A Foreign Ministry for a World Power

There are certain challenges to having an effective global policy. We may often look toward the environment and other actors, usually adversaries, but what about organisational structures and culture?

Two years ago, I wrote about the need to reorganize the State Department to meet modern requirements. There were two basic principles in my argument. First, the department needed to match its geographical breakdown with the Defense Department’s. Second, the geographic bureau chiefs at State should be elevated to be more equal with their Defense counterparts, the Combatant Commanders, and they have similar diplomatic powers as Ambassadors considering the changed role of Ambassadors today. 

Recently, I came across a relevant journal article, “The Reorganization of the Department of State.” Published in The American Political Science Review (Vol 38, No 2, in April 1944), it was written by Walter H. C. Laves and Francis O. Wilcox. Both were on leave from the Bureau of the Budget, the predecessor to today’s Office of Management and Budget, and both were diplomats, and arguably public diplomats. Laves worked in the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a Presidential office intended to counter German influence in the Western Hemisphere, later serving as the Deputy Director at UNESCO (1947-1950), and then a professor of political science. Wilcox joined the State Department in 1942 and was later the first chief of staff to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (1947-1951). He returned to State to become the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1955-1961).

While the entire “The Reorganization of the Department of State” is worth reading, if you do not have access or the time, the opening paragraphs give a great overview.

For many years there has been widespread discussion of the need for reorganizing the Department of State. Students, publicists, members of Congress, and members of the Department itself have repeatedly pointed out that the Department has not been geared up to performing the functions required of the foreign office of a great twentieth-century world power.

The chief criticisms of the Department have been four: (1) that there was lacking a basic pattern of sound administrative organization, (2) that the type of personnel found both at home and abroad was inadequate for the job required in foreign affairs today, (3) that the Department was too far removed from the public and from Congress, and (4) that it was not prepared to provide leadership for, and maintain the necessary relations with, other federal agencies.

This was written in 1944 after what would be the first of two Departmental Orders that year to reorganize the State Department. The first order was dated January 15 and the second December 20. It is worth reminding that this reorganization was done by the department and did not require Congressional pressure, at least direct pressure, or legislation. Conventional wisdom holds that changed oversight by authorizers and appropriators, decades of legislative directions to create this or fund that, that similar autonomy is not available today.

After the second order, Laves and Wilcox followed up with another journal article in April 1945: “The State Department Continues Its Reorganization.” An excerpt of this is below, though the entire article is worth reading. 

At the outset, it should be repeated that it would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of these reorganizations for the conduct of our foreign affairs. For in spite of the importance of international organization to world order, we should never forget that the smooth functioning of the international machinery we set up and the success of the peace we establish will depend in large measure upon how effectively the various states organize their national governments to carry on the complicated relations of the international community. …
Continuing attention will need to be given the complex problem of inter-agency relations resulting from the fact that domestic and international affairs are now so completely interdependent that the resources of all agencies of the government must be mobilized for the conduct of our foreign relations. This problem is clearly recognized in the functions given the Joint Secretariat, as well as in other specific arrangements for liaison relations under the latest reorganization.

It is fascinating, and sometimes distressing, that 50-60 year old reports and articles are highly relevant today. The arc of U.S. public diplomacy might be more aptly described as a spiral: always in motion and nearly making a full circle as it goes up or down and covering an always changing surface area.

One thought on “A Foreign Ministry for a World Power

  1. Indeed. Since I arrived at the Pentagon for my first DC tour (late 90s), the state of our national security apparatus has been criticized as Not Configured for the World We Now Live In. When you press for explanations, you get the sad expression and the phrase ‘you just don’t understand how hard it would be to change.’ Really? The primary obstructionist is usually as Congress! Congress! Ya mean, if a truly viable and independently developed proposal for a new national security apparatus complete with teeth-baring national security council were developed, Congress would say “DOA!” Really?

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