Page 15 - proof

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joined the Foreign Service 55
years ago, and retired from it 16
years ago. While that clearly dis-
qualifies me from speaking about
today’s Service, perhaps I am no less
qualified than anyone else to talk about
the next 50 years.
The future, of course, is unknow-
able. Fifty-five years ago, no one could
have foreseen the degree to which in-
stant electronic communication, in the
form of computers and cell phones, has
changed the environment in which we
operate today. Yet there was probably
more basis for predicting that, at least
among the scientifically and technolog-
ically inclined, than there was for pre-
dicting the complete and utter dis-
appearance of the Soviet bloc that so
dominated world politics in 1956.
That said, there are some trends
that may perhaps give us some clue
about the world in which newly minted
Foreign Service members today will
serve their careers.
My first observation, and the most
obvious — I promise I will be more
provocative later on — is that the
United States is no longer one of two
superpowers, as it was when I joined
the Service, or even the sole super-
power that it seemed briefly to be after
the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I see that becoming even truer over
the next 50 years. We may remain the
world’s single strongest military and
economic power, but we will no longer
the strongest.
What is more, we can no longer af-
ford to be. Although politicians will
continue to blather about the United
States being the greatest country on
earth, that will be an increasingly qual-
itative rather than quantitative claim. I
believe the United States has reached
the limit of its ability to project and ex-
ercise power internationally. We have
for many years neglected our infra-
structure, our environment and the
need for cleaner, cheaper energy, and
paid for our international adventures by
borrowing. My sense is that the will-
ingness of the American people to put
up with this inversion of priorities has
reached its limits.
Am I suggesting that the Foreign
Service will fade into irrelevance as
Fortress America turns away from the
rest of the world? Not at all. Regard-
less of which party is in power and what
policies the U.S. government adopts,
we are inextricably involved with the
world, and will become much more so
over the next half-century. That’s
driven both by technology and by the
nature of the issues.
A Shrinking World
Technology will continue to shrink
the world in ways we can only specu-
late on today. Conversations via Skype,
or its descendants, with friends and
business partners and Foreign Service
colleagues will certainly become the
normal, everyday means of communi-
cation. National stock markets are al-
ready international in content; it’s but a
step to being able to invest in any com-
pany, anywhere.
This means, as is apparent in any
news report today, that the health of
every major country’s economy is inter-
twined with the health of our own. Re-
porting on, negotiating and advancing
those economic relationships will be as
much a major part of diplomatic work
50 years from now as it is today.
Moreover, the issues facing the
world’s leaders will require more and
more international cooperation. Who
builds wind farms and oil wells in
whose oceans. Whose greenhouse
gases diminish the quality of whose air
— and contribute to the loss of whose
seacoast. Who regulates, and who pro-
tects, the Internet. How to divide a
limited bandwidth for a steadily in-
creasing traffic of international com-
munications and entertainment —
The Next 50 Years
F. J
There will always
be work for the
Foreign Service.
But it will not become
an “expeditionary”
J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L