06 May 2013

Diplomacy, STEM, and the need to teach future diplomats.

The U.S.'s Anemic Civilian Outreach Abroad - David Rohde - The Atlantic

One of the dominant themes of our IB Global Politics course is that diplomacy and politics is not an easy enterprise. We play games and simulations in order to replicate the complexity of world politics. This is not done simply to facilitate learning in our classroom-which of course this does. We play games to highlight the obstacles, struggles, and often-muted successes that are part and parcel of contemporary geopolitical affairs. In addition, the research, problem-solving, and negotiation skills that are learned and honed in these games and simulations don't always translate into success, victories, or As (there are, of course, not really any "grades" in our class). The value of this sort of education is in the experiential realm. Preparing future leaders is not only about providing them with facts, figures, and methods for understanding. Preparing future practitioners of world politics means allowing them to engage, make mistakes, and to learn from scenarios that will inform their decisions in an unforeseen crisis, negotiation  or relationship at some future time to come. This is why decades-old programs like Model United Nations and newer projects like ICONS and Statecraft are so important-they help to provide our future diplomatic corps with the experience and tools to be successful in an ever-changing global landscape.

Successful arms control, peace, and trade negotiations are the result of tireless and sustained efforts on the part of dedicated professionals. Unfortunately, as Rohde contends above, we may be falling short in this endeavor. This is not to disparage any of our current professionals, some of whom are former teachers, classmates, and students of mine. Rather, Rohde reminds us that diplomacy is at once difficult and a vital endeavor; far tougher and arguably as important that isolated time in a laboratory. We need more innovative approaches to diplomacy, as well as incentives and pathways for more capable students to become professionals in the diplomatic class.

As Jordan Weissmann recently documented in The Atlantic, the United States may actually have an oversupply of graduates and workers in STEM programs. Rather than contributing to a future educational and economic bubble of STEM students who end up working out of field (a joke about English majors and baristas comes to mind), shouldn't we consider the ways in which we are training and expanding opportunities for future diplomats, foreign service officers, negotiators, policy and country experts, research and intelligence, analysts, and the host of other global professionals who work to promote and secure our country's interests? As Rohde's article reminds us; the world is always changing, but the U.S. approach to diplomacy is not. Perhaps we should be more thoughtful about supporting our current approach to statecraft as well as the ways in which we build our future diplomatic corps.

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