The Boston Public Library and WorldBoston, both forward thinking organizations hosted and organized an important event to raise awareness of the role of diplomacy in enhancing American global leadership. Since the end of the second World War, the United States has led the world in military, economic and cultural power, yet the change in today’s global trends – the rise of China, geo-political challenges in Europe and shifting economic tides, gave the speakers an impetus to call on the American public to improve the state of the U.S. State Department.
Building on Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s compelling column and Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ alarming op-ed piece in the New York Times, their remarks at the Boston Public Library made a strong case in opposition of the 30 percent budget reduction to the U.S. Department of State by the Trump Administration. Ambassador Stephenson outlined the role of American diplomats, their strengths and what happens when diplomacy is done well – in terms of “invisibility and light touches,” while cultivating relationships to better negotiate international agreements and treaties. For example, the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement where community-based policing transformed relations between Catholics and Protestants.
Ambassador Stephenson and Ambassador (Retd.) Burns on the “The State of the State Department,” moderated by Mary Yntema, CEO of World Boston at Boston Public Library, February, 2018. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
Ambassador Stephenson closed her remarks by asking what happens when American diplomats are not stationed overseas? Her unequivocal response, was that without the presence of American diplomats, there is a void in the relationship between the United States and the host countries, there is a lack of intelligence or “eyes and ears” on the ground and it is difficult to deal with threats to U.S. interests. In short, Ambassador Stephenson emphasized that the budget cuts were not plausible and not sustainable for American global leadership in the world.
Ambassador Burns, a Massachusetts native began with how Boston, has always been an outward looking city with its seaport and trade relations with many countries. He went on to describe the extent to which the State Department budget cuts and the increase in federal spending on the Department of Defense was not prudent, nor wise. Ambassador Burns shared how the diplomatic corps and military personnel often share serving on the frontlines, therefore requiring better integration of State and Defense Departments. He provided examples such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Korea – where there are currently no US Ambassadors serving to protect and advance U.S. interests – all of which face important, complex political, economic and security issues. Ambassador Burns closed his remarks with an apt quote by Winston Churchill during his 1943 speech at Harvard University, just as the British Empire was on the decline and America’s influence was improving, by stating “the price of greatness is responsibility.” For students, educators and practitioners I highly recommend learning more about the Boston Network for International Development, which is why I attended this educational event.