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.

Jesse Helms: The Senator Who Just Said No

JesseHelmsaaJesse Alexander Helms, a five-term Republican Senator (1973- 2003) from North Carolina, was known not only for his conservative beliefs but for the lengths he would go in support of them. A proponent of the conservative resurgence movement in the 1970s, Helms cherished his nickname: “Senator No,” granted for his obstructionist tendencies. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms demanded a staunchly anti-communist, anti-leftist foreign policy. He took a special interest in Latin American affairs.

To that end, he obstructed the appointment of dozens of State Department appointments over his three decades in the Senate. Helms’ staff shared their boss’ conservatism and could be as tough to deal with as the Senator himself. continue reading »


The Extra Special Relationship: Thatcher, Reagan, and the 1980s

for first picThe “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom has served to unite the two nations over the past century. Thanks in part to a shared language, historically common enemies and similar political structures, leaders of the two countries have found it easier than most to achieve common objectives around the world. Perhaps no relationship between American and British leaders has been stronger than that of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Heads of their respective conservative political parties, Reagan and Thatcher shared similar views on economics and anti-Communism. In spite of their different approaches to politics, they formed a close bond that allowed them to strengthen the Anglo-American alliance at a time when the international order was undergoing profound change with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. continue reading »


The Neutron Bomb — A Negotiating Dud

neutron bomb blastThe neutron bomb, a low-yield thermonuclear weapon which would be especially lethal to enemy ground troops but would not seriously damage buildings, became the focus of international controversy when the U.S. and a few others had proposed deploying the weapon in Western Europe to counter the Soviet threat.

Many NATO countries were unwilling to accept the bombs on their territory, as they did not want to become Cold War hot spots. The United States, however, wanted a forward deployed weapon that could deter Soviet aggression, allow for great flexibility after it was used, and which presented a more credible threat to Soviet tanks. continue reading »


Modern Turkey’s History of Military Coups

recent coupThe July 2016 attempted coup d’état in Turkey was the latest in a series of military interventions in the nation’s history. The military has forced out four civilian governments since 1960, when Premier Adnan Menderes was deposed. In 1971 the military forced Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel to resign; in 1980, the Turkish army launched the bloodiest military takeover in Turkey’s history; and in 1997, after the military issued so-called recommendations during a National Security Council meeting, the prime minister agreed to some measures and resigned soon after in what is referred to as the “post-modern” coup.

The Republic of Turkey’s constitution grants the military the authority to intervene when needed to quell turmoil. After each coup, the military took charge of the government but returned it to civilian rule within a few years.

The U.S. Embassy has closely followed the political upheavals of this strategically important nation. Daniel O. Newberry and Parker T. Hart were each serving in Turkey around the time of the 1960 coup, and Alfred J. White, James W. Spain, and Richard W. Boehm served during the coup of 1980. continue reading »


The Bombing of U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

bombed buildingOn August 7, 1998, between 10:30 and 10:40 a.m. local time, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi , Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were attacked in coordinated truck bombings. Approximately 212 people were killed and an estimated 4,000 wounded in Nairobi,, while the attack killed 11 individuals and wounded 85 in Dar es Salaam. The bombings were timed to mark the eighth anniversary of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia and were later traced to Saudi exile and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

President Bill Clinton ordered retaliatory military strikes on August 20. In Afghanistan, some 70 American cruise missiles hit three of Osama bin Laden’s training camps. An estimated 24 people were killed, but bin Laden was not present. Thirteen cruise missiles hit a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan where bin Laden allegedly made or distributed chemical weapons. continue reading »


The Marooned Law of the Sea Treaty

unlaw_of_sea_treatyThe Law of the Sea Treaty (formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOSIII) was adopted in 1982 and establishes a comprehensive set of rules governing oceans. Specifically, it defines the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for business, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources and calls for technology and wealth transfers from developed to underdeveloped nations.

In addition, the treaty also establishes specific jurisdictional limits on the ocean area that countries may claim, including a 12-mile territorial sea limit and a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) limit. As of June 2016, 167 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention. The United States is not one of them. continue reading »


The Panama Riots of 1964: The Beginning of the End for the Canal

Life PanamaWhen President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama in 1903, the United States gained sovereignty over the portion of the newly formed country of Panama which would become the Panama Canal, a modern-day marvel that revolutionized international shipping and solidified America as a global power. While the benefits to the U.S. were enormous, the politics surrounding the Canal and the treatment of Panamanians themselves engendered profound social repercussions that persisted for more than half a century.

On January 9,1964, grievances between native Panamanians and “Zonians”, or Americans residing within the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone, boiled over into a series of anti-American riots which resulted in an evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Panama City, widespread looting, and dozens of deaths. Most importantly, this uprising, honored annually in Panama as Martyr’s Day, eventually led to a renegotiation of the original 1903 treaty and is commonly remembered as the beginning of the end of American hegemony over the Panama Canal Zone. continue reading »


Pac-Man Fever

pac-man-feverJuly 2016 saw the explosion of the global phenomenon Pokémon Go, where people walk around town (and often into traffic or ditches) trying to catch various animated creatures that look like they are actually sitting there in front of you. (If you really do believe they are in front of you and not just on your smartphone, please seek medical attention immediately.) While many welcome this as a fun way to get out off the couch and others see it as another Sign of the Approaching Apocalypse, truth be told obsession with video games has been around at least since the 1980s and has even affected high-ranking government officials who ought to know better. continue reading »


Sputnik, The Ugly American, and the Push to Improve FSI Language Training

ugly americanIn the depths of the Cold War, the USSR in 1957 launched Sputnik,  the first satellite to orbit the earth. This had a profound effects on American society, as it both frightened Americans and undermined the notion of American exceptionalsim.

The very next year saw the publication of The Ugly American, the bestselling novel which excoriated American diplomats for their failure to understand Southeast Asian customs and language, in marked contrast to the Soviets, who were able to communicate effectively with the locals and thereby win influence. These two rather disparate events not only led to a dramatic turn towards the hard sciences in school, but also in a revamping of the Foreign Service Institute’s language programs. continue reading »


Should I Stay or Should I Go? Evacuating Liberia, 1990

1996-Escaping_thBeing caught up in violent political upheaval and forced to evacuate is among the risks of diplomatic service, as at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia in 1990 in what the Marines called Operation Sharp Edge. The problems started a decade before when a group led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe staged a military coup in Liberia, toppling the government established over a century before by freed American slaves, and beginning a ten-year rule characterized by corruption, economic mismanagement and repression of political opponents. In 1983, Liberian government official Charles Taylor, charged with embezzlement, fled to the US, was arrested and imprisoned. He escaped, underwent military training and raised an army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. It surged into Liberia in December 1989.

Taylor’s forces quickly gained control of most of the country, but then other rebel factions entered the conflict, not only because of ideological and ethnic differences but also the desire to control natural resources such as gold and diamonds. continue reading »



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