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In the National Interest? Does Diversity Make a Difference?

Speaker: Leslie H. Gelb, President, Council on Foreign Relations
May 15, 1997
Council on Foreign Relations



The council on foreign relations is committed to having the widest possible range of backgrounds, experiences, and intellectual perspectives represented in its work. Council Board and staff believe that the more perspectives we bring to bear in our activities, the better we will understand international affairs and the more we will be able to contribute to U.S. foreign policy.

These last years and especially in recent months, Council members and staff have devoted much time talking with one another about diversity. Our specific focus has been on how better to engage minorities and women in the full range of our programs. This effort was made possible by thoughtful and generous two-year grants from the Ford and Mellon Foundations, with a special provision for the Council's holding two diversity conferences.

The second conference entitled "In the National Interest: Does Diversity Make a Difference?"(marked the culmination of the two-year grants. It was a lively and encouraging event. Conference participants, Council members and non-members alike, represented a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The program presented an impressive lineup of speakers, including the eminent scholars Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Ronald Takaki. We were especially gratified that Bill Richardson joined us to share his personal perspective on the issue.

The conference report that follows was written by journalist Hollie I. West, with editorial contributions by David Vidal, who has been Council Vice President for Diversity Affairs under the Ford/Mellon grants. We commend the report to you for its able synthesis of very complex discussions and presentations.

The project on diversity has accomplished much. Council Board Chairman Pete Peterson, and Vice Chairman Hank Greenberg, along with the entire Board join me in thanking David Vidal as well as Council Diversity Task Force co-chairs George Dalley and Rita DiMartino for their dedication. Their work laid a solid foundation for the Council to move forward in institutionalizing diversity.

As we enter the institutionalizing phase, we can all agree on this: Any organization that aspires to leadership in the United States must move forward on the diversity front. We at the Council do so not for diversity's sake, but for our own sake.

Leslie H. Gelb
President, Council on Foreign Relations


Does Diversity Make a Difference?

The Council on Foreign Relations hosted its second conference on diversity and foreign policy on May 15-16, 1997. The conference, at the Council headquarters in New York City, was part of the Council's effort to encourage broader participation of minorities in the U.S. foreign policy process. Convened under the auspices of the Council's Project for Diversity in International Affairs, a two-year enterprise initiated in 1995, the meeting attracted leaders from business, academic, government, nonprofit, civic, and other organizations. The more than 170 participants came from thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Building on last year's conference, the participants—a quarter of whom had attended the earlier meeting—focused on a new set of questions. The conference theme, "In the National Interest: Does Diversity Make a Difference?" was designed to examine how the perspectives of ethnic minorities have affected—or will affect—U.S. policies toward various regions of the world and foreign policy in general. More particularly, the conference reflected the Council's commitment to fostering minority participation and influence in the activities of the Council itself. At the opening session, Council President Leslie H. Gelb reiterated the organization's pledge. "The conference today," he said, "continues to make that commitment a reality."

He was followed by Council Chairman Peter G. Peterson, who noted a growing diversity in the organization's membership. The membership, he remarked, included more women, more ethnic minorities, more young people, and more members from regions other than the Eastern seaboard in 1997 than it had when he became a member a quarter of a century earlier.

In those days, he continued, quiet diplomacy was almost a redundancy, as foreign policy was shaped by an unobtrusive elite partnership of personalities in the Northeast. In today's world, people might have differing views not only on how the so-called establishment should reach out to minorities, but even on whether an establishment still exists and whom it comprises, he said.

Next came presentations that dealt with the differing views of diversity and multiculturalism in the United States, which are essential to understanding how diversity affects the national interest. One speaker noted that he was a historian, not a policymaker, and acknowledged that he was not certain that diversity matters in foreign affairs. However, he offered one example of how cultural myopia affected a major foreign policy decision.

He pointed to the experience of Henry L. Stimson, the secretary of war during the Truman administration, in the decision-making process leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. More than a month before the fateful flight of Enola Gay, Stimson had sent a top-secret memo urging Truman to negotiate a surrender allowing Japan to retain its emperor. The president rejected the advice and insisted on unconditional surrender. But even after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese refused to surrender unless they could retain their emperor.

In a diary entry written two days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Stimson placed these events in the context of the terrible influence of ignorance and stereotypes. Wrote Stimson: "There has been a good deal of uninformed education against the emperor in [the United States], mostly by people who know no more about Japan than has been given them, like Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado." He added that on the very day of his entry, August 10, he discovered that this frame of mind "had gotten deeply embedded in the minds of influential people in the State Department."

"Does diversity make a difference?" the speaker asked rhetorically. He concluded that, in Stimson's view, cultural ignorance made a difference because it contributed to one of the watershed events in human history. In the end, of course, Truman allowed Japan to retain the emperor.

In his remarks, the speaker disputed the thesis advanced by some that attributed "the disuniting of America" to ethnic and multicultural splintering. The root cause for the divisions, he argued, can be found in the tradition of racial inequality. In his view, the broader question for the conference was how the United States, comprising peoples from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and other regions, could work through the problems caused by its diversity by getting people to learn more about each other. "Does this diversity within offer us opportunities to have a more informed and more intimate understanding of other cultures and other political situations?" he asked, challenging participants to ponder that question during their subsequent deliberations.

Another panelist identified multiculturalism as the primary challenge, but made a distinction between "mild" and "militant" forms of multiculturalism, noting that each held radically different consequences for the nation. He agreed with what he termed the mild form, which he saw calling attention to neglected groups, themes, and viewpoints, and redressing a shameful imbalance in the treatment of minorities. Importantly, this form operates within the context of a "shared culture," which the speaker advocated.

But the militant form of multiculturalism is disquieting, he said, because it dismisses the idea of a common culture, rejects the goal of assimilation, and celebrates the immutability of diverse and separate communities. He objected to multicultural education if it meant that schools teach history and literature for "therapeutic reasons," to make students feel good about their ancestors, but at the same time celebrate hardened ethnic loyalties. This practice, he argued, will lead to a fragmented nation. While rational multi-culturalism is an intelligent response to racism, he said, "hard" multiculturalism is an imprudent response. "The real problem is the racism of the white majority, which slams doors in the faces of those who wish to join the mainstream in the country," he added, seconding a view voiced earlier in the program.

Following the panelists' presentations, to elicit discussion of diversity from a variety of perspectives, participants split up into four groups(on Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East(and each was given the same set of questions to discuss. The deliberations concentrated on the regions of the world that held historic importance for minorities, because some believe the regional approach has influenced the structure and substance of policymaking. In addition, it was in these four regions that foreign and domestic issues of minority concern were most likely to intersect.

Later in the day, discussants moved to four globally oriented panels:

Foreign Economic Policy: U.S. Trade and Investment in the Age of Globalization; Human Rights, Democratization and Governance: Values or Interests? Redefining National Security: Something New and Something Old; The Clash of Civilizations: Culture and U.S. Foreign Policy.

These four reconstituted groups addressed a range of questions: Who wins and who loses as U.S. trade policies adapt to the age of globalization? What weight should human rights values and interests have in policymaking, and how do human rights abroad relate to civil rights at home? Does diversity make a difference in defining post-Cold War national security interests, and how appropriate are current criteria for defining these interests? What is the relationship between Western culture and American foreign policy, and how should culture fit in setting policy toward other "civilizations" and countries?

On the second day of the conference, participants switched their focus from policy to practice. They examined the past and future impact of diversity on four sectors of society: foreign and other government service; academia, foreign-policy think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations; the media; and international business.

What follows is a summary of the main points made during more than sixteen hours of group deliberations, as drawn from the conference transcript and other background materials.



Since the shaping of foreign policy inevitably reflects domestic political realities, conferees were asked to identify U.S. national interests in particular regions of the world, and the factors that influence these interests. Among these factors were domestic demographic shifts and the discrepancy between official policies and any "minority view" that might exist on an issue. Also considered were the differences within minority groups over the definition of national interest in a particular region.

In the case of Asia, one speaker said, a primary aim of U.S. policy is to prevent the long-range dominance of any East Asian power. Balance of power is a desirable goal, particularly in regard to the current rise of China. Moreover, pointing out that the United States had fought three wars in Asia—World War II, Korea, and Vietnam—he noted that it is important to seek the peaceful settlement of international disputes in the region. Hence, the enormous concern now about North Korea, a nation the speaker described as "a very dangerous black box."

As a result, participants readily agreed, the future of North Korea, the impact of the status of Taiwan on relations between the United States and China, and the territorial disputes between Japan and China, or Japan and Russia—an oft forgotten major player in Asia—are critical concerns for the United States. One speaker warned that Taiwan is a significant issue on the horizon for the United States and is a problem that may require attention in five to fifteen years. But no matter what the time line turns out to be, he added, it promises to be the principal issue that divides the United States and China.

In addition to security objectives, economic questions such as trade and intellectual property rights are central to U.S.-China relations. Similar issues are being negotiated at a snail's pace between the United States and Japan. Human rights protection throughout Asia, in the form of fair administration of criminal justice, freedom of expression, and participatory democracy, are high on the agenda. Other items that cut across the interests of all Asian countries include narcotics control, movement of migrants and refugees, and problems of environmental protection.

The media attention given to Democratic Party fund-raiser John Huang, who is of Chinese ancestry, drew comment at the Asia panel. "I know more about what John Huang eats for breakfast than I know about my own children," a participant quipped. "It's an extraordinary kind of preoccupation with Asian influences."

Inside the United States, it was noted, lobbying groups have formed around issues affecting various Asian countries, and sometimes divisions occur within the Asian-American community. In the past, Chinese-American groups have been divided over whether to support or reject Chiang Kai-shek and the Taiwanese government. In contrast, Korean-Americans have tended not to express support for North Korea. One speaker said that one of the great contributions that people of Chinese descent could make to this country would be to provide a picture of what is going on in China that is more balanced than the skewed one that is influenced by television and the tragedy of Tiananmen.

A second speaker noted that the rise of Asia, and China in particular, has tended to create not only a sense of promise, but also a sense of threat in the United States. Although Asian-Americans have been underrepresented in electoral politics, forming only 3.5 percent of the U.S. population over the last two generations, their levels of education and achievement suggest that in the future they may become a force disproportionate to their numbers. At the time of the conference, extensive press attention was being focused on fund-raising practices in the 1992 presidential campaign and the alleged influence of foreign donors, particularly some from Asia. But while many in the United States might fear that Asians and Asian-Americans exert an undue influence on the making of foreign policy, the so-called Asian money scandal actually showed how little voice they have on national politics, observed one panelist. The alleged scandal, he explained, revealed not only the relative powerlessness of Asians in America, but also "how the discourse freezes—or even reverses for a while—the political clout of Asian-Americans."

He noted that two-thirds of Asian-Americans are foreign-born and are able to maintain direct ties to their homelands. Yet the very nature of Asian-American identity is a recent "American construct" that incorrectly presumes a coherent group identity and convergence of interests, he said. It is precisely in the foreign policy arena that the fragility of this new identity is exposed, he added, even though a new "transnational diasporan sensibility" is slowly emerging among Asian-Americans.

He further suggested that if Asian-Americans are to make their voices heard on policy, then they will need to become more involved in domestic politics and in foreign policy issues. But he cautioned that Asians need to learn from the experience of African-Americans and avoid being driven toward an exclusively regional focus. Too often, he noted, African-Americans, regardless of their specific backgrounds and interests, are encouraged to cover only African issues or become diplomats in Africa.

Among the most important contributions Asian-Americans could make, the panelist continued, would be to help turn the process of defining the U.S. national interest into one in which an increasingly diverse society participates as a whole. Asian-Americans also could help the American public and the foreign policy community understand that Asia is not inherently a threat. Asia ought to be "examined with much more nuance and subtlety than we've been accustomed to in this country."

According to another speaker, there is a close relationship between how a minority group expresses a worldview for the country and the group's sense of political security. "You can't express yourself on these policies if you are insecure at home. That means affirmative political organization. That means financing media access and a whole range of things."


In the session on Africa, panelists and participants agreed that in trying to define U.S. national interests in Africa, the American public's continuing disinterest in a massive continent with distinct regions and 35 countries poses a major problem. One speaker said Africa is still very much "the invisible land," comparing its status to that of the character made famous as "the invisible man" in the landmark novel by the African-American author Ralph Ellison. To the speaker, the prevailing paradigm of conventional American thinking on Africa is reflected in a remark made a generation ago by newsman Walter Cronkite at the start of the Congo crisis. The speaker quoted him as saying, "Our worst fears have been realized. Whites have been killed in the Congo of deepest, darkest Africa."

Another speaker contended that Africa remains at the bottom of our foreign policy priority list. Whether one speaks of a majority foreign policy or a minority foreign policy that is accepted by the majority, "precious few people are interested in Africa," he said.

It is within this domestic context that a panelist identified an important and fragile renaissance(what he called the "second independence" of Africa(occurring on the continent. The change, he said, has been marked by political democratization, economic growth, the resolution of long-standing conflicts and the emergence of a new leadership, and the implementation of economic reforms in more than two-thirds of African countries. He pointed to 26 relatively free and fair elections taking place over the course of a year all across Africa, and to economic reforms characterized by private-sector development and greater openness to the global economy.

Although most Americans focus on a handful of traumatized countries, the panelist said that Africa, as a continent, is experiencing the end of an era of conflict(as is evidenced by Namibia's independence; the birth of freedom in South Africa; and the cessation of war in Mozambique, Angola, and Ethiopia. He also noted that the growth in U.S. trade with Africa is much higher than the increase in this country's trade globally.

The speaker pointed to three recent events supporting the need for American "reconceptualization" of Africa: the addition of Africa to the agenda of the 1997 Group of Eight meeting in Denver, a national summit on Africa that is being held as a series of meetings across the United States by nonprofit groups, and a new Africa economic policy that was about to be announced by the Clinton administration.

Already, American trade with the 12 nations of southern Africa is greater than U.S. trade with the entire former Soviet Union, the speaker observed, and trade with South Africa is greater than U.S. trade with all the east European countries combined. In his view, U.S. national interests in Africa would be better served if policy were "unbundled" so as to "remap" the continent into five policy regions: southern, western, central, eastern, and northern. Within each region, there would be one focus country: South Africa, Zaire, Nigeria, Kenya or Ethiopia, and Algeria, respectively.

A domestic connection to Africa does exist and is crucial, a panelist said, noting that 10 percent of the American population is of African descent. The nature of race relations in the United States augments this connection. To another panelist, the larger underlying cause of disinterest in Africa is that Africa is a "hard sell" in terms of American values and priorities. When one talks about diversity as a basis for foreign policy, it can be threatening to some, he said, particularly when minority or diverse interests do not appear to coincide with common national values. In his view, what this kind of approach advocates is an activist foreign policy with regard to Africa that will make common cause with American values. The promotion of democracy, human rights, and well-being are among these values, and he noted that today there is an interest in South Africa "because of a resonance with American values."

While another panelist agreed with the importance of supporting American values, he observed that during the Cold War, U.S. policy toward Africa actually did the opposite: it embraced countries, such as apartheid South Africa, Zaire under Mobuto, Somalia, Liberia, and Sudan, that represented the antithesis of American values and are today among the most traumatized nations on the continent.

African-Americans can affect U.S. policy toward Africa in two ways, the speaker argued. First, U.S. policymakers are not going to place a higher priority on Africa than African-Americans do. Second, African-Americans represent a mirror image of Africa, and this has considerable implications for policy. As examples, he pointed out that in the 1960s, Africans made gains in political independence and African-Americans made gains in civil rights here; neither group has much economic independence; and social welfare and foreign-aid spending are both increasingly seen as wasteful. The parallels matter, he contended, because "how American policy relates to Africa is very important for African-Americans' political status in this country and for their psychological well-being as well."

While it is true that U.S. national interests in Africa resemble the country's interests in other areas, one panelist argued that historically, there has been a major dissonance between how African-Americans view Africa and how the U.S. government has pursued specific policies. A major reason for that divergence, he suggested, is race relations. How we resolve our relationship with Africa is directly related to how we resolve our own problems with race.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America matters to the national interests of the United States, according to one speaker, because of geographical proximity and the fact that no country in the world is more important to the United States today than Mexico. Proximity and the porousness of borders mandate importance for the region, he continued, and also are related to a new phenomenon he identified as "transnational community." This community consists of Americans or immigrants of Latin American descent who travel back and forth across the border thanks to modern transportation. In 1996, he said, for the first time more people traveled between the United States and Latin America than between the United States and Europe.

According to another panelist, Latin America was the platform from which the United States first projected the influence that made it a world power a century ago. Since that time, the region has been important to Washington for security, political, and economic reasons. But times have changed, he said, and Latin America's importance to the United States in those three areas has drastically declined.

In traditional national security terms, he observed, Latin America is now irrelevant. In political terms, the region is no longer needed to support U.S. policies throughout the world: Western Hemisphere hegemony is now a myth. In economic terms, where Latin America once accounted for 40 percent of direct U.S. investment abroad, today the figure is about 15 percent. And the region is now less important than Asia, Europe, and the Middle East as a source of imports.

Although by traditional indicators regional importance may have declined, new issues are increasing its importance today. For example, Latin American and Caribbean countries have endorsed a new focus on democracy and human rights. This represents a change of historic significance, said one speaker.

Speakers addressed the increased impact of immigration while they spoke of its past as an instrument of U.S. policy, invoked to stabilize internal political situations in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti. They also credited immigration as a precursor to economic integration of the type codified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). One of the consequences of immigration is that traditional distinctions between "Anglo America" and "Latin America" are increasingly blurred.

Migration and immigration have greatly increased the importance to the United States of what happens in other countries, one speaker commented, and while the rise of transnational communities has had desirable consequences for some, it has also had undesirable side effects. For example, crimes such as drug trafficking have been transnationalized.

The speaker went on to observe that 40 percent of the residents of Los Angeles County are Latino, as are 63 percent of the students in the Los Angeles County public schools. "If you're a superintendent of schools in Los Angeles County," he said, "you're dealing with a Mexican school system in terms of the population being served." A similar situation exists on the East Coast, he noted, where 10 percent of the population of Cuba has settled since Fidel Castro took power, and immigrants coming from the rest of the Caribbean also account for about 10 percent of the region's total population.

One panelist disputed the use of the term "minority," saying that in California the term "new majority" is used, since the total of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Latinos constitutes the majority of the population. He said the challenge is less in representing the interests of ethnic minorities than in the much more difficult task of forging a sense of common ground for those competing interests, and creating a democratic majority.

Speakers addressed the question of whether Latinos hold distinct views concerning U.S. policy toward their respective homelands. One panelist contended that Latinos share the view that Latin American countries are poorly governed, especially in comparison to the U.S. system. Another said there are wide differences among minority interests and perspectives, as there are between exporters and importers, workers and consumers, growers and pickers, documented and undocumented workers, new immigrants and old.

To other conferees, a larger challenge facing the United States in Latin America is how to resolve the contradiction between espousing economic integration on the one hand and opposing immigration on the other. "America has to learn very quickly that you cannot transnationalize capital without transnationalizing labor, and in that sense the national interest of the United States will fail if you do not open the borders," one attendee declared.

The Middle East

The Middle East is an area of religious, ethnic, and other diversities, and these have many ramifications for the United States. According to one panelist, "The Middle East is an area that is everybody's business in the United States. This is an issue that runs through the blood of the body politic of this country, no matter how you look at it." As a result, the region poses policy challenges from almost any vantage point, let alone from the perspective of diversity. Of all issues, the panelist said, the biggest for the United States is the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological weapons, maintained by various countries in the region.

Participants agreed that the United States has substantial national interests in the region, but they disagreed over what these interests were and what priority they should have. For example, how would the U.S. president convince the American public that it is in the U.S. national interest to be responsible for the free and uninterrupted flow of oil, even though most of that oil increasingly will go to feed the economies of Asia?, a speaker asked. Another issue of debate was whether U.S. policy was more Israel-centric than it might be if Arab-Americans had greater influence. Also, is the United States adequately preparing itself for the increased contact it will have with expanding Muslim populations, a phenomenon not only in the Middle East but throughout Europe and the United States as well?

It was reported that 20 percent of the world population is now Muslim, and the proportion is growing. This growth is fueled by a regional demographic explosion, and is spreading to the West and other parts of the world through immigration and globalization. Islam, one speaker pointed out, is the fastest growing religion in the United States, and within a decade Muslims in America will outnumber today's population of 5.5 million American Jews. From a diversity perspective, this is a significant issue because, a panelist said, "we Americans discovered Islam with the Ayatollah Khomeini, as a sinister force designed to undermine the Western way of life."

One of the problems faced by Arab-Americans in dealing with this perception is that their very success as one of the most assimilated groups in the United States tends to undermine their group influence on foreign policy questions. For example, a panelist said, the United States pursues four policy priorities in the region that are not necessarily the priorities of Arab-Americans: preserving the security of Israel; securing access to oil; maintaining access to commercial markets; and maintaining regional security, including through the sale of arms.

The panelist argued that most U.S. ties to the Middle East occur through "a profoundly asymmetrical relationship of pro-Israeli policy in the region and of pro-Israeli politicians in the United States." Therefore, while the overall goal of regional political stability serves current policy priorities, it poses a dilemma to Arab-Americans. The panelist suggested that an agenda for Arab-Americans would include support for political liberalization and development of representative democracies in the region. The dilemma is that current U.S. priorities favor a political stability that sustains political and commercial elites but fails to promote political liberalization. Consequently, he said, there is a "minority" Arab view that sharply differs from established U.S. policy.

"Most Arab-Americans feel that not only is U.S. pro-Israeli policy very aggressive, but it has become, in the last generation, anti-Arab in the sense that you cannot be pro-Arab and pro-Israeli," he added. Speakers agreed that United States policy is Israel-centric and that Americans' lack of knowledge about the Arab world and Islam distorts perceptions of the region's 300 million inhabitants.

One participant who is of Arab descent told a personal story. "I've been stopped at an airport because I was coming from an MIT conference with a woman dressed in Arab clothing. I was dressed like this. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I don't speak Arabic. I'm a Christian," he said. "Despite the fact that among our ranks we can count a George Mitchell, a John Sununu, and a Phillip Habib as well as a Danny Thomas, a Jim Zogby, and entertainers like Paul Anka, the situation will not [improve] until the profound asymmetry between those supporters of Israel and the Arab-Americans is reduced."

The special relationship between the United States and Israel does make the development of any constituency for the Arab-American viewpoint difficult, one speaker agreed. "Israel is a democracy, a country we recognize, a pioneering country, and though we're a multicultural society, we're not good at other cultures, and Arab culture is never, never, never going to be Western... Even if you have peace tomorrow among the Arabs and Israelis, it is not going to solve other problems in the area: economics, demography, regime legitimacy, security of oil resources, Iran, Iraq, or inter-Arab disputes."


Following the regional panels, conferees devoted the afternoon to identifying other areas where minority and national interests might intersect in new ways. Among the issues discussed in these globally focused panels were the role of culture in foreign policymaking, including the idea that "geoculture" may have displaced geopolitics in importance; the impact of globalization on trade and investment policy and its domestic consequences; the nature of national security after the demise of communism; and the role of human rights in U.S. relations with other countries.

In the session that explored the "clash of civilizations," one speaker observed that the intense scrutiny of U.S. campaign contributions from Asian-Americans, in contrast to the comparatively little attention paid to contributions from other ethnic minorities, is part of "the unfolding clash of civilizations in the electoral politics of the United States." Hostility toward other cultures has sometimes outweighed America's commitment to its democratic values, he said, and the consequences for foreign policy have been negative.

"The United States continues to be a great asylum for diverse peoples, including my family. But the United States has not been a great refuge for diverse cultures, including that of my sons," he said. He maintained that cultural diversity does make a difference because cultural affinities help determine one's allies, one's sensitivities and insensitivities, and, ultimately, one's desire to support military action against another country.

To another speaker, others' assessment of culture's impact on policy is overstated. In his view, the issue is much less culture than it is the level of socioeconomic development. "When I think about what the map is going to look like, about who is a friend and who is an enemy," he said, "it's not a civilizational question; it's where along the historical trajectory different parts of the world fall." As an example he cited Japan, a nation without cultural affinity to the United States, but an ally nonetheless as a result of the social transformations it underwent in the course of becoming a liberal and tolerant state. Important shifts in American foreign policy will take place in the coming decades, he suggested, but they will be driven by economic interest and strategic calculation, not by ethnicity or culture.

The danger, he added, is that a culturally deterministic view of policy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and those who hold such a view guarantee that powerful dividing lines will exist between cultures. He argued that foreign policy is probably 75 percent determined by economic and strategic interests, and 25 percent the result of the push and pull of domestic politics and ethnic interests.

National security was the focus of another panel. In the view of one speaker, national security interests should be defined in terms of what impact certain interests may or may not have on the actual security, prosperity, and freedom of Americans. By that standard, he listed six vital security interests for the United States: preventing any hostile domination of the Asian Pacific, European, or Persian Gulf theaters; keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states; ensuring that stable conditions prevail in the regions neighboring the United States, including Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada; protecting U.S. territory; sustaining open and functioning trade and monetary regimes; and preventing a major environmental catastrophe.

"Foreign policy is about choices," he said. "Not everything can be vital. If you treat everything as vital, the word ceases to be meaningful." At the same time, he noted, simply because something is an interest does not mean it drives policy, since policy must consider feasibility and interests do not.

Another speaker approached the question from a different direction, concluding that the congruence between American ideals and American practices, particularly with regard to race, had been an enormous factor in the foreign relations of the United States during the Cold War. But today, there is little evidence that policymakers see racial diversity as an issue of foreign policy concern.

There was agreement that racial equality at home matters, because it has an impact on American prestige and moral leadership abroad, but participants disagreed over whether that qualifies racial equality as a security concern.

In the panel on globalization and economic policy, participants were reminded that the U.S. economy is more deeply integrated into the world economy than ever. About one-third of recent economic growth is attributable to exports, which accounted for some 9 percent of the gross domestic product in 1996. Meanwhile, 23 percent of new jobs are export-related, and almost all indicators suggest that "this economy is addicted to exports in a way it never was before."

As a result of globalization, U.S. policy toward foreign markets has become a domestic political issue. Between the lines of this political discourse is an economic challenge: if the United States is simply to maintain its share of global imports, it has to double its exports over the next decade, and that, according to one panelist, may be impossible. This presages what he termed a "policy revolution in Washington" that will reshape U.S. interaction with the countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

The incentive to increase American exports, the speaker said, will increasingly cause the United States to interact with these other cultures, but diversity issues per se may be subordinated to economic considerations. He saw that there is currently a "very limited" ability for minority input in the trade debates in Washington, although Clinton administration efforts have increased the representation of women in trade policy positions.

Another presenter observed that the impact of imports from Mexico is greater on the minority labor force than on whites: Mexican-Americans and Latinos are now competing with their Mexican cousins, whereas white workers are competing against Canadian workers. But it is paradoxical, he said, that the very minority workers who may be most at risk from increased imports are also among the most supportive of the increased trade promised by NAFTA.

In his view, the fear of trade with Mexico as a potential destroyer of American jobs contributed to the political atmosphere that led to anti-immigrant laws such as Proposition 187 in California. On the other hand, and unlike any other minority group, Latinos have assumed an explicit role in the trade debate, particularly through a process called the "Latino Consensus on NAFTA." This produced a recommendation for the creation of the North American Development Bank to deal with environmental and labor issues raised by the agreement. Latinos were directly involved in the establishment of this $3 billion institution and in securing the fifteen-vote margin needed in Congress to pass the trade bill.

To the speakers, diversity does matter and stands to matter more. "It is a comparative advantage we have in trade in the future that none of our competitors have," one said. Even if that is so, another countered, the nation seems to lack the consensus to support educational initiatives to ensure greater participation for minority workers and others in the high-tech jobs of the future.

The relationship between human rights and diversity issues was the focus of another panel session. One speaker predicted that demographic change in the United States will greatly influence policies in the human rights arena in the years ahead. On the domestic front, there is a need for a "reconstruction" to engage groups that have historically been excluded from broader participation in society.

Another part of such a reconstruction is what the speaker termed the dismantling of "the artificial constructions of white domination in this society." The United States, for instance, has not adopted an international convention banning all forms of racial discrimination. Failure to adopt this convention "shows something about our particular race cast that continues to dominate our perceptions of foreign policies on these issues," the speaker said. Moreover, there has always been a direct relationship between human rights and democratization overseas and the protection of civil rights and human rights at home.

There is much the United States can learn from other nations, the speaker added, citing experiences in South Africa. There, children "would tell you in a minute that South Africa is a multiracial, nonsexist, democratic country. We don't have an articulation of that goal in our society."

Another panelist characterized the way that conference organizers differentiated between values and interests as "profoundly wrong and misleading." "It suggests that there are things called interests that are unrelated to values," he said. The more appropriate equation would hold that most Americans agree that their freedom and security is much better served if the community of nations shares these values, and that the promotion of human rights assists that purpose.

A major problem he cited in this regard is the unwillingness of the United States to have international norms applied within the United States. Right now, the nation is on a collision course with the rest of the world with regard to the adoption of certain universal norms, the panelist said.


On the second morning of the conference, four panels took up the question of where the leadership for diversity in international affairs will develop and, if diversity is a desirable objective, what obstacles are in its path. Participants agreed that the task of reaching diversity—both in the content of policy and in the composition of policymaking bodies goes far beyond merely being sensitive to minority aspirations, or mastering the complexities of dealing simultaneously with highly industrialized countries and emerging economies. Participants said it also means providing opportunities for minorities to thrive at all levels of government service, in universities, in foreign-policy think tanks, and in the media—in short, in all the venues that have traditionally been stations along the route to influence and power. But participants noted that, on the verge of a new century, achieving diversity has been made all the more difficult by diminished support for affirmative action.

In the panel on foreign and other government service, a scholar discussed an unpublished study of minorities in the five foreign services of the United States between 1980 and 1995. The study, he said, found that in a foreign service with 1,200 to 1,500 officers, "minorities faced conditions of promotion advancement, assignment, and rewards that were substantially different, separate, and unequal as compared to those of their white counterparts."

The study found there were fewer blacks in the foreign services of the State Department, USIA, and AID than twenty years ago, and in some categories fewer Latinos. The study also revealed "an atmosphere of racism that was deeply offensive and appalling."

The foreign services of the United States do not have a glass ceiling, he argued, they have a wall. For example, of the 43 highest ranking officials at the State Department serving recently, none were minority and nearly all were male.

The study concluded with 30 concrete recommendations for the agencies. Two recommended models were the U.S. Army and Air Force, both of which have developed exemplary records in equal employment opportunity. The principal recommendation was to terminate the access the foreign services have to a State Department judgment fund that is used to settle discrimination suits. In losing this funding, the State Department would have to pay any costs for settling suits out of its own operating budget.

Drawing upon his personal experiences, a former diplomat criticized several recent administrations for assigning all African-American ambassadors but one to Africa or the Caribbean. He said that during the administrations of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, black American ambassadors served in such disparate nations as Finland, Luxembourg, Syria, Spain, East Germany, Romania, Malaysia, and Algeria. In recent years the pattern has been to "ghettoize" nominees in certain regions. "When in the name of heaven are we going to dispense with the romantic mythology that black people have a special affinity for an identity with Africa that gives us an advantage that whites do not have?" he asked.

He also urged that minority group organizations take on a greater global outlook and encourage young minorities to enter the foreign service. Minorities, he said, must be as concerned about European union and the defense budget as they are about affirmative action and social welfare. Looking around the room, he expressed frustration in noting that after 50 years of attending conferences of this type, he always saw members of minority groups in attendance, and not the people in positions to make changes. "I'm getting a little tired of being summoned," he said, "to help them determine how they are going to solve a problem that I had no hand in creating."

At the panel on academia, foreign-policy think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations, several participants pointed to the assault on affirmative action as a principal obstacle to making diversity a reality. A moderator referred to a recent news report saying that African-American admissions to the University of California and University of Texas systems had dropped by 80 percent. However, many minorities are not attracted to think tanks and graduate programs in international relations because the salaries are low, according to one panelist. He also bemoaned the generally poor writing and analytical skills of most students who want to enter the field of public policy.

Still another factor is the shrinking pool of employment opportunities in the international affairs area. As an example, one participant pointed out that several international institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and regional development banks, are reducing their work forces. Despite the fewer job opportunities, it was suggested that mentoring minority students and tracking them from entry to senior level is necessary to cultivate young talent. Several participants emphasized the need to increase student awareness of available fellowships and getting historically black colleges engaged in foreign policy issues. "I think one of the things we have to [do] ourselves is look into what pool of talent we have within our community," said an executive of an organization dealing with Mexican-Americans.

Conferees in the panels on diversity in the media and international business reached similar conclusions. A member of the media panel told of the frustration expressed in that group's discussion. "The media [are] still not getting it in terms of the importance of diversity. It is still not happening because the key people in decision-making positions have not changed or have not assumed that diversity is necessarily good for them."

She added that there is an undertone in the diversity debate resulting from the assumption that diversity may mean something other than excellence. "In terms of the media, diversity should be seen as something that's important for market reasons as well." Too often, another speaker said, institutions interpret diversity narrowly as ethnic and racial, when diversity of perspectives matters just as much.

Conferees suggested that both training and pressure were necessary to overcome the resistance to diversity found in the media business. "There needs to be some pressure from the public as well, from organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, so that those at the higher echelons begin to feel the importance, and it needs to come from the top and the bottom and the outside for it to happen," a participant said.

In the panel on international business, there were two points of consensus: first, that too few members of the minority community were engaged in international business, and second, that most U.S. corporate leaders neither recognize the need for(or even understand(diversity. "It is not just a question of skin color and gender. It goes beyond that in terms of approach, attitudes, and value system," one international executive said. The group debated how(and whether(the rules of the marketplace could be reconciled with the goals of diversity, without arriving at definitive conclusions.

Citing the decline of the U.S. market from 50 percent of the world market in 1950, to 25 percent in 1990, to a projected 10 percent some time in the next century, an executive said, "It's not the only game in town." Minority talent might develop in other markets, and he suggested that the threat to the market position of the United States may be the critical element in making corporate leaders see diversity in a positive light.

The conferees recommended that the Council continue holding meetings of the type they were attending, that labor be engaged in the discussion, and that efforts to involve participants from beyond the Eastern seaboard be expanded.


That diversity is an issue with implications for the future of the nation was a foregone conclusion for most conference participants. The harder task was determining the extent to which diversity should play a role in the formulation of policy, and how the answer might change the substance or direction of policy, the sources of political support for specific policies, and America's worldview.

While the answers to these questions proved elusive, conferees presented a number of arguments and observations that provide a context for addressing the question of diversity in international affairs. Among the general observations were the following:

Even as the fabric of American society becomes more diverse and affects how we think, feel, and behave as a people, the significance of diversity to America's worldview in the era of globalization has yet to be fully appreciated. It is time that it was. For geopolitical and demographic reasons, there will be less of a European orientation in the content of U.S. foreign policy in the years ahead. As a reflection of the society that defines it, the national interest is bound to be understood in new ways by Americans who will be growing up in an increasingly diverse nation. The formulation of foreign policy during the Cold War era was easy when compared with the challenges that lie ahead. The new era of globalization will require not only the blending of diversity into a more democratized and decentralized policy process, but also the achievement of a sustainable domestic consensus for American engagement with the world. The challenge of this consensus will be both to reflect lasting American values and to value the participation of new voices in the debate. Insensitivity to other cultures has had negative consequences for foreign policy, yet America's own cultural diversity has not been adequately used as a resource base to formulate foreign policy. Real obstacles stand in the way of making more adequate use of this resource. Minority presence in the formulation of foreign policy may be linked to minority political empowerment. If that is the case, the lack of internal political organization among minorities tends to mute their voices at a time when they most need to be heard. Minority communities are sometimes hesitant to assert a role for themselves in the foreign policy process because they perceive that their position domestically could be threatened as a result. For example, although the "transnational identity" of some Americans with minority backgrounds can contribute new nuance and sensibility in American dealings with other cultures, it cuts the other way too. Through something of a mirror effect, the public may group Americans of Asian descent with Asians, and Americans of Arab or Latin American descent with the natives of those regions, thus converting the benefit of a transnational identity into the liability of a questioned loyalty. There is a qualitative difference between the nature of the "diversity challenge" of today and the experience in the past when ethnic groups' influence on policy was linked to particular countries of origin. While American minorities today come from many countries, they may have a common identity that is more regional than in the past. For example, the classification of Americans of Asian descent as "Asian-Americans" and not as Japanese-, Chinese-, or Vietnamese-Americans, may be creating a new "Asian" identity within America. Accountability and leadership in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by diversity at home and abroad must come from all sectors of American society.

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