Nuclear Diplomacy Matters

Letter from the Editor


The coronavirus pandemic has changed daily life around the world, bringing to a halt so many normal activities, such as going to the office and traveling. And yet the Foreign Service is still on the job in embassies and consulates in almost every country. Everyone is at risk for this virus, including our embassy colleagues.

During March, country after country announced border closings, sometimes suddenly. The State Department issued a “reconsider travel” advisory March 12, and on the 19th bumped that up to Level 4, “do not travel.”

My daughter was in Morocco for the semester as news of travel restrictions spread. She got the last seat on what was to be one of the last commercial flights out of Morocco. She was in the Casablanca airport getting ready to board when the government of Morocco announced a ban on international flights, effective immediately. Luckily, her flight did take off, and she’s home, finishing the semester online.

There are so many stories like this, so many people stuck in place as borders closed around them. Thousands of Americans scrambling to get back home turned to their embassies for assistance.

Facing an unprecedented global repatriation effort, each U.S. mission has had to figure out how to respond to the local circumstances and to assist as the demands snowballed. While the media reported on initial slow U.S. government response in some places, we are now hearing almost daily about how embassies have risen to this challenge. To date, the State Department has helped more than 50,000 Americans get home.

This month and next, we highlight some early stories of the Foreign Service’s response to the new coronavirus. For the July-August edition, we are collecting your firsthand accounts of how you and your team handled this crisis. Look for our request for input and share your stories, so Americans can know how their Foreign Service is continuing to work for them.

While the pandemic rages on, international relations cannot stop; diplomacy must continue.

For this, we need professional diplomats, which brings us to this month’s Speaking Out, “The Diplomat and the State.” Christopher Smith advocates a professional doctrine for diplomats. Related, a Q&A with the creators of the Twenty-Five Year Apprenticeship project describes the new interactive primer on becoming a successful diplomat.

Though understandably preoccupied with the coronavirus, we must not ignore another existential threat—nuclear war. This month’s focus explores the state of nuclear diplomacy today. There is cause for concern, to be sure, and we need experts on the job. We hear from three of them: Rose Gottemoeller, Tom Countryman and Joseph Cirincione.

Gottemoeller takes us through “A Short History” of nuclear arms control, a high-level look at where we’ve been and where we need to go.

Countryman explains how arms control agreements work as a national security tool, and reminds us that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were correct in their 1985 declaration that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Cirincione warns that the global nuclear security enterprise is close to collapse and argues for restarting arms control negotiations in the face of a new arms race.

All three experts assert that the New START agreement must be renewed before it expires in February 2021.

A selection of excerpts from FSJ articles on arms control diplomacy offers clues into the policy thinking from the 1970s on, and links to a large collection of related FSJ articles online.

John Naland lays out the history of the AFSA Memorial Plaques that honor Foreign Service personnel who have died in the line of duty overseas.

And in an Appreciation, including remembrances by friends and colleagues, we celebrate the “larger-than-life” AFSA and Foreign Service legend Tex Harris.

In FS Heritage, William Bent shares the little-known story of a U.S. consul serving in Martinique when the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century occurred. And Lian von Wantoch reflects on the Y2K disaster that wasn’t.

This is not the lightest of FSJ editions, but these are not the lightest of times.

Wishing all our readers comfort and good health.

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.