The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 17 SPEAKING OUT Ambassador (ret.) Glyn Davies served 38 years as a Foreign Service officer in Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia, and at the State Department and White House. He was permanent representative to United Nations agencies in Vienna and U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. The celebration this year of the 100th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service and the approaching 250th anniversary of our nation’s founding offers hope that the story of diplomacy’s contribution to America’s success will be well told. How did a small, isolated, experimental republic gain acceptance and ultimately assume global leadership? Our success depended on how well we could navigate among nations. As an acknowledgment of that, the Department of State was established in 1789 as the first administrative arm of the U.S. executive branch. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, oversaw just two diplomatic posts, London and Paris, and 10 consular posts. No real estate came with the job, and there was no interest in acquiring any. Remarkably for a nation among the wealthiest by 1900, the United States largely avoided obtaining property to house its diplomats until after World War I. Yet we now have hundreds of historic properties and thousands of artworks, antiquities, and artifacts on six continents. They are a tangible representation of how American diplomacy navigated our way to world leadership. Their historical and cultural value is inestimable. But our nation’s diplomatic treasures are a fragile national resource. Many are centuries old. They require conservation and restoration for which public funding at scale will never be available. Either we dramatically raise awareness of them and adopt a new, robust philanthropic approach to their care, or we risk losing them. What Brought Me to This Challenge I grew up in a Foreign Service family and served 38 years as an FSO, visiting, working, and even living in some of State’s heritage properties. But I never fully understood how we came to own some 260 culturally, historically, or architecturally significant structures. I knew even less about the collections of more than 16,500 artworks and artifacts housed in our missions and residences. And I had no inkling of the challenge State faces in maintaining, much less restoring, it all. In retirement, by luck and coincidence, I found myself serving as a senior adviser to a small team in State’s Office of Cultural Heritage (CH), part of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. I was drawn to it after a lifetime in the Foreign Service and an interest in history and the power of cultural diplomacy. The Office of Cultural Heritage is responsible for cataloguing, assessing, setting standards for, and assisting colleagues worldwide in caring for our many culturally significant properties and far-flung collections. It is not quite a decade old. But the architects, engineers, historians, conservationists, and others among its dozen or so professionals have made great strides in bringing coherence and attention to the challenge of protecting State’s overseas heritage. I learned from them that inadequate funding to address the growing backlog of maintenance creates an especially acute problem for our older properties, typically ruling out needed restoration work or the installation of modern, more environmentally sound systems. We Needed: A New Approach to Protecting America’s Diplomatic Treasures BY GLYN DAVIES Either we dramatically raise awareness of them and adopt a new, robust philanthropic approach to their care, or we risk losing them.