Transitioning to the Department of State and Non-State (Updated)

“The world today can be much better understood if you think of it from the perspective of regions and not states,” said Gen. Jim Jones

International affairs is increasingly shaped by geography that disregards state boundaries and the primacy of governments. Discussions around America's ability to operate in this modern reality often ignore the effect bureaucratic structures and cultures.  

In the debates over how the State Department will engage foreign publics, lost in the shuffle is how the State Department remains oriented on countries instead of regions. The Department of State needs to become the Department of Non-State if it is to be effective as international affairs transcend the increasingly quaint issues of bilateral diplomacy.

For a variety of reasons, the Department of Defence has increased its role in foreign affairs. Decades ago, at the same time USIA was introduced, State was to have primacy in international affairs. Now it is one member of the interagency collaboration of unequal partners.

The map below gives a clue to an aspect of continuing incompatibility between these two agencies, and suggests an functional division that does not match modern needs. The lack of alignment in three critical area – Africa, Middle East, and South Asia – is one issue. Another, arguably more critical, is not indicated by the map: while Defense looks at regions, State functions at the country level. This is a problem when public affairs officers in one country does not have the same priorities as the PAO in the neighboring country. The greater issue is when the ambassadors in a region do not agree or concur on courses of action. 

State can, and must, do more to be a partner, or a leader among equals. Authorities at several levels of leaders do not equate across the agencies, the ranks do not match, and resources available fosters real and perceived differences in power to affect change with audiences abroad and domestically. 

As collaboration between State and Defense increases, State and Defense must align how they divide up the world and adjust their organizations accordingly. As it is, State should adapt its nineteenth century model to Defense’s model. This means State needs to do some promoting and one elimination. State must get rid of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and elevate the Assistant Secretaries in charge of each regional bureaus to Under Secretary, making the head of the regional bureau the equivalent of a four-star general and thus a co-equal, by rank, to the Combatant Commander. Whenever a Combatant Commander appears on the Hill, so to should the Regional Under Secretary.

I’ve received some push back on this structure because of the additional reporting to the Secretary of State, but if the Secretary of Defense can have Combatant Commanders report directly to him, why can’t the Secretary of State have Regional Bureaus report directly to here? Let’s flatten the hierarchy and move away from the 19th century alignment. Food for thought: should State instantiate a Joint Chiefs-like entity for an additional advisor?

Sure, Ambassadors would lose some independence as the Bureaus become more powerful as State shifts to a regional view from a country-level view, but this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum. (Side note: regarding Ambassadors, keep in mind that everyone at State and Defense are the President's representative.)

H/T to DF who scored big time finding the above map.