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.

Charlie Wilson’s Warpath

charlie_wilson300Congressman Charlie Wilson was a twelve-term United States Democratic Representative from Texas from 1973-1997 who was known by his (in)famous nickname “Good Time Charlie.” A self-proclaimed “ladies’ man,” Wilson embraced his hard-partying image, claiming that his constituents knew they were not electing a “constipated monk.”

Despite his playboy persona, Wilson was known for his passionate anti-Communism. He famously fought to increase U.S. funding and support for the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which was later described in a book and movie, both titled Charlie Wilson’s War.  Congressman Wilson made several trips to neighboring Pakistan on fact-finding missions – sometimes accompanied by one of his attractive “Charlie’s Angels.” continue reading »


East Germany Builds the Berlin Wall

Building of Berlin WallThe summer of 1961 was fraught with tensions between Moscow and Washington. Berlin, which had been a Cold War flash point during the Berlin Airlift, was once again the source of tension. Between 1949 and 1961, some 2.5 million East Germans fled from East to West Germany, most via West Berlin. President John Kennedy in a speech delivered on nationwide television the night of July 25, 1961 reiterated that the United States was not looking for a fight over Berlin and that he recognized the “Soviet Union’s historical concerns about their security in central and eastern Europe.” That was viewed by Moscow as an indication the U.S. would not respond militarily to any move it took regarding East Germany.

And so, on the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers began to install more than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin and blocked East Berlin citizens who tried to travel to West Berlin.  continue reading »


Redesigning the Foreign Service Exam

InterviewThe Foreign Service Exam is one of the most selective of its kind in the United States. Of the thousands who take it every year, less than 3% of applicants will ultimately succeed in becoming Foreign Service Officers (FSOs).  The evaluation process includes: the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) an exam consisting of multiple choice and essay questions, a personal narrative submitted for review by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), and the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA), a day-long assessment comprising a written assessment, structured oral interview, and a structured group exercise.

The exam has undergone extensive changes over time.  In 1989, a court order found that the Department of State had discriminated against women in the written portion of the Foreign Service Officer Test, which led to initial changes in the exam. continue reading »


The Foreign Service Exam – Finding a More Diverse FSO

Foreign-ServiceThe process to become a Foreign Service Officer is long and grueling. If you successfully pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) multiple choice and essay questions, you then are asked to submit a personal narrative to the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), which will determine if you will be invited to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA), a day-long assessment comprising a written assessment, structured oral interview, and a structured group exercise. It is extremely competitive — of the approximately 20,000 people who take the FSOT each year, only about 500-700 are actually offered positions in the Foreign Service, about 2-3%.

Previous versions of the exam had their share of critics, however, and were determined to have been biased. In 1976, Alison Palmer filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of State for violating the Civil Rights Act after failing to get several higher ranked positions in the Foreign Service. continue reading »


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) is a 17 part agreement which was adopted in 1982 and which 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 Convention’s Part XI 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. One hundred sixty seven countries and the European Union ratified the Convention in full. The United States declined to adopt Part XI. continue reading »