#1 - Be Proactive
Parag Khanna: Very often diplomats are just going through the motions. They’re taking the assignments that they are given and they conduct them in a very rote sort of way. We need to inspire and encourage a certain amount of innovation and that means incentives. Diplomats should really have to achieve something original in their role, create a new program, forge new relationships, really change a policy in order to get promoted, so I think being proactive is really a key step.
#2 - Begin With the End in Mind
Parag Khanna: Don’t just conduct negotiations for the sake of conducting them. What is the goal and that usually means setting a shorter time horizon rather than a longer one, not what are we going to achieve by the year 2030. It’s what are we going to achieve next year. Have concrete successes in the short term and then build on them.
#3 - Put First Things First
Parag Khanna: Often you have people in diplomatic institutions like the State Department basically trying to hoard portfolios. It’s how many different things can I be part of, how many fingers can I have in different pies. I think everyone should really have to focus on a core task. You found that secretaries of state are often doing Iraq on Monday, Palestine on Tuesday, North Korea on Wednesday, Afghanistan on Thursday and Brazil on Friday. That is no way to run a global or grand strategy. You really have to prioritize and also deputize and empower people below you to be constantly working on something and have a much more horizontal sort of architecture.
#4 - Think Win/Win
Parag Khanna: Very often in diplomacy you are representing yourself against the other. Therefore, you have a zero sum kind of mentality. That is not appropriate actually for diplomacy, which is supposed to be about reconciliation, compromise and finding common interests. In every situation that a diplomat faces they should be trying to figure out how can we maximize the benefit for everyone, so a good example of that is the role of China in Africa. You often hear Americans saying this is a new colonialism and China is pillaging and stealing Africa’s resources, but what if America were to come in and say now African governments have this wealth from Chinese investment, how can they make the most of that wealth to develop their own society? So the money that we are not giving or not investing in Africa, but that is now coming from China can still be used to Africa’s benefit with American help. That is win/win.
#5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Parag Khanna: This is particularly difficult for diplomats who again whose job it is to represent themselves to a foreign audience, so they come in and they lecture about American interests for example. In fact, the best way to build stronger ties with a foreign society, even a foreign government is to first understand what they want, what are their interests, what is their position and then respond accordingly, so we’ve seen a raft of American policies and programs. Take for example many of the Arabic language TV and radio stations launched in the aftermath of the Iraq war. A lot of those were quite tone deaf. They were not received well. They weren’t speaking to the Arab people. They weren’t addressing their interests or concerns in any way. Why not first go and understand what it is that they want and then produce programming accordingly? That is the right way to win hearts and minds, first to listen, then to speak.
#6 - Synergize
Parag Khanna: Diplomacy is hopelessly divided into silos, human rights here, environment here and democracy here and so on down the line. In fact, we need to synergize much more. A lot of these things are kind of common problems, common agendas. On the ground in a place like Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq these things are not really all that distinguishable from each other. We know that there is a poor education system because there is instability, poor healthcare because of poverty and so forth. All of these issues need to be much more integrated, but the interagency process doesn’t really exist in the US government or in many other governments. It’s usually just a fictitious umbrella that brings together different groups that are really still in silos and kind of fighting turf wars, so synergizing means actually saying what are the resources that each agency can bring to bear together to solve a common problem that looks nothing in reality like it does on paper.
#7 - Sharpen the Saw
Parag Khanna: Diplomats are generalists and I think that is a very good thing to have broad awareness of a great range of issues, but they can learn a lot more if they come out of the box or step outside the wire. Instead of hanging out so much with themselves and embassies they need to network much more in local society. They also need to network much more with experts whether it’s NGOs or businesses that are on the ground in a given country, so rather than embassy here, corporate office here, NGO headquarter here they should really be integrated much more and sharpening the saw is about learning the other skills, seeing what they’re doing and finding common agendas and activities that can be conducted across them. That is how you can get much more bang for your buck in diplomacy.