Graham Plaster

culture + diplomacy + ethics + smart power + technology + humanities + entrepreneurship + philosophy

An Open Letter to our Diplomatic Corps

Excerpted from my Editor-in-Chief letter for the Winter 2015 edition of the Foreign Area Officer Association Journal of International Affairs…


Unfortunately, here at home, many important world events have been upstaged by a sensational presidential race that thrives on personality rather than problem solving.  FAOs abroad, true #problemsolvers, are tracking an array of increasingly complex issues that, to them and our partners, merit much attention.

In the wake of the Brussels and Paris bombings, investigations continue to show how terrorist networks have extended across Europe, taking advantage of permissive environments to expand and plan attacks. The resultant cultural Balkanization within European states is understandable, perhaps inevitable, but potentially exacerbating to the situation. Many worry, perhaps the experiment of Western pluralism has been stretched too thin.  As the poet Yeats put it, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  Although that poem was written nearly a century ago to describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe, the sentiments are being echoed again today in Europe’s social media and political speeches.

ISIS now controls a large portion of eastern Syria and northwest Iraq. Russia has been bombing anti-ISIS rebels in Syria that the Pentagon regards as partners. Assad’s indiscriminate bombing is inflicting casualties on civilians that make the numbers of ISIS victims look small by comparison.

Iraqi forces spent months trying to retake Ramadi, the Anbar province capital, and at the end of December finally succeeded. The next goal will be to grasp Mosul back from the clutches of ISIS.

Turkey’s long conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continues to escalate with recent, devastating suicide bombings claiming many civilian lives.  Ankara worries that cross-border Kurdish solidarity will further strengthen demands for a separate state.

The Saudi-led war in Yemen, backed by the U.S., U.K, and Gulf allies, has been slouching forward. Nearly 6,000 people have been reported killed, half civilians. Over 2 million people have been displaced and an additional 120k have fled the country. The conflict fuels the fire of terrorism across the entire Arabian Peninsula.

In Libya, following NATO’s ouster of Qaddafi, various tribes, political parties, and militias have contended for power over oil and gas resources. The country has been governed by two rival factions, so no true leadership is actually established.

Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon face a mounting threat from Boko Haram. Over the past six years, the group has grown from a small movement in northern Nigeria to an organized terrorist network capable of devastating attacks across the Lake Chad basin.  Military countermeasures have had minimal success stopping Boko Haram’s suicide bombers, many of whom are young women and girls.

South Sudan is at risk of descending into full-blown civil war.  Over the past two years, over 2.4 million have been displaced, and tens of thousands have been killed. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which mediated the peace agreement, and international powers (including China, Norway, the U.S, and the U.K.) must find a way to compel South Sudan to respect their peace deal commitments.

In Burundi, Nkurunziza’s re-election in July, following a failed coup, prompted a series of conflicts between government forces and armed opposition. Dead bodies are appearing in the streets almost daily. So far, the crisis seems more political than ethnic.  But more than 200k people have fled the country and U.N. officials have warned of potential mass atrocities if the violence continues unchecked.

Afghanistan remains embroiled in conflict 14+ years after U.S. intervention. Today, the Taliban, despite internal factions, remains formidable; while al Qaeda and ISIS also maintain footholds.  The U.S. now says it will keep troop levels at around 10k for most of 2016, and NATO has committed financial support to Afghan security forces through 2020.

The South China Sea is set for a U.S.-China face-off, as we challenge their land reclamation and construction efforts. China’s assertion of territorial rights conflicts with a number of Southeast Asian nations in an area rich with fisheries and possible oil or gas resources. Secretary Carter has called for an immediate halt to Chinese land reclamation and announced that the U.S. “will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” The White House announced an aid package worth $259 million over two years to support maritime security for Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. In what might prove a landmark case, The Hague is considering a request for arbitration filed by the Philippines accusing China of violating international law. The case could galvanize international opinion and slow China’s soft imperialism.

But this is only wave tops, as we say in the navy.  There are many more world events worth mentioning here, and the truth of every scenario is much more complex and rapidly evolving than a sentence or paragraph can do justice.

If you would like to submit an article for peer review covering any of these or other relevant issues for future editions of the FAOA Journal, please send your submission to and we will review. Thanks in advance to all those who value and promote civil, public discourse.  If experiments in pluralism are to succeed, surely you are the heroes we should thank.

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