The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014 - page 50

MARCH 2014
AThought Experiment on the Foreign Service
On Jan. 30, AFSA’s
Book Notes program
welcomed Dr. Daniel
Serwer for a presenta-
tion on his book,
ing the Balance: How
You Can Help Protect
, (Potomac
Books, 2013).
Daniel Serwer spent
40 years in public ser-
vice, 21 of these in the
Foreign Service. During
his career, he served
as minister-counselor
at the Department of
State; from 1994-1996,
as U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Fed-
eration; and from 1990-1993, as deputy chief of mission and
chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Rome. His experience
in foreign affairs has led him to an alternative view on our civil-
ian institutions.
A professor of conflict management and senior fellow at
the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies and a scholar at the
Middle East Institute, Serwer believes that America faces an
imbalance between civilian institutions and the military in pro-
tecting national security and building peace and democracy
abroad. In
Righting the Balance
, he offers a thought experi-
ment on what should be done, suggesting that the Depart-
ment of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development
and the Foreign Service as we know them be abolished.
In explaining the imbalance, Serwer points to the origin of
our institutional setting. The leading role the military plays
today, he says, has its roots in the French-Indian War of 1754
to 1763. Since then, the military has been the major player in
U.S. foreign policy. The Department of State is much more
limited in its capacities, which, according to Serwer, has
become apparent in recent conflicts, such as the Arab upris-
ing and especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These conflicts left our diplomats puzzled on what to do.
The enemies of today are not often states,” Serwer argues.
“We won those wars, but we lost the peace after the wars.”
Serwer sees national security as a joint operation of the
military and the State Department, which requires state-build-
ing capabilities that “are currently lacking in State and USAID.”
As he sees it, part of the problem is the difficulty in training
for democracy building. The U.S. military is training foreign
soldiers, but “we are not training civilians who have oversight
over the military.”
Here, Serwer points to the importance of strengthen-
ing citizen and cultural diplomacy efforts to counter violent
extremism and to enhance understanding of the United
States abroad. The problem he sees is that all of these efforts
are “on the margin of traditional diplomacy,” and cannot be
accomplished by the current institutions.
“If we were to design our institutions today, would we
design something like USAID and State?” No, Serwer answers.
He describes the Department of State as a “static foreign min-
istry with a 19th-century architecture” and embassies abroad
as “overblown.” Here he draws from his experience at the
embassy in Rome, which had 800 employees during his tours
in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and still has 800 employees
today. Institutional architecture does not necessarily change
with the change in foreign policy needs over time.
Although there have been attempts to improve, such as
the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, Serwer
argues that these attempts do not go far enough: “We need
to rebuild from the ground up, or at least attempt the thought
experiment of rebuilding from the ground up.”
While the book does not offer a detailed design of what
a new foreign office might look like, it does suggest folding
USAID into State to create a more unified organization. It also
stresses the importance of nongovernmental and civilian
efforts. According to Serwer, “public diplomacy is best done
at an arms-length of the government, not under its thumb.”
and proposes a readily assignable corps, trained to react to a
variety of scenarios around the globe.
Serwer ended his presentation by saying, “We need to build
a new Foreign Service for a world in which almost everyone
will soon be connected and ordinary citizens are going to be
counting more than ever before in world history.”
A lively discussion followed.
To view the event online, please see
On Jan. 30, at AFSA headquarters, Dr. Daniel
Serwer presents his book,
Righting the
Balance: How You Can Help Protect America,
to an interested audience.
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