Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revamp the US Foreign Service

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revamp the US Foreign Service

Article excerpt

IN his recent speech before the United Nations, President Bush advocated an overhaul of the US Agency for International Development (AID), yet did not address a more immediate task - revamping the US Foreign Service. Despite the end of the cold war, America's State Department officers have been permitted to languish in the past.

As a product of the old Eastern establishment that has traditionally constituted the Foreign Service, George Bush perhaps has not realized that our diplomatic corps needs a new set of marching orders. Given the fierce economic competition, this elite structure cannot continue operating as it has for the last 50 years.

Today, US embassies throughout the world do little to aid American businesses in entering new markets or expanding their share of existing trade. A dramatic illustration of this is the staffing at missions abroad. In nearly all the countries of the former Eastern bloc, the Bush administration has assigned only one individual to assist US companies. That's one commercial officer for an entire country. In the case of Russia, that equals one person for a market of 150 million people.

Other countries, such as Germany and Japan, employ many more individuals abroad to assist their companies in developing new markets.

In practice, a single commercial officer in a given country cannot help more than a minuscule number of American companies. Today the State and Commerce Departments maintain separate services that station individuals abroad. Despite the end of the cold war neither has been altered, restaffed, or redeployed to promote American businesses. Expanded foreign trade means jobs at home, yet the facts show that currently nothing tangible is being done with government personnel to promote US exports.

Four key elements are required for the Foreign Service to lead a resurgent US business community into the next century.

1. A new vision. The underlying vision of the US Foreign Service must change to place US business interests on an equal footing with American diplomatic objectives. Leadership at the top, from the president to the secretaries of State and Commerce, must promulgate a vision for a new economic mission abroad. …

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