Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  18 / 104 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 18 / 104 Next Page
Page Background





America Needs A

Professional Foreign Service




ith the broad array of

problems facing the United

States and the world today,

we need a strong, profes-

sional diplomatic service to look after

our nation’s global interests. This has

not always been the case. For more than

a hundred years after independence,

America’s foreign and diplomatic affairs

were in the hands of amateurs.

There were two principal reasons

for the lack of a professional diplomatic

corps. First, during the colonial period,

foreign affairs were handled out of

London. Second, and perhaps most

important, early American political

leaders equated diplomacy and

ambassadors with European monarchies

and didn’t trust either. Thomas Jefferson,

America’s first Secretary of State,

believed that an independent America

had no need for diplomats other than

commercial consuls.

The senior American diplomatic

representatives were ministers

extraordinary and plenipotentiary,

ranking below ambassadors, which was

considered appropriate for a second-rate

power. Embassy and consulate staffs, and

commercial consuls, were individuals who

had connections with the American ruling

political elite. After elections, there were

Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career

that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray

also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war/missing

personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi

Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service,

Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the

Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, and does freelance writing and speaking.

often wholesale changes in diplomatic

and consular representation abroad. This

patronage system reached a peak during

the administration of Andrew Jackson,

when the mantra in Washington was “to

the victor belong the spoils.”

Late to the Dance

In the late 1800s, as a global

economic power, the U.S. need for

elevated representation led to sending

ambassadors to the main European

capitals. The first American ambassador

wasThomas Bayard, appointed to the

Court of St. James’s in 1893. Embassy

secretaries, however, continued to come

from the wealthy classes—individuals who

could afford to live abroad on the meager

salary paid to diplomatic secretaries.

It wasn’t until the Rogers Act of 1924,

which consolidated the diplomatic and

consular services, that career personnel

were assigned to staff embassies and

consulates. Some career people were also

posted as ambassadors to some of the

smaller countries.

Prior to World War II, American

foreign policy was essentially passive,

and concerned primarily with protecting

commercial interests. But the United

States emerged from the war as a

superpower—economically, militarily

and politically—and adopted a more

activist, forward-leaning policy.

Both the Foreign Service Act of 1946,

which created the U.S. Foreign Service,

and the Foreign Service Act of 1980

recognized the need for a professional

career Foreign Service to assist the

president and the Secretary of State in

conducting foreign affairs.

Do we have one?

A Profession or a

Collection of Experts?

Let’s begin with an understanding

of what constitutes a profession. Don

Snider, a professor in the Strategic

Studies Institute of the Army War College

and a senior fellow in the Center for the

Army Profession and Ethic at West Point,

offers the following criteria.

Professionals are those who:

• Provide a vital service to society that

it cannot provide for itself but must have

to flourish.

• Work with expert (abstract) knowl-

edge developed into human expertise

(i.e., not routine or repetitive work) that

takes years of study and experiential


• Earn and maintain the trust of their

society by the effective and ethical appli-

cation of their expertise.

• Enjoy relative autonomy in the

application of their work’s art and


Missing from Snider’s list is an

additional element that I believe is

essential to any profession: a formalized

code of ethical behavior that is easily

accessible and understood by members of