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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.

Getting Mexico to the NAFTA Negotiating Table

U.S. diplomats who helped lay the groundwork for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) first had to overcome entrenched Mexican skepticism.  The United States, Canada, and Mexico decided in mid-1990 to start negotiating a free trade agreement.  Discussions began in earnest early the following year.  By mid-1993 the parties were fine-turning a draft agreement.  After vigorous debate in the U.S. Senate, the United States ratified NAFTA later in the year and the agreement went into effect on January 1, 1994.  But the path to implementation was also difficult in Mexico.  Prior to the early 1990s, Mexico maintained high tariffs — which many U.S. exporters sought to lower.  During negotiations Mexicans were skeptical, and worried about the impact of a free trade agreement on a plethora of state-run companies seen as vital to Mexican industry.  Julius L. Katz, the Deputy Director to Special Trade Representative (1990-93) recalls events leading up the NAFTA talks, including Mexico’s recalcitrance.  William E. Primosch of the National Security Council Economic Office (1992-93) notes that Mexico had much to lose in the form of reduced tariffs, and that U.S. participants did not fully grasp the political ramifications of the agreement. 
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The collapse of Zaire at the end of the First Congo War 1997

In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, ethnic Hutu refugees — including génocidaires — who had crossed into East Zaire to escape persecution from the new Tutsi government carried out attacks against ethnic Tutsis from both Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Rwandan refugees. The Zairian government was unable to control the ethnic Hutu marauders, and indeed lent them some support as allies against the new, Tutsi-led Rwandan government.  In response, the Tutsis in Zaire joined a revolutionary coalition headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila.  Kabila’s aim was to overthrow Zaire’s one-party authoritarian government run by Mobutu Sese Seko since 1965.  With Kabila’s forces on the march,  Zaire was soon engulfed in conflict.  These hostilities, which took place from 1996-1997, are known as the “First Congo War” and lead to the creation of Zaire’s successor state The Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States, who had supported Mobutu until the end of the Cold War, recognized how potentially dangerous the situation was as Kabila gained control of most of the country and advanced rapidly towards the capital city of Kinshasa. In 1997, the United States sent a small group of diplomats to broker negotiations and attempt to come to a peaceful agreement between Mobutu and Kabila.

Marc Baas was an American Foreign Service Officer who served at a variety of different locations in Africa from 1972 to 1998, including Tunisia, Gabon, Zaire, and Ethiopia. Baas was part of the small group of diplomats that were sent to broker negotiations in Zaire and was there until the fall of Kinshasa in 1997. Baas continued to serve as the Director for Central African Affairs in Washington D.C. for one more year before moving to the Economic Bureau.  He retired  in 2001. Below is an excerpt of his interview, conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November 2005.

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Sound, Fury, Brilliance & Booze: Faulkner in Post-War Japan

William Faulkner, among the most decorated writers in American literature with the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award among his honors, was invited to Japan in 1955 under the auspices of the Exchange of Persons Branch of the United States Information Service (now consolidated into the State Department.) He was to speak at the annual Seminar in American Literature the U.S. Government sponsored for Japanese teachers of English language and literature in the mountain resort town of Nagano, then give lectures in other venues.

Enthusiasm for Faulkner in Japan was based in part on his stature in world literature, strengthened by parallels between Faulkner’s writings about the defeated South and postwar Japan, recovering from its massive losses in World War II and its rebuilding under the administration of a foreign army. Faulkner’s visit generated tremendous interest, but its overall impact was limited by his inebriation and subsequent inability to interact with some of the Japanese and American interlocutors he had been brought over to meet.  continue reading »


Protecting Greenland: The American Consulate at Godthab, 1940-42

e9d29a3b988f21dff381583fbec6f788During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied continental Denmark, leaving the Kingdom’s other two territories, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, exposed to a possible German invasion. The United Kingdom quickly occupied the Faroe Islands and, along with Canada, made plans to occupy parts of Greenland, which would drag the otherwise neutral island into the war. The United States, which at that point had not yet entered the war, rejected these plans and instead made Greenland a de facto protectorate and established formal diplomatic relations with the opening of a consulate.

The United States recognized that Greenland was strategically essential in that much of Europe’s weather patterns originated in the Arctic, so a meteorological station on the island would be a boon for any country fighting a war there. Furthermore, the mine at Ivittuut on the island’s southwestern shore provided the rare mineral cryolite, which was useful in the mass production of aluminum. Therefore, it was critical for the United States that Greenland was kept safe and in friendly hands in a time of all-out war in Europe. continue reading »


Raymond Hare: Our Man in Cairo during WWII

RAF over SuezEgypt and the Suez Canal became a point of global strategic interest during WWII because of the quick access the waterway could provide to Middle East oil, raw materials from Asia, and– for the British Empire particularly– a connection to its distant territories. Britain, as the first state to launch a completely mechanized military, was particularly dependent upon its shipping routes from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Maintaining Allied control of oil exports from the Middle East was also of strategic importance to the United States even before it entered the war, and it therefore commenced a Lend-Lease program in Egypt to equip the British with necessary materiel.

The United States publicly took a position of neutrality early in the war (the Neutrality Act of 1939), and could not sell weapons to foreign governments. In order to protect the national interest without violating the Act, the Lend-Lease program was devised to permit the non-monetary transfer of materiel “to the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” It was during this period that Raymond A. Hare was appointed Second Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and orchestrated the movement of American materiel to British forces in Egypt and later to Soviet forces via Iran. continue reading »


Rebuilding Iraq after the Second Gulf War: Lewis Lucke

000_nic284955-siIn January 2003, the U. S. Government established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) to act as a caretaker administration and begin to rebuild Iraq. Coalition forces from the U.S., UK, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq two months later, launching Operation Iraqi Freedom. The initial phase, with major combat operations, lasted from March 19-April, 2003. Lt. General Jay Garner and three deputies were appointed in April 2003 to lead ORHA; among them, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director Lewis Lucke was named Deputy of Reconstruction. Garner stayed in the job less than a month; he was replaced by L. Paul Bremer in May. ORHA was abolished and recreated as the Coalition Provisional Authority under the Department of Defense.

At that time, Lucke had retired from USAID, having been Mission Director in Amman, Jordan and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His work in Jordan was touted as a model of how USAID should work in the Middle East. He presided over a USAID budget of $400 million, ensuring this money was used for water access, family planning, education and economic opportunity for the Jordanians. Lucke retired after his posting in Haiti but because of his previous success in the Middle East and working knowledge of Arabic, was called back to lead the ORHA’s Reconstruction efforts in Iraq. continue reading »


You Know a Coup is Coming but No One will Listen: Sudan 1964

640x392_48883_134104Sudan’s long history has been riddled with internal conflict. The United Kingdom and Egypt controlled Sudan for the first half of the twentieth century, then agreed to cede it self-government in 1953. In December 1955, the premier of Sudan declared unilateral independence. The newly independent Republic swiftly fell into a pattern of civil wars, coups d’état, ethnic conflict, and government instability that continues to affect the region today.

The government that formed in 1956 led by Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari was short-lived, soon to be replaced by a fractious and ineffectual coalition of conservative leaders. In 1958, the forces of Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud overthrew the parliamentary regime in a bloodless coup. Abboud worked to improve Sudan’s economy and foreign relations but did not return the country to civilian rule. Resentment over repressive domestic policies began to build, especially among non-Arab ethnic groups in the south and student activists, leading to riots and strikes. continue reading »


Foreign Service Newly-Weds in 1960s Yemen

0077f0acc240d4bec284e342af14a847Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Yemen was been a hot spot for unrest in the Middle East. The 1960s saw instability and hostile relations between the socialist South Yemen and the authoritarian Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), also known as North Yemen. The YAR was in the midst of a bloody civil war that would rage for the majority of the decade and would draw Saudi Arabia and Nasser’s Egypt into one of the region’s intractable conflicts. Even today, Yemen continues to be ravaged by internal conflicts with regional partners using the nation as a battlefield to promote their interests in and influence over the Middle East.

The United States recognized the YAR when they deposed King and Imam Muhammad al-Badr who had only risen to the throne the week prior following his father’s death. However, as the fighting continued to tear across the country and the Egyptian military, who at that time were the guarantors of the YAR’s fight against the royalist factions, took increasingly provocative acts against Americans in Yemen, the U.S. Secretary of State made the decision to close its embassy in Sana’a in 1967. The city was captured by republican rebels later that year.

David and Marjorie Ransom were newlywed Foreign Service Officers who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Taiz, Yemen from 1966 until its closure in 1967. David Ransom also served in Tehran, Beirut, Jeddah, the Department of State, Abu Dhabi, the Department of Defense, Damascus, finishing off his thirty two-year career as the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain. Marjorie Ransom served in Amman, Mumbai, Tehran, Beirut,  Abu Dhabi, Damascus, and Cairo over a period of thirty eight years. continue reading »


Guns, Oil and Education: Qatar’s Evolving Relationship with the U.S.

12The State of Qatar declared independence from Great Britain on September 3, 1971 and the U.S. recognized it two days later, establishing diplomatic relations in March 1972. The American Embassy in Doha was launched the following year, and the first resident U.S. Ambassador to Qatar presented his credentials in August 1974. The relationship has developed over the decades, especially in the defense sector. Qatar hosts U.S. Central Command Forward Headquarters and has supported North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. military operations in the Arabian Peninsula area.

Bilateral relations are strengthened by person-to-person exchanges and economic interests. Hundreds of Qataris come to the U.S. for university study and six U.S. universities have branch campuses in Doha: Texas A&M, Cornell, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth and Northwestern. On the economic side, the U.S. is Qatar’s largest foreign investor and source of imports. One hundred and twenty U.S companies have offices in Qatar, particularly in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors. The two countries signed a trade and investment framework agreement in 2016, and Qatar announced a plan to invest $45 billion of its sovereign wealth fund in the United States within five years. continue reading »


Intelligence, Research, God and Country: a Tour in INR

Schaffer-200x300Teresita Schaffer enjoyed an illustrious 30-year career in the Foreign Service, developing a reputation as a leading expert on South Asia and international economics. She served in embassies in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh and as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 1992-1995. After a first tour in Israel, Ms. Schaffer returned to Washington to work as the Israel analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) from 1969 to 1971. While at INR, she also had a chance to gain experience as a public speaker at U.S. colleges.

Secretary of State George Marshall established INR in 1947, making it the oldest civilian intelligence element in the U.S. Government. INR analysts draw on a myriad of sources to provide an independent analysis of world events of interest to State Department policymakers. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research ensures that U.S. intelligence activities support foreign policy and national security purposes, and, among other responsibilities, analyzes geographical and international boundary issues. continue reading »