The Power of Effective Diplomacy

September 24, 2013 By Zach Silberman

The power of diplomacy is taking center stage right now in New York with the UN General Assembly.  And just a few weeks ago, President Reagan’s Secretary of State George P. Shultz released a timely new book, Issues On My Mind: Strategies for the Future, that makes the case for diplomacy, and that we need to strengthen all the tools of national security to deal with today’s complex challenges.


(from L-to-R) Secretary of State George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger

Secretary Shultz (who in full disclosure also serves on the USGLC’s National Advisory Council) warns against the rise of isolationism, noting that, in “recent years, the idea has emerged that the world should not expect the United States to continue the constructive leading role it has taken in the past.”  Public opinion polls show that Americans may be becoming skeptical of U.S. international engagement, but Shultz cautions that disengagement would have negative consequences.  He suggests that “abandoning that role would result in a world that in no way resembles the one we have known for three-quarters of a century.”

Diplomacy is not merely conducted by Secretaries of State, Shultz stresses, but by the Foreign Service officers.  “As every Secretary of State quickly learns,” says Secretary Shultz, “global diplomacy is possible because the United States has developed a strong foreign service populated by dedicated individuals who spend their lives learning and thinking about the world.”  They are America’s experts on the ground, whose understanding of the complexities of today’s world should inform and guide policymaking.  In 1982, Secretary Shultz said of the role of diplomats, “If we are to change the world we must first understand it. We must face reality—with all its anguish and all its opportunities.”

Secretaries of State since Shultz have recognized the need to strengthen diplomacy within the national security toolkit. Former-Secretary of State Colin Powell launched the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) to rebuild the number of Foreign Service Officers to after the shortfall in the 1990’s.  (Famously, former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said, “If you took all the foreign service officers in the world, they would barely crew one aircraft carrier.”)  Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched the “transformational diplomacy” initiative, which sought to re-configure the map of America’s civilians overseas to reflect the post-9/11 world and use “diplomatic power to help foreign citizens better their own lives and to build their own nations and to transform their own futures.”  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and launched the “Economic Statecraft” agenda to advance America’s “smart power” approach to foreign policy.

It may seem obvious, but in these difficult budget times, we have to make the case again for diplomacy.  Among the strongest advocates are our retired military leaders, who stress that diplomacy can prevent the need to send our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines into harm’s way.  Nicholas Kralev calls the U.S. Foreign Service “America’s Other Army,” saying diplomacy “affects the everyday lives of Americans, including their safety and security, their ability to travel and communicate with people in other countries, their employment and overall prosperity.”

Diplomacy not only prevents military conflict, but helps link American businesses with local businesses to create investment opportunities.  Many senior leaders of government agree, along with former diplomats, that these “soldiers without guns” are “protecting national security in so many inhospitable locales,” while also advocating for “open markets to ensure U.S. prosperity.”

Today’s complex global challenges require more than just a military solution, but also our civilian tools of diplomacy and development.  According to one of America’s most admired diplomats, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, “Diplomacy, when it’s done right, contributes in a very significant way to what matters most to Americans — to their prosperity and to their physical security.”  And in the end, the use of diplomacy is “far cheaper, in a sense, in terms of American taxpayer resources, than when we are driven to use the U.S. military.”