The Foreign Service at 90: Making Our Country Safer, More Secure, and More Prosperous

Posted by William J. Burns
May 22, 2014
Secretary Kerry Greets U.S. Foreign Affairs Employees at the Foreign Service Institute

Teddy Roosevelt once remarked that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.  By that standard, all of us who have had the privilege of serving in the Foreign Service over the past 90 years are extraordinarily fortunate. 

For all the risk, uncertainties, and tough choices we have to navigate every day in an endlessly complicated world, ours is a chance to make a difference, a rare opportunity through public service to make our country safer and more secure and more prosperous, and to help make the world a little bit more hospitable place for the pursuit of human dignity.

We serve American interests and values in a world that scarcely resembles the Cold War world of thirty years ago, when I entered the diplomatic service. It is a world in which power is more diffuse, and measured in more ways. It is a world in which there are more players, in governments and outside governments, in which information moves faster and in greater volume than ever before.  In such a world, it is fashionable to question whether professional American diplomacy still has a role.  I am profoundly convinced that it does, in some respects more than ever before.

The United States Foreign Service is much smaller than most Americans would probably think. There are only about 13,000 American Foreign Service Officers today. Once seen as the province of East Coast elitists, the Foreign Service today is remarkably diverse, increasingly reflecting the incredible mosaic of peoples and experiences that is America's most enduring source of strength.  A quarter of current Foreign Service Officers have served in war zones over the last decade, separated from their families, and exposed to persistent risk and violence.  Along with thousands of other equally-dedicated specialists, career civil servants, Foreign Service Nationals, and family members who make so many sacrifices of their own, we serve the American people at home and abroad.

It is our job to build coalitions with partners to resolve conflicts and enhance our security, to strengthen ties between societies as well as governments, to help American companies export and invest and create jobs for Americans, and to connect the dots among issues and help our political leadership anticipate problems and trend lines.  It is our job to be hard-headed about what matters most to the United States, precise in setting priorities and connecting ends to means, persistent in the face of adversity and seemingly intractable dilemmas, and principled in how we conduct ourselves.  And it is our job to stay in the arena, to pick ourselves up after setbacks, to keep pushing important rocks up even the steepest of hills, and to speak truth to power, even when it is inconvenient.

I am extraordinarily proud to be a career American diplomat, proud of the people I serve with, and proud of the country we serve. I wish the Department and its Foreign Service Officers the very best for the next 90 years and beyond!

About the Author: William J. Burns serves as Deputy Secretary of State.

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Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
May 23, 2014
I was half expecting some poor old soul would be called up for recongnition of service at this shin-dig; having being let out of the mail room after 90 years from the depths of Foggy Bottom at long last to see sunshine again, but..(chuckle)..HEY! Happy Birthday Foreign Service!


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