The Foreign Ministry 2017-08-18T17:15:14+00:00

Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 1: The Foreign Ministry

p. 8: Itamaraty. For interesting views of the Brazilian foreign ministry of US diplomats who have served in Brasilia, see the interviews with Mark Lore (Deputy Director of Brazilian Affairs, Latin American Bureau, Washington, DC, 1987-92; DCM, Brasilia 1992-5), Theodore Wilkinson (Political Counsellor, Brasilia, 1994-6), and especially Lawrence Cohen (Political/Military Affairs Officer, Brasilia, 2002-5, who towards the end of this posting drafted a ‘three-part mega-cable’ on the ministry), all of which appear on this page. Under the government dominated by the centre-left Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT), especially since Dilma Rousseff became president in 2011, the Itamaraty has been subjected to an unprecedented budgetary squeeze.

p. 8. Perhaps the Canadian ministry should be added to this Box because I see that in November 2015 it changed its name yet again. Briefly ‘Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada’, it is now ‘Global Affairs Canada’. On the other hand, while this is certainly snappier, it is difficult to see what other point might be behind it. Moreover, it might well be a mistake to contract it to ‘GAC’, since I see that, among other things, this is an acronym for ‘Guilty as Charged’!

pp. 9-10, Staffing and supporting missions abroad: The importance of this function is one of the reasons why so much alarm spread through the US Foreign Service when it was learned that, just days after taking office, Donald Trump effectively sacked (technically, he accepted pro forma resignations) the entire senior management team of the State Department (see Rogin in Further reading below).

p. 10: geographical and functional departments. This distinction is also reflected in the appointment of special envoys, whether by foreign ministries alone or – as in a recent case in the Netherlands – jointly by two or more government ministries (which might not include the foreign ministry) or a president or prime minister. Special envoys were usually given a brief for a particular state or geographical region but those with thematic instructions are on the rise. For example, in 2013 the European External Action Service appointed a Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and in March 2015 the Netherlands’ ministries of Infrastructure and the Environment, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, and Economic Affairs appointed for the first time a Special Envoy for International Water Affairs.

p. 11 (line 10 up), Hiving off a major function … and making it the subject of a separate ministry … : A spectacular example of this is the decision of the current British government – hijacked in 2016 by a group of anti-EU fanatics in the Conservative Party and their powerful allies in the press – not only to hive off from the FCO responsibility for negotiating Brexit to a new ministry, the ‘Department for Exiting the European Union’, but also some of its tasks in the realm of economic diplomacy to a new ‘Department for [non-EU] International Trade’.

p. 12, geographical/regional departments pushing back: on this point, I was very interested to read in a CREST document recently put online that in 1980 the CIA Directorate of Intelligence was also organized on regional lines instead of in the functional pattern that had prevailed for most of the previous 20 years, the latter having ‘imposed difficulties in preparing integrated analysis, thus limiting perspective.’


p. 15, fluctuations in a foreign ministry’s influence over time: Further examples of this come in the last year from Britain and America, in both of which states foreign ministry influence has dropped markedly – even catastrophically. The Foreign Office has suffered because it has long been pro-European Union but the British government has decided to quit this body. Unable to trust its officials with sufficient enthusiasm for this all-absorbing enterprise of national self-harm and also anxious to advertise its commitment to it, the government – as mentioned in the update to p. 11 (see above) – has actually given the task to two new departments of state. It has also made the Office a laughing stock by making Boris Johnson foreign secretary. As for the State Department, this is neither respected nor believed to be needed by President Trump, who appointed an oil man as secretary of state despite the fact that he had neither diplomatic nor political experience – and was well known for his remoteness from those below him. The department has been threatened with a 30 per cent budget cut (while defence spending is being dramatically increased) and a complete reorganization without a strategic rationale. Not surprisingly, there has been an exodus of staff, the number of unfilled vacancies at senior level (as well as with ambassadorships such as that at Seoul, South Korea) is unprecedented, and demoralization is widespread among staff remaining. State’s influence in interagency debate is minimal. p. 15, fluctuations in a foreign ministry’s influence over time: Further examples of this come in the last year from Britain and America, in both of which states foreign ministry influence has dropped markedly – even catastrophically. The Foreign Office has suffered because it has long been pro-European Union but the British government has decided to quit this body. Unable to trust its officials with sufficient enthusiasm for this all-absorbing enterprise of national self-harm and also anxious to advertise its commitment to it, the government – as mentioned in the update to p. 11 (see above) – has actually given the task to two new departments of state. It has also made the Office a laughing stock by making Boris Johnson foreign secretary. As for the State Department, this is neither respected nor believed to be needed by President Trump, who appointed an oil man as secretary of state despite the fact that he had neither diplomatic nor political experience – and was well known for his remoteness from those below him. The department has been threatened with a 30 per cent budget cut (while defence spending is being dramatically increased) and a complete reorganization without a strategic rationale. Not surprisingly, there has been an exodus of staff, the number of unfilled vacancies at senior level (as well as with ambassadorships such as that at Seoul, South Korea) is unprecedented, and demoralization is widespread among staff remaining. State’s influence in interagency debate is minimal.

Further reading: additions and links 

  • American Academy of Diplomacy, ‘American Diplomacy at Risk’ April 2015
  • Cohen, Roger, ‘The Desperation of Our Diplomats’, New York Times, 28 July 2017
  • Guardian, ‘Liam Fox tried to wrest control of Foreign Office duties from Boris Johnson’, 14 August 2016
  • Guardian, ‘Boris Johnson urged UK to continue Saudi arms sales after funeral bombing’, 10 February 2017
  • Hamilton, Keith, ‘Documenting diplomacy, Evaluating documents: the case of the CSCE’, in J. Kurbalija and H. Slavik (eds), Language and Diplomacy (DiploFoundation: 2001)
  • Hudson, John, ‘Trump Hasn’t Appointed An Ambassador To Korea And Now It’s A Big Problem’, Buzzfeed, 9 August 2017
  • Ioffe, Julia, ‘The State of Trump’s State Department’, The Atlantic, 1 March 2017
  • Lakshmanan, Indira A.R., ‘Rex Tillerson’s poor “tone at the top” on press freedom sets a dangerous precedent’, Poynter Commentary, 17 March, 2017
  • Rogin, Joe, ‘The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned’, Washington Post, 26 January 2017
  • Telegraph, ‘Liam Fox and Boris Johnson locked in feud over who controls Britain’s foreign policy’, 13 August 2016