Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Confidence MacHarry is a Security Analyst at the same firm and can be found on Twitter @MacHarryCI. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.

Title:  Assessing the Role of Career Diplomats in National Security.

Date Originally Written:  April 30, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 10, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The authors believe that the relegation of career diplomats in shaping national security policy has robbed governments of vital perspectives sorely needed in great power competition.

Summary:  Career diplomats are an essential component of any national security apparatus. Their ability to understand allies and adversaries at the most basic levels means that governments are less likely to stumble down the path of armed conflict while securing the most favorable positions for themselves on the international stage. When diplomatic efforts take a back seat to those of military and security forces, the likelihood of conflict increases.

Text:  Diplomacy is one of the few professions which has remained true to its earliest history, albeit with a few marked adaptations to suit changing times. Harold Nicholson described diplomacy as “guiding international relations through negotiations, and how it manages ambassadors and envoys of these relations, and diplomatic working man or his art[1].”

The Greek style of diplomacy was founded on the abhorrence of secret pacts between leaders arising out of the distrust Greeks have for their leaders. The Greek diplomats pursued this narrative of intergovernmental relations, beginning with relations between the city-states, eventually extending to governments of non-Greek origin, most notably Persia.

The rise of international organizations has transformed the conduct of diplomacy between two entities into a multifaceted discipline. In its original form as relations between states, the conduct of diplomacy involved the exchange of officials in various capacities. Usually, the ambassador is the most important officer of one state’s relations to another. But, as international relations has grown over the last two centuries, diplomacy’s substance has transcended politics to include economic and socio-cultural relations, hence the entrance of consular officers and other subject matter experts amongst others. The exchange of ambassadors is not done without ceremony, and before a country accepts an ambassador, the sending country has to inform the recipient country about who is being sent. When the ambassador arrives, he or she is required to present a letter of credence to the head of state of the host country.

For relations between states to happen without friction, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 spelled out the rules of engagement. Article 27.3 states that the diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained, while Article 27.4 states that the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use[2]. Given the vulnerability of communications sent by wireless, by telephone, or by correspondence through public facilities—described in the commentary on Article 27.1 and 27.2 and increasing as technology advances and leaking meets with public sympathy—States attach prime importance to the security of the diplomatic bag for reliable transmission of confidential material.

No nation survives on autarky. Diplomacy, along with economic and cultural resources, makes up the soft power of a nation[3]. The importance of diplomats in ensuring state existence cannot be overemphasized and can be seen in the role they play in both peace and war. The ability to achieve foreign policy objectives via attracting and co-opting rather than hard power or coercion means that the country is spared the costs of waging wars[4].

Career diplomats (along with intelligence officers and analysts), through long service and academic study, serve as cultural experts and assist their political leaders in understanding developments from foreign countries. Diplomats understand the ideological leanings, beliefs, and fears of allies and adversaries. Such understanding is useful in crafting appropriate responses to developments. Diplomats are best positioned to seek out countries who share the same ideals with them, making alliances for national security easy. By building relationships with their counterparts from other nations, more channels for conflict resolution between countries become apparent.

These diplomatic understandings and relationships also facilitate both sides taking advantage of opportunities for military, political, and economic cooperation. Cultural attachés can facilitate educational exchanges, military attachés can prepare for joint exercises, and trade attachés can help businesses navigate the business environment in a foreign nation. All of these efforts deepen the bonds that bind countries together and make the peaceful resolution of disagreements more beneficial for all parties.

More importantly, career diplomats help their nations understand shared security threats and ensure a more effective joint response. The work that was done by American diplomats[5] to persuade China and Russia that a nuclear-armed Iran was not in their best interest comes to mind[6]. The sanctions regime that was created forced Iran to negotiate the status of its nuclear program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The alternative, military action against Iranian nuclear sites, had no guarantee of success and risked a wider, Middle East conflict.

Ultimately, diplomats are required in the entire spectrum of relationships between nations. In peace, they facilitate understanding and rapport between countries. In a crisis, they defuse tensions and calm fraying nerves. In war, they can negotiate terms to bring all sides to lay down their arms and win the peace. All these tasks can only be done if the political masters can be convinced that the price for peace is cheaper than the blood of brave men and women. If peace is valued, then competent civil servants positioned to represent their countries to the world and provide the platform to realize this goal.


[1] Nicholson, H. (1939). Diplomacy.

[2] Denza, E. (2016, January 14). Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from

[3] Smith, A. (2007, October). Turning on the Dime: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from

[4] Nye, J. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

[5] DePetris, D. (2016, August 9). Diplomacy, Not Force, Was the Best Choice With Iran. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from

[6] Almond, R. (2016, March 8). China and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from

Assessment Papers Confidence MacHarry Damimola Olawuyi Diplomacy

Assessing U.S. Use of Coercive Diplomacy

Assad Raza is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment experience throughout the Middle East.  He holds a M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in International Conflict Management from Norwich University, and is a graduate of The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation Command and General Staff Officer Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He can be found on Twitter @assadraza12.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing U.S. Use of Coercive Diplomacy

Date Originally Written:  February 23, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 9, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes the U.S. should only use coercive diplomacy if the situation is vital to U.S. interests, and the U.S. is prepared to go to war if necessary.

Summary:  U.S. use of coercive diplomacy has conflicting results. The 2018 missile strikes to compel the Syrian regime to stop using chemical weapons on civilians succeeded. The 2020 killing of an Iranian general to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East failed. To date, North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear program despite U.S. military threats, sanctions, and diplomatic talks.  Coercive diplomacy’s success isn’t guaranteed and it risks escalation.

Text:  Throughout history, the United States has used coercive diplomacy as a diplomatic strategy to influence adversaries’ behaviors. However, the U.S. success rate on the use of this strategy has mixed results. One example is the failed U.S. attempts to persuade the government of Iraq to cease their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program before the 2003 invasion[3]. A more recent example is the January 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani that failed to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East and provoked their retaliation, which could have quickly escalated to conflict[2]. These two examples highlight the importance of understanding the motives and perceptions of the adversary that can limit the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy.

Coercive diplomacy is the use of military and non-military threats to primarily persuade an adversary to cease a specific action. Former Stanford University political professor, Alexander L. George, defined coercive diplomacy as a “defensive strategy that is employed to deal with the efforts of an adversary to change a status quo situation in his own favor, by persuading the adversary to stop what it is doing or to undo what it had done[3].” A successful example of coercive diplomacy is the 2018 U.S. missile strikes against the Syrian regime to compel them to stop chemical attacks on civilians[4].

When employing coercive diplomacy, the coercing power must have a credible threat for non-compliance. According to Alexander George, “…the military weaker side may be strongly motivated by what is at stake and refuse to back down, in effect calling the bluff of the coercing power[5].” An excellent example of this “calling of bluff” is U.S. President Barack Obama’s threats to use military action on the Syrian regime if they crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons on civilians. Once Syria crossed this red line, in August 2013, President Obama did not follow through on his threat, thus hurting U.S. credibility[6]. Failing to respond to non-compliance can cause the coercing power to lose credibility and negatively impact how it is perceived internationally as it did not follow through on its military promises.

Additionally, coercive diplomacy can include a mixture of military and non-military threats to influence an adversary’s behavior[7]. Yet, depending on what is at stake, not every actor will respond to these combinations of threats the same. For example, to date, North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear program and ballistic missile testing from the combination of U.S. military threats, sanctions, and diplomatic talks[8]. However, North Korea’s non-compliance may be due to their perceptions of the U.S. views on their nuclear program and the low risk of U.S. military actions based on U.S history towards them over the past 25 years.

One major risk of coercive diplomacy is the difficulty in calculating the adversary’s response. As Robert Art and Patrick Cronin wrote, “… mistakes are easy to make in situations where resolve is hard to estimate. …the coercer often underestimates the targets will to resist. Consequently, the coercer has to apply larger amounts of force, but then it entered the realm of war[9].” Two examples of this type of escalation are the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air campaign due to Serbian non-compliance to stop their persecution of Kosovo Albanians and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to halt their WMD program. Hence, there are no guarantees that the use of coercive diplomacy will persuade the adversary to stop an action or, worse, the adversary’s miscalculations could escalate the situation.

As mentioned earlier, before employing coercive diplomacy, it is crucial to understand the adversary’s motivations and what is at stake for them. The January 2020 drone strike that killed the Iranian general is an example of the need for understanding motivational factors to calculate an adversary’s response. Iran’s potential loss of credibility within their own country and the region may have driven their retaliatory missile attacks at the two bases in Iraq[10]. Although there were no U.S. fatalities, with the right miscalculations, this retaliation could have escalated past coercive diplomacy to full-on war. This example reveals the risk of employing coercive diplomacy and the difficulties with calculating adversaries’ countermeasures.

In summary, the recent use of U.S. coercive diplomacy has conflicting results. For example, the 2018 missile strikes to compel the Syrian regime to stop using chemical weapons civilians achieved its objectives, but the 2020 drone strike of the Iranian general to compel Iran to stop its aggression in the Middle East did not. Iran’s retaliation demonstrates that weaker states will respond back if they believe their credibility is at stake. Also, the use of coercive diplomacy against North Korea shows the difficulty of changing an adversary’s behavior when their most vital program for survival is at stake. Moreover, coercive diplomacy is only of value if the threat is credible, and the nation is prepared to go to war if necessary. Lastly, coercive diplomacy is a risky strategy as it depends on the adversary’s motivations, and any wrong calculation can escalate the situation to full-on war, as seen with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


[1] Jervis, R. (2013). Getting to Yes with Iran: The Challenges of Coercive Diplomacy. Foreign Affairs, 92(1), 105-115. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from

[2] Missy Ryan, J. D. (2020, January 4). How Trump decided to kill a top Iranian general. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from

[3] Levy, J. (2008). Deterrence and Coercive Diplomacy: The Contributions of Alexander George. Political Psychology, 29(4), 537-552. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from

[4] Anne Gearan, M. R. (2018, April 14). U.S. and allies warn Syria of more missile strikes if chemical attacks used again. Retrieved February 2020, from

[5] George, A. L. (1991). Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[6] Chollet, D., Glover, J., Greenfield, J., & Glorioso, A. (2016, July 19). Obama’s Red Line, Revisited. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from

[7] George, A. L. (1991). Forceful persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[8] North Korea. (2019, August). Retrieved February 23, 2020, from

[9] Cronin, P. M., & Art, R. J. (2003). United States and Coercive Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: United States Inst. of Peace Press.

[10] Bender, B., Zanona, M., Ferris, S., O’Brien, C., Starks, T., & Forgery, Q. (2020, January 7). Iran retaliates with missile attacks on U.S. troop locations in Iraq. Retrieved February 2020, from


Assad Raza Assessment Papers Coercive Diplomacy Diplomacy

U.S. Diplomacy Options for Security & Adaptability in Cyberspace

Matthew Reitman is a science and technology journalist.  He has a background in security policy and studied International Relations at Boston University.  He can be found on Twitter @MatthewReitman.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  U.S. competitors conducting national security activities in cyberspace below the threshold of war aka in the “Gray Zone.”

Date Originally Written:  April 14, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  May 18, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. State Department towards cyberspace.

Background:  State actors and their non-state proxies operate aggressively in cyberspace, but within a gray zone that violates international norms without justifying a “kinetic” response.  Russian influence operations in the 2016 U.S. election were not an act of war, but escalated tensions dramatically[1].  North Korea used the Lazarus Group to circumvent sanctions by stealing $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank[2].  Since a U.S.-People’s Republic of China (PRC) agreement in 2015 to curb corporate espionage, there have been 13 intrusions by groups based in the PRC against the U.S. private sector[3].  The State Department has helped to curb Islamic State of Iraq and Syria propaganda online via the Global Engagement Center[4].  The recent creation of another interagency entity, the Russia Information Group, suggests similar efforts could be effective elsewhere[5].

The State Department continues to work towards establishing behavior norms in cyberspace via multilateral channels, like the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts, and bilateral channels, but this remains a slow and tedious process.  Until those norms are codified, gray zone activities in cyberspace will continue.  The risk of attacks on Information Technology (IT) or critical infrastructure and less destructive acts will only grow as the rest of the world comes online, increasing the attack surface.

Significance:  The ever-growing digitally connected ecosystem presents a chimera-like set of risks and rewards for U.S. policymakers.  Protecting the free exchange of information online, let alone keeping the U.S. and its allies safe, is difficult when facing gray zone threats.  Responding with conventional tools like economic sanctions can be evaded more easily online, while “hacking back” can escalate tensions in cyberspace and further runs the risk of creating a conflict that spills offline.  Despite the challenge, diplomacy can reduce threats and deescalate tensions for the U.S. and its allies by balancing security and adaptability.  This article provides policy options for responding to and defending against a range of gray zone threats in cyberspace.

Option #1:  Establish effective compellence methods tailored to each adversary.  Option #1 seeks to combine and tailor traditional coercive diplomacy methods like indictments, sanctions, and “naming and shaming,” in tandem with aggressive counter-messaging to combat information warfare, which can be anything from debunking fake news to producing misinformation that undermines the adversary’s narrative.  A bifocal approach has shown to be more effective form of coercion[6] than one or the other.

Risk:  Depending on the severity, the combined and tailored compellence methods could turn public opinion against the U.S.  Extreme sanctions that punish civilian populations could be viewed unfavorably.  If sanctions are evaded online, escalation could increase as more aggressive responses are considered.  “Naming and shaming” could backfire if an attack is falsely attributed.  Fake bread crumbs can be left behind in code to obfuscate the true offender and make it look as though another nation is responsible.  Depending on the severity of counter-propaganda, its content could damage U.S. credibility, especially if conducted covertly.  Additionally, U.S. actions under Option #1 could undermine efforts to establish behavior norms in cyberspace.

Gain:  Combined and tailored compellence methods can isolate an adversary financially and politically while eroding domestic support.  “Naming and shaming” sends a clear message to the adversary and the world that their actions will not be tolerated, justifying any retaliation.  Sanctions can weaken an economy and cut off outside funding for political support.  Leaking unfavorable information and counter-propaganda undermines an adversary’s credibility and also erodes domestic support.  Option #1’s severity can range depending on the scenario, from amplifying the spread of accurate news and leaked documents with social botnets to deliberately spreading misinformation.  By escalating these options, the risks increase.

Option #2:  Support U.S. Allies’ cybersecurity due diligence and capacity building.  Option #2 pursues confidence-building measures in cyberspace as a means of deterrence offline, so nations with U.S. collective defense agreements have priority.  This involves fortifying allies’ IT networks and industrial control systems for critical infrastructure by taking measures to reduce vulnerabilities and improve cybersecurity incident response teams (CSIRTs).  This option is paired with foreign aid for programs that teach media literacy, “cyber hygiene,” and computer science to civilians.

Risk:  Improving allies’ defensive posture can be viewed by some nations as threatening and could escalate tensions.  Helping allies fortify their defensive capabilities could lead to some sense of assumed responsibility if those measures failed, potentially fracturing the relationship or causing the U.S. to come to their defense.  Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enhanced defense systems aren’t a silver bullet and can contribute to a false sense of security.  Any effort to defend against information warfare runs the potential of going too far by infringing freedom of speech.  Aside from diminishing public trust in the U.S., Option #2 could undermine efforts to establish behavior norms in cyberspace.

Gain:  Collectively, this strategy can strengthen U.S. Allies by contributing to their independence while bolstering their defense against a range of attacks.  Option #2 can reduce risks to U.S. networks by decreasing threats to foreign networks.  Penetration testing and threat sharing can highlight vulnerabilities in IT networks and critical infrastructure, while educating CSIRTs.  Advances in AI-enhanced cybersecurity systems can decrease response time and reduce network intrusions.  Funding computer science education trains the next generation of CSIRTs.  Cyber hygiene, or best cybersecurity practices, can make civilians less susceptible to cyber intrusions, while media literacy can counter the effects of information warfare.

Other Comments:  The U.S. Cyber Command and intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, are largely responsible for U.S. government operations in cyberspace.  The U.S. State Department’s range of options may be limited, but partnering with the military and intelligence communities, as well as the private sector is crucial.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Nakashima, E. (2017, February 7) Russia’s apparent meddling in U.S. election is not an act of war, cyber expert says. Washington Post. Retrieved from:

[2]  Finkle, J. (2017, March 15) “North Korean hacking group behind recent attacks on banks: Symantec.” Reuters. Retrieved from:

[3]  FireEye. (2016, June 20). Red Line Drawn: China Recalculates Its Use Of Cyber Espionage. Retrieved from:

[4]  Warrick, J. (2017, February 3). “How a U.S. team uses Facebook, guerrilla marketing to peel off potential ISIS recruits.” Washington Post. Retrieved from:

[5]  Mak, T. (2017, February 6). “U.S. Preps for Infowar on Russia”. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from:

[6]  Valeriano, B., & Jensen, B. (2017, March 16). “From Arms and Influence to Data and Manipulation: What Can Thomas Schelling Tell Us About Cyber Coercion?”. Lawfare. Retrieved from:

Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Cyberspace Diplomacy Matthew Reitman Option Papers United States