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A Unified Diplomatic Service for the 21st Century, Part III

The unusually strong response to Stephanie Kinney’s piece on the lack of core values within the Foreign Service — by far the most popular item we have posted to our site — led us to ask if she had ever written a paper formulating her ideas about a 21st century State Department.  She had — first as a consultant to the DOD-led Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) in 2006 and again for a 2010 American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Workshop on “Forming Coming Generations of American Diplomats.” The result of this Workshop was published as an AFSA Perspective on Diplomatic Formation  in the February 2011 Stimson Center/American Academy of Diplomacy study on “Forging a 21st Century Diplomatic Service for the United States through Professional Education and Training” (Annex E).

The following “non-paper” summarizes and integrates the two papers mentioned above. We are posting it now to help focus attention on institutional aspects of reform in hopes of encouraging FSOs, in particular, to realize that their future and that of American diplomacy depend not only on the quality of our foreign policy but also on the institutional capacity and standing of the Foreign Service and the Department of State.  The Cold War Era is over, and it is time to re-envision its diplomatic institutional infrastructure.  The Department of State needs modernizing to meet the global competition of coming decades, and our diplomatic service — the Foreign Service — should lead this process, as it has in the past.

Kinney would like to see a revival of the long-standing Foreign Service “Young Turks” tradition, which led to so many State Department reforms in the 1960’s and 70’s, the last one being the 1978 Group of 44, which helped pave the way for the 1980 Foreign Service Act.  She would like to clarify that it is not the people in either the Foreign Service or Civil Service personnel systems at State that are at issue.  Rather, in her view, at issue is an outmoded 20th century structure and infrastructure, the consequences of the two very different personnel systems and corporate cultures, unconscionable bureaucratization, political short-termism and the lack of any serious professional diplomatic education and formation for anyone entering the Department today, whether as an entry-level officer (ELO) or an ambassador. You can read Part II, Susan Johnson’s ideas on reviving the Foreign Service, as well as  Chas Freeman’s comments. Go here for the perspective of two Directors General on the challenges of the State Department personnel system.

Return to The Stump 

21st Century Diplomacy

A Next Generation State Department requires a more unified personnel system appropriate to 21st century diplomacy and talent management in order to strengthen the institution as a whole.  State must be able to efficiently and effectively ensure that U.S. diplomacy and the diverse civilian resources it must now engage have what is required to:  1) provide timely and insightful, field-based counsel to the Secretary and the President; and 2) serve as their agents for “diplomatically” leading the world in a way that serves America’s long-term interests and ideals, whether at the bilateral, regional or global levels.

A Next Generation State needs to be more uniformly lean and agile and less divided by personnel system membership, internal and personal identity politics, special interests and perverse incentives.  It must be more wedded to building a broader community of commonly shared high standards of diplomatic professional formation, purpose, and disciplined service to the nation in order to more effectively manage the competition and challenges of the geostrategic change ahead.

21st century diplomacy involves national and international processes and a large toolbox of knowledge, skills and experience required for managing change at the national, bilateral, regional and global levels.  Drawing on enduring truths and traditions, diplomacy today can be broadly understood as follows: 

Guided by national security interests, as defined by the President and the Secretary of State and ideally supported by the Congress, U.S. diplomacy mobilizes and then engages a broad range of human and financial resources and technical capabilities in pursuit of the development and conduct of relations with other nation states and their peoples, as well as with non-state actors as directed.  21st century American diplomacy requires the highest levels of professional preparation for the purpose of identifying, strategizing, explaining, advocating, representing, negotiating and realizing our national interests in the context of also understanding and acknowledging interests being pursued by other nations, be they neutral players, partners or adversaries. This diplomacy also requires long-term, strategic leadership, modern management and adequate resourcing of American diplomacy’s primary institutional base, the Department of State.

Looking forward, a more unified diplomatic service of the United States of America requires all State Department professional-level personnel and their support staff to be subject respectively to the same meritocratic selection and evaluation criteria and entry processes in order to benefit from a common and purposeful professional formation that assumes disciplined intellectual and operational agility. An important principle to be retained from The Foreign Service Act of 1980 is the call for our diplomatic personnel to be “representative of America;” however, we must also implement other key objectives of that Act and ensure that those who represent America also represent “the highest professional quality and capability” the country can offer at both the commissioned general officer and technical support levels. Narrow 20th century specialization must give way to new generation of those who can “connect the dots.” 

Next Generation Diplomatic Service Requirements

A more unified American diplomatic service would establish new conditions of employment for all U.S. citizen personnel, whether stationed in Washington headquarters or abroad. As a practical political matter, “grandfathering” will be required, but after a certain date, priority “new conditions of employment” by the Department of State would include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • Excepted Service Rank-in-Person status for all career general officer and support staff personnel (like the military services). All officers would hold Presidential Commissions, as FSO’s do now.  Staff would be commissioned by the Secretary of State. 
  • A common selection-in process, tailored by category, for all diplomatic service employees. The selection-in process would be based on well-defined standards of maximum age (45) and good health, fluency in a UN language for all officer- level applicants, relevant college studies and international experience and the commitment and personal qualities needed for a broad gauge career of international, multifaceted and multifunctional diplomatic service. 
  • A common up-or-out evaluation process for all officer-level personnel and similar common but appropriate processes for all technical and/or support personnel.  
  • Completion of a Masters in Diplomatic Studies (MDS), which would be made available by the Department of State on a selective basis to all employees but would be required within 6/8 years of entry into Service for officer-level personnel aspiring to executive leadership. (See Attachment A, below) 
  • Commitment to overseas service, at least one tour overseas within the first five years of employment by State, irrespective of whether one is primarily worldwide available or primarily domestic and an understanding that at least one tour at mid-level responsibility and one tour before taking on senior responsibility will be required for anyone aspiring to leadership. 
  • Demonstrated multifunctional effectiveness in DOS [Department of State] operations, foreign policy formulation and execution, human capital and program/project management and strategic planning for any officer aspiring to executive positions and leadership. 
  • One interagency tour for any officer aspiring to Senior rank. 
  • Limited tenure of five years in any  single position at Headquarters. Tours of shorter duration will remain standard for overseas positions, as appropriate. 

The implementation of these conditions and their applicability to all members engaged in diplomatic service broadly defined would significantly change the corporate culture of the headquarters institution in Washington, as well as diplomatic missions overseas, because everyone would be multifunctional and share a similar Service perspective, preparation, and tradition. One Team is only possible when the games they play are at least similar.

The Consequences of “New Conditions of Employment”

An approach that stresses and rewards multifaceted and multifunctional career paths would broaden professional opportunities and mobility for current GS personnel presently caught in a system that discourages both, especially at senior ranks.  Better defined and enforced institutional standards and expectations would clarify for current worldwide available Foreign Service personnel what is required for a successful 21st century career.

The current Bureau of Human Resources would require major changes and modernization in order to become a talent management function, possibly with the help of the private sector. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] could be a stumbling block. Everyone aspiring to executive leadership would be required to demonstrate his or her readiness to assume it through both professional education and varied on-the-job performance.  The MDS [Masters in Diplomatic Studies, see below], a combination of intellectual formation and tradecraft, would be selectively open to all, but it would be required for those aspiring to executive leadership positions.  Moving in this direction would, at a minimum, be dependent upon a stable 15%-20% “talent management  float.”

A more unified diplomatic service personnel system would build on shared foundational intellectual formation and academic training and at least some experience at the bilateral level (both at home and abroad), irrespective of one’s particular orientation over the longer term. This would be done with an eye toward, over time, purposefully building discernable career opportunities and choices for a cadre of officers who, drawing on languages, cross cultural knowledge and experience gained at the bilateral level, would then become more focused on working at the multilateral regional and global levels and on attendant negotiations and policy formulation and management challenges appropriate to those levels.

At whatever level of the multidimensional chess board an officer may be playing (bilateral, regional, global perspectives cross-hatched with multifaceted policy and management expertise), he or she would be expected to be fully conversant in the perspective and sense of priorities and potential at every other level. As well, she or he would  be fully conversant in the broad range of diplomatic tools and resources available from a whole-of-government approach, as needed,  to be drawn on to accomplish the mission at hand.

Hence, policy priority and place would always be matrixed with the proper array of tools and window of opportunity or timing considerations for accomplishing a given mission, be it bilateral, regional or global.  This vision and set of expectations could be taught a priori intellectually, but even more important will be an institutional culture and unified personnel system and incentives  in which words and music match and the talk and the walk are congruent.



PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION — The Masters in Diplomatic Studies (MDS) Program 

In the first half of the 21st century, change will be the only constant and the velocity of change will only increase as demographic and generational shifts, together with the longer-term impacts of globalization, urbanization and the information revolution make themselves felt.

America’s diverse peoples and even more diverse education systems and socialization processes will not easily lend themselves to producing large numbers of applicants ready-made for 21st century diplomatic service.  This is especially true when the Department of State itself has never even defined diplomacy, much less defined a body of knowledge and know-how expected of career U.S. diplomats, a condition that invites “politicization” shot-termism in leadership and ever more embarrassingly corrupt “pay-to-play  Ambassadors” drawn from domestic political campaign bundlers, friends and family.

In order to ensure that the American Diplomatic Service of the future can draw from all sectors and dimensions of American society and in order to ensure that our professional diplomatic service as an institution develops the needed sense of corporate commitment, cohesion and collegiality, it is time to transform the way we prepare our future diplomats.  The George Shultz Center needs to become the George Shultz Center for Diplomacy, Leadership and Management.  The name clearly conveys the focus of the Center’s studies; diplomacy is the purpose to which good leadership and management are key.  In addition to carrying on with needed short-term training responsibilities, the Shultz Center should develop a partnership with George Washington University, Georgetown University or American University for the purpose of developing and over time accrediting a Masters in Diplomatic Studies (MDS) program. It should also become the focus of a credible “lessons learned and taught” process, as well as a public-private partnership for institutional change and innovation.

The MDS program would consist of a curriculum taught by first-class academic professors and recognized “master practitioners” of diplomacy.  The MDS would encompass a mix of intellectual formation and tradecraft, case studies and observed practice.  The complete course of studies would be required of all officers and available to all other employees who qualify for entry into the program through an annual application process.  The MDS program would be structured in two semesters, the first to be completed by all officers before one’s first assignment, whether in Washington or abroad.  The second semester would be completed within eight years of entry on duty and would be required for advancement to the equivalent of today’s FSO-01 [equivalent to a GS-15, a level just below Senior Foreign Service].

A notional list of course material follows, without regard to precisely how this material would be organized and the sequence in which it would be covered.  However, the list indicates, at a minimum, the broad array of subject matter areas in which tomorrow’s diplomats should be literate and possess some knowledge and expertise, irrespective of the ultimate shape and content of one’s career. The MDS is the foundation on which all can build going forward.



THE ENDURING CONTEXT: National diplomacy within an International System

Diplomacy: History, theory and practice from the Dukes of Milan to today

Fundamentals of International Law (one semester) (Geneva Convention, War, Humanitarian, Human Rights, etc.) and Introduction to related International Organizations, Financial Institutions, Alliances & Treaties (first semester with second semester practicum)

American Diplomacy and Consular Affairs in the context U.S. History, Constitutional Government and Law

U.S. Society and Culture and its regional components

The artful use of power: Introduction to Grand Strategy and the National Security Paradigm (two semesters) and the USG decision-making process (including Congress)

The Embassy System and Its Missions: History, Organization, Cultures and functions, including The Embassy of the Future

Fundamentals of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (interpersonal, cross-cultural, bilateral, multilateral and UN Conference Diplomacy; case studies and practicums) (Two semesters)


Introduction to Complexity Theory

The Changing Geopolitical Order: Threats, Opportunities and non-State players

Next Generation State and work with its interagency community in complex emergencies

Economics, Finance and Trade

Energy, Eco-Systems and Sustainable Development

Emerging Science, Technology and Health Issues (domestic and international)

The Information Revolution in theory and diplomatic practice

DIPLOMACY AT WORK: Leadership and Managing Change

Three-D Thinking: Mission, Goals and Objectives matched with Strategy, Tactics and Operations

Tools of the Trade Workshop: assessment, analysis and report writing; public speaking and advocacy; strategic communications and media management; strategic planning and budgeting; a policy formulation and program development and execution practicum (assess and strengthen weak points and practice integrating all skills)

Fundamentals of Cultural Psychology and effective Communication, Messaging and Marketing

Strategic Planning, Resource Management and the USG Budget Process: Seeing and Thinking Ahead

E3 Leadership:  Envision, Educate and Empower in the Office, in the Interagency, in the Embassy and in Crisis Management: self, others (up and down), team building, groups & meetings, negotiating teams, policy & resources

Event Management: Conferences, Summits, Consultations, CODELS [Congressional Delegations], VIP Trips, etc.

Performance Management: programs and projects, grants and contracts, staff and peers

Change Management:  “Lessons Learned” and Why It Is So Hard!  (Feedback loops and Case Studies)


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