The Future of American Diplomacy
Image Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed

The Future of American Diplomacy


Globalization has been changing U.S. foreign policy since the beginning of the American Republic. From our first diplomatic post in Tangier, Morocco founded in 1777, to the more than 285 diplomatic facilities around the world today operated by the U.S. Department of State, the business of diplomacy has evolved over time.

While it is obvious that thriving markets and global security go hand in hand, along with America’s central role in both arenas, often our diplomacy and institutions do not reflect this reality. In other words, the channels of influence that America could once rely on—large, multinational consortia of first-world powers—are waning in power. If one thing is clear to ambassadors around the world, it’s that U.S. diplomacy needs a jumpstart into the 21st century.

The key for American diplomacy is not doubling down on its great-power past, but harnessing the future on the ground. The enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit that became infectious in the “Arab Spring” countries will remain the norm. Young people are tapping into the culture of innovation, even amidst the political difficulties and a lack of access to money and resources. In turn, effective, pragmatic partnerships based on shared objectives—economic growth, stability and more—will be the engine for increased security and prosperity. This is the future of diplomacy, not just at the U.S. State Department—but worldwide.

On The Ground 

While terms such as “Economic Statecraft,” “Global Engagement,” and “Strategic Partnerships” have come into fashion in Washington, the tangible impact of these buzzwords is difficult to measure. Ironically, some of the most challenging places for U.S. foreign policy represent some of the greatest opportunities for these new approaches in 21-century statecraft.

The key is to create and empower stable business conditions in unstable places through private-sector leadership.

The intersection of public and private sectors has now blurred the lines in diplomacy. Today, our diplomats are beginning to understand that public-private partnerships can get the most out of available resources, technology, knowledge, and networks. In fact, these partnerships might be the most effective foreign policy tool America has at its disposal today.

Take Israel and Palestine, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing towards a final diplomatic peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Last year, I visited the Palestinian Territories to support an event called “Celebration of Innovation,” a locally organized business development and investor pitch competition. Essentially the State Department’s own prototype of Shark Tank, fifteen young Palestinian entrepreneurs were selected from hundreds of applicants to compete for the chance to present their ideas to an international audience. The two winners, Alaa—a twenty-four year old from the Gaza Strip who had never left his home before winning the chance to pitch his business—and Aya, the first Palestinian woman to own and raise sheep from Nabulus, are representative of a global change. If one thing became clear, it was that the next generation doesn’t want charity; they want a chance. 

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
August 27, 2013 at 00:40

TDOG: "We also need to remember the other player on the world stage: China.  While Chinese business ventures tend to cause resentment as well, they offer up an alternative that many find more palatable than the US."

Which groups in which nations are you referring to? 

The problem with Chinese investment – and I see it even today – is that Beijing ships unmarried Chinese males by the hundreds in as workers and managers rather than employing the locals. The US doesn't do that. It hires local people. 

TDog knows nothing about US investment overseas. Does China even have a corollary to AMCHAM? Go to any AMCHAM meeting and you will find the local members far out-number any Americans there. 

People resent Chinese investment exactly because of that fact — they're Chinese. The workers are Chinese. The managers are Chinese. And that resentment is one of the best things America has going for it now. 

In 2013, I've met prominent AMCHAM members in four different countries. Not one of them was a US citizen. All of them were senior managers in their own countries. China talks big. But it rarely hires local managers. That's why Myanmar turned towards the West. And there will be more of that to come in the future.

August 26, 2013 at 04:09

A laudible goal and strategy, but one that is shackled by reality.  American business if often predatory and suppressive, going out of its way to expand itsw presence with nary a thought spared for how that will play with the locals.  For every dollar of innovation American private interests foster, about ten dollars are spent making sure that innovation doesn't challenge their market share.

In the wake of Saddam Hussein's fall in Iraq, American contractors swarmed into Iraq like a horde of plundering Visigoths.  Military contractors got the lion's share of media attention, but everything from cell phone service to sewage treatment was taken over by Americans (and a few Europeans) who more often than not took the money without providing the services they were suppsoed to.  American private interests, as a result, not only deprived locals of jobs, but the means with which to create jobs.  I'm pretty sure the resulting resentment won't be overcome by a few grants and showpiece initiatives.

We also need to remember the other player on the world stage: China.  While Chinese business ventures tend to cause resentment as well, they offer up an alternative that many find more palatable than the US.  While American money tends to come with many strings and a lot of lecturing about human rights, Chinese money tends to be less complicated (note: I said less complicated, not necessarily more moral). 

American policy does need to change.  While we continue to rely upon the Pentagon as the initiator and sole arbiter of our foreign policy, however, it is unlikely to do so.  

August 25, 2013 at 23:02

And, in the age of information revolution, the people in the world are increasingly aware of their own place under the sun, and can not be fooled by propaganda, or coerced by force. No power on earth, including the US State Dept. can not reverse that any more …….

Marvin Martian
August 25, 2013 at 21:50

You sound like the kind of armchair expert who gets self-righteous and mad when the US isn't expending all of its foreign relations time and energy on the Middle East. Many folks in DC would like nothing more than that, in fact, since that's the only part of the world that they've ever dealt with or deem important enough for their talents. So please do tell me how and why it is that the US is supposed to stop people from killing each other all around the world wehen theyre so dead set on doing so?

Issues like the TPP, containing chaos in the ME, getting Europe to get its economic house in order, China's territorial claims on its neighbors, a free trade agreement with Europe, North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions, combating human trafficking, draining the lake for terrorist financing and more are all just some of the issues that the administration is dealing with and kaing various degrees of progress on. The world doesn't revolve around the US or actions on our part. Getting used to that is something that some people (specially in wonkland and academia) have a hard time grappling with. 

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
August 25, 2013 at 14:34

"On the other hand, if the West were to continue to resist or deny these new global players a place at the high table, there is a strong likelihood that the entire global system – which the West created and carefully nurtured over the past half century for its benefit, and that of others – may be jeopardized."


How exactly is the West doing that professor?

It's just as well IMO that US foreign policy is adrift at present. Big changes are coming in 2015-2016 that will require a military responses and central bank intervention – not State Department-hosted cocktail parties & soirees. 

The China policy of a President Hllary or a GOP President – will be much different by necessity – than US policy today. The good old days for Beijing are over.  And Zhongnanhai knows it. The window for conquest is closing. So keep an eye on the reefs off the west coast of the Philippines.  Diplomacy cannot stop or even forestall what will happen there in the near term.

August 25, 2013 at 14:16

The difference between yourself and the author is, the author is far sighted, and you are an arrogant individual in denial, betting on status quo…….

Mark Stapleton
August 23, 2013 at 18:42

Please spare us another Obama puff piece.  The brutal truth is the U.S. has no coherent foreign policy.  We are the laughing stock of nations, with our smug written statements warning or expressing concern on any number of foreign policy situations.  This administration has not made any tangible progress on anything of import in 4 1/2 years.  It has consistently avoided making the difficult decisions and taking leadership responsibility in the world.  The result of our remarkable withdrawal from the world is the rise of many malevolent and downright evil forces have no respect for the empty words of this administration.  Need specifics?  Illustrative but by no means comprehensive, try President Obama's "red line" warning on Syria's use of chemical weapons.  Then weep when viewing the horrific videos of 3 days ago showing little children on a cold floor, gasping for life from a brutal chemical attack.  In a sense, the fecklessness of the administration makes the world a far more dangerous place.  And there are 3 1/2 years to go.

Michael Haltman
August 23, 2013 at 18:29

If I understand the author correctly I think that his premise is 100% wrong. 

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