problems than relying on force alone.