ADST Facebook Page ADST Twitter Feed RSS Feed ADST Youtube

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.

Anatomy of an Overthrow: How an 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 »


Cannabis and Cabbages: Serving at the Last Stop of the Hippie Trail

tumblr_o7wpsapzs11vnkarlo1_500In the late sixties – early seventies, the “Hippie Trail” started in Europe, crossed over to Istanbul, ventured into Iran and Afghanistan and, for many adventurous souls, ended in Nepal. It was an era of experimentation, reflection and free love. Sandal-clad hippies with backpacks from throughout the world sought enlightenment amid the fumes of cannabis and charms of Kathmandu. Classic rocker Bob Seger had a 1975 hit song about escaping to kkkkkk-Kathmandu.

The hippies even developed their own vernacular for their newly-adopted city: the ancient Buddhist shrine Swayambhunath was called “The Monkey Temple” and Jhochhen lane, in the heart of the capital city, was known as “Freak Street.” Freak Street was considered hippie heaven, where marijuana and hashish were legal and sold openly in government-licensed shops.

But the higher you get, the harder you may crash, and those serving at the U.S. Embassy were often called on to help Americans who got into trouble in paradise. continue reading »


“The Cold War Was Truly Over” — The 1986 Reykjavik Summit

reagan-gorbachev-reykjavikAfter the 1985 Geneva Summit, where President Ronald Reagan and leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, met for the first time, the Reykjavik Summit, held on October 11-12, 1986, presented an opportunity to try to reach an agreement between the two sides on arms control. While Gorbachev wanted to ban all ballistic missiles and limit the talks to arms control, Reagan wanted to continue to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and sought to include talks on human rights, the emigration of Soviet Jews and dissidents, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Though ultimately a failure, the Reykjavik Summit changed the relationship between the United States and the USSR, and provided a platform for a continuing dialogue between the two countries. It eventually resulted in the 1987 signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and is often cited as the end of the Cold War. continue reading »


“The Wild West” — Peshawar and the Afghan Mujahedeen

afghan-mujIn the late 1970s, the USSR had been supporting the Afghan government in its fight against rebels, who had made considerable inroads and controlled territory outside Afghanistan’s major cities. Determined to squash a growing threat, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. Soviet troops and swarms of helicopters overthrew the government, which Moscow believed had contributed to the instability, and installed a pro-Soviet government, forcing millions of Afghanis into refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan and Syria.

However, the Soviet military faced significant resistance from a group of highly motivated fighters called the mujahedeen, literally “one engaged in Jihad.” The Islamic fighters fought the Soviets aggressively and attracted the attention of the United States, most famously Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose work on the issue became the subject of the book and movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Most famously, he successfully fought to give the mujahedeen Stinger surface-to-air missiles, which proved to be very effective against Soviet helicopters. The Soviets eventually withdrew their forces from Afghanistan in 1989, in what has widely been deemed “Russia’s Vietnam.” continue reading »


When Archaeology Meets Diplomacy: The Dig at Herculaneum

herculaneum-4When Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD, it famously engulfed the Roman town of Pompeii and, less famously, the richer town of Herculaneum. Both places sat under 50-60 feet of volcanic ash until they were rediscovered in 1748. In contrast to Pompeii, the hot gas and rock flow preserved Herculaneum’s organic-based objects, such as wooden roofs, beds, doors, and food. Until recently, it was believed that almost all of Herculaneum’s inhabitants had been able to evacuate.

However, in the 1980’s, some 300 skeletons were surprisingly discovered along the seashore. This was an incredible archaeological discovery and would lead to greater insight into the lives of the Romans. However, the dig ran into serious financial difficulties. Fortunately, one American diplomat was able to get the National Geographic Society involved. Herculaneum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. continue reading »


Kleptocracy and Anti-Communism: When Mobutu Ruled Zaire

m2Born to a modest family, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu prospered in the Force Publique, the army of the Belgian Congo. Mobutu became army chief of staff following a coup against Patrice Lumumba, and after a second coup on November 25, 1965 assumed power as military dictator and president. He changed the Congo’s name to the Republic of Zaire and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko.

Leader of Zaire’s sole party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, Mobutu’s anti-communist stance won him Western support and the funds to combat opponents in adjacent countries. He nationalized the economy by pushing foreign investors out, only to let them back in when the economy began to fail. As president of Zaire, Mobutu was famous for corruption and nepotism while the people of Zaire suffered from poverty and human rights abuses. He embezzled an estimated $4-15 billion during his time in office. His three-decade regime came to an end in May 1997 when rebel forces threw him out of the country. continue reading »


The Sudden Rise of Muammar Qaddafi and a Hostile Libya

muammar-gaddafi-in-1973On September 1st, 1969, a group of young Libyan military officers overthrew the Libyan royal family and established the Libyan Arab Republic. The mastermind of this coup d’état was a 27-year-old officer named Muammar al-Qaddafi, who following the coup effectively established himself as both the country’s head of state and head of the armed forces.

The relatively peaceful overthrow of the Libyan royal family astonished many in the State Department because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Qaddafi was a relatively unknown military officer at this point of time, as were many of his closest allies within the Libyan military establishment.

Unsure of what was to be expected, diplomats heartily sought to establish positive relations with Libya because they saw it as a critical hub, in which the Air Force retained one of its largest bases in the entire world. However, these interests would quickly clash with Qaddafi’s. continue reading »


Regarding Henry, Protecting Nancy – On Security Detail with the Kissingers

henry-kissinger-nancy-kissinger-1974Traditionally, Secretaries of State receive a personal protection detail from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). However, Henry Kissinger eschewed the DS detail in favor of the Secret Service protection he had as the National Security Advisor at the White House. His wife Nancy, a brilliant and glamorous New York aristocrat who spent years as a top aide to future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, on the other hand, was very appreciative of the work and professionalism exhibited by her DSS agents and they were quite fond of her as well.

Bruce Tully, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, was one of the DSS agents assigned to Nancy Kissinger’s personal security detail. He offers a rare insider’s look into their lives, discusses his awkward first meeting with the regal Mrs. Kissinger, what it was like protecting her in the U.S. and abroad, as well as dealing with her sometimes cantankerous husband. (Photo: People Magazine) continue reading »


Get While the Getting’s Good: Departing Communist China

chinese_communismThe decision to close an embassy and order departure of diplomatic personnel is a signal of last resort that bilateral relations are damaged and unlikely to improve soon. This occurred in China when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party fled the capital and retreated to Taiwan on December 8, 1949 in the wake of Mao Zedong’s establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The U.S. chose not to establish relations with the Communist PRC and the new government refused to acknowledge American diplomatic status, so the U.S. Embassy and consulates closed their doors and staffs departed. Some Foreign Service personnel had little trouble leaving their posts and were soon heading home, but others were delayed and subjected to what they termed “games,” to their amusement and dismay. continue reading »