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Book Launch: Career Diplomacy - Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service

October 14, 2008 // 3:00pm5:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Brazil Institute

For more information about the book Career Diplomacy - Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service, see the author's website.

The book can be purchased through the Georgetown University Press.

On Tuesday, October 14th, Harry W. Kopp, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Trade Policy, came to the Wilson Center to discuss his recent book, co-authored by Charles A. Gillespie, entitled Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service.

In this event, co-sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology, America, and the Global Economy and the Brazil Institute, several panelists were invited to act as commentators to bring their own perspectives and significant experience with the Foreign Service to the table. These included John K. Naland, President of the American Foreign Service Association and a career Foreign Service Officer, and three former U.S. Ambassadors – William Milam, currently a Senior Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center, L. Anthony Motley, currently the President of L.A. Motley and Company, and J. Stapleton Roy, currently the Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center.

Career Diplomacy has been praised for its unique and detailed perspective on the lives and careers of those in the Foreign Service. It also serves as an insider's look into the institution as a whole—how it has changed over time and what challenges it will face in the future. Motley praised the book as "tightly and logically organized," and highlighted the likeability of Kopp's writing style, which he hopes will help sell the book and therefore ignite further awareness of the Foreign Service. Naland, too, paid tribute to the book, calling it "very even-handed" and expressed his wish to see it spread throughout the State Department and beyond.

What is the U.S. Foreign Service? Kopp began with the Foreign Services' threefold mission: representation, operations, and policy. Diplomats represent the United States, operate in foreign countries on a daily basis, and provide institutional memory and historical perspective, which helps keep U.S. policy in line with long-term planning. All three are essential for the proper functioning of the service. Internally, the Foreign Service manages its own affairs, including where, when, and why its diplomats travel.

Kopp explained that, under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Foreign Service has been asked to shift from traditional diplomacy to transformational diplomacy – including the promotion of democracy. In addition, as it becomes tougher to deal with issues like HIV/AIDS, climate change, and terrorism, diplomats can no longer work solely within state-to-state relations as they have done in the past.

These increasingly global problems will require the duties and capabilities of the Foreign Service to evolve. The war in Iraq is placing an added strain on the service, especially in terms of the sheer numbers of diplomats it requires. Overall, twenty percent of normally filled U.S. diplomatic posts around the world are currently vacant. Yes, despite the growing demands on the service, the resources needed to meet such high expectations are not being supplied.

Kopp asserted that the Foreign Service either has to grow or the mission has to shrink. Naland stressed the need for expansion, because, in the world today, diplomacy has too often been used only as a last resort in conducting international relations. Current and projected needs will require a large increase in budget and the number of Foreign Service officers. Career Diplomacy provides an overview of those needs and could well be a force for stirring a much greater commitment to the Foreign Service from both the U.S. government and the public.

The question and answer discussion explored the current predicaments that the Foreign Service is facing, especially its need for critical language capabilities in the Arab speaking world. All entrants to the Foreign Service are required to be proficient in a foreign language, and diplomats receive additional language training dependent upon specific job assignments. Stapleton Roy noted that the challenge is particularly large for demanding languages, such as Burmese and Thai, which are not used extensively outside a single country. Even for widely spoken, critical languages, however, more training and funds are needed.

The dialogue moved from language mastery to the Foreign Service entry exam. Kopp suggested that test takers should read thorough newspapers, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, and a substantive Advanced Placement U.S. history textbook in the months prior to the exam. He also stressed that a good night's rest before the exam is crucial to doing well.

While the Foreign Service has no problem attracting around sixteen thousand test takers for entry-level positions, only about two hundred are accepted into diplomatic service. While diplomats do not gain fame or fortune, as their skills are largely verbal, psychological, and representational, Kopp and Roy asserted that the self-satisfaction and personal rewards of the job are very real. According to Roy, "there is no better career."


Drafted by Timothy Valley, STAGE Program
Kent Hughes, Director, STAGE Program

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