By Brett D. Schaefer, Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
Schaefer image from article
The State Department seems to lurch from disaster to distraction, responding to many crises but preventing few. Its influence in Washington, and American diplomatic influence globally, is waning….
With the rise of large, permanent defense and intelligence bureaucracies after World War II, and the more recent increase in size and stature of the National Security Council begun under Henry Kissinger and expanded since, State’s role is ever more constrained. Its regional and thematic policy experts are often muscled out of big decisions by other parts of the executive branch.
Only if the State Department’s internal weaknesses are cured will it become an effective leader in the making and implementation of the nation’s foreign policy. Only then can it credibly seek significant funding increases from Congress. The department suffers in particular from an ineffective organizational structure in which regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals, and in which sound management, accountability, and leadership are lacking. For this and other reasons, the power to determine national security policy has steadily migrated toward the National Security Council (NSC) staff.
Not an Issue of Resources
In the United States, we get 1 percent of the entire budget of the United States of America. Everything we do abroad within the State Department and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] is within that 1 percent—everything....
I guarantee you more than 50 percent of the history of this era is going to be written out of that 1 percent and the issues we confront in that 1 percent. And I ask you to think about that as you contemplate the budgets. Because we’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul.... We’ve been diminishing our capacity to be able to have the kind of impact we ought to be having in this more complicated world.
Re-establishing Clear Lines of Authority on Foreign Policy
The 24-hour news cycle has thrust many issues, no matter how trivial, into the limelight, making them the President’s responsibility. The news media expect every tactical detail, from the timing of a raid on a terrorist bunker to the targets of drone attacks, to be known and controlled by the President. As a result, the NSC staff gets overly involved not only in the minutiae of operations, but also in politics. It begins to operate more as a personal White House staff than as an advisory and policy coordination staff, sometimes even to the point of acting like a Praetorian Guard for the President’s political fortunes, which is particularly inappropriate given that many people on the staff are career civil servants from national security agencies rather than political appointees. The results are quite often disastrous.
Strengthening the State Department’s Traditional Bilateral and Multilateral Diplomacy
The State Department’s own effort to cover all the various aspects of national security policy—economic, transnational, regional, security—has produced an exceedingly complex organizational structure. Developing a distinct “State” point of view is now extremely difficult and this, in turn, has reduced the department’s ability to exercise any leadership.
Over the past decade, the impulse to create individual functional bureaus was useful substantively and politically; e.g., in the cases of human rights, democracy, law enforcement, refugees, political-military affairs, and nonproliferation. The problem is that overall organizational efficiency and effectiveness have been lost in the process….
As a result of these many deficiencies, confidence in the department is at an all-time low. A spiral of decay has unfolded over many years in which the Congress, reacting to inefficiencies within the department, has consistently underfunded the nation’s needs in the areas of representation overseas and foreign assistance. That underfunding, in turn, has deepened the State Department’s inadequacies. This spiral must be reversed.