Op-ed: Reinventing Diplomacy
April 11, 2012 Op-ed
by Dean Hutchings of the LBJ School (University of Texas at Austin)
As American forces return home from our country’s two longest wars – Iraq and Afghanistan – and with our military capacity severely depleted, even as some politicians call for interventions in Syria and Iran, it is time for stocktaking. What international role should America play in the 21st century world? How, and with what, should our country engage the rest of the world? What place does our still-unrivaled military power play, and how can we better use the formidable non-military elements of American power and influence? How, in particular, can we resurrect diplomacy from the musty archives of the past and make it more relevant to the present and future?
To address these urgent questions, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in collaboration with others schools, colleges, and centers at The University of Texas at Austin, has launched a new program on “Reinventing Diplomacy.” Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer – still among the most popular European politicians and always among the most outspoken – traveled from Berlin to Austin last month to kick off the new endeavor with a lecture at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.
Through innovations in teaching, research, and public outreach, we aim to make the study of diplomacy more comprehensive, more modern and, by involving experts and policy makers from around the world, more global in outlook. Our aim is to prepare a whole new generation of Americans for the challenges and opportunities of a complex, interconnected world.
We need to rescue diplomacy from some bad habits that came out of America’s Cold War experience. Because that long conflict had such a substantial military component, and because we built up an enormous military arsenal as a result, it is tempting to view current world problems through the same lens. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the so-called “global war on terror” reinforced this tendency.
As a wise man once said, if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. There is nothing wrong with using the hammer occasionally, but we need a few other instruments in our tool kit.
Twenty years after the end of the Cold War and ten years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we need a more balanced approach to the multitude of challenges we face. How do we prepare ourselves and our future leaders for this brave new world?
America has the world’s most sophisticated and ubiquitous military – present in every corner of the globe, and performing missions from border protection to rural development, counterinsurgency and targeted killings. We spend untold trillions of dollars on our military and many billions on military training. (I was trained in the Naval reserves, in Naval ROTC, at the U.S. Naval Academy, and then, after graduating from the Academy, in countless professional training courses as a Naval officer – at enormous taxpayer expense.)
At the same time, the US has a deficient diplomatic corps – underfunded, insufficiently trained, and frequently overmatched by the breadth and scope of the problems we face around the world. In the past decade, we have occupied two countries about which we had only the barest knowledge, employing poorly designed occupation strategies uninformed by the complexities of local culture and history. How can such a capable and innovative country as ours find itself so overwhelmed by such challenges? We need to get serious about the business of diplomacy.
The LBJ School of Public Affairs proposes an educational and research program that will lead a diplomatic renaissance among the next generation of diplomatic leaders. The absence of diplomacy in university curricula is striking. Just as mathematics and literature are taught because they are necessary to the maturation of a citizen outside of the classroom, we should teach diplomacy and the important set of skills it develops to those aspiring to work in foreign policy and the international realm more broadly. The nation-state is not going away in the 21st century, but neither is it the only actor that matters anymore. To be sure we need to equip the next generation of diplomats, but we also need to provide the skills of diplomacy to the next generation of international leaders in the realms of business, philanthropy, journalism, and development as well.
We propose to re-imagine and reinvent this field through sustained efforts to recruit, train and reward the brightest young minds to consider career paths that involve diplomatic tracks. The Johnson School seeks to build this program through three main components.
First, we are creating a new multi-disciplinary program of teaching in history, strategy, and statecraft in our own curriculum at UT-Austin, using historical case studies of grand strategy, decision-making, and international negotiation. This will be a world-class program that brings in faculty and students from the departments of history and government, the Law School, and the many centers for regional studies across campus. Our university is already among the best in the country in international history. We aim to make it better.
Second, we are reaching out across the world to make the study of statecraft truly global. It is a grand irony that scholars and students of international relations around the world speak the same language: they read the same books, debate the same theories, talk about the same controversies. But their diplomats do not: they are trained in totally different ways, with the result that American and French diplomats (to say nothing about Chinese or Brazilian or Indian diplomats) often talk past each other. We aim to change this.
Third, we want to engage and involve the public, from school kids to senior citizens and everyone in between. I recently met with a group of sixth-graders from Round Rock ISD’s Grisham Middle School who were researching a project on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Brilliant! We need more such students! We also want to bring practicing diplomats here to Austin, taking them out of the rarified isolation of international diplomacy into the classroom for serious discussion with some of our leading academics. Diplomats and the wider public are too disconnected from one another. We aim to bring them closer together.
And we are reaching out to civic leaders here in Austin. Together with a group of local leaders, we just last month created an Austin Council on Foreign Affairs – my friend Joschka Fischer kicked off that initiative, too – and we want to bring in more people from this amazing, dynamic, and innovative community into the broader effort to reinvent American diplomacy.
As part of our ongoing Reinventing Diplomacy Lecture series, former Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy joined us this past Monday and Tuesday, April 9-10. Ambassador Fahmy provided his unique perspective and insights on “The Arab Revolutions” during a major public lecture and addressed students and faculty at a second event, focusing on “Arab-Israeli Diplomacy from Camp David to the Present.”
So, how supportive and involved can we expect the diplomatic community to be in our efforts to create this next generation of diplomatic leaders? I look no farther back than the weekend of March 30 for that answer. Joining us at the LBJ School for a two-day Crisis Simulation exercise were 9 former ambassadors, each of whom mentored a team of students presented with a real-world crisis simulation. The takeaway? Those whose only tool is the hammer soon will be joined by a new generation of rising leaders with the historical perspective and innovative training needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges. To be continued…
Ambassador Robert L. Hutchings
Dean, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
Robert Hutchings is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. From 2003-05, he was Chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council in Washington. His combined academic and diplomatic career has included service as Fellow and Director of International Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Director for European Affairs with the National Security Council, and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, with the rank of ambassador.