Thursday, January 31, 2008

The civilian instruments of security

Here is a piece by retired U.S. diplomat Ambassador R. Grant Smith, a previous U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan. Smith served in India and Nepal and was DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) in New Delhi. He also served as Director of the Department's South Asia Office and is a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) at Johns Hopkins University.

The Civilian Instruments of Security

American diplomats today expect to live and work under tough — and often dangerous — conditions, contrary to the views in the editorial from the Wheeling News-Register that The Journal reprinted Dec. 17.

Nobody signs up for the U.S. Foreign Service any longer in the expectation of going to posh European posts. Two-thirds of Foreign Service overseas positions are now in places designated as “hardship” locations because of difficult living conditions, including violent crime, extreme health risks and terrorist threats.

In my own case, which is not unusual, my wife and I spent all of our overseas time at hardship posts. We concluded our 38 years in the Foreign Service in Tajikistan in the middle of a civil war, living in two rooms in a hotel without heat in the winter and sometimes without running water. Our reward was to be able to contribute to a successful peace process that ended the civil war.

So far, 1,600 members of the Foreign Service have volunteered to serve in Iraq out of a total of 11,500. Yes, it is becoming more difficult to fill the 270 Foreign Service positions there, but volunteers are still coming forward despite the fact that they will be separated from their families, very restricted in their movements for security reasons and able to interact with Iraqis only with great difficulty and risk.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Foreign Service officers work not only in the capital, but also fill key positions in Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Most of the Foreign Service members who have not yet served in Iraq or Afghanistan are either at or have recently returned from an assignment in another hardship post.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the Foreign Service needs 2,000 more members to fill existing positions and training slots. While the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are almost fully staffed, the average embassy operates with just 79 percent of its Foreign Service staff. Officers are being sent to serve with Provincial Reconstruction Teams with only a few weeks training rather than the months of training that their predecessors got before going to Vietnam to serve with the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support program there.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a speech at Kansas State University last month, said that “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win.” He went onto identify a “need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security” and supported Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call for increased budget and expansion of the Foreign Service.

In short, the Foreign Service is stretched thin; it needs more people and more money.

The 40 Foreign Service retirees in the Eastern Panhandle area provide a resource of information not only about the organization, but also about foreign affairs.

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