DIPLOMACY 101: Political Affairs
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
Diplomats in the US Foreign Service work in one of five career tracks. Even though they are called "generalists", which means they can work on almost any issue during their 20+ year career, they have to specialize in something. The choices are consular, economic, management, political or public affairs.
The State Department has designed and published a quiz, which is more or less a list of job descriptions, to figure out which career track might be right for you.
In this post I’d like to talk about the career track I have most experience with: political. I worked in two embassy’s political sections (not as an FSO) in two wildly different countries: Uruguay and Pakistan.
POLITICAL AFFAIRS: THE ISSUES
Political sections in diplomatic missions (embassies and consulates) work on a large number of international issues. Typical portfolios political officers work on are internal political affairs, human rights, nonproliferation (of nuclear weapons), counter narcotics, and counterterrorism. Read more here!
POLITICAL AFFAIRS: THE GOALS
Political officers focus on government-to-government relations, which is what you could call “traditional diplomacy”. They further policy priorities by having lots of meetings and interactions with their government counterparts in which they try to understand and persuade them, and report the results back to the capital. Read more here!
BEING A POLITICAL OFFICER – WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE
No matter their chosen career track, all US diplomats have to complete at least one consular tour at the entry-level (in the first four years). Political officers often don’t work in a full-time political position until their second or third tour. Read more here!
MY EXPERIENCE WITH POLITICAL DIPLOMACY
My experience with political diplomacy is based on two jobs in wildly different countries: the first was as an assistant in the political/economic section at the US Embassy in Montevideo (Uruguay) and the second was as deputy/acting refugee coordinator in the US Embassy in Islamabad (Pakistan). Read more here!
WHO CAN BECOME A POLITICAL OFFICER?
You don’t need a special degree to become a political officer. Like in other career tracks within the Foreign Service, diplomats learn the necessary skills after they’re hired and mostly on the job. Lots of aspiring diplomats want to become political officers. Read more here!
WHERE TO FIND MORE INFORMATION
Below are a few external links to help you find out more about the political career track for Foreign Service Officers:
(AFSA) Inside a U.S. Embassy: Which Career Track Is Right For Me?
(State Department) Overview Of A Potential Progression In Your Career Track
STATE DEPARTMENT VIDEOS
DIPLOMACY 101: Public Affairs
DIPLOMACY 101: Consular Affairs
DIPLOMACY 101: Economic Affairs