The Foreign Service Journal, September 2012

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 7 The AFSA dissent award program has often been the subject of President’s Views columns by my predecessors, as well as letters, Speaking Out columns and FSJ articles. The purpose of such pieces is not just to draw attention to AFSA’s annual awards ceremony, or even to celebrate a program that is unique to AFSA and the diplomatic profession — important as both those goals are. Rather, AFSA has long regarded the expression of constructive dissent and the courage to speak out within the in- stitutional framework as essential to ef- fective diplomatic practice and to pro- fessionalism. Offering alternative ap- proaches and solutions has always been at the heart of AFSA’s role, both as a professional association and a union. Dissent is sometimes about a broad policy goal or the national interest, but more often it relates to strategies and tactics. In the fluid circumstances of foreign relations, the experience and judgment of individual members of the Foreign Service create room for honest differences of opinion. For the good of overall policy and its implementation, the tradition of constructive dissent needs to be sustained, recognized and appreciated within the context of insti- tutional discipline. With seniority comes the responsi- bility not only to gives one’s best profes- sional advice and judgment to political leadership, but also to clearly encourage this practice within the institution. Senior mem- bers of the Foreign Service should be role models in this regard and not be seen as swayed by political expediency. For all these reasons, AFSA’s con- structive dissent award program seeks to place real value on dissent within the system through public recognition of constructive dissenters. Yet over the decade since 9/11, AFSA has received a decreasing number of genuine dissent nominations, especially for the entry- level (Harriman) and senior-level (Herter) categories. Last year AFSA could not give awards in either of these categories. The problem, as AFSA President John Naland commented in his June 2009 column, is not necessarily a lack of constructive dissenters within the For- eign Service. Rather, there seems to be a shortage of colleagues willing to nom- inate them for an AFSA dissent award as a way of recognizing integrity and in- tellectual courage, and the value of dis- sent for effective policy implementation. What underpins this lack of motiva- tion? Does it stem from a view that the awards are a pointless exercise? Or does it reflect a change in the quality and understanding of professionalism and ethics within the Foreign Service? Are the nomination guidelines unclear, and do we need to do more to simplify and publicize them? And should we dismiss the apparent disinterest as a minor indicator of little import, or take it as a symptom of a deeper malaise: the institutional decline of the Foreign Service where political expediency and adjustment, rather than honest and objective advice, the hall- mark of professionalism, count for ca- reer advancement? This is an im- portant issue that calls for thoughtful in- trospection and analysis. AFSA will continue to champion creative, constructive dissent and will work to strengthen professionalism in diplomacy. Increasing member en- gagement in these and other AFSA is- sues is a priority. We welcome your ideas on how we can strengthen the tradition of con- structive dissent and the understanding of why it is important for the institution. Specifically, should we expand the awards’ scope to include non-Foreign Service members of our agencies? Should we expand our concept of dis- sent to clearly include the written ex- pression of creative alternative policy approaches and encourage its publica- tion in the FSJ , as our colleagues in the military do? How can we improve our system for eliciting dissent nomina- tions? And should AFSA be more proactive in seeking out examples of constructive dissent to recognize? Let us know what you think by writ- ing P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Can We Revive Constructive Dissent? Should We? B Y S USAN R. J OHNSON