Sunday, February 8, 2015

Nick Burns On: Everything

This week, the former Undersecretary for Political Affairs (usually the top non-political appointee in the State Department) and diplomatic hot shot Nicholas Burns stopped by FSI, where I'm doing my training. He spoke to the Foreign Service Officers, including me, on a variety of topics including the future of US diplomacy, great power competition, our relationship with Iran and much more. The talk was moderated by Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, the Director of FSI, who at this point in my career is one of my favorite diplomats.

A few interesting topics Ambassador Burns tackled, now that he works for Harvard and can speak as a private citizen:

On the US relationship with Iran.  Burns supports the current negotiations with Iran and believes that US diplomats could be back in Tehran within three years.

On the Foreign Service's past. Burns talked about growing diversity in the department, but how the present status is not enough. He referenced days not too long ago when the service was dominated by East Coast, Ivy League, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, "no offense to anyone here from that background," he joked.

On Foreign Service Generalists and the importance of Public Diplomacy. He repeatedly highlighted the importance of public diplomacy, especially in the context of the propaganda offensive undertaken by Russia on the topic of eastern Ukraine. He also thought that the idea of "cones" or "tracks" (Economic, Political, Public Diplomacy, Consular and Management) should be taken out of the Foreign Service and that all FSO Generalists should truly be generalists.

As an Economic-coned officer with a degree in international politics, a professional background in public relations, an interest in management and currently taking consular training, I find myself agreeing with that last point.