U.S. Must Enhance Diplomatic Resources To Meet Global Challenges

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The United States cannot rely on military force alone in addressing the challenges of the 21st century, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and must strengthen its diplomatic resources to ensure it can engage the world effectively and constructively.

“Over the five years since the attacks of September 11th, we remain engaged in a global war on terror.  We are engaged in wars that are different kinds of wars.  And to be successful, the force of arms is necessary but not sufficient,” Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee February 8.  “We must mobilize our democratic principles, our development assistance, our compassion and our multilateral diplomacy as well as the power of our ideas.”

Rice was on Capitol Hill testifying on the Bush administration’s $36.2 billion foreign affairs budget request for fiscal year 2008. (See related article.)

The secretary told the senators that the State Department is transforming its operations to address the new challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. 

“We are very actively redeploying our diplomats out of posts, for instance, in Europe to posts in places like India and places in Latin America. ...We have restructured our foreign assistance efforts so that our foreign assistance dollars are going to high priority tasks and are matched up with the objectives that we are trying to achieve.  We have put a great effort into restructuring public diplomacy.  And of course … we are putting a great effort into language development for our diplomats,” she said.

The United States, Rice said, has underinvested in critical language studies, such as Chinese, Farsi and Arabic, for far too long.

She added that the department is asking more of its diplomats to serve in dangerous posts, not just in large, well-protected embassies like Baghdad, Iraq, and Kabul, Afghanistan, but in provincial reconstruction teams throughout Iraq and Afghanistan where they can have direct contact with local officials.  She said many of these diplomats are vulnerable to mortar attacks and ambushes. (See related article.)

“I want it to be understood, civilians are taking tremendous risk in these places,” she said, “and their service needs to be honored and it needs to be recognized.”

Rice said the State Department needs to enhance its ability to mobilize civilian advisers to fill key technical positions in support of the United States’ post-conflict stabilization efforts.  This problem has become acutely apparent as the department gears up to augment its civilian presence in Iraq in conjunction with President Bush’s troop surge.

“The problem is the State Department doesn't have agronomists and engineers and city planners.  No foreign service in the world has those people.  And so we have to find that talent elsewhere,” she said.  “What we need is the ability to mobilize civilians from the population as a whole who could take those tasks.”

She said the State Department has asked the Defense Department to fill some of these positions with contractors on a temporary basis, but “the need for this would be obviated by a civilian response corps … where you would already have people cleared; could call them up; they would have been trained; they would be ready to go.”

Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking minority member on the committee, embraced the administration’s interest in forming a civilian response corps and urged the secretary to move ahead with the project.

“The president's call for such a corps in his State of the Union address was a breakthrough for a concept that was developed by this committee three years ago.  But presidential interest must be accompanied by robust funding requests that so far have not appeared,” he said.

Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Biden, who cosponsored legislation with Lugar to create a civilian response corps, emphasized that the corps would bring only nonmilitary expertise to bear in crisis situations.  He added that he believes the State Department also should enhance its diplomatic security force to protect personnel serving in these vulnerable and unstable posts.

Lugar praised the administration for its efforts to rebuild U.S. foreign policy capabilities following the erosion of the foreign affairs budget during the 1990s, when Congress and the administration sought to capitalize on the peace dividend from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“[B]y the time we confronted the tragedy of September 11, 2001, many of our foreign policy capabilities were in disrepair,” he said.

Lugar urged his colleagues to support the budget request for what he called the “civilian arms of our national security policy.”

“Foreign service officers and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] professionals who are risking their lives to pursue U.S. objectives must have the tools they need to succeed,” he said.  “If a greater commitment of resources can prevent the bombing of one of our embassies, enhance alliance participation in peace-keeping efforts, secure vulnerable weapons stockpiles, prevent a failed state or improve detection of terrorists seeking visas, the investment will have yielded dividends far beyond its cost.”

A full transcript of Rice’s opening remarks is available on the State Department Web site.