Page 45 - Foreign Service Journal - September 2013

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Eric Rubin
William R. Rivkin Award, 1994
Regarding Intervention in Bosnia
Briefy describe the dissent that your AFSA award recog-
In early 1993, I was one of 13 Foreign Service ofcers work-
ing on U.S. policy in the Balkans who appealed directly to
Secretary of State Warren Christopher to consider the moral
and practical costs of refusing to do more to stop the carnage,
and the damage to U.S. interests.
Our dissent came after several years of refusal by our
immediate superiors under two administrations to allow the
concerns of nearly all of the State Department’s mid-level desk
ofcers, analysts, refugee ofcers and human rights ofcers
to be shared with the seventh foor
and the White House. It was sent
in the form of a classifed letter,
which—to our (naive) shock and
embarrassment—leaked to the
press after Secretary Christopher
shared it with the interagency com-
munity. Seeing my name on the
front page of the
New York Times
was one of the worst moments in
my adult life.
Did your dissent lead to any
change in policy?
Not directly, but I believe that
our dissent—and the discussion
and debate it encouraged—helped
create the climate for the major
shift in U.S. policy toward interven-
tion. Tat occurred a year later with
the return of Richard Holbrooke to
Washington as Bureau of European
Afairs assistant secretary and the
launching of the process that led to
the Dayton Accords.
What was the impact of the dis-
sent on your career?
Entirely positive. We did get a
few hate messages, but overall, our
colleagues—who knew we had kept
the dissent in classifed channels
and had never intended for it to become public—gave tre-
mendous support. Our group includes ofcers who went on to
become ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, deputy assis-
tant secretaries and National Security Council senior directors.
One of our most important allies later became a two-
time assistant secretary and two-time chief of mission. Tis
reinforced my respect for and appreciation of the institution
to which I belong. But most of the appreciation should go to
Sec. Christopher, who took steps to ensure there would be no
retaliation against us and welcomed us to his ofce to discuss
our concerns in a public show of support, as well as to then-
Spokesman Richard Boucher and then-Executive Assistant
to the Secretary Beth Jones, who translated his directive into
concrete displays of support.
What was the impact of the AFSA dissent award on your
I did probably fail to get one
assignment because of the award
being on my Personnel Audit
Report. But overall, it has been very
In hindsight, was dissenting
the right choice?
Defnitely. Despite that one ter-
rifying moment seeing my name on
the front page of the
, I would
do it again in a heartbeat. I believe
we helped to contribute to a policy
change that was essential for both
geopolitical (preserving the U.S.
role in Europe and the Atlantic
Alliance, and ending the frst war in
the heart of Europe since 1945) and
moral (ending genocide, mass rape,
ethnic cleansing and concentra-
tion camps in the heart of Europe
only 50 years after the end of the
Holocaust) reasons.
But as I tell the incoming
Foreign Service A-100 classes I
speak to about dissent, it was also
right because it was collective: just
about every ofcer working on this
crisis agreed with the dissent and
agreed to participate in it. Tat
gave it much greater credibility
“I believe that our dissent—and the
discussion and debate it encouraged—
helped create the climate for the major
shift in U.S. policy toward intervention.”
–Eric Rubin
European Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric
Rubin receives an award from Hellenic American
organizations honoring his contributions to Greek-
American and Cypriot-American relations, May 2013.