TSC IntelBrief: Unilateral Disarmament for U.S. Diplomacy
Bottom Line Up Front
• The U.S. is intentionally dismantling its diplomatic corps, though persistent and emerging geopolitical threats are on the rise.
• The disarmament of U.S. diplomatic power is part of a declared commitment by the Trump administration to the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state,’ though the civil service and administrative bureaucracies are among the U.S.’s greatest achievements.
• The Trump administration’s disdain for diplomacy both weakens the U.S. and makes actual conflicts more likely.
• Dismissing and deconstructing U.S. agencies not directly tied to security is an outcome eagerly sought by U.S. adversaries and many anti-democratic regimes.
For many decades, the U.S. has consistently used military power as its preferred means for resolving geopolitical challenges; either directly, through the use of military force, or indirectly, using pressure, proxies, and arms sales. At the same time, Washington has frequently been in the lead in using diplomacy to mediate crucial international issues. Diplomatic efforts can be frustratingly slow—which may be the point, when diplomacy is used to avoid a rush to war. However, whether fast or slow, the value of diplomacy can’t be overstated, given the multilateral nature of regional and global challenges. While diplomacy has been one of Washington’s most effective weapons in its ‘soft power’ arsenal, that arsenal is now being dismantled while real military expenditures and the likelihood of their use is rising.
On November 28, two former senior U.S. diplomats issued the latest in a series of alarms regarding the Trump administration’s unilateral disarmament of American diplomatic power. Writing in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Nicholas Burns and Ryan C. Crocker warned that the U.S. Foreign Service was ‘facing perhaps its greatest crisis.’ They noted that the administration has proposed a 31% cut in the overall State Department budget, while intentionally leaving ambassadorships in key countries unfilled. Meanwhile, the exodus of experienced diplomats, who know the language and culture of their respective assignments—and serve their country just as much as those in uniform—is a crippling blow to U.S. diplomacy, now and for years to come.
The open disparagement of the State Department, by President Trump and some members of his staff, has gone beyond criticizing its oversized bureaucracy, to denigrating engaging in patient diplomacy at all. This has not gone unnoticed outside of Washington. Ambassadors Crocker and Burns note that applications for the highly competitive Foreign Service Officers exam have dropped by 33%. This decline in the number of new officers—who need years of experience to master diplomatic arts and skills—threatens to devastate the service, as more experienced diplomats move on.
The disarmament of U.S. diplomatic power is intentional, as part of a declared commitment, by the Trump administration, to the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state.’ In the U.S., the word ‘bureaucracy’ is considered by many to be pejorative. Yet it is precisely its civil service and administrative bureaucracies that are among the country’s greatest achievements—as can be seen by observing other nations that struggle without them. The very public dismissal and deconstruction of U.S departments and agencies not directly involved in security, is potentially a recipe for disaster. It is also an outcome eagerly sought by foreign adversaries such as Russia, as it both destabilizes and divides the nation.
An example of the current state of U.S. diplomatic affairs can be seen in Hyderabad, India, at the Global Entrepreneur Summit, which opened on November 28. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is heading the U.S. delegation, while senior State Department officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are absent. That did bring a commendation from President Trump, who retweeted a State Department tweet thanking India and Ivanka Trump, one of the rare times the President has publicized anything positive from the State Department.
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