Center for Strategic Communication

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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
    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
    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

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

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?

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 

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.