Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

“How many people can you fit on a 747?”- Operations Sheba and Solomon

ethiopian_falash_mura_child_airlift_2009_jaiThe Ethiopian Aliyah, as it is known in Israel, was the migration during the 1980’s of thousands of Ethiopian Jews [known in Amharic as Falashas; some consider the term pejorative] to Israel. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) played a major role in the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews as they came under increasing threat from the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan as well as from rebel groups in both countries. Initially, Ethiopian Jews who wanted to go to Israel went overland through North Africa, a long and dangerous journey. The IDF undertook Operation Moses in 1984, in which nearly 8000 Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel. The operation ended when it became public and the Muslim government of Sudan forced a halt to the flights. Not all of the Ethiopian Jews who wanted to leave had been evacuated.

In 1985, the CIA and IDF executed another airlift, known as Operation Sheba. Smaller than Operation Moses, the one-day mission succeeded in bringing another 500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Finally, in 1991, Operation Solomon began. Essentially the final push, the undertaking set the record for the most people ever on a commercial airliner as airplanes were packed to the brim in a rush to get the Jewish adherents out of Ethiopia in the dying days of the regime of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam. continue reading »

Kimberley Process: Commercial Diplomacy to Stem the Flow of Blood Diamonds

2cf963ba00000578-3256249-slave_labour_an_11_year_old_boy_working_at_a_diamond_mine_in_the-a-109_1443708626800During the 1990s, several African countries, namely Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were plunged into chaos and embroiled in devastating civil wars. Thanks to economic and political insecurity and contentious inter-ethnic relations, rebel groups such as the Patriotic National Front of Liberia under the leadership of Guy Taylor hijacked diamond production in order to finance their insurrections.  Often referred to as “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds,” these and other valuable minerals helped incite instability and maintain repressive regimes that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

On December 1, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly passed a draft resolution which became the framework for a global certification system, later known as the Kimberley Process, designed to help stem the movement and sale of conflict diamonds by means of commercial diplomacy and cooperation. continue reading »

Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: The 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan

7007796-3x2-340x227The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed by 48 nations on September 8, 1951, officially ended Japan’s position as an imperial power, provided compensation to those who had suffered in Japan during the Second World War, and terminated the Allied post-war occupation of Japan. The treaty’s seven chapters and preamble marked the end of hostilities between the signatories and provided the foundation for the strong U.S.-Japan political alliance and important bilateral military relationship still in place today. The treaty required Japan to give up all special rights and privileges in China and accept the decisions of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Japan relinquished claim to Korea, Formosa and other territories and gave the U.S. control of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa).

The agreement also provided for the revival of commercial treaties, including granting the Allied powers most-favored-nation (MFN) status. Other chapters regulated property claims, reparations and compensation, referred unresolved disputes to the International Court of Justice and defined the ratification process. Seven months after the signing of the treaty, Japan formally regained its sovereignty. continue reading »

The ACDA-USIA Merger into State — The End of of an Era

merger-As the Cold War began to go into full swing, the United States soon realized the need for distinct agencies that would operate outside of the existing federal executive departments. Accordingly, independent agencies such as the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were created in 1961 and 1953 respectively to address new challenges and issues that were occurring in the ideological struggle of the time.

However, as the conflict gradually came to an end, certain individuals such as Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began to see these organizations as superfluous and unwieldy and viewed them as “Cold War agencies.” He then pushed to fold them into the State Department. With the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, both agencies were fully absorbed into the State Department by 1999. continue reading »

Seeking a Peace Settlement with Shimon Peres, Hawk and Dove

per0-008The passing of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016 was deeply felt by U.S. diplomats who had worked with him through the decades.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer wrote: “Some will criticize Peres for his early years as a security hawk, while others will be critical of his later years as a peace dove. Some will focus on his early support of settlements, while others will admire his vision and dream of peace with the Palestinians. Shimon Peres was all of these things and, as such, was a true embodiment of modern Israel.”

Peres’ career spanned nearly 70 years. Born Szymon Perski in Wiszniew, Poland in 1923, Peres was educated in the Jewish faith by his grandfather. In 1934 his immediate family moved to Palestine, where Peres attended school and trained as a farmer and shepherd. Members of the family who remained in Poland died in the Holocaust. continue reading »

Embassy Islamabad in Flames

islamabad1The November 21, 1979 attack on the American Embassy in Islamabad started as a small group demonstration in front of the embassy, where protesters shouted anti-American slogans and demanded entry into the campus. Police officers were able to stop the protesters and have them leave the area. However, about fifteen minutes later, some six busloads of Pakistani students arrived and laid siege to the American embassy compound for several hours, from midday until nightfall. The students were angry because of suspected U.S. involvement in the coup d’état of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and execution in April 1979. The final straw came from false reports, made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that the United States had launched a terrorist attack on the Grand Mosque, Masjid al-Haram, at Mecca. continue reading »

Algeria’s Struggle for Independence

algeria-indepThe modern-day People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is now a proud, sovereign state in North Africa that readily influences the region. However, before 1962, Algeria had been a French colony, dating back to the French invasion of Algiers in 1830. Following a brutal conquest that some termed as genocide, France began a policy of “civilizing” their new North African colony. To help assimilate Algeria, the colony was administered as an integral part of France and thus split into three département of the nation. The motto of Algeria would soon be: L’Algerie c’est la France (Algeria is France).

Under this new administration, the French implemented new laws and policies that were aimed at “civilizing” the country. As a part of the département system, Algeria would have representatives in the French National Assembly. continue reading »

Seek and Destroy – The Mine Ban Treaty

images2su7vec9Signed in Ottawa, Canada on December 3, 1997, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Mine Ban Treaty/Ottawa Treaty) was designed to eliminate landmines across the globe. The objective of this United Nations-led treaty was to make all governments commit to ceasing production and destroying their arsenals of landmines. Despite the benefits of such a treaty, some countries did not sign, including Russia, China, and the United States.

The United States’ decision not to sign the Mine Ban Treaty was derived from the commitment to defend South Korea by placing landmines in the neutral zone between North and South Korea. Even though the U.S. did not support the treaty, it works with nonprofit organizations that focus on disarming landmines and has donated over $2.3 billion for the destruction of conventional weapons in foreign countries since 1993. continue reading »

Anatomy of an Overthrow: Why a Revered African Leader was Toppled

famine-in-ethiopia-by-dawitA council of combined security forces known as the Derg staged a coup d’état on September 12, 1974 against Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, arresting and imprisoning the monarch who had ruled for decades. The committee renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council, took control of the government, soon abolished the monarchy and established Marxism-Leninism as Ethiopia’s ideology. Emperor Haile Selassie died in August 1975; some believe his political successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam, was complicit in his death.

Why oust someone who led his country for 45 years and who millions of Rastafarians revered as a messianic figure? Conditions for the take-over began with the Selassie regime’s failure to undertake economic and political reforms, along with inflation, corruption and drought-related famine in northeastern provinces, so that military unrest quickly spread to the civilian population and ignited a nation-wide revolution. There was general resistance to Selassie’s reign because of an array of grievances including higher fuel prices, curriculum changes in the schools, low teachers’ salaries, poor working conditions in general and the need for land reform. continue reading »

The Long, Incomplete Road for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

CTBT doveThe movement to limit or even prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons has been around almost since the dawn of the nuclear age itself. Concern over harming the environment and causing widespread damage to human life led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which limited underground nuclear tests to 150 megatons. In the 1993, with the fall of the USSR, negotiations were begun in earnest on a comprehensive test ban treaty at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Established in 1979, the CD meets in annual sessions three times a year and serves as a forum for states to discuss the reduction of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.

Not surprisingly with an agreement of this scope and severity, there were many obstacles to overcome. continue reading »

Our Sponsors


Are you interested in sponsoring ADST? We are an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving our nation's diplomatic history and providing educational materials to the Department of State and the public. Contact Us for more information.

Would you like to make an individual contribution? Visit our donations page for more information.