The Foreign Service Journal - June 2015
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  7 / 116 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 7 / 116 Next Page
Page Background



JUNE 2015


dvocating for the Foreign

Service has taught me some

lessons. Among them is this: the

old saw that the Foreign Service

has no constituency on Capitol Hill is

wrong. We have the Virginia andMaryland

delegations, with thousands of Foreign

Service members. Then we have a diffuse

group who know the Foreign Service

somewhat and are interested, but need

more information. This situation creates

good storytelling opportunities.

Allowme to travel back to December

1991, when Secretary James A. Baker

announced that we would open 12 new

embassies in the former Soviet Union. The

department offered to break assignments

andmove us to exotic places in Central

Asia and the Caucasus. One key require-

ment was for economic officers to help

new countries gain economic indepen-

dence, and thus effective sovereignty, from


This is the story of how the U.S. govern-

ment got involved in one project, and

helped international oil companies build

a thousand-mile pipeline to bring Caspian

oil and gas to the Mediterranean, bypass-

ing existing Russian and Iranian pipelines

and securing the independence of Azer-

baijan and Georgia.

It was an improbable project when

first raised with

the department

in January 1993.

Support a pipeline

that would cross

the Caucasus and

Taurus mountain

ranges, skirt the Armenia-Azerbaijan war

in Nagorno-Karabakh, and connect insur-

gencies in Georgia and Eastern Turkey?

The initial response was a flat no.

We can’t get ahead of the commercial

decision-making; we support multiple

pipelines and won’t take sides between

them. Furthermore, our leadership (Strobe

Talbott and JimCollins) do not want us

involved in former Soviet projects opposed

by our friends inMoscow.

Several factors converged to change the

Washington consensus. The project had an

American commercial champion. Amajor

regional ally, Turkey, was committed to it.

A steady demand for oil helped. But former

players on this issue cite one element as

indispensable: Foreign Service officers

who persisted in advocating for the project

knowing that it was both doable and good

for U.S. strategic interests.

I am talking about mostly entry- and

mid-level economic officers, together

with Civil Service experts, who drafted

cables andmemos, took assignments

that involved energy issues, and had the

support of their ambassadors, assistant

secretaries and National Security Coun-

cil senior officials. These career officers

were indispensable partly because newly

independent, former Soviets sought the

comfort of a government-to-government

relationship to enter into deals with the

capitalists running our oil companies.

More generally, however, the FSOs

offered then—and still offer today—a

unique combination of skills. They under-

stood the capabilities of the World Bank

and IMF, the state export credit agencies

like Ex-Im and OPIC, and the banks, as

well as the internal calculations of both

the international companies and the

local governments. They spoke with each

party in his or her own language, but kept

foremost inmind the strategic goals of the

United States.

So inMay 2006, 13 years after the idea

was first raised with the department, the

Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline began deliv-

ering Azeri oil to tankers in the Mediter-

ranean, preventing both Russia and Iran

from gaining a chokehold on Azerbaijan’s

economic independence. Later a paral-

lel pipeline for Azeri gas was built, giving

Georgia an alternative source of supply to

Russian gas and helping preserve Georgia’s


Foreign Service officers and Civil

Service experts were not the only U.S. gov-

ernment players. This was an interagency

team effort, largely led by FSOs, but involv-

ing the whole of government.

My main take-away from this story

has nothing to do with pipelines. (In fact,

the success of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhanmay

have led us, and others, to over-invest in

pipelines as a potential foreign policy tool.)

It has to do with investing in the Foreign

Service as the indispensable tool, and in

relying on career officials to lead efforts

aimed at long-term, strategic results.

You no doubt have many stories that

resonate withmembers of Congress and

the public. Please contact AFSA as you

think about ways of telling them.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,




Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

A Story of Foreign Service Leadership