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How to Get More Bang for Our FSI Buck:

Engaging Foreign Diplomats and Diasporas


Michael Rosenthal is currently in Hindi-language training at the Foreign Service

Institute before an assignment to Embassy New Delhi. He has served in Kyrgyzstan

and Poland, and on the India and NATO desks in Washington, D.C. The views

expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and not necessarily those of

the Department of State or the U.S. government.


ow celebrating its 70th anniver-

sary, the Foreign Service Insti-

tute is an incredible resource.

It is certainly among the best

diplomatic training institutions in the

world, offering courses in language, area

studies, leadership and professional


My experience with India and Indian-

Americans, however, has convinced me

that FSI could do more. It could play

a prominent role in department-wide

efforts to better engage two underutilized

partners: foreign diplomats and domestic

diaspora populations.

The State Department, using FSI’s

capabilities, should seek to improve

tradecraft and increase interoperability

with foreign diplomats by sharing best

practices and conducting joint simula-

tions and training. FSI can also better

engage America’s diaspora communities,

leveraging their ties with homelands and

connecting the department with taxpay-

ers countrywide.

Such efforts will require something of a

culture change at FSI, which has tradition-

ally been inward-focused, as well as sup-

port fromother bureaus. Recently, FSI has

expanded outreach to bring in new ideas

and new partners in adult education. But

more can be done, even during a difficult

budget climate.

At a time when the department is being

called upon to build domestic support for

our foreign policy and to promote burden-

sharing by other governments, enlisting

the support of diasporas and engaging

foreign diplomats as force multipliers can

increase the effectiveness of American

diplomacy and reduce costs.

Foreign Diplomats Are

Natural Partners

Foreign diplomats are among the

most important interlocutors for the State

Department. Abroad, we engage with host-

country ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs)

on a range of consular, political, economic

and other issues.

We cooperate with third-country dip-

lomats, as well, sharing information and

addressing common concerns in the host

country such as the investment climate or

human rights.

Though some foreign counterparts do

not share our interests, and like-minded

envoys may compete with us occasion-

ally (e.g., on defense contracts), State has

much to gain from expanding interactions

and influence with foreign diplomats. It’s

a wonder, then, that the department has

not made a concerted effort to build habits

of cooperation with friendly diplomats

or help build the capacity of developing-

country MFAs.

Most readers will be familiar with the

impressive range of programs run by the

Pentagon (often in cooperation with State)

to develop the capacity of foreignmilitar-

ies. One of the key strengths of NATO, for

example, is the high level of interoperabil-

ity developed through decades of multina-

tional training and education.

The engagement exposes counterparts

to the best practices of the U.S. military,

including respect for human rights. It

helps the military develop contacts among

foreign officers, some of whom end up in

leadership. Engagement includes educa-

tion, for example, at the National Defense

University inWashington; the deployment

of trainers to assist host-country forces;

andmultinational exercises around the


Some readers may not be aware,

though, that many MFAs—from the United

Kingdom toMexico, Turkey and China—

apply the same idea to diplomacy. The

training courses, typically a fewweeks

long, are similar to our International Visi-

tor Leadership Program, with an emphasis

on host-country culture and policies,

including visits outside of the capital. But

they usually also share best practices in

tradecraft, such as cable writing. The host

governments then have an alumni network

of foreign diplomats to cooperate with

around the world for years to come.