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Knowledge of history, area studies and current international affairs is not,

by itself, sufficient to make an effective diplomat.

It’s Practical

Training the Next Generation

of Diplomats

Ambassador (ret.) Edward “Skip” Gnehm is Kuwait Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs at the Elliott School of

International Affairs at The George Washington University. He is also a member of the Middle East faculty and director of

the Middle East Policy Forum. Amb. Gnehm retired from a 36-year Foreign Service career in 2004. He served as ambassa-

dor to Jordan (2001-2004), Australia (2000-2001) and Kuwait (1991-1994). He also served as deputy permanent repre-

sentative to the U.N., as the Director General of the Foreign Service and director of personnel of the Department of State (1997-2000)

and as deputy secretary of Defense (1987-1989). He also served as deputy assistant secretary of State for the Persian Gulf and Arabian

Peninsula. Other assignments included tours in Vietnam, Nepal, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia and Lebanon.



he student stood up and posed

this question: “Given the new

administration’s severe cuts to

the State Department’s budget,

as well as the seeming intent to

marginalize diplomacy, should

I continue to pursue a career

in international affairs in the


I hear this question repeat-

edly from students keenly

aspiring to join the U.S. Foreign Service or other U.S. agencies

focused on international affairs. For me, budget cuts notwith-

standing, there is but one answer: “There is always a need for

effective diplomacy. There has never been a time when it was

more important for you to pursue your dream to join the Foreign

Service. America needs you and others like you.”

As I pondered that exchange over the next few days, however,

the question consuming me was: What should I, and indeed

my university, be doing to ensure that this aspiring student is

well-trained and ready for the challenges of our profession? Are

universities graduating students with the skills they need to suc-

ceed in the Foreign Service?

In reflecting on what it means to teach diplomacy, one comes

to a stark conclusion: Knowledge of history, area studies and

current international affairs is not, by itself, sufficient to make an

effective diplomat. At its core, there is a combination of practi-

cal skills that define an effective diplomat, and these range from

verbal and written communication to problem-solving and

leadership. Integrating the full range of skills necessary for a suc-