Six Things I Learned after Thirty Years in the Foreign Service (Part 1)

January 5, 2014 § 20 Comments

Diplomats have the honour of representing their country, and the privilege of getting close enough to international affairs to touch them, and be touched by them.  When I completed thirty years and contemplated my retirement from the foreign service, I reflected on what I had learned along the way. This in turn led me to identify some general principles to guide diplomatic conduct.  I hope that they may also be helpful to others who work in this tough, but rewarding practice of international relations.

Looking back over the seven countries and 13 positions I have held since I joined the Foreign Service on September 6, 1983 I have drawn six conclusions.

  1. Be careful, because the world is more dangerous than it used to be.
  2. Trust is the most valuable diplomatic asset.
  3. It is fatal to let the prestige of your job contaminate your ego.
  4. When it comes to development, peace and security, it’s really all about governance.
  5. When tough choices are required, you have to do the right thing, because that’s what people remember about you and your country.
  6. The way you say good-bye is more important than how you said hello.

Despatches is a blog of reflection and analysis on diplomacy and international policy subjects. In the next six posts I will write about my personal take on these six critical issues.

I hope you enjoy it and look forward to your comments.


sudan, aid, tim martin, consultant

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