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.

The State of State: A Proposal for Reorganization at Foggy Bottom

See my policy memo entitled “The State of State: A Proposal for Reorganization at Foggy Bottom” published by PPI. (PDF here, 910kb)

The past decade has seen the U.S. government expand its activities around the globe in response to complex and stateless threats. In the face of these challenges, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, and members of Congress have all called for increasing the resources and capabilities of the State Department to roll back what Gates has termed the “creeping militarization” of foreign policy. But efforts at reform are hindered by an institutional structure rooted in a 19th-century view of the world.

The days of traditional diplomacy conducted behind closed doors are over. The democratization of information and means of destruction makes a kid with a keyboard is potentially more dangerous than an F-22. Addressing poverty, pandemics, resource security, and terrorism requires multilateral and dynamic partnerships with governments and publics. But the State Department has yet to adapt to the new context of global engagement. The diverse threats that confront the U.S. and our allies cannot be managed through a country-centric approach. For State to be effective and relevant, it needs to evolve and become both a Department of State and Non-State.

Download the full memo here. Comment here at MountainRunner or there.

Quoting History: Reorganizing to look busy

We worked hard, but every time we began to function new plans or reorganization were initiated.

I learned later in life that we have a tendency to deal with any new situation by reorganizing. Also I learned what a wonderful method this is to give an illusion of progress while in reality it creates chaos, inefficiency and demoralization.

— Caius Petronius, Roman civil servant of Emperor Nero, died 66AD

It seems that two millennia ago the workforce was also perceived as widgets that will function within whatever structure is available. The truth is, if an organization needs to be “fixed”, changing the organizational chart creates “chaos, inefficiency, and demoralization” today as it did yesterday without a change to the working culture.

Transitioning to the Department of State and Non-State (Updated)

“The world today can be much better understood if you think of it from the perspective of regions and not states,” said Gen. Jim Jones

International affairs is increasingly shaped by geography that disregards state boundaries and the primacy of governments. Discussions around America’s ability to operate in this modern reality often ignore the effect bureaucratic structures and cultures.  

In the debates over how the State Department will engage foreign publics, lost in the shuffle is how the State Department remains oriented on countries instead of regions. The Department of State needs to become the Department of Non-State if it is to be effective as international affairs transcend the increasingly quaint issues of bilateral diplomacy.

For a variety of reasons, the Department of Defence has increased its role in foreign affairs. Decades ago, at the same time USIA was introduced, State was to have primacy in international affairs. Now it is one member of the interagency collaboration of unequal partners.

The map below gives a clue to an aspect of continuing incompatibility between these two agencies, and suggests an functional division that does not match modern needs. The lack of alignment in three critical area – Africa, Middle East, and South Asia – is one issue. Another, arguably more critical, is not indicated by the map: while Defense looks at regions, State functions at the country level. This is a problem when public affairs officers in one country does not have the same priorities as the PAO in the neighboring country. The greater issue is when the ambassadors in a region do not agree or concur on courses of action. 

Source: Depeartment of State  http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65617.pdf
Source: Depeartment of State  http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65617.pdf

State can, and must, do more to be a partner, or a leader among equals. Authorities at several levels of leaders do not equate across the agencies, the ranks do not match, and resources available fosters real and perceived differences in power to affect change with audiences abroad and domestically. 

As collaboration between State and Defense increases, State and Defense must align how they divide up the world and adjust their organizations accordingly. As it is, State should adapt its nineteenth century model to Defense’s model. This means State needs to do some promoting and one elimination. State must get rid of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and elevate the Assistant Secretaries in charge of each regional bureaus to Under Secretary, making the head of the regional bureau the equivalent of a four-star general and thus a co-equal, by rank, to the Combatant Commander. Whenever a Combatant Commander appears on the Hill, so to should the Regional Under Secretary.

I’ve received some push back on this structure because of the additional reporting to the Secretary of State, but if the Secretary of Defense can have Combatant Commanders report directly to him, why can’t the Secretary of State have Regional Bureaus report directly to here? Let’s flatten the hierarchy and move away from the 19th century alignment. Food for thought: should State instantiate a Joint Chiefs-like entity for an additional advisor?

Sure, Ambassadors would lose some independence as the Bureaus become more powerful as State shifts to a regional view from a country-level view, but this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum. (Side note: regarding Ambassadors, keep in mind that everyone at State and Defense are the President’s representative.)

H/T to DF who scored big time finding the above map.