Strategic Thinking, Covid-19 and Globalization, and the Future of US Diplomacy

Tom Shannon Inter-American Dialogue

In an interview with Modern American Diplomacy, Ambassador Tom Shannon, Co-Chair of the Dialogue’s Board of Directors, discussed the significance of strategic thinking as it pertains to American diplomacy, challenges and revelations presented by Covid-19, and the future of the United States foreign service.

Comments by Amb. Shannon: 

“History is an important instiller of strategic understanding because it allows you to see the kinds of problems that other leaders and diplomats have had to deal with. While history might not repeat itself, it certainly rhymes. You can understand the similarities between different times and different situations.”

“I think what [the Foreign Service] is going to find as we get deeper into the 21st century is that almost every aspect of human life is going to be dealt with—not only the relationships between states and governments but also the ways in which societies and peoples interact with each other. Diplomats are going to find themselves at the intersection of all these relationships, and they’re going to have to have an ability to understand the social, economic, and political forces that are at work—not only in individual countries but regionally and globally.”

“What we’re understanding about global supply chains for pharmaceutical goods, medical devices, and personal protective equipment is all something that’s a bit of a revelation for us. We now realize that this is an incredibly important part of our national security.”

“The officers in the service today, those who are going to be doing the analysis, helping elected leaders understand the world, and implementing US policy, are going to be called on to have a very broad sweep of knowledge and to understand a range of issues that officers of my generation probably can’t even imagine.”

“We are servants of the American people. Therefore, we have to be ready to serve those who the American people choose to be our elected leaders through our institutions and through our democratic processes, whether we like it or not…It’s not that hard to be a Democratic diplomat, and it’s not that hard to be a Republican diplomat. But sometimes it’s really challenging to be an American diplomat when you have to move between and across administrations and very different political points of view.”

“Trust is built by clearly stating your point of view, your thoughts, and why you believe in something, but then acknowledging that—independent of what you think—once your leadership makes a decision, you are going to implement those decisions. It’s about respecting your constitutional role and responding to elected leadership, but it’s also about recognizing that you can’t sacrifice your individual integrity or your principles in the process.”

Listen to the full interview here