Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Before the last war, the tasks of American foreign policy were comparatively well defined. Secretary Cordell Hull, with a Washington staff of less than 1,000, presided over our entire global diplomatic establishment from a building shared with the War and Navy Departments. The function of the 78 ambassadors and ministers stationed abroad consisted largely of reporting and analyzing the flow of events and representing the President in negotiations and ceremonial events.
Twenty critical years have changed this traditional pattern dramatically. As our responsibilities in world affairs grew, the task of our diplomacy became more complex and its instruments multiplied correspondingly.
For the ambassador, the transformation has meant a change of emphasis from discreet observation to active operations. In terms of budget and administration, the transformation has resulted in a 38,000-man Department of State, including the Foreign Service and the Agency for International Development (which accounts for 17,000 of the total). In addition, there are a Peace Corps, a Food for Peace program, a United States Information Agency, a Central Intelligence Agency, a variety of military programs and expanded overseas operations of the Labor, Commerce, Agriculture and Treasury Departments.
Moreover, we now have diplomatic missions in more than 100 countries, in addition to 166 consulates and consulates-general. In many of these posts the mission chief presides over what amounts to a cabinet. For instance, on the eve of World War II, our Paris embassy employed 78 people, including the staffs of four other agencies. Now it employs 700, including the staffs of 23 other agencies.
This extraordinary multiplication of activities and agencies reflects the complexity and interdependence of our modern world. Much of it would have occurred even if there were no Soviet challenge. Yet the increasing competition between our two societies, between the Soviet and the liberal- democratic approach to human development, has greatly hastened the process, and we know that this competition will be with us for the foreseeable future.
The challenge of our new age was initially-and understandably-interpreted by both the executive and legislative branches of our government as primarily a challenge to policy-making. But the development of an effective foreign policy is only the first step; we must also devise effective means to carry it out. And this challenge to our instruments of policy, to the organization, administration and operation of our efforts at home and abroad, has only recently begun to be appreciated and acted upon.
The lag between need and performance was understandable. For World War II brought the development of a vast array of special agencies and commissions to cope with new problems on a piecemeal, ad hoc basis. At the end of the war, some of these agencies vanished, some were absorbed and some were grudgingly accepted on a temporary basis in altered form. Because we were reluctant to face the greatly increased demands of the postwar world, we told ourselves that these recent manifestations of our national effort were designed to meet short-term commitments; that in a few years' time the problems would be mastered and we could somehow return to normal As a result, improvisation took the place of long-range planning, and our expanded overseas activities were often characterized by overlapping programs, fuzzy lines of authority and a serious lack of coördination.
In some countries the damage was limited to a certain amount of digestible waste, confusion and delays. But in others, the ambassador, the aid administrator, the public information officer, the chief of the military mission and other officials found themselves working at cross-purposes in conditions of near anarchy.
Item: In one country the U.S. ambassador asked for an appointment with the Prime Minister only to discover that the matter he intended to discuss had already been agreed to by the Prime Minister after talking with an agency representative.
Item: In Paris, in the early 1950s, we not only had five officials with ambassadorial rank but also over 70 more or less autonomous U.S. agencies.
Item: In Asia, one U.S. ambassador assured the Prime Minister that we were not involved in an intelligence operation which, to the ambassador's chagrin, he eventually discovered was being masterminded in his own office. The Prime Minister concluded the ambassador was either a fool or a liar.
Item: In a key West European post, personal rivalry between the ambassador and the director of the aid mission resulted in a total breakdown of personal communications between them.
In retrospect, it may be said that such problems, however costly and distressing, were the inevitable result of the changing focus of our federal government. Foreign affairs, once the special preserve of State and Defense, has become an area of increased concern and significance for other established departments such as Commerce, Labor, Agriculture and the Treasury, as well as for the many new specialized foreign service agencies which have grown up since the war. Each of these agencies, old and new, necessarily has its own representatives abroad.
It is against this background of challenge and growth that the Administration has been seeking to coördinate its overseas activities to increase their effectiveness. This effort has taken three forms: (1) a critical review of the special qualities now required of our ambassadors; (2) a presidential clarification of the ambassador's greatly expanded responsibilities in the country of his assignment; (3) a program to coördinate our far-flung activities wherever we maintain diplomatic or consular missions.
The transformed demands of diplomacy have clearly altered the qualities required in our ambassadors. Although personal charm, an attractive wife, political perceptiveness and analytical ability are still highly useful, they are no longer enough. In today's complex world, the modern ambassador must also be an administrator capable of supervising a wide range of operations; a creative leader capable of taking initiative, inspiring subordinates, delegating authority and cutting through details; a diplomat of tact and persuasiveness who knows how to combine toughness and restraint.
In these circumstances, the Administration concluded that the time-honored practice of awarding a number of ambassadorships to wealthy campaign contributors was something we could no longer afford. Thus, the percentage of Foreign Service career ambassadors appointed in 1961 was the highest in history. In addition, a special effort was made to provide rapid promotion for outstanding younger men in the service who were likely to be flexible and perceptive in dealing with the special problems of young and newly independent nations. The 20-or-so new, non-career ambassadors were, almost without exception, men with extensive foreign policy experience. Most of them were drawn from university faculties and foundations. With a handful of exceptions, all ambassadors now speak the language of official discussion in the country of their assignment.
An effort was also made to see that each ambassador received an assignment which he felt personally qualified to handle. The hairshirt tradition of sending Foreign Service Officers to precisely those places to which they did not want to go in order to "strengthen their character" was abandoned. The normal term of an ambassador and his principal associates at a post was extended to four years. The ambassador and his wife were considered as a team. And he was given increased authority over the choice of his assistants.
The selection of better qualified personnel was the first essential step. The next was to clarify the ambassador's authority.
Thus, on May 29, 1961, President Kennedy sent a letter to each American ambassador in which he reaffirmed the recipient's role as the President's personal representative, with clear authority over all other U.S. government activities and personnel in the country of his assignment. "I shall count on you," the President wrote, "to oversee and coördinate all the activities of the United States Government. . . . You are in charge of the entire United States Diplomatic Mission, and I shall expect you to supervise all of its operations." The President noted that each Mission included "the representatives of all other United States agencies" in the country in question, and he promised the ambassador his "full support and backing in carrying out your assignment." It was the responsibility of all Mission members, he added, to keep the ambassador "fully informed of their views and activities and to abide by your decisions unless in some particular instance you and they are notified to the contrary." The President's letter sought to eliminate once and for all the problem of conflicting lines of responsibility. The ambassador was clearly established as the final authority, as the President's top representative.
The directive was followed by four State Department guidance papers which spelled out in detail the application of the President's instructions.
The first of these papers dealt with the ambassador's relations with the top representatives of the military, the United States Information Service and other coöperating agencies; it urged upon him a close and understanding relationship with the staff and programs under his general supervision. Emphasis was placed on his duties as the Mission leader who "bears the responsibility for success or failure in achieving United States foreign policy objectives in his country of assignment."
The second guidance paper to ambassadors requested a tough-minded review of the importance of the hundreds of reports now taxing the energies of our missions overseas. This heavy burden, which in the words of the directive had too often diverted able men from "the essential tasks of getting to know the people and cultures among which we serve," was to be reappraised, report by report, to see what changes and cuts might be effected.
The third paper suggested a variety of techniques by which the ambassador and his staff might break away from some of the demands of traditional diplomatic protocol. Among other things, it urged the members of missions to familiarize themselves with the country's culture, visit outlying districts and establish informal relations with "labor leaders, . . . student groups, and to the extent feasible, with opposition leaders."
The final paper discussed, among other matters, the conduct of military personnel stationed abroad, the need for increased respect for local customs and the importance of avoiding ostentatious behavior. As a primary objective, it urged that our missions seek "to limit to the maximum extent possible the conspicuousness of the American presence."
The next step in the effort to modernize the practice of American diplomacy and to increase its effectiveness was a series of regional conferences to which were invited not only ambassadors but their wives, their administrative officers and their principal aid, information and military advisers. Although the ambassadors had been armed with new statements of authority, many were still skeptical as to whether the new directives really meant what they said. Moreover, administrative procedures had remained largely untouched, and communication between Washington and the field had left many operational questions unanswered. Nor had representatives of the Pentagon, the new A.I.D. administration, U.S.I.A., the Peace Corps, Food for Peace and such Departments as Commerce and Labor had an opportunity to thrash out specific details of operations, responsibility, and coöperation with the ambassadors and their staffs.
Therefore, seven regional conferences were organized to clear up these practical operational problems and to effect a total integration of our efforts abroad under the direction of the ambassador as the President's chief representative.
The first of these meetings, held in July in Lagos, Nigeria, included all United States missions in Africa south of the Sahara. The second, for our missions in the North African and Middle Eastern countries, took place in August in Nicosia, Cyprus. The third, in New Delhi, covered South and Southeast Asia. Two others were held in October-one in Lima, Peru, for our missions in South America, and one in San José, Costa Rica, for our representatives from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Similar meetings in 1962 will cover the Far East and Europe.
The group attending these meetings from Washington included representatives from the Agency for International Development, the U.S. Information Agency, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Peace Corps, Food for Peace, the Bureau of the Budget and the Departments of Commerce and Labor, in addition to representatives from the administrative and geographic bureaus of the Department of State.
The directors of the various agencies had an opportunity to discuss their own programs in detail with those who would carry them out. The ambassadors and their colleagues, in turn, were able to discuss on an intimate basis a wide variety of substantive and administrative questions involving their particular country. In many cases, on-the-spot decisions were made on questions which had been previously swept under the rug.
One of the innovations of the regional conferences was the attendance of the ambassadors' wives. As every Foreign Service Officer knows, the wife who is sensitive to local problems, aware of our national purposes and anxious to help carry them out is an invaluable addition to any embassy. Likewise, one who lacks such qualities can be a serious liability. It is the ambassador's wife, for better or worse, who sits regularly beside the highest officials of the government at dinner parties and official functions. At each conference, the wives accompanied their husbands to all but the highly classified meetings.
These conferences produced nearly 200 proposals for administrative improvements within the State Department alone, more than half of which have already been acted upon. The proposals range all the way from the desirability of smaller official automobiles to more intensive language training for clerical and officer personnel. A large number of constructive measures were suggested for eliminating operational red tape, for speeding up communications between Washington and the overseas missions, and for better coördination with international agencies.
Although the primary emphasis was on improved operations, the conferences also underscored the sharply altered nature of diplomacy in our present era. Simply to list some of the questions under discussion is enough to illustrate the dimensions of the challenge.
How, for instance, are the various agencies involved in foreign affairs to deal with the rapidly emerging new African nations? How are we to gear our A.I.D. and information programs to changing African attitudes toward the United States? How can we relate our economic aid and military security assistance to the facts of political and economic regionalism in Africa? How can the exchange programs of State, U.S.I.A., and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare be best used to meet African needs for educational development? Where can we recruit the urgently needed French- speaking Foreign Service clerks and secretaries for service in French- speaking Africa? Where and how can the Peace Corps be most helpful?
Can we bring the productive power of our farmers and the techniques of the Food for Peace program to bear on problems of unemployment as well as food shortages in differing parts of the world? And how do we coördinate the functions of Food for Peace, A.I.D., Agriculture and Commerce to accomplish this?
In the Middle East, how can we foster more affirmative U.S. policies in view of the political straitjacket imposed by the Arab-Israeli conflict? In South and East Asia, how can we deal most effectively with the impact of Communist China? In Latin America, with the unprecedented problems and prospects of the Alliance for Progress?
On what basis can the new aid program distribute its funds? To what extent can criteria be developed to avoid costly and merely expedient decisions based purely on short-term political considerations? For instance, how can a Latin American nation where the arable soil is largely owned by a few landowners be persuaded of the wisdom of considering basic reforms in land tenure and distribution? Can a state ruled primarily by an oligarchy be shown the value of installing progressive tax systems or preventing local capital from flowing abroad? And if the Alliance for Progress paves the way for the peaceful economic and social revolution which has been promised, are we psychologically prepared to see some Latin American nations express their newfound confidence in themselves by disregarding our views and taking a more independent course in foreign affairs?
Such questions point to one firm conclusion: to perform his role in the new diplomacy the ambassador must have available far more complete and frequent information on a wide range of tools now at his disposal. Relatively new efforts such as the Peace Corps and the Food for Peace program provide enormous possibilities for developing and improving relations with other nations. For instance, in countries where planning has not yet developed to a stage where a major United States investment is advisable, the provision of powdered milk for the school children of major cities can be a vivid and inexpensive means of expressing our concern for the people.
On such matters and many more the ambassador must be better informed in order to be able to assume direction where needed. So it is fair to say that we have made only a start in the essential re-tooling and integration of the instruments by which American foreign policy can be made effective in this age of total diplomacy. More public education will be needed to persuade the American people and some officials as well that nearly everything we do, whether it involves labor, civil rights, food surpluses, trade, science or tourism, now bears in some degree on our foreign policy. And the problem, once we have recognized the interrelation of these many aspects of our foreign affairs, is to learn how to administer them with greater skill and effectiveness.
In this respect, we are fortunate in that the President's Cabinet today is made up of men who have a world view, who understand foreign affairs and the role of their departments in carrying out an integrated foreign policy. This is immensely important, for the progress we have made in coördinating our activities in our missions abroad under the ambassador's leadership must be backstopped by correspondingly better control and coördination of foreign policy in Washington.
The logical focus for such coördination lies in the regional assistant secretaries of state. By increasing the authority of these officials we can make them the actual coördinators of all our wide-ranging operations in their areas of responsibility. This is one of the many essential innovations which may meet resistance. But the task ahead necessarily calls for new approaches, more imaginative techniques, and tougher-minded administration if the instruments of our foreign policy are to keep pace with its requirements. Although a good start has been made, much remains to be done.