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The Variety of a Foreign Service Career: Bananas, Beaches, and a Plane

Robert Reis, a longtime State Department official, is a perfect example of how far one can come from the American Heartland. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, he eventually served in all corners of the globe, including Somalia. Throughout his broad career, he worked in a range of positions dealing with all matters including visas, policy related to banana and animal trade in Somalia, and even whale hunting in Japan! In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that Robert Reis’s career displays just how extensive a Foreign Service career can be.

           
Beach in Mogadishu, Somalia (August 12, 2015)| Wikimedia Commons
Beach in Mogadishu, Somalia (August 12, 2015)| Wikimedia Commons

The coming of age of a Foreign Service officer is not always linear by any means. Robert Reis spent a year at the Department of Labor and a private corporation, Graybar Electric, before joining the Foreign Service. Reis’s nonlinear path to joining the Foreign Service occurred during a pivotal time for U.S. foreign policy: the end of the colonial era, which was accelerated by the end of World War II as the British and French empires fell. The start of Reis’s career marked the early years after the decolonization moment hit full force, and the path of his assignments took him to the recently independent countries of Somalia, Malaysia, and Zambia. While in Somalia, Reis enjoyed many memorable experiences, such as camping on the beach in his Volkswagen Van. These memories were juxtaposed with images of Somalian police walking around with old British rifles, a remnant of the only recently gone colonial era. Most of Reis’s days, however, were not spent on the beach; instead, he focused on expanding agricultural capacity through collaboration with U.S. university programs in Somalia. Reis also served in Zambia, Washington D.C., and eventually, Tokyo, Japan. He retired after his last assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission in Malaysia in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis.

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Resolving the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Issue—Treaty of Bangkok

During the 1990s, there were many international agreements created to limit nuclear weapons and the potential consequential effects of deploying these weapons. This began with the signing of the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-2) in 1993, continued with the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995, and the creation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. Notwithstanding the views of major regional actors, Southeast Asia also reached an agreement to restrict the buildup of nuclear weapons in the region.

Map demarcating Exclusive Economic Zones of Southeast Asia and China | November 10, 2013 | Wikimedia Commons
Map demarcating Exclusive Economic Zones of Southeast Asia and China | November 10, 2013 | Wikimedia Commons

In 1996 and 1997, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) worked diligently to create a nuclear weapon-free zone. The issue was that these nations demanded that this zone be extended two hundred miles from land, which was to the outer limits of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This would become known as the Treaty of Bangkok. The treaty, however, created issues for the two major powers in the region: China and the United States. China objected as this would interfere with their claims to the Spratly Islands and areas of the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy was unsatisfied as the treaty would mean that U.S. ships, submarines, and airplanes would have problems transiting the area with nuclear weapons on board. The other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5) also supported the United States on this matter in solidarity. Read more

Investing in China as its Economy Starts to Take Off in the 1990s

China’s economic transformation launched its economy to new heights during the 1990s, allowing it to have a stronger international presence. A country with a rapidly developing economy and an enormous population made China an extremely appealing market for American companies to invest in. However, there were still issues that needed to be addressed. This resulted in negotiations taking place regarding various issues ranging from Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to space launches. As head of the external side of the economic section, Ambassador William Monroe would play an imperative role in these negotiations.

Ambassador William T. Monroe (2014) | U.S. State Department Archive
Ambassador William T. Monroe (2014) | U.S. State Department Archive

Before Ambassador Monroe’s involvement in negotiations with China on numerous issues, China was reforming its economic policies. Beginning in 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated reform and “openness” policies that allowed foreign investment and capital to permeate society for the first time in China’s history. This drastically improved the living conditions for many Chinese citizens and provided many with new opportunities. Although foreign investment and collaboration would hit a speed bump with the events that occurred at Tiananmen Square, by 1998, per capita income was fourteen times higher than it was in 1980.

Notwithstanding the reforms made to facilitate foreign investment in China, the United States wanted to address issues affecting American companies. These issues included violations of intellectual property rights and restrictions on foreign companies’ competitiveness. Therefore, Ambassador Monroe’s main responsibility was to negotiate on the expressed concerns of the United States. He helped further discussions to have American companies enter and compete fairly in Chinese markets, as well as to protect their private properties. Read more

A Foreign Service Spouse on a Mission: Combating Human Trafficking in Greece

Whether being assigned to a new post, taking on a new position, or learning a new language, the careers of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are continually evolving. However, they are often not alone on their diplomatic journeys. Many Foreign Service Officers carry out their duties overseas alongside their spouses. While there are certain responsibilities that traditionally fall on the shoulders of these spouses, changes made by the State Department over the last fifty years have provided the freedom for some partners of Foreign Service Officers to pursue their own passions and goals in their various postings. One Foreign Service spouse who took advantage of her international travels during her husband’s assignments was Bonnie Miller.

Thomas and Bonnie Miller (2016) | (Courtesy photo)
Thomas and Bonnie Miller (2016) | (Courtesy photo)

Married in 1969, Bonnie met her husband, Thomas Miller, during their high school years over a decade before Thomas joined the Foreign Service. They both attended the University of Michigan where Bonnie earned degrees in psychology and social work. While Thomas’s work for the State Department began in 1976, it did not mean the end to Bonnie’s focus on her areas of study. Whether it was in Bosnia or Thailand, Miller kept up her passion for psychology and social work by teaching at various international universities, working as a mental health coordinator in the local communities, and executing numerous workshops and conferences on topics such as parenting and education. However, some of Miller’s most notable initiatives include her anti-trafficking work in Athens, Greece.

Miller’s work in human trafficking began during her husband’s service in Sarajevo, Bosnia after visiting shelters run by the International Organization on Migration for women who had been victims of trafficking. Coming in as mental health professional, Miller took the time to listen to their stories and would further educate herself on human trafficking issues by visiting dozens of women in Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Thailand to listen to their experiences and raise awareness regarding this global issue. Through her work in these various locations, Bonnie was able to successfully continue her mission against human trafficking when she and her husband moved to Greece for Thomas’s ambassadorship.
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Combating Malaria in Ethiopia: The Early Public Health Initiatives of USAID

After thirteen months of combating the novel coronavirus pandemic through periods of quarantine, mask mandates, and social distancing, all adults in the United States are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine that continues to become more widely available with each passing day. Whether it be Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, vaccines have been a hot topic of conversation; and getting them into the arms of Americans has proved to be a positive turning point in the return to normalcy and curbing the devastation of the pandemic. However, the COVID-19 vaccine is not the only vaccine that has recently made headlines.

Malaria Mosquito (2015) | Pixabay
Malaria Mosquito (2015) | Pixabay

A new malaria vaccine has shown promise in preliminary trials that proved to be 77 percent effective in a group of 450 children. While the research and trials must continue on to further stages, this breakthrough is monumental in the fight against malaria, a disease that kills 400,000 people a year, mostly children.

Although it seems that we are just now experiencing signs of promise regarding malaria and the production of an effective vaccine, the United States has spent decades providing resources for research and malaria control for struggling communities and nations, especially in Africa where nearly 95 percent of malaria deaths occur. According to USAID [United States Agency for International Development], American leadership has helped prevent more than 1.5 billion malaria cases and saved the lives of over 7.5 million individuals since 2000. However, USAID’s efforts in the fight to curtail malaria are by no means a novelty of the last two decades. USAID deployed various methods to fight malaria as early as the 1950s, including contributions and funding for a potential vaccine that, unfortunately, did not prove successful, but led to key findings and developments.

A pioneer in international health programs, Dr. Julius S. Prince had firsthand experience with the disease gripping Africa and the early initiatives USAID had underway to help these people in developing countries. Acting as the chief of the Public Health Division, Prince served as the leader to USAID’s [International Cooperation Administration at the time] Ethiopia Mission. In this “Moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, Prince describes the malaria epidemic that brought devastation to Ethiopia in 1958 and the public health programs, projects, and evaluations undertaken by USAID in collaboration with the Gondar Public Health College and Training Center in the early fight against the disease.
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Providing Protections While Breaking New Ground in the Foreign Service: Saying Yes When Challenged

In the decades following the end of World War II, the United States went through tremendous restructuring when it came to the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 created a sizable expansion in the Foreign Service by increasing the number of Foreign Service officer positions and improving the overall organization of the diplomatic service itself.

Clements Worldwide Offices | Clements Website
Clements Worldwide Offices | Clements Website

With this boom in the Foreign Service, many new officers went abroad, almost always bringing along their own vehicles and personal household effects. This was especially the case for those who were overseas for extended periods of time. The question soon became: To whom do I go if my car is damaged? What do I do if my personal belongings are stolen while I’m on duty?

Enter Robert Clements and his wife M. Juanita Guess. In 1947, the duo founded their own insurance firm to provide a new type of insurance service to diplomats, both rookie and veteran. This sort of service was brand new to the Foreign Service and the domestic insurance industry. Clements & Company rolled out their first insurance packages with a primary focus on automobile and household effects protections. But above all else, they strove toward one goal: coverage for all U.S. Foreign Service Officers, regardless of where they were posted or what their role was.

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