Diplomats Will Be Shifted to Hot Spots
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced a controversial new plan to send America’s diplomats to less cushy assignments.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she will shift hundreds of Foreign Service positions from Europe and Washington to difficult assignments in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere as part of a broad restructuring of the diplomatic corps that she has dubbed “transformational diplomacy.”
The State Department’s culture of deployment and ideas about career advancement must alter now that the Cold War is over and the United States is battling transnational threats of terrorism, drug smuggling and disease, Rice said in a speech at Georgetown University. “The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them,” she said. “The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power.”
As part of the change in priorities, Rice announced that diplomats will not be promoted into the senior ranks unless they accept assignments in dangerous posts, gain expertise in at least two regions and are fluent in two foreign languages, citing Chinese, Urdu and Arabic as a few preferred examples.
Rice noted that the United States has nearly as many State Department personnel in Germany — which has 82 million people — as in India, with 1 billion people. As a first step, 100 jobs in Europe and Washington will be immediately shifted to expanded embassies in countries such as India, China and Lebanon. Many of these diplomats had been scheduled to rotate into coveted posts in European capitals this summer, and the sudden change in assignment has caused some distress, State Department officials said.
This makes sense as a long-term restructuring plan but may not be the best use of current resources. Taking a corps of diplomats who signed up and trained for glamorous assignments in Europe and shuffling them off to developing world countries where they have no expertise is potentially quite problematic. It would be more effective to hire and train new people with more appropriate skills and interests.
It may be interesting to see what the Foreign Service looks like a decade from now if this realignment remains in force that long. We will almost certainly attract a radically different type of person for the job, more akin to the type that now volunteers for the military and clandestine intelligence corps.
Update:Ã‚ Commenter DC Loser replies, “More likely they will attract the type of people who volunteered for the Peace Corp and worked for AID or NGOs.”Ã‚ That is a better comparison.Ã‚ In either case, those whose goal in life is to eat brie and sip champagne with the French ambassador need not apply.
For years now, there has been talk that the role of diplomats has been obviated by modern telecommunications and fast, comfortable travel.Ã‚ This move may well change that perception.