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A Short History of Demarching Orders

A demarche is the term of art for formal instructions sent from a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or the State Department) in the capital out to an embassy outlining that country’s position on a particular topic. The topic may be routine (a pro forma administrative matter in the UN) or highly sensitive (criticism of the host government’s human rights record). While demarches are usually delivered to the relevant office at the host country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in extreme matters they may go to the foreign minister or even the head of state.

In these three brief excerpts, Henry Kimelman relates his experience with a feisty President Duvalier in Haiti; Shirley Barnes, then director for Western Europe in the Bureau of European Affairs (EUR/WE), talks about her experience with the hierarchical French; and Vladimir Lehovich discusses ill-prepared innovation on delivering demarches. The three American diplomats were interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy, beginning in October 1993, 2004, and 1997, respectively. You can also read about how difficult it was to deliver a demarche on martial law in South Korea and Ambassador Walter Mondale‘s approach to demarches.


Touché, Monsieur le President

Ambassador Henry Kimelman


ELMAN: Unfortunately, a day before my meeting, an American of Cuban descent who was working for an American telephone company had been arrested entering Cape Haitian. We had received reports that he had been beaten in jail.

I was instructed by the Department to demarche the President [Duvalier] on this issue. I recall being upset that this had to happen the day before my first meeting. And here I had to come with something I would have preferred not to have happened certainly before our first meeting.

Our meeting had lasted an hour and a half, twice as long as he had met with any other Ambassador. We had come to a point where I thought I should wrap this up. And I saved the best or the worst, depending on how you want to look at it, for last.

I said, “Mr. President I have this obligation to inform you about this incident that happened at Cape Haitian. And he looked at me after I explained and said, “Mr. Ambassador, do you think I ordered that? Do you think I knew about it?”

Well, I’m sure he must have known about it. He said, “You know, I’ve just had a satellite installed on the palace, and I now bring in TV from the states. I was watching a program from Texas the other night.” I don’t know if he invented this or it actually happened.

He said, “It showed a scene of three white jailers beating up a black man in a jail in Houston. Do I think that the Governor of the State of Texas ordered that beating? Do I believe that the President of the United States knew about or ordered that beating?” He continued, “It happens in your country. If you tell me it happened, I accept your word that it happened. You know, I pay my jailers $100 a month. That does not attract educated people to those positions.”

And then he hit me with what I thought was kind of a low blow: “You know, besides which my people were trained by your Marines when they occupied the country.”

Our occupation ended in 1934. Fifty-six years had passed. Touché, I thought.

“They didn’t want me”

Shirley Barnes

BARNES: We got involved usually only through IO [Bureau of International Organization Affairs]. So IO would ask us to demarche whomever at what level in terms of new info. I did it with a little bit more élan if it were Italy and Portugal and Spain….

I sent one of those desk officers to demarche someone at a lower level unless we were getting specific directions that I was to demarche the Ambassador. I’d just do it at a lower level because the French, they’d look at me like I was crazy.

I mean, the French Ambassador wanted [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright to demarche him. They didn’t want me. Things like that, you left that up to the big boys. They even wanted the President, Clinton. They didn’t want me.

“This was stupid thinking”

Vladimir Lehovich

LEHOVICH:  We discovered that our top leadership in the management area, the leadership that was giving us our guidance and our money, had arrived at a very different set of priorities from what, for example, I had and that other people had. I mentioned before that you could see this in Area Studies and in the notion of the State Department as a “platform.”

Let me explain that second one. The idea that became particular popular under Dick Moose was that an American embassy was important for many reasons. One of the most important, and the one that their focus was on, was as a “platform” that permitted other parts of the U.S. government to do their job in a particular country. The Department of Commerce, the FBI, which was growing by leaps and bounds in its overseas presence at that time, and a myriad other agencies that are involved, I don’t disagree with any of this. But this notion of Dick Moose [Under Secretary for Management] and Co. simply paid no attention to the fact that the well-run American embassy brings judgment and knowledge that is not supplied comparably by any other part of the American government.

Along with the idea of the “platform” was the simplistic notion that the better communications you have, the more the Internet works, and the more instant voice communication you have, the less one really needs an embassy because one can do all this stuff from Washington.

There was an absurd video which was cranked out at that time on a model embassy. That video showed a breathless Foreign Service officer receiving something from a printer, and that something was called a “demarche.” Then he would jump into a car and fight traffic through Rome or some nice crowded city like that, fight traffic all afternoon to get to the foreign ministry before it closed, run upstairs, and deliver the “demarche.”

What I mean by delivering it is, take a piece of paper, hand it to someone else, and leave. It had absolutely reduced the notion of delivering a demarche to nothing more than delivering a piece of paper. I was astonished to watch this thing being pawned off as a video (what was then called the “C Street Series”) that the Under Secretary for Management was organizing. It was a series of videos that was supposed to be sent out all over the world to all employees in the State Department so that they could keep in touch with clear central thinking. This wasn’t clear thinking. This was stupid thinking.