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MAY 2015



ers are chronic and protracted, but still require relentless atten-

tion. Some must be contained and managed; and others require

concerted, collaborative intervention over a sustained period of

time. Even a partial list of the challenges is dizzying:

• Interstate conflicts, border incursions and so-called “fro-

zen” conflicts that threaten established norms of interna-

tional behavior and longstanding negotiated agreements;

• Intrastate conflicts, including civil wars, and the flows of

refugees and internally displaced persons they generate;

• Failed and failing states that affect a wider region;

• Nonstate actors, many of them lethal and capable of desta-

bilizing whole regions (e.g., the Islamic State group, Boko

Haram, al-Qaida in Yemen and al-Shabaab in Somalia);

• Transnational threats, most notably terrorism and violent


• Narcotics trafficking, organized crime and trafficking in


• Cyberthreats, an increasingly acute risk;

• Nuclear, biological, chemical and missile proliferation;

• Economic and financial challenges, including disruption to

energy supplies and extractive industries;

• Challenges to the rule of law, internal governance and civil-

ian justice, including human rights abuses;

• Environmental and climate changes, which put pres-

sure on food security, supplies of water and other natural

resources; and

• Health-related issues, including pandemics and virulent

pathogens that ravage populations and sow fear.

Given the speed of transportation and information, the

relentless news cycle and the social media revolution, we

often face very short response times—whether to address the

substance of the challenge or to get out our message about what

we are doing. In many cases, analyzing the problem is relatively

easy; devising prescriptions is harder, and applying a remedy

harder still.

A Crowded Arena

Second, we must deal with a more complex domestic

environment. From a high point during the Truman administra-

tion, the State Department’s preeminence in foreign policy has

waned. Executive-legislative dynamics—notably, in regard to

prerogatives, authorities, policy priorities and budgets—have

affected the role and capacity of State and other departments in

foreign policy.

Since 1945, and particularly since 2001, many more federal

departments and agencies participate in foreign policy advo-

cacy and execution. Congress, with its committees, powerful

chairs, caucuses and activist individual members, is a conse-

quential player.

Other actors have entered the foreign policy arena, as well:

states, cities and localities; nongovernmental organizations,

policy advocacy groups, and constituency, trade and commer-

cial groups; the media; and the courts, usually via cases brought

before them contesting prerogatives, legislative acts, obligations

and rights, and compensation for terrorist acts.

The department must take that complexity into account.

Institutional Growing Pains

Third, the State Department has internal stresses arising

from feast-and-famine hiring and from institutional growing

pains. Over the past 15 years, the department has undergone

a significant transformation. Even more than before, we need

great employees from diverse backgrounds, who are prepared to

serve in tough places and do tough things.

We have gone through institutional shifts, folding in the

U.S. Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarma-

ment Agency and forging a new relationship with the U.S.

Agency for International Development. After 9/11, we added

bureaus for Energy, Conflict Stabilization and Counterter-

rorism. We restructured other bureaus, shifting personnel to

where they were most needed and staffing “mega” embassies.

We added 500 Arabic-language speakers and 40 Pashto speak-

ers. And we opened 20 posts in Muslim countries and focused

greater attention on religious freedom, anti-Semitism, traffick-

ing in persons, global health and global women’s issues.

Since 2002, the Foreign Service has grown 42 percent, with

22-percent growth since 2008. (On a parallel track, State’s Civil

Service has grown 45 percent since 2002.) One-third of the Foreign

We face an unprecedented array of external threats and

dangers that demand our attention and leadership.