Home > Essays in Diplomacy, Essays on Migration and Consular Diplomacy > What benefits can a well-run foreign ministry offer the government?

What benefits can a well-run foreign ministry offer the government?

What benefits can a well-run foreign ministry offer the government?

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

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Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) are government agencies tasked to lead and conduct the foreign policy and diplomacy of their states in modern diplomacy.

Due to the forces of globalisation, new information technology, increased international trade, tourism, migration and development assistance,  and natural disasters, terrorist attacks and political crisis that affect their country’s citizens,  the functions of diplomats have enlarged. Despite these challenges to foreign ministries, they remain to be at the forefront of managing foreign policy.

A critical role of MFAs is coordinating the states’ foreign policy and international activity.  To remain relevant, MFAs need to adapt to the modern challenges of diplomacy either by outsourcing some of the functional expertise to other agencies of government or to develop its own expertise.  They also need to maximise the use of available information and communications technology in running their business. In addition, MFAs also need to be responsive to its citizens overseas.

These diplomatic challenges can be addressed by well-run foreign ministries. Well-managed MFAs offer wide-ranging benefits to government for the following reasons: First, they enable the effective and efficient pursuit of national interest; second, they can lead foreign policy coordination and management for a more effective and efficient policy implementation, and third, they can provide better delivery of services and timely responses to crisis situations.

Foreign Policy Enabler

A well- managed MFA enables the state to pursue its national interests and agenda.   By having a channel of communication and representation overseas, the government can promote its national objectives.  For political and economic purposes, the MFA can provide the overarching foreign policy direction.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the State Department was tasked to implement its policy and was instrumental in coordinating the U.S. alliance with the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines, among others, in its fight against terrorism.

In the area of public diplomacy, a well-run MFA can also provide direction and implement activities such as cultural promotion, people to people exchanges, that enables the government to pursue its national objectives.

Foreign Policy Coordination

Having a well-run MFA could provide effective and efficient foreign policy coordination in the home office as well as in country’s Foreign Service posts.

In the Philippine case,  before a bilateral or multilateral negotiations take place, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) calls for a policy coordination meeting to hear and take into consideration the inputs and concerns of various agencies of government. The coordination role of the DFA is beneficial to the government in terms of harmonising the voices of various agencies into a single tune during negotiations.

In the Foreign Service post, the Philippine Ambassador leads various agencies of government under a one county team in the Embassy.  Under such condition, there is unity of command and coordinated strategic efforts in an Embassy under the leadership of the Ambassador.

Efficient and Effective Delivery of Service and Quick Response to Crisis

Lastly, a well-run MFA provides better delivery of services and immediate response to crisis situations.  In the wake of the Middle East Crisis and the Queensland earthquake this month, one can view how a well-run MFA works to the benefit of government and its citizens.

By having a well-run Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard was able to respond in a timely and effective fashion in ensuring the safety of Australians in Queensland. The Australian government was able to issue statements and communicate with the public regarding its assistance to the victims and their families.  The Australian  government was also able to convey its condolences and provided unsolicited financial assistance to New Zealand. Such gesture promotes trust and closer bilateral relations.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was in Egypt to personally direct the evacuation of Australian citizens and members of the diplomatic corps out of Libya.  He  spoke on radio how the evacuation plan was being undertaken in a concerted fashion together with other countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) ran a story of how the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was slow in assisting the trapped nurses in the rubble in Queensland as well as in evacuating Filipino labourers in Libya.  The Philippine government said that despite its limited resources, it was trying its utmost in assisting distressed Filipinos in Libya.

In response to the mounting needs of Filipino workers  in Libya, newly appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, less than 48 hours after he assumed office,  personally traveled to Libya to lead the DFA team in executing the evacuation of some 440 Filipino workers  from Libya to Tunisia. The trucks picked up Filipino workers and travelled through a dangerous  desert route passing through a number of checkpoints both from pro and anti-government  armed groups.

A top diplomat cited that  “smile diplomacy” or the use of smiles and carefully worded diplomatic language,  helped the government bring out of harms way Filipinos in Libya.

The Philippine government  chartered a ship to transport around 5,000 Filipinos from the coastal city of Benghazi to Crete in Greece.

After Del Rosario returned to Manila, he defended the DFA from critics and said that: “The DFA is not without experience … We have a good working organization. We’re not saying it’s perfect, but we’re trying to do our best”.

(Read: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20110302-322981/DFA-chief-says-hes-not-happy-to-be-back-home)

The coordinated action of the DFA was crucial in the success of the evacuation mission.  Filipino diplomats took the lead in the evacuation plan. Embassies in Spain, Egypt, and Greece were tasked to receive the evacuees from Libya. Earlier, a similar team was dispatched to Cairo and the work of the Embassy in Egypt was critical in repatriating Filipinos back home.

Well-run MFAs are beneficial to the government in enabling them to pursue their national interest, in policy coordination and in responding to crisis and assistance to its citizens overseas.

However, governments must see to it that they provide the necessary support, attention, and resources to MFAs so that they could adapt to the challenges of its expanding role, in the use of information and communication technology, and  in their readiness to provide quality public service and  respond  to crisis situations.

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