Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ Category

Hands-on learning, out of the classroom and around the world

March 13, 2018

Mark Brzezinski (Sweden, 2011-2015; Managing Director, Makena Capital)


Dave Burke (CEO and Co-Founder, Makena Capital)

Cross posted from Axios


Experiential learning is not new — apprenticeships and “secondee” systems have been practiced for centuries — but this valuable approach still has much to offer, especially once reimagined for the workplaces of today and tomorrow.

As a pilot project, one of us (Dave Burke) organized scholarship funds for a 15-day course on investing and entrepreneurship that took 12 undergraduate students at the University of Virginia to “classrooms” around the world: family investment firms in South Africa, sovereign wealth funds in the United Arab Emirates and financial management offices in Hong Kong.

A central exercise required each student to plan and moderate a conversation with an investment professional in front of their peers, forcing them to draw on and challenge their own knowledge by engaging with an expert in the field. By the end of the course, students felt these hands-on, home-turf encounters with leading practitioners had deepened their understanding and enhanced their confidence.

Stops along the way:

  • Johannesburg: Through meetings with key family office investors, students weighed considerations around preserving capital, recognizing that families have varying goals relating to risk, liquidity, and intergenerational wealth transfers. Deep dive sessions with Richard Okello, the Uganda-born founder of Sango Capital, and the Oppenheimer family, longtime owners of De Beers, explored emerging market dynamics and sustainable nature conservation. To round out the trip, students visited the Apartheid Museum, Lilesleaf Farm (Nelson Mandela’s pre-trial hideout) and the Shambala game reserve.
  • Abu Dhabi: The focus here was on the $7 trillion world of sovereign wealth funds, influential providers of capital to the global financial system with unique investment criteria. To understand how these organizations balance investing as principals against delegating to other investment firms, students moderated an investor panel at the Abu Dhabi Investment Council (ADIC). Magnus Olsson, a Swedish transplant who is CEO of Careem, the Uber of the Middle East, shared what it takes to bring a startup to scale in the unique context of the Middle East. Adding some cultural depth, students toured the “Twelve Civilizations” exhibit at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, visited the Grand Mosque and rode camels among the sand dunes of the “Empty Quarter,” where the UAE borders Oman and Saudi Arabia.
  • Hong Kong: The final stop offered a bottom-up lens into investment “on the ground,” with fund managers who buy and sell individual securities. Meetings covered how investors assess the value of prospective companies; identify attractive investment opportunities; manage a portfolio; and develop thoughtful risk-management policies. The students heard from Lei Zhang at Hillhouse Capital (the “Warren Buffet of China”), venture capitalist Eric Li, and an investment team at Bain Capital, and dined with Jamil Anderlini, the Financial Times’ Asia Bureau Chief, at the China Club atop the Old Bank of China tower, which overlooks Hong Kong Harbor.

What’s next: Plans are underway for a second course next year: a trip to Nepal that will focus on development assistance, disaster recovery (from the massive earthquake two years ago) and the role of microfinance and grassroots entrepreneurship in job creation and women’s empowerment. Alumni of the previous course could be recruited as student leaders.

Why it matters: This model can be adapted at plenty of other scales. No matter what industry you work in, seize the opportunity to let students shadow you, so they learn from real experts and practitioners. Students absorb skills and lessons through experiential learning that they never will in a classroom, while seeing what works and what doesn’t in a professional context. It’s a venture-style bet that mentors can make with their most important resources — their time and network — that our nation’s young people need perhaps now more than ever.



Can Trump Come Back from a Blunder on North Korea

March 13, 2018

Richard N. Holwill (Ecuador, 1988-1989; Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1990-1993)


The Kim dynasty has long sought to bring legitimacy to the country formally known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and informally as North Korea. The long-standing position of the U.S. Government (USG) has been that diplomatic recognition will not be extended to the DPRK until its supreme leader signs a peace treaty with the Republic of Korea (ROK), informally known as South Korea.

A meeting with the president of the United States would grant that legitimacy to the DPRK and make a hero of Kim Jong-Un but without securing a peace treaty or any other concession. Kim will not give up his nuclear weapons based on a single meeting. The path to denuclearization will be long and hard and will require concessions from the United States and security guarantees by the People’s Republic of China.

President Trump’s acceptance of the invitation appears to have been impulsive. The New York Times and Washington Post have each confirmed that Trump did not seek the advice of his National Security Advisor or of his Secretary of Defense before his meeting with the envoys from South Korea who delivered the invitation to meet with the DPRK’s “Supreme Leader.” There are signs that this meeting will not happen, which may well reflect the fact that those in this Administration that have extensive foreign policy experience have now explained the complexity of the issue to the President.

Without regard to the capricious way that this came about, seasoned diplomats would now try a gambit to make the most of the current state of play. If Kim’s appetite for a meeting is now so strong, he might be willing to accept a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition as the price of the meeting. After all, a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition could offer the DPRK a degree of security. At this point, U.S. policy implies a desire to overthrow the Kim Dynasty. With diplomatic recognition, the USG will be expected to forego that goal. Only then can we move forward with negotiations toward denuclearization.

Diplomatic efforts, like a chess game, are best played with the king hanging back. We believe that the President would now be wise to move other pieces on the board before over committing himself.

Note: The author served as Counselor to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency when an earlier administration considered negotiations with the DPRK.

News from Norway: Russia and the Floating Nuclear Power Plant

March 2, 2018

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross posted from


When they learned of the Russian plan, 5 million Norwegians fell off their skis.

This June, two nuclear reactors on a barge — a floating nuclear power plant christened the “Akademik Lomonosov” — will be towed from the naval shipyard in St. Petersburg through the Baltic Sea and then north along the 1,600-mile coast of Norway. The barge will stop just over the Norwegian border with Russia in Murmansk, where its nuclear fuel will be loaded.

The original plan had the reactors being loaded with fuel in St. Petersburg. This was the shocker that had the descendants of the Vikings sputtering “Uff da” (untranslatable).

Norwegians translated “Lomonosov” as Russian for “a radioactive accident waiting to happen sailing through the offshore oil rigs and the cod fishery, not to mention the armada of cruise ships plying the same course.”

After strong protests from the Norwegian government, the Russians said they would wait to make the reactors hot until they reach Murmansk.

From Murmansk, the now-armed nuclear power plant is to be towed 6,500 miles east on the Northern Sea Route, a new ocean route connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific that has opened up because of global warming.

The destination of the Lomonosov is Pevek, the northernmost town in Russia, quite close to the Bering Strait and Alaska, where the reactor will power a large copper-mining project.

Murmansk, a port city of 300,000, is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It is at the terminus of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, giving it the strategic status of being Russia’s only ice-free port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to the Russian Navy’s nuclear submarines — the ones tipped with atomic bombs meant for targets in the United States — and the home of the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. The reactors on the Lomonosov will be the same type as those powering the icebreakers.

My first trip to Murmansk was in 1995. My trip was part of a successful diplomatic effort to negotiate an agreement where Russia would no longer dump submarine reactor coolant in the Arctic Ocean.

My hotel was a nuclear icebreaker. The captain of the ship, my host for the night, had a red hammer and sickle tattoo on the webbing of skin between this thumb and forefinger on his right hand.

I boarded just after touring the facility that stored low-level liquid nuclear waste, the spent cooling fluid for the reactors on Russian submarines. Hearing this, the captain handed me a glass of vodka and said, “Nostrovia.” Translation: “To your health.” More toasts followed and we got healthier.

The end of the Cold War had not been good for the captain. The icebreaker was taking tourists to the North Pole at $25 grand a pop. There was not much else for the ship to do because when the Soviet Union broke up, the economy collapsed and the usual task of icebreakers, to keep Arctic rivers open so coal, iron and timber could reach Murmansk for export, was no more.

No longer. In the eye blink of time between my visit to Murmansk to today, 23 years, global warming has created the first new sea route in recorded history. The rapid warming of the Arctic means the Northern Sea Route will see more commercial shipping, almost all needing icebreaker escort. The route, northern Europe to Shanghai, beats the Suez Canal route by 18 days.

The Murmansk-Norwegian border region has more nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste sitting around than any other place on earth. And, no military secret: This is where the U.S. Navy’s nuclear subs also hang out.

Some accident is bound to happen. The Russian submarines have had several over the years, mostly fires onboard.

Northern Norway is where the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl drifted in 1986. There was no alert and no information from the Soviet Union. The Norwegians did not know what was happening.

They expect another incident of release of radioactivity from the uptick in nuclear activity. The government is planning to distribute 3 million iodine pills to areas of high risk. Iodine pills, when taken within hours of exposure, offer some protection against cancer for children.

The Lomonosov will be tested in the summer of 2018 in Murmansk. A transport ship hauling spent nuclear fuel will also be in and out of the harbor. The docks for the icebreakers and their maintenance yard, unique in all the world, are beyond capacity already.

If the Northern Sea Route is to be commercially viable and Murmansk is to be the center of Arctic shipping, the Russians have to guarantee safety.

The Norwegians will be demanding it. The United States has to play a constructive role. No bellicose threats. No provocative maneuvers by our submarines. Offers of help even though they will be turned down. And, an acknowledgement that the Northern Sea Route is very important to Russia.

If the U.S. is smart we will let the diplomats lead. This should be the place a new constructive relationship with Russia begins. Call it the Nostrovia Initiative.

An FBI Contribution in Eastern Europe

February 21, 2018

Donald M. Blinken (Hungary, 1994-1998)

Cross posted from the New York Times


To the Editor:

On the wall in my office is a 1996 photograph taken in Budapest. Among the 10 portrayed facing the camera are a former president of Hungary, Arpad Goncz; Louis Freeh, then the F.B.I. director; Janet Reno, then the attorney general; and me. We were celebrating the first anniversary of the 1995 founding of the International Law Enforcement Academy.

The brainchild of Mr. Freeh, the Budapest-based academy supports training for law enforcement personnel from 26 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia. In 2005, Robert S. Mueller III, then the F.B.I. director, attended the academy’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Mr. Freeh, the Hungarian government and I had two goals in mind: training law enforcement personnel in the former Soviet bloc in appropriate policing and investigative methods, as enjoyed by the United States and Western Europe, and encouraging these disparate police officials to begin to talk to one another, a practice unknown in the Communist days.

The results in uprooting crime and heading off terrorism have been outstanding. I am persuaded that neither President Trump nor Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who released the memo critical of the F.B.I., has ever heard of the academy, but the American public deserves to know how its interests are being effectively served by the F.B.I. throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

Twenty Years of Morocco’s Development

February 9, 2018

Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)


Twenty years ago this year I arrived in Morocco as the new United States Ambassador. It was the beginning of a close-up view of the significant changes going on in Morocco for the next two decades.

During my first meeting with King Hassan II, shortly after my arrival, he wasted no time in addressing Morocco’s agenda with the United States, challenging me on our positions, especially the Kingdom’s existential issue regarding sovereignty over the Sahara. This unexpected candid and warm exchange set the tone for regular meetings through my tenure during which concerns and grievances were voiced in private, rather than aired publicly. King Mohammed VI would continue this practice with me after his father’s death.

My first few months in the country also coincided with the beginning of the first government of Alternance, led by opposition leader Abderrahmane El Youssoufi – a watershed moment for Morocco that many political analysts mark as the beginning of significant democratic reform and economic liberalization after years of a strong-armed approach to governing and limited civil rights. Abderrahmane El Youssoufi, whose political activities had previously resulted in two years in jail and then 15 years of exile, became Prime Minister after his party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), won the most seats in the November 1997 elections. And since then, the international community has confirmed elections as occurring in a fair and transparent manner.

In 1998, the unemployment rate in the country was 17% and growing, with youth making up a disproportionate percentage of the population. Women lacked equal rights with men. The percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line for lower middle income countries was around 28%, and more than half of the entire adult population was illiterate, with rates among rural women much higher. Electricity in the country reached only around 60% of the population, and almost a quarter did not have access to potable water. Infant mortality rates were 23% higher than the regional average and maternal mortality ratios were nearly double. Overall, the micro-economic picture was in dire shape.

The economy was too dependent on agriculture, accounting for 20% of GDP and heavily reliant on rainfall. Infrastructure was lacking throughout the country, and environmental degradation was widely apparent throughout the cities and the countryside, presenting a challenge to the growth of tourism. Of particular note, the northern part of Morocco was completely neglected after a series of militant actions created an irreparable rift between King Hassan and his citizens there.

In contrast to the micro economic indicators, by 1998 King Hassan had established a strong macro-economic climate: low debt to GDP ratio, a low budget deficit and an open, competitive economic system. He adopted IMF and World Bank reforms that, had Morocco been a member of the European Union, would have qualified it for the Monetary Union.

Upon his death in 1999, King Hassan left the country unified with a very strong nationalistic belief in country and King, a reasonably performing economy, and most importantly, with a solid commitment in its support for U.S. objectives regarding counterterrorism and economic openness, and in promoting peace in the Middle East.

Twenty years later, where is Morocco today? Where is it headed tomorrow?

Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI immediately gave a clear indication of his vision for reform and equality for all Moroccans, stating in his first public speech in August of 1999, “How can we talk about the progress and development of society when women who constitute half of this society are being denied their rights? Our true religion, Islam, has granted them rights that are not respected. They are equal to men.” By 2004, Morocco had passed one of the most progressive family codes in the region, the Moudawana, putting women on equal footing with men in regards to children and divorce.

Also in 2004, King Mohammed established The Equity and Reconciliation Commission to reconcile victims of previous human rights abuses, providing a public forum for victims to make their case and receive compensation.

In 2005, a massive anti-poverty program, the National Initiative for Human Development, was instituted in 600 of the most vulnerable poor areas of the country and city districts to increase job creation and provide adequate social services for the most vulnerable of the population. The poverty rate in Morocco now stands at 15.5%, nearly a 50% reduction. The per capita income in Morocco has nearly doubled during this time as well.

King Mohammed VI also took great efforts at rapprochement with the north of Morocco, indicating his intentions early on with his first official visit as King to Tangier, in September of 1999 – the first visit by a Monarch in nearly 40 years. These efforts have paid off. Rapprochement brought the establishment of economic zones, port and highway infrastructure, and tax incentives. With these and other measures, the north of Morocco has undergone an economic renaissance, and is now a hub for auto, aeronautics, and renewable energy manufacturing. And although youth unemployment is still problematic, the overall unemployment rate is now around 10.4%, nearly 40% percent less than it was in 1998.

Infant and maternal mortality rates have been cut in half. Electricity reaches 98.9% of the population and more than 85% have access to potable water. The birth rate is among the lowest in the region and is now comparable to rates in Europe. Morocco even has a new law that protects the civil liberties of migrants, making it one of the most progressive countries in the world on this issue. And today, while there is still work to be done, after concerted efforts Morocco has improved literacy among adults to around 70%, with rates reaching over 90% among youth, and even higher for those under 15 years old.

The cities are cleaner, with advances in waste collection and disposal. By 2030, Morocco aims to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, making it a global leader on the environment. Tourism has increased five-fold since 1998.

The country has undergone an incredible transformation after years of serious efforts to modernize and expand its infrastructure, upgrading roads, ports, and airports to support its goal of becoming a commercial crossroads between Africa and the West. In line with these efforts, Morocco and the United States concluded a free trade agreement in 2004, and last year, Morocco reestablished its relationship with the African Union and many of its members following a 33-year absence.

Macro-economic rates, strong under King Hassan, remain strong today. Agriculture still accounts for a large percentage of GDP at 13.6%, but that marks a 32% decrease from when King Mohammed assumed the throne, and a substantial amount of the production is now irrigated, reducing reliance on rain. New highways now connect most of the major cities in Morocco, and a new high speed train from Tangier to Casablanca will begin service in 2018, cutting travel time between the two cities by more than half to just over 2 hours.

When I arrived in Morocco, the bilateral relationship with the US was at a low point largely due to the lack of public support for Morocco on the Sahara issue. The United Nations was extending its MINURSO mandate overseeing the dispute for only a few months at a time, constantly prompting US criticism of Morocco regarding their differences on this issue. Following discussions and agreement with Morocco in 1999, the United States proposed a new policy, which offered a political compromise to support an internationally accepted framework of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. By 2007, the United Nations and the United States were describing a new Moroccan sovereignty-autonomy initiative as serious and credible, and later Secretary Clinton called it “realistic”. The United States has since begun to fund Morocco to provide countrywide programs, services, and economic growth initiatives that include the Saharan regions. This, more than anything else, has solidified the relationship between our two countries during the past two decades.

Today, as I look back, I realize I’ve had a front row seat to Morocco’s internal and international evolution over the past twenty years. Morocco has come a long way, although more still needs to be done: addressing youth unemployment; improving education and creating jobs; tackling corruption and weaknesses with regard to the rule of law in both the public and private sectors; enforcement of existing laws; and, dealing with ongoing government inefficiencies.

In particular, there is a need to work for a greater convergence of the ambitious sectorial strategies launched and currently implemented so as to maximize their impact at the micro levels. The country has to tackle the issue of decentralization of the governance of the country, particularly in the Sahara, and with a priority emphasis on women and those regions that are the poorest. And perhaps most importantly, there is a need to insert the youth into the economy through effective education and job training programs.

It is obvious that Morocco is moving steadily forward, albeit at its own pace. It is a delicate balancing act as the King moves cautiously to make Morocco a more open and modern leader among developing countries. Change that comes too quickly could expose vulnerabilities and create an opportunity for those who wish to destabilize the country, terrorists among them. On the other hand, too slow a pace could cause Moroccans to rise up and demand change at a more striking rate. The United States should be cognizant of this challenge and seize the opportunity to work in partnership with Morocco as it finds its “sweet spot” for movement and change, as it is in America’s interest to see this Arab country remain stable and grow increasingly more prosperous and democratic.

North Korea’s Kim, China’s Xi both had a big year. Here’s why we should care about Asia’s 2017

January 3, 2018

Curtis S. Chin (Asia Development Bank, 2007-2010; Asia Fellow, Milken Institute)


Jose B. Collazo

Cross posted from Fox News


Asia was much in the news in 2017, as North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong Un surprised experts around the world with rapid progress in his weapons program, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. The United Nations and U.S. imposed sanctions on the North, but didn’t deter Kim from continuing to make military advances.

Kim and President Trump traded insults and threats but, thankfully, avoided going to war. Hopefully, war between the two nuclear nations will be averted in the year ahead as well.

President Trump gave up on President Obama’s failed “pivot to Asia” and said the U.S. would not join the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which had been a top priority of the Obama administration. The new U.S. president instead embraced an “America First” foreign policy that amounted to a “pivot to America.”

So who was up and who was down in Asia in 2017? Here’s our assessment:

Worst Year: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingya people

Once touted as a successful example of U.S. diplomatic engagement, the country now known as Myanmar – but still called Burma by many – was plunged into ethnic conflict in 2017 when the military in the primarily Buddhist nation launched attacks on the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority.

One-time democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now serving as state councilor (akin to prime minister) has drawn international criticism for standing by as more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following rapes, murders and the burning of their villages.

Whether a humanitarian and human rights nightmare or a clear case of “ethnic cleansing” – as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described it – the world has failed to effectively respond to Myanmar’s brutal treatment of an entire people.

Unfortunately, the year ahead doesn’t yet look any better for Suu Kyi or the Rohingya – sadly, the joint “winners” of worst year in Asia in 2017.

Bad Year: The Political Opposition

Incumbent leaders and parties in much of Asia, from India to Japan, solidified their lock on power. Opposition parties fared badly.

One-party rule continued in China, Vietnam and Laos. And in Cambodia, a Supreme Court ruling has effectively dissolved the only credible major opposition party. The result? Cambodian leader Hun Sen is likely to continue as the world’s longest serving prime minister for some time.

Elsewhere, Thailand’s return to democracy remains on hold after a May 2014 coup. And in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party scored impressive election results, swamping the nascent “Party of Hope” of popular Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike. Incumbency does have its advantages.

A Mixed Year at Best: ASEAN

The year 2017 proved both good and bad for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations, or ASEAN. A visit by President Trump and a seemingly budding bromance between the U.S. and Filipino presidents helped mark 50th anniversary celebrations for ASEAN in Manila in November.

The Southeast Asian region, with a combined gross domestic product equivalent to $2.4 trillion, is now the seventh-largest economy in the world and on track to become the fourth-largest economy by 2050. That’s good news for American businesses from Texas to Washington investing in and selling to this booming region.

But 2017 also made clear that the association’s non-confrontational, consensus-building approach – deemed the “ASEAN Way” – may well be facing a mid-life crisis in the face of China’s growing investment and assertiveness.

While ASEAN celebrates 50 years of growing prosperity, some of the region’s most pressing problems, including the Rohingya crisis and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, have also continued to fester if not grow.

Good Year: Asia’s Fintech Pioneers

As in America, technology from e-commerce to mobile banking continues to transform Asia and create vast new fortunes. Not everyone though can be a Jack Ma, the storied Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba Group. Nor can every company be an Ant Financial Services Group, the Alibaba-affiliated payments company described by The Economist as “the world’s most valuable fintech firm.”

But 2017 proved to be a good year for Asia’s pioneers in fintech – a catch-all buzzword for the financial technology that is challenging and reshaping mainstream banking and finance companies.

In the third quarter of 2017 alone, according to consulting firm KPMG, Asia was the global leader in fintech investment, outpacing Europe and the Americas, with more than $1.21 billion raised.

And with companies looking to serve the region’s “unbanked” – only 27 percent of Southeast Asia’s 600 million people have a bank account – what was a good year for fintech is likely to only get better in 2018.

Best Year: Xi Jinping & Kim Jong Un

There’s a new Mao in town. “Best Year” in Asia goes to: the leader of the most populous nation, China; and the leader of arguably the region’s most frightening nation, North Korea.

In 2017, Xi Jinping solidified his rule as China’s most powerful leader in decades at the Communist Party Congress. Progress also continued on two landmark Xi initiatives. The first is the “One Belt One Road” or “new Silk Road” infrastructure and development program, which will better connect China to key markets. The second is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese-led rival to the World Bank.

The major uncertainty in 2017 for Xi Jinping was the behavior of the man dubbed “Little Rocket Man” by President Trump – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Kim’s continued survival may well rest on China’s support more than on his small nuclear arsenal. Yet the North Korean leader is likely to know that an erratic North Korea is the price that China accepts for fear of a united, democratic Korea on its border.

And so, in a year that saw Xi Jinping emerge as a voice for Chinese-style globalization and Kim Jong Un survive – if not thrive – as a nuclear-armed provocateur, we give “Best Year in Asia” to a less-than-dynamic duo linked on the world stage: Xi and Kim, frenemies in 2017.

As President Trump moves to make America great again, America would do well to pay attention to what the billions of people and their leaders on the other side of the world in Asia are up to. In an ever-shrinking world, what happens on one side of the Pacific inevitably will affect the other.

The National Security Emergency We’re Not Talking About

November 30, 2017

Madeleine K. Albright (Secretary of State, 1997-2001; United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross posted from the New York Times


America’s diplomatic professionals have issued a dire warning about the crisis facing the State Department: Scores of top diplomats, including some of our highest-ranked career Foreign Service officers, have left the agency at “a dizzying speed” over the past 10 months.

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” wrote former ambassador Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).

As a former secretary of state, I agree. This is not a story that has two sides. It is simply a fact that the United States relies on diplomacy as our first line of defense — to cement alliances, build coalitions, address global problems and find ways to protect our interests without resorting to military force. When we must use force, as in the fight against the Islamic State, our diplomats ensure that we can do so effectively and with the cooperation of other countries.

Change within the Foreign Service and the State Department’s civil service is not unusual. In fact, the system is designed to bring in fresh blood on a regular basis. There is, however, a big difference between a transfusion and an open wound. There is nothing normal about the current exodus. President Trump is aware of the situation and has made clear that he doesn’t care: “I’m the only one that matters,” he told Fox News.

Sadly, the official who should be highlighting the State Department’s vital role has not done so. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied that the department is being hollowed out even while defending the president’s plan for a massive reduction in his agency’s budget. Meanwhile, for reasons that make sense only to him, Tillerson has delayed filling many of the most important diplomatic posts in Washington and overseas. All too often, foreign officials have sought to engage the department at a high level only to find no one with whom they can speak.

The administration’s disdain for diplomacy would be alarming under any circumstances, but two factors make it worse. First, while the United States is tying a rope around its feet, our competitors are running ahead. Trump’s recent trip to Asia was considered by many a success because there were no obvious disasters, but that is hardly a reassuring standard by which to judge the performance of an American commander in chief. The fact is that on trade and climate change, the U.S. government is now irrelevant; on security issues, we are ineffective; and on the use of cybertools to undercut democracy, we have a president who believes Vladimir Putin.

Second, the damage being done to America’s diplomatic readiness is both intentional and long-term. The administration isn’t hurting the State Department by accident. Tillerson maintained a freeze on hiring long after most other Cabinet officials had stopped. The number of promotions has been cut in half and the quantity of incoming Foreign Service officers by more than two-thirds. He is effectively shutting down the State Department’s pipeline for new talent.

As a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, I see the consequences of all this firsthand. In the past, my best students have come to me seeking advice on how to enter public service. Now, more and more are telling me they do not see a future for themselves in government. In some cases, this is because they disagree with administration policies, but more often it is because they fear that their efforts and pursuit of excellence would not be valued.

This was never a problem under President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush, but it is a problem now. According to AFSA, the number of individuals taking the Foreign Service exam this year is on track to plummet by more than 50 percent.

If the U.S. military were facing a recruitment and retention crisis of this magnitude, few would hesitate to call it a national security emergency. Well, that is what we are facing. And while it saddens me to criticize one of my successors, I have to speak out because the stakes are so high.

What can we do? We can support bipartisan-minded leaders in Congress who have rejected the reckless cuts the administration proposed in our country’s budget for international affairs. We can amplify these warnings about the hollowing out of the State Department. We can strengthen our case by enlisting business leaders who understand the importance of the work our embassies do across the globe. We can help young people understand that time is sure to bring new leaders with more enlightened ideas about the importance of diplomacy and development to the interests and values of the American people.

Whenever my students ask me whether they should serve in government under this administration, I remind them that the reason we love America so much is that, here, the government is not one man or woman. The government is us, and public service is both a great privilege and a shared responsibility. This is our republic. We must do all we can to keep it strong.

Dismantling the Foreign Service

November 28, 2017

R. Nicholas Burns (Greece, 1997-2001; NATO, 2001-2005; Under Secretary for Political Affairs, 2005-2008)

Ryan Crocker (Lebanon, 1990-1993; Kuwait, 1994-1997; Syria, 1998-2001; Pakistan, 2004-2007; Iraq, 2007-2009; Afghanistan, 2011-2012)

Cross posted from The New York Times


The Foreign Service, our country’s irreplaceable asset for understanding and interacting with a complex and dangerous world, is facing perhaps its greatest crisis. President Trump’s draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great foreign service just when we need it most.

The United States is facing an extraordinary set of national security challenges. While we count on our military ultimately to defend the country, our diplomats are with it on front lines and in dangerous places around the world. They are our lead negotiators as we work with our European allies in NATO to contain growing Russian power on the Continent. They are our lead negotiators seeking a peaceful end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Our diplomats are assembling the coalition of countries in East Asia to counter the irresponsible regime of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

Foreign Service officers in more than 280 embassies and consulates aid American citizens in trouble overseas, help American companies overcome unfair barriers to trade and investment, coordinate counterterrorism and narcotics programs and manage development and humanitarian aid to distressed countries.

Diplomats negotiate the landing and basing arrangements for American troops overseas, such as at Central Command’s major Middle East base in Qatar. Our strongest and smartest presidents have known that integrating our diplomatic and military strategies is the most effective way to succeed in the world today.

Both of us served overseas and in Washington for decades as career diplomats. We were ambassadors during both Republican and Democratic administrations. We are proud of the nonpartisan culture of our brethren at the State Department. President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can count on them to work tirelessly, loyally and with great skill for our country.

But we are concerned the Trump administration is weakening the Foreign Service by a series of misguided decisions since taking office. It has proposed a 31 percent budget reduction for the State Department that would cripple its global reach. It has failed to fill the majority of the most senior ambassadorial positions in Washington and overseas. It is on track to take the lowest number of new officers into the service in years.

It has even nominated a former officer with a scant eight years of experience to be the director general of the Foreign Service, the chief of its personnel system. The nonpartisan American Academy of Diplomacy (of which we both are members) advised Congress that this would be “like making a former Army captain the chief of staff of the Army.”

As a result, many of our most experienced diplomats are leaving the department. Along with the senior diplomats who were summarily fired by the Trump team early this year, we are witnessing the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations. The drop in morale among those who remain behind is obvious to both of us. The number of young Americans who applied to take the Foreign Service officer entry test declined by 33 percent in the past year. This is particularly discouraging and will weaken the service for years.

We are not arguing that the State Department is a perfectly functioning agency that requires no improvements. We support creating a culture of reform and renewal at the department. The Trump administration is right to look for budget and operational inefficiencies to ensure the best use of taxpayers’ money. We also agree with the American academy’s support for the elimination of more than 60 special envoy positions to save money and improve effectiveness. The Trump team should additionally consider shifting more positions from Washington to diplomatic posts overseas.

The recent decision by Mr. Tillerson to downsize the Foreign Service by up to 8 percent of the entire officer corps, however, is particularly dangerous. The Foreign Service, which has about 8,000 officers who do core diplomatic work, is a fraction of the size of the military. The service is already overwhelmed by the growing challenges to the United States on every continent. In our view, Mr. Tillerson has failed to make a convincing case as to why deep cuts will strengthen, rather than weaken, the service, and thus the nation. This is not about belt tightening. It is a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service.

That is why Congress must now exercise its constitutional responsibilities to overrule the most dangerous aspects of the administration’s plans. House and Senate committees must continue to oppose the huge budget cuts. Congressional committee chairmen should block the appointments of Trump nominees clearly unqualified for service. And Congress should ensure that there are sufficient funds to entice patriotic young Americans to join the Foreign Service. Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, are leading the bipartisan questioning of Mr. Tillerson’s hiring freeze and warning of its dire consequences.

We are ringing the village bell in alarm because Mr. Trump’s neglect of the State Department will harm our country at an already dangerous time. The Foreign Service is a jewel of the American national security establishment, with the deepest and most effective diplomatic corps in the world. All that is now at risk.

Albert Einstein, Donald Trump and North Korea

November 3, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (U.S. Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross posted from The Cap Times


Seventy years ago Albert Einstein, in an Atlantic Magazine article entitled “Atomic War or Peace,” changed American opinion on the use of nuclear weapons.

Einstein’s intended audience in 1947 was the American people, not politicians or generals. His message: “Americans may be convinced of their determination not to launch an aggressive or preventative war. So they may believe it is superfluous to announce publicly that they will not a second time be the first to use the atomic bomb.” Einstein thought refusing to publicly outlaw first use of the bomb was a mistake.

Einstein’s immense credibility and the lucidity of his reasoning had great influence on the generation that had gone through WWII. It offered a way forward to a future without nuclear war. His ideas to contain nuclear weapons would continue to be influential after the Korean War and with baby boomers who grew up in the Cold War always thinking there might be a mushroom cloud in their future.

President Trump’s trip to Asia this month gives an opportunity to change course by stating a policy the two Koreas, Japan and China understand. #1. We will honor our treaty commitments. The United States, by treaty, is responsible for the defense of Japan and South Korea. It is called a mutual defense treaty. #2. We do not want Japan or South Korea to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. #3. We will not introduce nuclear weapons into South Korea, including so-called tactical weapons. #4. We will open talks with North Korea with no preconditions.

Today we stumble toward a war with North Korea where nuclear weapons could be unleashed, not only intentionally following a war of words by the countries’ two leaders, but through accident or miscalculation.

There are questions as to whether the North Korean early-warning system is fail safe, meaning its pre-programmed softwear could trigger a counterattack by mistake. And should North Korea develop a solid fuel rocket, the danger of war by mistake increases.

I personally experienced how frighteningly easy it would be for mixed signals to result in a nuclear conflagration. As the United States ambassador to Norway, I was at the Andoya Rocket Range in north Norway on Jan. 19, 1995, to meet scientists from Cornell University on a research project. The next day a powerful rocket, the Black Brant XII, would be launched, and would pretty much go straight up and peak at a height of 1,400 kilometers. The goal of the research was to gather data on something new: a daytime look at the northern lights. Shortly after launch, the Russian early-warning system tagged it as an attack because the system was programmed to calculate the height, arc and speed of an incoming missile and trigger a counterstrike based on that. Luckily the Russian officer of the day figured out the system got it wrong and stopped the alert. But still, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was given the Black Box and his unsteady finger was on the nuclear trigger for the next 24 hours.

If we enacted a policy that includes the four points above, the risk of both an intentional launch of a nuclear weapon and the mistaken launch of one would diminish.

In high school, I read Einstein’s article, which was reproduced as a short book. To us, war was not abstract. We practiced in school what to do when the Soviets dropped the bomb. Five miles from Sun Prairie where I grew up, Truax Field in Madison housed an Air Force Nike missile base assumed to a Soviet target. Highways were marked for evacuation routes. A big issue in the 1960 presidential race between Kennedy and Nixon was the “missile gap.” The morality of dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was being debated and it was becoming common knowledge that after China entered the Korean War there had been a plan by the generals to drop the atomic bomb on North Korea. And perhaps it would have happened had we not had civilian control of the military.

The stated goal of the current administration is to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. This isn’t a realistic goal. We need to pursue the four points above, along with Einstein’s admonition that America “will not a second time be the first to use the atomic bomb.”

But how do the American people become motivated enough to inform the politicians and generals and the ersatz Dr. Strangeloves of today of their disagreement with a muddled, contradictory, war-risking policy where what passes for lucidity is the phrase, “Everything is on the table”?

Here is how Einstein said it: “The atomic scientists, I think, have become convinced that they cannot arouse the American people to the truths of the atomic era by logic alone. There must be added that deep power of emotion which is a basic ingredient of religion. It is to be hoped that not only the churches but the schools, the colleges, and the leading organs of opinion will acquit themselves well of their unique responsibility in this regard.”

Americans can learn from the struggles and wins of Rwandan women

October 6, 2017

Swanee Hunt (U.S. Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997; Chair, Inclusive Security)

Cross posted from The Hill


If the hand-wringing of pundits has left you in despair that this country is beyond healing, learn from the women of Rwanda.

Most people rightly recall that small nation in East Africa as the site of a 1994 genocide of unspeakable brutality, in which as many as one million (mostly Tutsi) died in a span of 100 days. With machetes and clubs, Hutu extremists slaughtered not only neighbors, but even Tutsi in their own families. The country was decimated — the equivalent of 32 million Americans murdered this fall.

What fewer people know is that when the killing ended, the impossible happened. Women created 15,000 village councils that formed a leadership pipeline; they designed a grass-roots justice process that allowed healing; they took on influential roles historically denied them.

As chaos cracked open the culture, women surged into the breach: today they hold a world-record 64 percent of parliamentary seats. They passed landmark legislation enabling females to inherit property, which opened paths to economic opportunity.

An astounding 55,000 community health workers have been elected by their neighborhoods. Illiteracy has plummeted, thanks in part to compulsory education for girls as well as boys through the 9th grade.

These advances, forged primarily by women, have made Rwanda the gold standard for development in Africa. Virtually free of corruption, the nation’s annual economic growth has averaged eight percent.

Over the past two decades, Rwanda’s women have built bridges across the deepest chasm imaginable. To put a lid on strife, the government forbade the use of ethnic labels. And women took transformative reconciliation an unfathomable step further, adopting hundreds of thousands of orphans of the other group.

Why should this matter to Americans? Of course we should care as humanitarians. But there’s another reason. It’s at the heart of our security, our well-being, and our pocket books.

It’s a matter of insistent cooperation. Compared to men, American women co-sponsor more bills across party lines, and the huge majority declare to researchers that they’re more willing to reach across aisles. The examples are usually little known, but sometimes front- page “above the fold.” A few weeks ago, women in the Senate joined hands to protect healthcare for the poor. And remember 2013, when they dramatically banded together to avert a government shutdown.

Of course, we’ve seen only hints of what collaboration can mean in our Congress. That’s primarily because women’s representation the United States doesn’t come close to our Rwandan counterparts. Just 20 percent of our Congress is female, far from the “critical mass” (around 30 percent) that can reshape an institution.

Embarrassingly, 120 countries have a higher percent of women legislators than we do.

How do we change this? Americans aren’t going to formalize a gender quota, which is a matter of course in most countries. But our political parties could adopt minimums to reduce the huge disparity of men to women. In fact, one-third of Congressional Democrats are female; the problem is that the GOP women’s caucus has only eight percent. Republican women do run, but they have a very hard time getting out of their primary races, which are closely guarded by good ol’ boys.

Apart from quotas, we can embrace other Rwandan strategies. There, women rose because of a pull from the top and push up from the bottom. Cues from leadership matter; in both parties, high officials should be urging specific women to run, then supporting them with money and top talent to break through and win.

But let’s take apart our situation further: As Rwandan women graduated from their village boards to climbed a ladder of councils, they built a knowledge base of issues as well as the political process, and they formed professional connections. Likewise, we can support an unruly female crowd to step onto political rungs from city-wide boards to major municipal and state-wide offices. Every one of us could join organizations like She Should Run or Running Start, and encourage women we know to throw their hats in the ring.

The good news is that U.S. women compete evenly in open-seat races. Our structural problem is that Congressional incumbents (mostly men) are re-elected at a rate well over a whopping 90 percent. Some doors may open in 2018 since an unusual number of Republican men are likely not to run again, in part because home district resistance to President Trump’s policies is so vociferous.

Genocide has no silver lining. Still, Rwanda is our teacher. If women there reinvented a country out of smoldering ashes, surely we Americans can clear the way for women to break gridlock, embrace differences, and restore civility in our country.