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The U.S. Foreign Service and the Importance of Professional Diplomacy, with Nicholas Kralev

March 6, 2018

Secretary Kerry at a Foreign Service swearing-in ceremony at the U. S. State Dept., Washington, DC, October 2013.
CREDIT: U.S. State Dept. (Public Domian)

STEPHANIE SY: I'm Stephanie Sy, and this is Ethics Matter. Our guest today is Nicholas Kralev. He is here to talk about the importance of professional diplomacy, and I'm going to have him define that in just a second. He is the author of America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy and Diplomats in the Trenches: Profiles of U.S. Foreign Service Officers. He is also the executive director of the Washington International Diplomatic Academy.

Nicholas, thank you so much for coming to the Carnegie Council studios.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. It's a pleasure to be here.

STEPHANIE SY: I think the Foreign Service is where I would like to start, so American diplomacy, and then we can get into the state of diplomacy in other parts of the world.

I think that one of the issues with the Foreign Service is a lot of people do not know what they really do. Can we start there?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. The Foreign Service sounds foreign to most Americans, first because of its name, and second because of where the work takes place, which is in other countries. It is overseas. It is abroad.

It is not the Forest Service. The home agency of the Foreign Service in Washington is, of course, the State Department. I mentioned half jokingly the Forest Service because there are a couple of, not misconceptions, but when you hear the phrase or see the words—for example, you go to any given state in the union, and if you work for the State Department, then they ask what you do, and you say, "I work for the State Department."

They will say, "The State Department of what?" Because in every state there is a Department of—

STEPHANIE SY: Whose State Department, right.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Right. Then, "Oh, no, I am in the Foreign Service."

"Sorry. The Forest Service?"

STEPHANIE SY: That is how little people know about the Foreign Service.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. So when I was writing my book America's Other Army, I wrote a lot of it on planes. I would be just writing in my seat in domestic first class as often as I could, and then the person next to me would just, "Are you a journalist?"

"Not as of recently anymore."

STEPHANIE SY: But you were a journalist for many years.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I was for many years, right.

STEPHANIE SY: You covered four secretaries of state.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Exactly, right, and traveled with them around the world, which is why I have been to a hundred countries.

So they would ask what I was writing about, and I would say, "It's a book about American diplomacy and the Foreign Service."

"Oh. Is it about"—

"It's about what diplomats do and why we should care."

And they will say: "Oh my god. How fascinating." And that's it. No more questions.

STEPHANIE SY: I'm going to ask you more questions.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: It sounds, as they said, "fascinating." It sounds important. But on paper, in other words, what most Americans and most people around the world do not think about is how diplomacy is connected to their lives because they think it is something very official.

STEPHANIE SY: It feels distant.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Exactly. It is so far out of the realm of whatever their lives are about, it is so far in the distance, in the "statosphere," as I call it.

STEPHANIE SY: So how does it affect the average American's life?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Where I start is from having been to all these many countries I just mentioned—or the number I mentioned—I have asked people in many countries what they most care about on a daily basis on a human level. Forget foreign policy and diplomacy and all that. Just when you wake up in the morning, what is it that you most care about?

The most common responses I get are: "I first care about my safety. I don't want to die today." Or, "I want my kids to walk to school without incident."

The second is: "My well-being, my economic well-being. I want to make enough money. I don't need seven houses, one is enough, but I want to be able to afford a home and maybe a car and maybe go on vacation once or twice a year and put my kids through school." That's it.

As it happens, these are actually the two main components or pillars, as I call them, of the national interest, of any country's national interest.

STEPHANIE SY: National security.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Security and prosperity. That's it.

STEPHANIE SY: That is terrific the way you laid that out.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Now, as a democracy we have a third component, which is values, or maybe not so much anymore, but we can talk about that. For certain countries there is this third pillar of values, but in any country, democracy or not, they have these two.

What I wanted to show with my book, with all my work, with the TV show I had for two years and now with the Academy is how American diplomacy contributes to these two pillars, the security and the prosperity of the United States. I wanted to show this not through theory or academia, but through people's stories, which is why I visited 80 American embassies and consulates around the world and interviewed 600 people who work in the Foreign Service.

STEPHANIE SY: What was the timeframe for this?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Oh, years and years.

STEPHANIE SY: Through multiple administrations?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: It was about seven or eight years, so it started in the Bush administration and ended in the Obama. It was two administrations, but of course both of them served for two terms.

STEPHANIE SY: It gave you this appreciation for career or professional diplomats. Can you just delineate the difference between a career diplomat and a civil servant who works at the State Department and a political appointee where often we are talking about the highest representative for the United States, the ambassador level?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I have an issue with the misuse of the words "diplomat" and "ambassador." I do not want to be militant about the use of those words, but we have to establish as a country—or as any country really—what we mean by those because you can't just take any person doing various things and call him or her a diplomat, just the way you can't take someone who maybe studied biology and had all straight A's in biology and call them a doctor or physician, because they do not have a medical license and a degree.

Can you be a citizen diplomat? I suppose. I will give you that. But you cannot be a political appointee who, because of political connections, because you worked on a campaign that helps get someone elected president, and then as a reward you got a job at the State Department for a year or two—and then to call yourself a diplomat for the rest of your life. I am sorry, that is not diplomacy, what you did.

STEPHANIE SY: So Nicholas, who gets to be called a diplomat in your view?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: A person who practices diplomacy for a certain period of time that in fact has done the activities that a professional diplomat would engage in. You can negotiate, you can be in the room with people from other countries and be in a negotiation of sorts.

You can be an assistant secretary of state as a former academic, because we have had academics who have become assistant secretaries of state. Are they diplomats? I suppose at that high level, when you had a whole bureau at the State Department to run, then maybe that is fine. But if you came in as an advisor to someone for a year or two and you were in the same room as people from other countries but you did not really do much beyond essentially be an assistant to your boss, that does not make you a diplomat.

STEPHANIE SY: The point that you are making and that you made in a recent article for The New York Times is that there are these amateurs who are practicing diplomacy. What examples got you fired up about that, that there are amateurs out there pretending to be diplomats? I will just quote you from this article, "The best diplomacy carries out foreign policy professionally, yet most countries let amateurs practice it."

NICHOLAS KRALEV: First, we have to distinguish between diplomacy and foreign policy. Many people think they are the same, but they are not. Diplomacy is one way to implement foreign policy. Of course, the military is another way, the intelligence agency is another way to do it.

STEPHANIE SY: And they get a lot more funding, by the way.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes, they do, and some of them get unlimited funding and secret funding of course, that we do not know how much actually it is.

In the toolbox of foreign policy, in the implementation of it, diplomacy is, of course, one of those tools. Hopefully it is the first one we use, the default we use, as the military should be the last resort. That is what we now have to explain because we thought for years that this was self-evident, that diplomacy should be first, and in the current climate it does not seem like many people—

STEPHANIE SY: Let's talk about that. Do you think diplomacy is not—like you said, diplomats, at least, have said for years that diplomacy should come first. Even military generals say that military should be the last resort. Do you think that is not the case right now?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: First of all, I don't think there is any confusion or any doubt that the current president has a disdain for diplomacy. I think that has been made very clear. I do not know what it is about diplomats or the way they do things or the way their mentality is that he dislikes, but clearly there is a big disconnect. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.]

If you look at the number of ambassadors he has appointed, even with dozens of ambassadorial positions still unfilled, if you look at the people he has appointed, he has taken ambassadorships that in recent years have been given to career Foreign Service officers (FSOs), and he has given them now to political appointees with no qualifications at all to practice diplomacy.

So what you quoted from The New York Times piece I wrote recently about this amateur way of doing diplomacy and looking at diplomacy is about if you are going to give a job in diplomacy to someone who is not a professional diplomat, that is fine, because I actually find that political appointees are very helpful to the system because diplomats can live in their own world and sometimes in a parallel universe, and they need to be more aware of outside the bubble. People who are overseas need to be more aware of what is happening in Washington. They need to understand their own people, the American people, better because they represent them overseas. They can do better at that.

But when you come as a political appointee you should have some qualifications, and unfortunately that is not the case. It is not just in this administration. Obama, Bush, everybody before them in the last several decades appointed people who had no qualifications to be diplomats.

Okay. Even if we have to accept sometimes people with no qualifications, fine. We will train them, right?

STEPHANIE SY: What skill set can you train these diplomats with? What do they need to be equipped with before they are deployed?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: The headline of the piece that you quoted was "Diplomats Are Made, Not Born," because nobody is born with the ability to practice diplomacy.

STEPHANIE SY: Not even Angelina Jolie, who by the way, her picture accompanies that—

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. It was so—

STEPHANIE SY: In a sort of weird way.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, and that is another—well, is she an ambassador? If they want to use that word, do it. But she was actually visiting the headquarters of NATO in Brussels, and she was talking to reporters, I think, with the secretary-general of NATO, so it happened the day before the piece ran, so they put the picture with the story, and that is fine.

As a person, you may have some talents that predispose you to being a good diplomat, but it is not all unique because these skills that you learn in history, those skills have been learned mostly through doing it, with practice. That is why on-the-job training has been so important and overemphasized in diplomacy in any country, including for the U.S. Foreign Service, and I think it has been an excuse to justify not giving people more training, which I think they could because there are some fundamental skills that you can teach, in fact.

Yes, I agree that practicing diplomacy in Pakistan is not the same as practicing diplomacy in Brazil or South Africa. That said, you represent one country as a diplomat from the United States or from China or from South Africa, and so there are consistencies. There are skills you can use in different countries.

You asked what type of skills those are. Two of the most underrated skills are listening and speaking in private. Everybody teaches public speaking, nobody teaches speaking in private. This could be part of a negotiation. It could be just part of building a relationship.

The other thing is, a phrase that is being thrown around is "relationship-building," confidence-building. Again, you do not just get born with the ability to consensus-build. You do not need to have a degree to know this, but you have to learn a bit, you have to hopefully participate in exercises or simulations, whatever it is, but it is 2018, there are ways to teach these things without making people feel like they are in a classroom or back in school.

STEPHANIE SY: Can we go back to the Foreign Service for a moment? The United States has a professional training program for those who decide they want a career in diplomacy. That is the Foreign Service. What you are talking about is training for those diplomats who have not gone through the Foreign Service, and those are the types of skills that you teach at the Washington International Diplomatic Academy.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Actually both, for career people and for people from outside, or political appointments, because one of the points of my piece was that even in professional foreign services or foreign services that claim to be professional, training barely exists.

STEPHANIE SY: That is even more true, I understand, in other countries where they do not even have a foreign service.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Right. They have people in the foreign ministry who get sent out to serve in different countries from time to time, maybe twice or three or four times in their careers, but they do not have a proper foreign service. Even the countries that claim to have a proper foreign service, if you look at how they train their people, many of them, first of all, would assume that just because you come in through a rigorous entrance process which includes having earned a Master's degree in international relations that that means you can practice diplomacy. And that does not mean you can practice diplomacy by any means. It is not the same.

STEPHANIE SY: What is interesting, I think, about all of this is that the stakes are high. You actually come up with some examples in your New York Times piece. I believe you talk about Ukraine and the outcome of the Russian incursion into Crimea and how that outcome could have been different had there been more skilled diplomats from the Ukrainian side. Talk about some of the real-world examples of where amateurish diplomacy may have had a negative impact on outcomes.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Specifically I was talking about the consequences for Russia as a result of the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine in terms of rallying the European Union or rallying the West to impose maybe a tougher punishment on Russia than the sanctions that were imposed in 2014 and currently exist.

I gave that example because I have actually had Western diplomats at a very high level tell me that they just feel sorry for the Ukrainian government because they thought—I feel like I am badmouthing a country behind its back or in front of cameras. But that is not the purpose here.

The purpose is to make countries realize that investment in diplomacy, investing in a professional foreign service where you give people proper training when they come in and you keep giving them training at every level like the military does, and it is called "professional development." You cannot expect that because someone is a people person that they are good at negotiations. You cannot do that.

By the way, part of the skills that you asked about before, I said listening and speaking in private. That is the most difficult and the most time-consuming part of all, which is why being in diplomacy for a long time helps a lot, and that is knowing your interlocutor, knowing the other side. That means knowing their country, their culture, their language, their history, their mentality, what the stakes are for them in that relationship or negotiation, whatever it is, and then finding a way to persuade them that what you want them to do is in their own interest. That's what it's about.

STEPHANIE SY: That makes a lot of sense.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: If there is one word in diplomacy about what diplomacy is about, the word is "influence." You may not be successful the first time, you may not get that country to do whatever you want them to do, but you build some sort of relationship with the executive branch.

Maybe the executive branch is hopeless—and I have an example of that in Uganda if you want me to share it—then you go and build a relationship with the legislative branch. Maybe they will help you when you need something done in that country.

But Uganda is a great example because the executive branch at the time was hopeless. It was about the anti-gay law that they attempted to pass and actually passed and then it got struck. This was a few years ago. The American embassy and of course the Obama administration wanted to see that law fail because it violated human rights. They tried to work with the government. The embassy tried everything—at least, they say they tried everything—and nothing happened. The government would not budge.

Finally, someone at the embassy said: "Well, we are going about this the wrong way. Forget the executive branch. What about the legislative? What about the Parliament? Because that is where they are going to vote on this law. If we get enough members to vote 'no,' this law is not going to pass."

You don't do such a thing on a national level. The media was overwhelmingly in favor of that law. They were outing people on the front pages in Uganda in newspapers. Even people who weren't gay they were outing as gay. Those people got threats and actually were attacked. It was horrible to think that in the 21st century this would happen in any country.

The embassy then identified specific members of Parliament in whose districts there were certain interests that they represented, including private-sector interests, and again they knew these members of Parliament wouldn't be voting against the law because the United States wanted them to. That would not work in any country. This would not necessarily work in an American-friendly country, let alone Uganda. So they had to find interests that the members of Parliament were representing in their own districts. I'm not going to tell you exactly what they did and how they did it because I don't want to give away any secrets or give ideas to other countries to do certain things. These techniques and tactics can be used for nefarious purposes, as you can imagine.

Suffice it to say that you can look at the district from where that member of Parliament is coming from and you can look at the interests, whether it is environmental, business, whatever it is, education, health care, and try to make an argument that would resonate, and in fact they found enough people to help.

STEPHANIE SY: Were these Foreign Service or professionally trained diplomats that the U.S. had deployed to Uganda?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes.

STEPHANIE SY: And it worked.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. The embassy in Uganda, in most African countries everybody who is a State Department employee is a career person. In the embassy obviously there are many agencies represented. The reason I say, "Everybody who is a State Department employee is career Foreign Service" is because you may be coming from the FBI or from the Department of Justice or from the Treasury. You may not be a career diplomat, but you represent your agency or department within the U.S. government. Let's say the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You can work for DHS out of the embassy in another country. That's another—

STEPHANIE SY: It is a whole other can of worms.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: You hold a diplomatic passport, so technically you have the status—

STEPHANIE SY: But you're not doing the work of the State Department.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Exactly.

STEPHANIE SY: I don't want to get too off-track. I do want to bring it back to the idea of training and the deftness of the diplomacy you describe in this terrific Uganda example, the precision diplomacy that you are talking about. How much of that is happening under President Trump?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Here is the thing. The embassies where it is happening, the people who are trying to do it want to keep quiet about it because they are afraid that if word got out, they may be told by the White House—

STEPHANIE SY: To stop.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Right. That is the reality. When I visited several embassies in the fall, many of them said: "It may surprise people, but we are not doing things that much differently from what we would have been doing had Hillary won the election," the day-to-day work.

STEPHANIE SY: Isn't that interesting?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Relationship-building, cultivating a relationship, the day-to-day business of the United States that has to do not only with political matters, but of course the economy, with business, with security cooperation, with anti-terrorism legislation or financing and all that, with health issues, with environment.

STEPHANIE SY: That work is continuing.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: It is continuing. A lot of what has been done since 9/11 in American diplomacy has focused on good governance in other countries, because after 9/11 the Bush administration came to the conclusion that the best way to reduce the chance of conflict anywhere in the world is to get as many countries as possible to practice good governance. Now they are turning back to us and saying: "You are trying to teach us good governance? Really? Have you looked at your own front yard?"

STEPHANIE SY: That is another question, whether the example of the Trump administration itself has undermined its core diplomatic mission.

But before we move on from that point, are you saying then—because all of this work continues, because there have been a lot of press reports about how the State Department has just been gutted, that there are many ambassadorships that have not been filled, that there are midlevel positions and deputy positions that remain unfilled—that we should not worry about that because the important work that happens on the government-to-government level is still happening? Are you not concerned?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I am concerned. These are not mutually exclusive. Certain work is happening, but that does not mean that that work would not be more effective, more productive, if those positions had been filled. It's just that the people who are in those jobs are doing their best with what they have. But in many embassies, as you point out, there are no ambassadors.

It is a fair question to ask: Is a bad political ambassador with no qualifications better or worse than no ambassador? Or having the deputy chief of mission, who is a career person, to be acting ambassador?

STEPHANIE SY: Which is happening in many embassies.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Yes. One-third of U.S. embassies have political ambassadors, historically about one-third. I think we are getting more now with—

STEPHANIE SY: That was true with Obama.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: But that is with either party in power. It does not matter.

Some of those political-appointed ambassadors turn out to be great, and some of them in fact become more successful than any career person can ever be because they have a great relationship with the president, because they speak the language—not that career people do not speak the language.

STEPHANIE SY: The language of Washington.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: No, I mean the local language in the country. What I mean by this is that most career diplomats in a foreign country speak the language of that country, at least, they are taught the language before they go, and they have to test to be able to go to that post.

But that is very different from actually the ambassador of the United States getting up at a conference and speaking that language in public. It is just enormously important. Forget the government of that country, it is for the people of that country to feel like the ambassador of the United States—who in many countries is almost as important as the president of that country, by the way—can somehow relate to them because they speak the same language. It is very important.

STEPHANIE SY: You talked about the disdain that President Trump has shown for the diplomatic corps, for the State Department. Rex Tillerson in an interview recently said that this is not a big deal that a lot of these vacancies are there because civil servants and Foreign Service officers are stepping in to make sure U.S. interests are represented. That is kind of to your point.

But I have another point, which is: How can you be a career diplomat under this administration, when with a tweet the president may announce a new policy on Korea or on trade? Can you provide that kind of training, where you can train a career diplomat in how to deal with an administration like that? And maybe they are saying something to government officials in the country they are based in which opposes what the president has just said? We've seen this happen publicly in the Trump administration.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I should point out that what we are trying to do at the Washington International Diplomatic Academy is not for American diplomats. The State Department has what is called the Foreign Service Institute. That is the training facility the State Department has, and so it's difficult to justify spending money to have a third party or an outside-of-government organization do this for you.

STEPHANIE SY: How about as somebody who has just followed diplomacy for years—

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I'm happy to answer it. For anybody who is watching or listening, as I said earlier, many of the skills that you need to practice diplomacy don't necessarily depend on the country you are representing. So that's what we are trying to do, to come up with a standard, hopefully in some time the gold standard, for professional development and training globally.

But to your point about the difficulty of being an American diplomat today, I'm glad I'm not one. I've never seen so many people in the Foreign Service leave, whether they are being pushed out, whether they are being prematurely retired, whether they themselves are deciding to retire because they are eligible, even though they would have stayed and could have stayed because they have still some years until they hit the mandatory retirement age of 65, also people in their 30s and 40s who thought that they would stay for another 20 years and they leave to work in the private sector now, because it has become very difficult now, if not impossible. I've never seen so many Foreign Service officers in such a short period of time update their LinkedIn profiles, clearly looking for other opportunities.

STEPHANIE SY: Does that leave a vacuum, or are there other players, whether they be from the Defense Department (DoD) or the intelligence services? Because my understanding is that each of those government departments within the United States have their own diplomats in a way, and they have contacts with their foreign counterparts. I have also read that there is a lot of outsourcing now of diplomatic efforts.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I don't know if they call themselves diplomats. I think they shouldn't. They may have contacts, and they may work with—

STEPHANIE SY: Public relations officials perhaps?

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Public affairs, but no, it's not the same. I haven't heard the DoD or the Pentagon or anybody call their own people diplomats. In fact, if you ask any military commander—and I have—they are the biggest supporters of diplomats because they have worked together since 9/11 in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places, and they have seen what diplomacy can do so that the military does not have to do it. So there's no question about that.

On the other issue, the outsourcing, oh my god, it's out of control. Even if you take a small bureau, as they call them at the State Department, Educational and Cultural Affairs, it seems that almost everything is being done outside the department, outsourced to very different vendors.

STEPHANIE SY: What about the ramifications? As a journalist, the first thing that occurs to me is that there is a lot less accountability if you are working as a contractor. We have seen that over and over again with government contractors in different departments.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Right. Yes. It is easier to actually track accountability and processes and all different things in defense and intelligence because it is viewed as more important, everything there is top secret, and everything is related to national security whether it is or not.

When you are doing cultural and educational things at the State Department, it's like: "Well, we spent all this money. We could have saved this money, but it's not that much compared to what we pay for something much bigger." That tends to go through the cracks sometimes.

But you're right. On a cultural program, you have one officer who is in charge at State, and then you have a whole group of people working at two or three different non-profits who manage that program. How much cheaper is it to do that than just have maybe five more people at State do it? A lot of the work of many of these officers, who often are civil service and not Foreign Service, is to manage contracts. It's not that much fun when it comes to work, but also, as you pointed out, accountability suffers.

That's one of the things that needs reform, not the way that Tillerson did it when he got to the State Department, when he said, "Tell us how to fix the building." You haven't told us what's wrong with it. You didn't ask us what's wrong with it. You just want us to propose solutions or budget cuts or other reforms.

What is the mission? That is where you start, from the mission: What are we trying to do? That will tell us how many people we need, how much money we need. Not start: "Oh, no. The first order of business is redesign." "Redesign" was the word. It has been replaced by something else, but that was the word.

When you are secretary of state—and by the way, as you pointed out, I covered four of them, Albright, Powell, Rice, and Clinton. Most of them do not come in knowing a lot about the State Department. Hillary knew more because she cared when she was first lady. She did a lot of foreign trips. She was friends with Madeleine Albright, who in fact she suggested to her husband to appoint as Secretary of State. So she knew more.

But Condi had been at the White House, as you know, as national security advisor. She had been an intern at the State Department in 1977.

STEPHANIE SY: And Powell had a military background.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Which does not mean he knew a lot about State.

STEPHANIE SY: Right.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: The point is, no secretary enters the building knowing a lot about the building or the people in the building or the bureaucracy, and it's fine. But that's why you take the first year to learn, not come in in the first week starting to redesign and not knowing what you are redesigning.

Now it has become evident more than a year in—we just passed the one-year mark of his assuming office—these initial plans not only did not go anywhere. They have been re-thought and have given way to something a bit different. Of course, in the meantime they spent millions of dollars on consultants to tell them what should have happened.

STEPHANIE SY: Before I let you go, do you think that with the lack of interest President Trump has shown for his professional diplomatic corps under the State Department we will see real-world negative impacts from that? Because I have seen some gains. We could point to some of the progress on North Korea and getting China to the table on sanctions as just one example where there has been some diplomatic progress. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Trump agreed to talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.]

NICHOLAS KRALEV: I am concerned. I think we are seeing the effects in terms of human resources. Many Americans have been turned off to a career in diplomacy. The people who take the Foreign Service Exam, for example, the numbers are about half of what they were a couple of years ago.

STEPHANIE SY: A 26 percent decrease from the prior year after Trump assumed office in applications to the Foreign Service.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Right, and actually it is now increasing, depending on how we look at the numbers, of course.

That's one of the reasons that we at the Washington International Diplomatic Academy decided, even though our core mission is to train diplomats from different countries in specific aspects and skills of diplomatic practice, to do a summer academy for students to encourage them not to abandon diplomacy, to think about careers in diplomacy. For those who come, they will spend two weeks in Washington being trained essentially as entry-level diplomats, and of course meeting people in the business, in the profession, political appointees who have served with great distinction either as senior officials in Washington or as ambassadors overseas. They can get very specific and hands-on understanding of what diplomacy is about than what it is not about.

But we also added programs, one for the private sector, because it turns out that if you are a business, if you are a big American company with offices in different countries around the world, the office in Hong Kong or São Paulo that you have, that office and what it does isn't that much different from what the embassy does. Clearly there are differences, but some of the things, the skills, the connections, the relationships, and how you do things, there are many similarities. So we now have a program for the private sector to help them learn to develop these skills.

The last one is for U.S. state and local governments, because as a result of this perceived or real disdain for diplomacy in the White House, many states and many cities, particularly big cities, are now doing their own diplomacy or trying to do their own diplomacy with other countries. In fact, I recently was told that many countries, many prime ministers, foreign ministers, even presidents, are approaching governors of different states in this country, and guess what? Many of these governors have no foreign policy experience of any kind.

So we decided to try to help them out. One of our programs, actually, is for state, local, city governments for not only the principals, as they are called, but also their staffs, so they know not only the tenets of American foreign policy that will help them then do what they do, but also to learn how to establish, cultivate, and grow relationships with foreign countries.

It's not just for trade. It's also on environmental issues, it;s also cultural exchanges, education. Everybody wants foreign students to come and spend money in their states, in their universities. So it's all aspects of life because let's face it: It is 2018. Globalization is here. Even though it has had negative effects on many Americans, we have to figure out how to overcome those. But there is no turning back, so we have to educate ourselves in the profession we practice but also in other aspects of different walks of life that affect us and try to make the best of it because you just cannot turn back progress.

STEPHANIE SY: It's actually a really noble pursuit. In preparation for this interview I read a Foreign [Affairs] article by George Kennan from 1955, in which he described a time when Roosevelt was president and the diplomatic corps was also viewed with disdain.

So there have been tough times before for the professional diplomat in this country, and if what you are training as well at your Institute, what Kennan talked about—character, judgment, insight, knowledge of the world, integrity, and I think most importantly the capacity for human sympathy—I think, Nicholas, that is a good thing.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: George Kennan, of course, was one of the most preeminent career diplomats, who wrote the famous "Long Telegram" from Moscow when he was serving there.

You are absolutely right. It's not just this administration when it comes to attitudes toward the Foreign Service. I've been surprised by how much presidents of both parties, including presidents who should've known better, don't quite appreciate the Foreign Service. Let's say they just don't care for it. What they should care about is what diplomacy can do to help their own agenda. That's what really I have a hard time wrapping my head around. If you use diplomacy properly, if you know how to use those tools, you'll help yourself and your administration.

Don't shun those people, they are there to serve you. They are public servants after all. You got elected by the American people, but you have all these people in government who are patriots and want to serve the country, and whoever is elected they are trained to serve different administrations even if they disagree with the policy. They are fine with that. What they are not fine with is being insulted in public, being disregarded, and ultimately not being valued. That's what should change, I think.

STEPHANIE SY: Nicholas Kralev, thank you so much for joining us at the Carnegie Council.

NICHOLAS KRALEV: Thank you. Good to be here.

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