Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Ceaușescu and the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia: The Early Years of Dealing with a Dictator

The Romanian Führer. The West’s “favorite communist.” Both of these descriptions have been used to describe Nicolae Ceaușescu, the rapacious Romanian dictator of twenty-four years.

Ceaușescu rose up through the Communist Party ranks in post World War II Romania, becoming party general secretary in 1965 and eventually obtaining the presidency in 1967. Despite later being notorious for his disastrous economic policies and attempt to establish the most totalitarian state in Europe, Ceaușescu’s reign trended comparatively liberal in its early years.

Nicolae Ceaușescu (1988) Posta Romana | fa.m.wikipedia.org
Nicolae Ceaușescu (1988) Posta Romana | fa.m.wikipedia.org

Censorship in the public media was eased and the nation was “free” relative to other communist states. However, this period of stability was short-lived. Human rights abuses and increasing restrictions on the freedom of the press heightened while the Securitate, the secret police, skyrocketed in membership.

In a bold act of defiance, Ceaușescu made a point to distance his country from the Soviet bloc. He openly disputed the Kremlin’s views of certain issues, especially the Romanian role in regional agreements. Tensions were further aggravated following the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 led by the Soviet Union. On August 21, in what would become his most famous speech, Ceaușescu declared the invasion to be a “grave error and constituted a serious danger to peace in Europe and for the prospects of world socialism.”

Read more

Diplomacy After Tragedy: Responding to the Cavalese Incident

When a disaster strikes somewhere in the world, the U.S. government often springs into action quickly, often offering critical aid or technical assistance to jumpstart the recovery. The international relations community often refers to this as “disaster diplomacy,” and it can have beneficial impacts. For example, after a successful Western-led response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the United States’ disapproval rating went down by more than 30 percentage points.

The Cavalese valley, where the tragedy took place. | Wikimedia Commons
The Cavalese valley, where the tragedy took place. | Wikimedia Commons

“Disaster diplomacy” takes on a new meaning, however, when the United States itself is responsible for causing a tragedy. In such cases, it must work with survivors and the host government to express its condolences, convey the measures it will take to ensure the disaster never happens again, and convince the public it can still be trusted.

Eric Terzuolo was a political-military counselor in Italy when such a tragedy struck. On February 3, 1998, a U.S. Marine plane flying recklessly snapped through a ski lift in the town of Cavalese, killing twenty people. For the next two and a half years, the U.S. Embassy worked to compensate the victims in a court of law and to repair its image in the court of public opinion.

Read more

Diplomatic View of Vice President Joe Biden on Kosovo and Israel

When Vice President Biden sat next to then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at a dinner in 2012, Xi asked Biden why he held human rights in such high regard. Vice President Biden responded with a cool confidence that it was part of American foreign policy’s “DNA”—a non-negotiable value of the United States. Throughout his career as a senator, vice president, and future role as president, Joe Biden has kept his word by remaining steadfast in his belief that human rights and democracy are key goals of American diplomacy.

Vice President Biden with Chinese Vice President Xi and Secretary Kissenger
Vice President Biden with Chinese Vice President Xi and Secretary Kissenger

Biden complements these American values with a profound technical knowledge of U.S. diplomatic missions and international political conditions on the ground. In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we draw from ADST’s oral history archives for stories by Foreign Service Officers about Biden’s history in international relations that may shed light on how President Biden will approach the world. For example, his experiences working with Israel and Kosovo helped visualize “Biden the diplomat” in action.

Read more

Making Lasting Impressions: Biden Vice Presidential Visits to Iraq and Mongolia

A vice presidential visit is a major diplomatic event. These visits can either be part of a crisis management strategy, or be used to cement diplomatic relations with countries that have just begun to gain prominence on the international stage. During his years as vice president, now-President Joe Biden traveled to many countries, making an impression on the Foreign Service officers who helped host him. In this “Moment,” we highlight his diplomatic visits to Iraq and Mongolia.

Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold (2011), David Lienemann Official - White House photo
Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold (2011), David Lienemann Official - White House photo

In August 2011, Joe Biden embarked on a diplomatic visit to Mongolia. Despite the country’s small size, it was still a relevant regional ally. The United States had grown closer with Mongolia in the years since the end of the Cold War and the country’s subsequent transition to democracy; so continuing to foster the relationship was important. In addition, given Mongolia’s relations with neighboring China and Russia, it was important for the United States to maintain a presence in the region. While Biden’s visit involved lots of entertainment and cultural activities, there were no doubt more important matters at hand—Biden’s visit occurred at a time when U.S exports to Mongolia were significantly increasing. Moreover, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton recounts that the visits from both Biden and Hillary Clinton meant even more as their own political ambitions grew.

By contrast, Biden’s visit to Iraq took place under much more loaded and inauspicious circumstances. In 2010, the year of Biden’s visit, the Obama administration was working to phase U.S. troops out of Iraq. The war had become increasingly unpopular, with the American public increasingly demanding the troops return home. As the United States weighed potential candidates for the role of Iraqi prime minister, Biden voiced his support for maintaining Nouri al-Maliki in this position—for pragmatic reasons, as he considered the U.S. status-of-forces agreement held with Iraq.

Read more

A Fragile Peace: The Aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War

One of the greatest challenges in a diplomat’s career is serving in a country that is trying to rebuild after a brutal conflict. Although it is possible to repair infrastructure, rebuilding trust between communities is a much greater challenge. This was the case when Patricia Butenis arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka as the U.S ambassador.

Members of the Tamil diaspora protest in Paris, France in 2007 | Protests in Paris, 2007 (2007) Nelson Minar | Flickr
Members of the Tamil diaspora protest in Paris, France in 2007 | Protests in Paris, 2007 (2007) Nelson Minar | Flickr

While Butenis had served in other places that were experiencing or recovering from conflicts, she learned that the civil war in Sri Lanka had been massively devastating, and that it would take an enormous amount of work to rebuild the country and heal society.

In the years after Sri Lanka’s independence from the British, ethnic and religious tensions began to foment between the country’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority. Many Sinhalese felt that the British colonial administration had unfairly favored the Tamil in the political realm. Later, attempts to make Sinhalese the official language angered the Tamil population. In 1983, the Tamil Tigers insurgent group attacked a Sri Lankan army patrol, triggering anti-Tamil riots in Colombo. The Tamil Tigers began battling the Sri Lankan military, in hopes of creating an independent Tamil state in the country’s north. The war would last 26 years, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people, and the displacement of countless more. The war ended in 2009 after the Sri Lankan army killed the leader of the Tamil Tigers and crushed the insurgency. However, the end of the war came at a devastating human cost, with large numbers of civilians caught in the violent battles that marked the war’s conclusion.

As ambassador, Pat Butenis was responsible for implementing U.S policy in Sri Lanka, which encouraged reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. However, given that the war had shattered intercommunal relationships and trust, this was easier said than done. This contention played out in the controversy over IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps in the country’s north, which were largely populated with Tamil civilians. Although the war had ended, the trauma of the conflict still loomed large in these camps. The Sri Lankan government initially wanted to strictly regulate the camps and prevent freedom of movement for IDPs, while human rights groups advocated for Tamil residents to return to their villages.

Read more