Discussion with Mr Nicholas Kralev – "The Shifting Role and Impact of Diplomacy in a World in Disarray"

On October 21st, we had the pleasure to welcome in our institute Nicholas Kralev, Executive Director of the Washington International Diplomatic Academy. In his lecture, Mr. Kralev shared his thoughts on the role of diplomacy and elaborated on the challenges diplomacy has to face within the 21st century. While not a practitioner of diplomacy himself, Mr. Kralev has gained valuable experience in the art and craft of diplomacy throughout his long carrier as a journalist. As a diplomatic correspondent, he has been traveling with Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice.

About the role of diplomacy, Mr. Kralev told that diplomacy is the first resort of foreign policy. Diplomacy has mostly been about representation throughout history, nevertheless, its role has changed lately and has become increasingly a tool of influence. Transformational diplomacy is a good example of that. Coined the notion first by Condoleezza Rice, transformational diplomacy meant to promote democracy and stability. In the post-9/11 world, the underlying rationale behind transformational diplomacy was to ensure that no country would ever again become a safe haven for terrorists. Practically, however, the United States has been conducting transformational diplomacy at least since 1989. Then the four pillars of that were the building (or rebuilding) of democratic institutions, the transitioning from planned to a market economy, and the creation of a vibrant civil society as well as free and independent media.

Besides the expectations deriving from its changing role, diplomacy also has to face numerous other challenges in the 21st century. One of them is the erosion of the liberal world order. Since the Truman Doctrine, there was an unchallenged, bipartisan consensus behind the liberal international order which not only ensured the dominance of the United States but did so in a way that was beneficial for most of the other members of the international order, too. President Trump questions the Washington Consensus now as he perceives foreign policy to be a win or lose the game. Besides the unconventional stance on the diplomacy of the new American President, the effectiveness of US diplomacy is being undermined by other factors as well. While there are insufficient resources for the training of professional diplomats, the political leadership shows a deep distrust toward the Foreign Service and increasingly rely on outsiders in filling diplomatic positions. Consequently, one-third of the US diplomatic positions today are filled by political appointees. Political appointees as outsiders can be refreshing for such a highly bureaucratic system as the Foreign Service with their new ideas. However, many of them do not even have the necessary educational background for the position – even for posts in countries of key importance. Distrust toward the Foreign Service has not only led to an increasing number of trusted but less suitable to the task political appointees but also to a growing centralization. The latter has become most apparent during the term of the Obama Administration when the number of the staff of the National Security Council has quadrupled compared to the preceding years reaching 400. This testified about the White House's strengthening grip on foreign-policy making.

Mr. Kralev pointed out that ineffectiveness is not only specific to US diplomacy, as recent history illustrates. European countries have been caught off guard by the wave of migration from North Africa and the Middle East even though diplomats stationed in those countries should have had recognized the social, economic and political turbulence in the region and their possible impacts.