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Needed: A Professional Specialization
in International Organization Affairs
mbassador Glyn T. Davies’ ar-
ticle in the December issue of
Foreign Service Journal
“Wanted: Experienced Officers to Ad-
dress Global Challenges,” persuasively
explains the importance of multilateral
diplomacy and the value to Foreign
Service generalists of assignments to in-
ternational organizations and agencies.
I hope that many readers will take
his advice to heart and bid on such
postings. Still, his call verges on treat-
ing such assignments as one-time post-
ings—a 21st-century version of the old
“take an excursion tour to see what the
rest of the world looks like” approach.
As such, it falls well short of what
American career diplomats, the For-
eign Service and the State Department
must do to enhance our effectiveness
in multilateral diplomacy, in general,
and our performance at international
organizations, in particular.
Instead, the Foreign Service should
be striving to establish a comprehen-
sive, professional approach to the dis-
cipline of multilateral diplomacy.
Toward that end, what is needed is
not merely a single tour for some offi-
cers, but a career concentration for a
significant number of FSOs. In other
words, the Service needs to craft a pro-
fessional career “area” specialization.
It is true that much diplomatic ex-
pertise translates from post to post, and
multilateral assignments are no differ-
ent from bilateral ones in that regard.
And it is also true that no matter what
kind of work they are doing, good offi-
cers become knowledgeable well be-
fore the end of the tour (especially if it
lasts three years or longer).
Multilateral Expertise
Nevertheless, one-off tours simply
do not provide the concerned officer,
nor the U.S. government, with real ex-
pertise. No matter how skillful the in-
dividual becomes, a good deal of that
experience is lost, or filed away, simply
because the officer only rarely gets an
opportunity to use it in future assign-
ments. For this reason, the Foreign
Service has created both geographic
and functional specializations, and pro-
vided appropriate training, education
and assignment patterns for each.
The one-tour limitation is particu-
larly characteristic of multilateral as-
signments, where second tours are rare
and where much of the experience ac-
quired does not translate well to bilat-
eral work. Certainly, at any one time a
good number of our multilateral mis-
sion staff should be “one-timers,” as is
true in bilateral missions. But at the
same time, there should be a core of ex-
perienced officers with “local” back-
ground and professional memory.
One comforting aspect of this sug-
gestion is that it does not require any
fundamental change in the current sys-
tem of five career tracks. These tracks
(or “cones” if you wish) — consular,
economic, management, political and
public diplomacy — all represent pro-
fessional perspectives in play at inter-
national organizations. Every inter-
national organization deals with those
subjects daily, so country representa-
tives require expertise in all of these
subjects. For instance, there are many
opportunities for management track of-
ficers to represent the United States on
various United Nations budget, man-
agement and reform committees.
But officers also require the “area
expertise” of the specific organization
as a sort of overlay to the track special-
ization. For that reason, I would not
recommend creating a sixth career
organization expertise
would be an additional
specialization —
a sort of overlay
to the officer’s main
career track.
J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L