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Our web series of over 800 "Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History" captures key historical events -- and humorous aspects of diplomatic life, using our extensive collection of oral histories.

Note:  These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual interviewed.  The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. To read the entire interview, go to our Oral History page.
 

U.S.-Russia Competition in Ukraine in the ‘90s

This moment is one of four in a series about Russia, Ukraine, and U.S. relations in a world of post-Ukrainian independence. The series, “From 1991 to 2022: Russia, U.S., and Ukraine Relations,” explores how the post-Soviet Union era presented unique challenges to each nation’s foreign policy. The reignited tensions between Russia and Ukraine pose important questions about how the nations’ histories inform the conflict today. The four moments in the series— U.S.-Russia Competition in Ukraine in the ‘90s, Russia-Ukraine Tensions, Ukrainian Nationalism in an Independence Era, and Beginning a U.S.-Ukraine Relationship —seek to shed light on the 2022 conflict between Russia and Ukraine by examining its history.

Reagan and Dubinin at the Soviet Embassy, 1998, Pete Souza | The White House
Reagan and Dubinin at the Soviet Embassy, 1998, Pete Souza | The White House

Recent events in Ukraine have made it more than obvious that Russia is changing its foreign policy footing, seeking expansion and world influence once again. However, first-person oral history evidence indicates that this is a process that began almost as soon as the collapse of the Soviet Union. From 1993 to 1998, William Green Miller was the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, serving through numerous challenges, including nuclear disarmament, after a long and storied career. In this “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History,” we see U.S., Russian, and Ukrainian grand strategy collide even as Ambassador Miller walks the tightrope of keeping close personal relationships with geopolitical adversaries. Read more

Russia–Ukraine Tensions

This moment is one of four in a series about Russia, Ukraine, and U.S. relations in a world of post-Ukrainian independence. The series, “From 1991 to 2022: Russia, U.S., and Ukraine Relations,” explores how the post-Soviet Union era presented unique challenges to each nation’s foreign policy.

Leonid Kravchuk, The First President of Ukraine | Wikimedia
Leonid Kravchuk, The First President of Ukraine | Wikimedia

The reignited tensions between Russia and Ukraine pose important questions about how the nations’ histories inform the conflict today. The four moments in the series— U.S.-Russia Competition in Ukraine in the ‘90s, Russia-Ukraine Tensions, Ukrainian Nationalism in an Independence Era, and Beginning a U.S.-Ukraine Relationship—seek to shed light on the 2022 conflict between Russia and Ukraine by examining its history.

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine might appear relatively sudden and confusing. The unprovoked Russian aggression certainly brings about more questions than answers, but disagreements between the two nations have been setting the stage for decades. National identity, territorial integrity, Soviet-era legacies—each of these themes presented a unique challenge for Ukraine-Russia relations in the aftermath of Ukrainian independence. Read more

Beginning a U.S.-Ukraine Relationship

This “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History” is one of four in a series about Russia, Ukraine, and U.S. relations in a world of post-Ukrainian independence. The series, “From 1991 to 2022: Russia, U.S., and Ukraine Relations,” explores how the post-Soviet Union era presented unique challenges to each nation’s foreign policy. The reignited tensions between Russia and Ukraine pose important questions about how the nations’ histories inform the conflict today. The four moments in the series— U.S.–Russia Competition in Ukraine in the ‘90s, Russia-Ukraine Tensions, Ukrainian Nationalism in an Independence Era, and Beginning a U.S.-Ukraine Relationship—seek to shed light on the 2022 conflict between Russia and Ukraine by examining its history.

Protest against war in Ukraine  | Depositphotos
Protest against war in Ukraine | Depositphotos

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, various voices have called for the United States to support Ukraine against Russia. The U.S. has imposed sanctions and limited trade with Russia while providing weapons and security assistance to Ukraine. However, some believe the U.S. needs to do more. The U.S. has maintained its position, however, of not intervening militarily except to protect NATO allies. These events and decisions reflect the complex relationship between the United States and Ukraine. Evidence from ADST’s oral history collection suggests this has been true since the onset of the relationship when Ukraine gained its independence following the fall of the Soviet Union. Read more

Ukrainian Nationalism in an Independence Era

This “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History” is one of four in a series about Russia, Ukraine, and U.S. relations in a world of post-Ukrainian independence. The series, “From 1991 to 2022: Russia, U.S., and Ukraine Relations,” explores how the post-Soviet Union era presented unique challenges to each nation’s foreign policy. The reignited tensions between Russia and Ukraine pose important questions about how the nations’ histories inform the conflict today. The four moments in the series—U.S.–Russia Competition in Ukraine in the ‘90s, Russia-Ukraine Tensions, Ukrainian Nationalism in an Independence Era, and Beginning a U.S.-Ukraine Relationship—seek to shed light on the 2022 conflict between Russia and Ukraine by examining its history.

Taras Shevchenko Memorial in Washington, DC | Wikimedia
Taras Shevchenko Memorial in Washington, DC | Wikimedia

After breaking away from the Soviet Union, Ukraine had to assert its national identity as separate and strong enough to sustain a new nation. Between Russian frustration at Ukrainian independence, an uncertain post-Cold War era, and skepticism of potential allies, Ukrainian leaders had a plethora of concerns to factor into their new foreign policy strategy. To be successful as an independent nation, Ukrainians needed to affirm their collective historical, cultural, and national identities—both on the ground and in their policy. Read more

The passing of former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright

Madeleine Albright

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training mourns the passing of former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

We send heartfelt condolences to her family and many friends and colleagues around the world. Hers was a remarkable life, marked by many “firsts” and decades of commitment to diplomacy. We were honored to have her as an honorary director. She will be missed.

Combating Terrorism in Iraq and Syria: Stephen Kontos and the Counter-ISIS Coalition

In the midst of war, terrorism, and instability, Stephen Kontos was tasked with uniting a coalition to combat one of the Middle East’s greatest terrorist threats—The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]. Through their work, Kontos and his team turned a cramped conference room of a dozen people into a dedicated coalition of over 70 countries collaborating on counterterrorism in Iraq and Syria.

The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at a conference in Washington, DC, 2019 | U.S. Embassy in Syria
The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at a conference in Washington, DC, 2019 | U.S. Embassy in Syria

The Syrian Civil War, with civilians and rebels fighting against what they deemed an oppressive regime under Bashar al-Assad, provided a perfect storm of chaos for ISIS to spread its influence. While Kontos had been working with the U.S. Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations [CSO] since 2012 to provide non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition movements, ISIS’s capture of Mosul in July 2014 signaled an alternative rising threat. ISIS gained territory and power in the region, prompting the United States to focus its attention from aiding Syrian opposition to solely addressing the terrorist group. In 2014, Kontos was tasked with coordinating the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Global Coalition to Counter ISIS to eliminate the threat once and for all. With numerous actors invested in the Syrian civil war and Middle East counterterrorism, the U.S. Coalition saw the importance of banding efforts to bring about the greatest chance of defeating the terrorist group.
Read more

Fighting for Peace: Serving During the Sri Lankan Civil War

As a USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) officer serving in Vietnam during the firefights and bombings of the Tet Offensive, David J. Garms experienced violence and conflict innumerable times The memories of this experience stayed with him throughout his career, even in subsequent foreign service postings, which were calmer in comparison. However, as we see in this “moment in U.S. diplomatic history,” his Sri Lanka assignment in 1986 served as a reminder of his past experience serving in countries affected by violence.

I took the picture in 2004, it shows a LTTE bike platoon north of Kilinochi (2004) Qz10, en.wiki
I took the picture in 2004, it shows a LTTE bike platoon north of Kilinochi (2004) Qz10, en.wiki

1980s Sri Lanka suffered from widespread violent, ethnic-based conflict involving the Velupillai Prabhakaran-led Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, Tamil Tigers) and the Sinhalese-run Sri Lankan government. Although the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 was expected to create an end to the conflict, it continued until 2009. An estimated 100,000 people died as a result of this 25-year-long conflict. Amidst a violent setting, Garms played a role in helping rally financial support for peace and development in Sri Lanka.

Read more

A Murder in the Straits Colony—Life in Colonial Singapore

In the case of most diplomats, the investigation of crimes is an activity that is neither envied nor sought out; however, in the case of a few adventurous men in Colonial Singapore, this was not the case. Like most of the world, Singapore was once a European colony, namely a British one. And like most British colonies, there were several predominant divides in society: rich, poor, Anglo, and foreign.

Cairnhil, Singapore (1842) Charles Andrew Dyce | NUS Museum
Cairnhil, Singapore (1842) Charles Andrew Dyce | NUS Museum

This stratified society, combined with Singapore’s status as an international hub of trade and the many opium dens in the area, made the colony a hotbed of crime. Blackmail, prostitution, racketeering, conspiracies, and murder were all present. The emergence of “Secret Societies,” similar to street gangs or the Mafia, contributed further to these issues. While some Asian businessmen were able to amass fortunes, such as Aw Boon Haw (also known as the Tiger Balm King), most non-European people either had to live in perpetual poverty or risk it all by joining one of the secret societies. While increased crackdowns starting in the 1890s by police forces helped to suppress these societies, some have managed to survive until today. Read more

The Rocky Beginnings of the U.S.-ASEAN Relationship

What does the beginning of a diplomatic partnership look like? Though the image that comes to ​​​​mind is elegant diplomacy, crisp photo-ops, and a complete alignment of mutual positions, the real work of foreign service officers is rarely so neat. In 1977 and 1978, the United States had its first meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a multilateral organization that remains a key American partner and dominates regional politics to this day. What occurred during those meetings offers both an insight into the rough-and-tumble contest that is high level diplomacy, as well as a course in exemplary flexibility and problem solving—necessary traits for all foreign service officers.

Barack Obama at ASEAN Summit, 2012, Peter Souza | White House
Barack Obama at ASEAN Summit, 2012, Peter Souza | White House

In 1967, ASEAN was founded as a partnership between five Southeast Asian nations—the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand—in order to promote stronger economic and political ties in the rapidly developing Southeast Asia region. However, it was not until in the late seventies, through forging partnerships with the United States and taking an active role in mediation of the Third Indochina War, that ASEAN took its place as a major world player. Since that time, ASEAN has expanded to include the rest of Southeast Asia, save Timor-Leste for the time being, further asserting its influence as the broker of the region. It was in that coming-out party atmosphere of the seventies that Anthony Geber, long time FSO and then director of the Office of Economic Policy for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, arranged the first two top-level meetings between the United States and ASEAN. Read more

Women in the Workplace in the Foreign Service

For a long time, the American workplace has been a difficult place for women to navigate, and the Foreign Service is no exception. Female foreign service officers and spouses of FSO’s have had to fight against institutional and personal pressures to advance their careers. Not only have women faced discrimination in the workplace, but many often continue to feel pressure to stay at home when their spouse is the primary breadwinner.

Equal Rights Amendment protest (1978) Kheel Center
Equal Rights Amendment protest (1978) Kheel Center

Spouses of foreign service officers often find themselves in particularly difficult situations because of the unique nature of the foreign service lifestyle. Moving around every few years to new countries where spouses often do not speak the language can pose a real challenge to finding a fulfilling job. Additionally, there may be burdens for spouses having to meet the expectations for the role they would play in embassies that pressured them to stay at home.

A 1972 directive changed the traditional expectations, and recognized greater independence of FSO spouses. However, before this directive, the State Department included wives—despite them not being employees—as part of the official evaluations of their husbands. For example, they often had to host and entertain guests, and they were expected to cook and complete household chores regardless of their employment status. The State Department even required female FSOs to resign upon getting married. Although women could go far in their careers at the State Department if they remained unmarried, social pressure made this a difficult decision. Spouses who continued to work were often looked down upon, and there was immense pressure for women to get married. Read more