Courtesy Reuters

Diplomacy Without Diplomats?

Democracy will always have ambassadors and ministers; the question is whether it will have diplomats.

by Jules Cambon, former French diplomat, 1925

If the standards set out by the founders of the Foreign Service of the United States had been consistently applied over the many years required for the shaping of a real career corps, America would long since have had a service equal or superior to any in the world. But the hopes for a strictly nonpolitical and scrupulously selective service were not destined to be vindicated. The political and bureaucratic establishments in Washington cannot tolerate for long any body of public servants established on a conceptual basis so different from their own and demanding such independence of administration. But in the era that is already upon us of rapidly decentralizing government and broadly diffused authority, perhaps the foreign service of today, lacking the rigidities of earlier visions, is as well suited as any arrangement to find new ways of interacting with the world.


In the first two decades of what is now the passing twentieth century, two federal services, both of which had developed not in accordance with any preconceived plan but as responses to international customs and perceived national needs, looked after American interests abroad. The diplomatic service was designed primarily to provide staff support for senior envoys, ambassadors, and ministers charged with the U.S. government's regular communication with its foreign counterparts. Like the envoys under whom they served, the diplomatic staff were accredited to the central government of the foreign country in question and resided in that country's capital. The other service was the consular one. Consular officials and their professional staff, far more numerous than the diplomatic one, were stationed in major ports and other commercial centers abroad, and their accreditation was to the local authorities. Their tasks consisted mainly of providing passport and visa services and protecting the interests of private American citizens living, traveling, or doing business

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