The United States should shift the focus of diplomacy efforts to engage with civilians affected by international crises, former diplomats said at a Feb. 6 panel.
The panel, which was a part of the Lloyd George Centennial Lectures that brought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to campus the same day, addressed potential U.S. responses to the problems of global migrant and refugee crises.
Hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, the event was titled “The Essential Diplomat,” and held in the Intercultural Center Auditorium at the McCourt School of Public Policy and the School of Foreign Service.
The rise of isolationism and non-state actors poses new challenges to diplomacy, according to Bernadette Meehan, who served as special assistant to former President Barack Obama. Meehan also moderated the panel of former U.S. diplomats.
“When we look at the world as it is, we see an increasingly complicated place,” Meehan said. “The forces of disorder and disruption are growing. And diplomacy is no longer conducted simply between governments, so it’s a whole new landscape.”
The event featured Barbara Bodine, former ambassador to Yemen; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; John Negroponte, former deputy secretary of state; and Uzra Zeya (SFS ’89), former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Countries should address underlying issues surrounding international migrant and refugee crises by working with citizens external to government, according to Zeya.
“Obviously, as diplomats, government-to-government engagement is paramount and is the essence of what we do, but we have to go beyond the borders of power to engage with civil society,” Zeya said. “And by engaging, that means listening, that means empowering, and that means supporting local actors and local solutions on the ground.”
The level of global migration has risen consistently over the past 17 years, reaching a total of 258 million people in 2017, according to a United Nations report. President Donald Trump has proposed reducing legal immigration and capping the number of refugees allowed into the United States annually at 30,000, the lowest level since 1980, according to The New York Times.
Despite the actions of its current administration, the United States should use its legacy of immigration to defend refugees abroad, according to Zeya.
“We can not roll up our own welcome mat,” Zeya said. “We have our own treaty obligations and really live up to — what I found to be in my own career the most compelling case for America — our story that we are a nation of immigrants. If we don’t live up to that in our policies, I think the ultimate result is diminished American influence.”
To address the changing climate of U.S. diplomacy, the State Department must focus its recruitment efforts on hiring diplomats who are capable of tackling new problems that arise, according to Bodine.
“If you know the questions to ask, you’re going to work more comfortably in the complexity and the ambiguity that is diplomacy and so much of our world today,” Bodine said. “We can’t train to current events. We can’t train to current issues. We need to educate to a mindset, an intellectual skill set, to go off and deal with issues and problems we don’t even know the names of yet.”
The State Department should also recruit more people of color into the diplomatic corps as diversity can only be an asset to U.S. Foreign Service, Thomas-Greenfield said.
“It’s the richest element of American culture, our diversity,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Having served in the Foreign Service for 36 years, I saw how important it was as I travelled across the globe.”
The U.S. civil service corps is 82 percent white and 40 percent female, Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2016. This stands in contrast with a U.S. population that is approximately 76 percent white and 51 percent female, according to 2017 U.S. Census data.
Thomas-Greenfield proposed the State Department reach out to more U.S. citizens by exposing them to foreign service at a younger age before they have already selected a different career path.
“When we start at recruiting at a college-level, we have already lost most of the people that have already decided they are going to be lawyers or doctors or teachers or whatever,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Many of them has not seen foreign service as a career choice. We need to plant that seed early.”